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What played out as a soap opera of sorts involving all three branches of government has resulted in relief for employers. On March 22, 2017, the Senate narrowly adopted House Joint Resolution 83 (H.J.Res.83) under the Congressional Review Act. The joint resolution nullifies a recent Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) final rule that went into effect on January 18, 2017. The rule, Clarification of Employer’s Continuing Obligation to Make and Maintain Accurate Records of Each Recordable Injury and Illness (Continuing Obligation Rule), created a continuing obligation for employers to make and maintain an accurate record of workplace injuries and illnesses, and opened them up to OSHA citations beyond the six-month statute of limitations established under § 658(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act).

OSHA developed the Continuing Obligation Rule due to an unfavorable 2012 federal court decision holding that OSHA’s ability to issue citations is limited to the six-month period following the occurrence of a violation as set forth in the OSH Act (AKM LLC d/b/a Volks Constructors v. Sec’y of Labor, 675 F.3d 752 (D.C. Cir. 2012)). On March 1, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted H.J.Res.83 to preclude OSHA’s ability to enforce its Continuing Obligation Rule, resolving that it should have no force or effect. The Senate’s approval on March 22 means that the resolution will now go to President Trump for signature. President Trump has indicated that he will sign the resolution.

By Nicole Quinn-Gato, JD
Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

There is no denying our industry is changing rapidly, and it’s not about to slow down. Combined with disruptive advances in technology and evolving consumer expectations, we’re seeing consumer-driven health care emerge. Take, for example, the fact that employees now spend more than nine hours a day on digital devices.

There’s no doubt that all this screen time takes a toll.

  • Device screens expose users to blue light. It’s the light of the day and helps us wake up and regulate our sleep/wake cycle.
  • Research suggests blue light may lead to eye strain and fatigue. Digital eye strain is the physical eye discomfort felt by many individuals after two or more hours in front of a digital screen.
  • In fact, digital eye strain has surpassed carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis as the leading computer-related workplace injury in America1.

Employees are demanding visibility into health care costs and transparency in the options available so they can take control of their own health. Consumers are more knowledgeable and sensitive to cost, and as a result becoming very selective about their care.

 

Technology Exposure Spends more than nine hours
a day on digital devices
Millennials 2 in 5
Gen-Xers 1 in 3
Baby Boomers 1 in 4

 

Lack of preventive care

Preventive screenings are a crucial piece of overall health and wellness. In fact, the largest investment companies make to detect illnesses and manage medical costs is in their health plan. But if employees don’t take advantage of preventive care, this investment will not pay off. Only one out of 10 employees get the preventive screenings you’d expect during an annual medical visit2.

It’s a big lost opportunity for organizations that are looking for a low-cost, high-engagement option to drive employee wellness.

How a vision plan can help

The good news is that the right vision plan can help your employees build a bigger safety net to catch chronic conditions early. It all starts with education on the importance of an eye exam.

Eye exams are preventive screenings that most people seek out as a noninvasive, inexpensive way to check in on their health; it’s a win-win for employers and employees.

  • A comprehensive eye exam can reveal health conditions even if the person being examined doesn’t have symptoms.
  • The eyes are the only unobtrusive place in a person’s body with a clear view of their blood vessels.
  • And, an eye exam provides an opportunity to learn about the many options available to take control of their health and how to protect their vision.

By screening for conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol during eye exams, optometrists are often the ones to detect early signs of these conditions and put the patient on a quicker path to managing the condition. In a study conducted in partnership with Human Capital Management Services (HCMS), VSP doctors were the first to detect signs of3:

  • Diabetes – 34 percent of the time
  • Hypertension – 39 percent of the time
  • High cholesterol – 62 percent of the time

To learn more about the changing landscape of employee benefits, watch the UBA WisdomWorkplace webinar How Telehealth and Technology is Changing the Landscape of Employee Benefits. VSP Global offers world-class products and services to eye care professionals, employers, and more than 80 million members.

By Pat McClelland
Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

What is a Gig Economy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Nicole Federico, eTekhnos Benefits Technology

Last fall I had the pleasure of hosting a UBA WisdomWorkplace webinar called “Success in Voluntary through Strategic Benefits Communication.” I discussed recent Sun Life survey data regarding employee engagement and understanding of the value of voluntary benefits.

In the world of voluntary insurance carriers, success in voluntary benefits can be measured in various ways. A key metric is employee participation. For carriers, this is important because the greater the employee participation in a voluntary product, the better the spread of risk, which leads to appropriate margins and sustainable pricing.

But in the world of HR, this has not been a key metric. While good participation can reflect employee acceptance (and low participation might raise the question about whether the product is worth the time it takes to administer payroll deductions and facilitate billing), employee engagement has become more important.

This concept of knowing what you’re participating in makes me think about a good friend of mine who, a few years ago, reached out to me in a panic. He works for a large corporation with employees spread across the country. His employer was dropping all medical plan PPO options for the coming year and switching to a high- and higher-deductible option. He was sent an e-mail that provided few details but explained the action was due to high health care costs. There was no indication that more information was forthcoming, and the communication as a whole was insufficient because he couldn’t find answers to the questions he needed, the most important being, “what does this mean to me and my family?” I explained recent trends and how a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) with a health savings account (HSA) could be advantageous to him, but as we all know, not everyone is knowledgeable about their benefits or has friends in the business to explain their options.

When employees aren’t engaged in good benefits decision making, they can misunderstand or underuse their plans. Our recent survey showed that while employees are becoming more aware of changes in their medical plans, 54 percent still don’t know their out-of-pocket maximum, and 33 percent don’t know their deductible.

Employees are, however, concerned about their financial risks, and most do not have emergency savings or a cash flow to handle unexpected medical expenses. Moreover, research from the Federal Reserve shows that some people actually choose to forgo needed medical care simply because they cannot afford it.1

While these data point out employee challenges, our research does provide some encouraging feedback that shows how we might be able to help employees become knowledgeable about their benefits choices.

For example, though employees understand the benefits gap, 62 percent of those surveyed say they need additional coverage. We also learned that 70 percent were not familiar with the term “voluntary benefits,” but once they understood what voluntary products are, 63 percent agreed that these benefits are helpful in filling the gaps in health care coverage, even if they have to pay for these benefits themselves.

The real kicker is that 87 percent say more customized benefits choices that fit their specific lifestyles would help them make the right health plan choices.

This is where strategic benefits communication can play a vital role. In addition to ensuring that employees really understand the value of all of their benefits, including true total compensation, a well-planned communication effort engages employees by empowering them with information so they are confident in their open enrollment decisions.

How will you know whether you have been a successful communicator? In subsequent posts, we will talk about gathering employee feedback.

Over the next few months, this blog series will examine the ways HR benefits professionals can achieve success—not just in offering voluntary products to employees, but more important, in their overall benefits communications.

By Kevin D. Seeker
Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

As a parent, perhaps you’ve been able to check the critical financial boxes for your family. You’ve established emergency funds, secured life and disability insurance, and are on track with your retirement goals. You may wonder, is there anything else I could be doing to help my children?

This can be the time for parents and even grandparents to consider juvenile life insurance. It’s an often-misunderstood type of life insurance that provides protection for your children or grandchildren.

For some, the topic of juvenile life insurance evokes confusion and perhaps even fear. After all, why would one want to insure a perfectly healthy child?

Thankfully, the loss of a child is extremely rare. So while a juvenile life insurance policy does indeed insure against this very slim risk, some types of coverage are also designed to protect your child’s financial future—in a way no other financial product can.

3 types of juvenile life insurance

1) Juvenile permanent life insurance. This type of coverage is permanent, as long as premiums are paid, and typically accumulates cash value over the years, just like with permanent life insurance for adults. Juvenile policies are generally issued at the lowest rates available, and with limited underwriting. They’re owned by a parent or grandparent until the child is 18, at which point the now-adult insured (even if he’s still just a child in his parents’ eyes) can assume ownership.

Upon ownership, the insured adult child enjoys some distinct benefits:

Guaranteed insurability. Your daughter or son locks in a low rate and continued coverage—and can generally purchase more life insurance up to allowable limits. This may be the most compelling reason parents buy juvenile life insurance. Insurability is easy to take for granted when you have it. While most children are healthy, a future health concern could one day make your son or daughter hard to insure. This affects their entire family, who must find other ways to protect against financial vulnerability.

Cash value. The policy’s cash value grows tax-deferred over time, making it a reliable savings vehicle with some unique characteristics. If the cash is needed, the policyowner can access it through low-interest policy loans or outright withdrawals. The policy can also be surrendered for the cash value, typically minus a surrender fee.

2) Juvenile term life insurance. In contrast to juvenile permanent life insurance, juvenile term offers parents significantly less expensive coverage. However, term life insurance does not have a cash value, and only lasts for a specific length of time, such as 10, 20 or 30 years. Policyowners pay a level premium during the length of the term, at which point the term expires and coverage becomes more expensive, often significantly so.

Juvenile term coverage is typically available as a rider (basically, a coverage option) on a parent’s term policy. This rider typically lasts until your child reaches adulthood. You can often purchase coverage for all your children for the same price, with a single rider. In the event of the unexpected death of an insured, the policy’s death benefit can be used to cover expenses.

3) Juvenile group life insurance. Finally, some employers offer juvenile life insurance options through their group life insurance coverage. While convenient, keep in mind employee benefit programs can change at any time, and that in general, group life insurance can be hard or impossible to take with you if you leave your employer.

Remember, while you may have a lot of other priorities on your plate, juvenile life insurance can help create a bedrock of financial stability for your children as they come of age in an uncertain world.

By Erica Oh Nataren
Originally published by www.lifehappens.org

Last fall, President Barack Obama signed the Protecting Affordable Coverage for Employees Act (PACE), which preserved the historical definition of small employer to mean an employer that employs 1 to 50 employees. Prior to this newly signed legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was set to expand the definition of a small employer to include companies with 51 to 100 employees (mid-size segment) beginning January 1, 2016.

If not for PACE, the mid-size segment would have become subject to the ACA provisions that impact small employers. Included in these provisions is a mandate that requires coverage for essential health benefits (not to be confused with minimum essential coverage, which the ACA requires of applicable large employers) and a requirement that small group plans provide coverage levels that equate to specific actuarial values. The original intent of expanding the definition of small group plans was to lower premium costs and to increase mandated benefits to a larger portion of the population.

The lower cost theory was based on the premise that broadening the risk pool of covered individuals within the small group market would spread the costs over a larger population, thereby reducing premiums to all. However, after further scrutiny and comments, there was concern that the expanded definition would actually increase premium costs to the mid-size segment because they would now be subject to community rating insurance standards. This shift to small group plans might also encourage mid-size groups to leave the fully-insured market by self-insuring – a move that could actually negate the intended benefits of the expanded definition.

Another issue with the ACA’s expanded definition of small group plans was that it would have resulted in a double standard for the mid-size segment. Not only would they be subject to the small group coverage requirements, but they would also be subject to the large employer mandate because they would meet the ACA’s definition of an applicable large employer.

Note: Although this bill preserves the traditional definition of a small employer, it does allow states to expand the definition to include organizations with 51 to 100 employees, if so desired.

By Vicki Randall
Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

While many Americans will remember January 20, 2017 as the day the 45th President of the United States was sworn into office, employee benefits experts will also remember it as the day the IRS Office of Chief Counsel (OCC) released this memorandum that clarifies, among other things, the tax treatment of benefits paid by fixed-indemnity plans.

Fixed indemnity plans are generally voluntary benefits employers offer to complement or supplement group health insurance, such as a hospital indemnity plan that pays a fixed dollar amount for days in the hospital. The plans do not meet minimum essential coverage standards and are exempt from the Affordable Care Act.

In the memorandum, the IRS clarified that if an employer pays the fixed-indemnity premiums on behalf of employees and the value is excluded from employees’ gross income and wages or allows employees to pay premiums pre-tax through the employer’s cafeteria plan, the amount of any benefits paid to an employee under the plan will be included in the employee’s gross income and wages. On the other hand, if employees pay the premiums with after-tax dollars, then the benefits are not included in the employees’ gross income and wages.

While this creates a tax burden for the employee, it also creates a burden for employers, as they are tasked with determining whether an employee has received a benefit and the amount of the benefit to determine wages and applicable employment taxes.

Employers that offer employer-paid fixed indemnity plans or allow employees to pay for plans pre-tax are encouraged to work with their counsel, broker, carrier, or other trusted advisor to address their current practices and determine if any changes should be made.

By Nicole Quinn-Gato, JD
Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

Cafeteria plans, or plans governed by IRS Code Section 125, allow employers to help employees pay for expenses such as health insurance with pre-tax dollars. Employees are given a choice between a taxable benefit (cash) and two or more specified pre-tax qualified benefits, for example, health insurance. Employees are given the opportunity to select the benefits they want, just like an individual standing in the cafeteria line at lunch.

Only certain benefits can be offered through a cafeteria plan:

  • Coverage under an accident or health plan (which can include traditional health insurance, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), self-insured medical reimbursement plans, dental, vision, and more);
  • Dependent care assistance benefits or DCAPs
  • Group term life insurance
  • Paid time off, which allows employees the opportunity to buy or sell paid time off days
  • 401(k) contributions
  • Adoption assistance benefits
  • Health savings accounts or HSAs under IRS Code Section 223

Some employers want to offer other benefits through a cafeteria plan, but this is prohibited. Benefits that you cannot offer through a cafeteria plan include scholarships, group term life insurance for non-employees, transportation and other fringe benefits, long-term care, and health reimbursement arrangements (unless very specific rules are met by providing one in conjunction with a high deductible health plan). Benefits that defer compensation are also prohibited under cafeteria plan rules.

Cafeteria plans as a whole are not subject to ERISA, but all or some of the underlying benefits or components under the plan can be. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has also affected aspects of cafeteria plan administration.

Employees are allowed to choose the benefits they want by making elections. Only the employee can make elections, but they can make choices that cover other individuals such as spouses or dependents. Employees must be considered eligible by the plan to make elections. Elections, with an exception for new hires, must be prospective. Cafeteria plan selections are considered irrevocable and cannot be changed during the plan year, unless a permitted change in status occurs. There is an exception for mandatory two-year elections relating to dental or vision plans that meet certain requirements.

Plans may allow participants to change elections based on the following changes in status:

  • Change in marital status
  • Change in the number of dependents
  • Change in employment status
  • A dependent satisfying or ceasing to satisfy dependent eligibility requirements
  • Change in residence
  • Commencement or termination of adoption proceedings

Plans may also allow participants to change elections based on the following changes that are not a change in status but nonetheless can trigger an election change:

  • Significant cost changes
  • Significant curtailment (or reduction) of coverage
  • Addition or improvement of benefit package option
  • Change in coverage of spouse or dependent under another employer plan
  • Loss of certain other health coverage (such as government provided coverage, such as Medicaid)
  • Changes in 401(k) contributions (employees are free to change their 401(k) contributions whenever they wish, in accordance with the administrator’s change process)
  • HIPAA special enrollment rights (contains requirements for HIPAA subject plans)
  • COBRA qualifying event
  • Judgment, decrees, or orders
  • Entitlement to Medicare or Medicaid
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave
  • Pre-tax health savings account (HSA) contributions (employees are free to change their HSA contributions whenever they wish, in accordance with the their payroll/accounting department process)
  • Reduction of hours (new under the ACA)
  • Exchange/Marketplace enrollment (new under the ACA)

Together, the change in status events and other recognized changes are considered “permitted election change events.”

Common changes that do not constitute a permitted election change event are: a provider leaving a network (unless, based on very narrow circumstances, it resulted in a significant reduction of coverage), a legal separation (unless the separation leads to a loss of eligibility under the plan), commencement of a domestic partner relationship, or a change in financial condition.

There are some events not in the regulations that could allow an individual to make a mid-year election change, such as a mistake by the employer or employee, or needing to change elections in order to pass nondiscrimination tests. To make a change due to a mistake, there must be clear and convincing evidence that the mistake has been made. For instance, an individual might accidentally sign up for family coverage when they are single with no children, or an employer might withhold $100 dollars per pay period for a flexible spending arrangement (FSA) when the individual elected to withhold $50.

Plans are permitted to make automatic payroll election increases or decreases for insignificant amounts in the middle of the plan year, so long as automatic election language is in the plan documents. An “insignificant” amount is considered one percent or less.

Plans should consider which change in status events to allow, how to track change in status requests, and the time limit to impose on employees who wish to make an election.

Cafeteria plans are not required to allow employees to change their elections, but plans that do allow changes must follow IRS requirements. These requirements include consistency, plan document allowance, documentation, and timing of the election change. For complete details on each of these requirements—as well as numerous examples of change in status events, including scenarios involving employees or their spouses or dependents entering into domestic partnerships, ending periods of incarceration, losing or gaining TRICARE coverage, and cost changes to an employer health plan—request UBA’s ACA Advisor, “Cafeteria Plans: Qualifying Events and Changing Employee Elections”.

By Danielle Capilla
Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

Let’s face it. Most people put off buying life insurance for any number of reasons—if they even understand it Take a look at this list—do any of them sound like you?

1. It’s too expensive. In the ever-burgeoning budget of a young family, things like day care and car payments and possibly student loans eat up a good chunk of the money each month, and a lot of people think that life insurance is just outside those “necessities” when money’s tight. But two things: life insurance is often not nearly as expensive as you might think, especially when you can get a good policy for less than the cost of a daily cup of coffee at the local café, and well, if money’s tight now, what if something happens to you?

2. That’s that stuff for babies and old people, right? People of a certain age remember Ed McMahon telling them their grandparents couldn’t be turned down for any reason and figure that’s the target demographic for life insurance. Or, you might have been offered a small permanent insurance policy for your newborn, attractively presented with a cherubic infant on the envelope. The truth of the matter is that these are very specific insurance products—just as there are many insurance products for adults in their working years.

3. I’m strong and healthy! You eat right, you stay active, and everyone admires how grounded and centered you are. You passed your last physical with flying colors! That’s GREAT! But you’re neither immortal nor indestructible. It’s not even that something could happen to you – though it could – so much as when you’re at your strongest and healthiest, there’s no better time to get a policy to protect your loved ones. If you fall seriously ill or suffer significant injury later, it will make it tougher to get that kind of policy, if any at all.

4. I have life insurance through my job. Many people are offered life insurance as part of their employee benefit coverage –and often, it’s the first time they encounter life insurance and have no idea that a $50,000 policy, or one or two times their salary, isn’t as much as they think it is. It sounds like a lot of money, until you figure that it has to cover some or all the expenses for your loved ones in your absence. Plus, if you leave the job, it’s typically the type of insurance that doesn’t “move on” with you.

5. I don’t have kids. Sure, kids are a big reason why some people get life insurance. But that’s not the only litmus for needing protection. If there is anyone in your life who would suffer financially from your loss—your spouse or live-in partner, a sibling, even your parents—a life insurance policy goes a long way in making sure everyone’s still OK even if something happens to you.

6. Life insurance—it’s on my list … eventually. There’s no deadline on life insurance, no mandate from the government on purchasing it. Your parents may have never talked to you about its importance, and it’s certainly not the most invigorating topic for conversation. But don’t let your “eventually” turn into your loved ones’ “if only.”

By Helen Mosher
Originally published by www.lifehappens.org

Employer-sponsored health insurance is greatly affected by geographic region, industry, and employer size. While some cost trends have been fairly consistent since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was put in place, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) finds several surprises in their 2016 Health Plan Survey.

Based on responses from more than 11,000 employers, UBA announces the top five best and worst states for group health care costs.

Check out this video and contact us to go over the UBA Health Plan Survey.