All posts tagged employee wellness

Did you know studies convey that 20% of the population, or 1 in every 5 adults suffer from some sort of mental health condition? Mental health has become a substantially concerning issue in America’s workplace, and therefore a top priority in employee wellness. Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder cause workers to perform less efficiently on a daily basis, which in turn creates negative effects on both the employees and employers.

Unaddressed mental health problems can leave employees unhappy and less efficient at work, as well as having financial consequences for employers. Studies conducted show that mental health conditions left without treatment cost employers nationwide a total of $80- $100 billion per year. In addition, employers have a duty to ensure physical and mental safety for their workers. In the past, companies have typically encouraged employees to see therapists and potentially receive medication. These treatments can be very effective. According to a recent study by the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, 86% of those employees that were treated saw improvements in their daily work.

However, these therapy and medication can also be very time consuming and costly. In order to achieve a more efficient and cost effective solution, companies have found creative outlets to provide daily treatment. Enter the mental health app. Human Resources in general is becoming a more app-friendly department. The IAB-commissioned Harris Poll shows mobile phone users spend 88% of their time in applications and appreciate having apps that streamline services on their phones. There are countless apps for companies to choose from, but Mobylize and MoodNotes are two of the most innovative options.

Mobylize

Mobilyze is an employee-focused mobile application that tracks location, movement, sleeping patterns, and phone calls. It then compiles the data to analyze the user’s different moods and sends them messages as well as giving feedback on their responses to try and improve their symptoms. The app is user-specific which helps generate results faster and more accurately, and offers a more convenient and cost-effective option for companies trying to improve their employees’ well-being.

MoodNotes

Other apps, like MoodNotes, provide a more interactive user experience. Like Mobilyze, the app tracks different patterns that may be associated with mental health problems, but also focuses on creating a personal relationship with the user. MoodNotes encourages the user to answer more challenging questions about how they feel and why they may be feeling that way. As a result, the user is forced to think about possible suppressed problems and the reasons behind them. The app’s goal is to act like a mental health coach or friend, and strives to get users back to their healthy, happy selves.

These are only two examples of popular mental health apps that companies are starting to use. The companies that choose to implement these types of apps are continuing to see positive results. The market for mental health apps is growing, providing employees with many options to address specific issues and allowing room to find the best fit. As businesses focus on more ways to implement technology, mobile apps may be a solution to lowering the costs of mental health care, as well as looking out for the well-being of employees and fostering a well-functioning, healthy business environment.

 

By Nicole Federico

Adopting best practices for wellness program designs are important in successfully investing in a workplace environment focused on well-being. Finding the right partners, tools, and interventions, and creating an incentive design that hits the sweet spot to motivate employees to participate are all essential. Many organizations fall short and wellness programs often stall when employees do not understand the program. Whether they question an organization’s intent in offering a wellness program, the program components are too overwhelming or not communicated well, or employees simply do not understand how programs affect them, educating employees on wellness program options is crucial to a program’s success.

Culture

Organizations implement wellness programs for many reasons. Some do so in an effort to contain rising health care costs, while others do so to enhance culture. The first step in educating employees about wellness programs is sharing the business objective of the organization’s wellness initiatives. Senior management should share the reasoning behind investing in a wellness program and how it is important to the way the company operates. This can be demonstrated by tying it to an existing mission statement or company credo that emphasizes the value of the people of the organization or through a new wellness program brand that complements key aspects of the business. When a wellness program is launched without establishing how it fits into the bigger picture of the organization, it may seem like the company is penalizing employees by setting additional requirements to meet in order to get health insurance premiums at a certain rate. Sharing the intent of wellness programs can help employees better understand why certain program requirements are in place and empower them to be closely connected to an organization’s vision. Seeing company leaders engaged in wellness programs themselves can be one of the most powerful ways to get employees on board or create interest in the available program options.

Communication

Once an organization has announced its wellness initiative, an effective communication strategy must be developed to get the program information to employees. Drawing out a year-long communication plan can help administrators easily map out key dates and timeframes for programs. Establishing an online platform (whether it be an internal intranet page or a payroll, benefit, or wellness dashboard) is helpful so that employees can access information and program requirements on demand. Determining effective outreach based on organization dynamics is essential. Typically, an organization should rely on a combination of electronic communication and face-to-face meetings (depending on the kind of technology employees can access). As influential as consistent messaging from senior management can be, middle managers and supervisors may play an even larger role in how employees get information. Communicating wellness program updates in their regular team meetings can build momentum and routine for employees. Creating a network of wellness champions (employees throughout the organization that embrace wellness) can be a fantastic way to educate employees on programs. Program administrators can send regular wellness program updates to the wellness champions to spread among their employee groups. Creating regular education sessions can be helpful as well. Most companies will offer an overview of wellness programs at open enrollment or new hire orientation. The volume of information during these meetings can be overwhelming, so follow-up wellness program orientation opportunities and health benefit educational sessions should be offered throughout the year to help employees navigate the benefits available to them and be smart consumers of healthcare.

Impact

Sharing the potential impact of wellness programs is another powerful educational tool from a financial and health perspective. Demonstrating how much money is available in rewards for someone that fully engages in wellness compared to someone who does not can motivate employees to take advantage of programs. Sharing the financial impact of the entire organization focusing on wellness in terms of proactively working to contain long-term healthcare costs can help employees understand how they can directly influence future premiums. Offering small incentive opportunities for employees to submit success stories or health achievements can be a fun way to share how an organization’s wellness program has improved the health and well-being of employees. It can be very inspiring for employees to see their peers having success and embracing company programs. At the end of the day, employees that fully understand the potential impact of wellness programs and how to navigate their medical coverage feel better about their benefits and valued by their employers.

Be sure to read our recent blog on how small businesses can implement effective wellness programs. For additional trends among wellness programs, download In UBA’s new whitepaper: “Wellness Programs — Good for You & Good for Your Organization”.

To understand legal requirements for wellness programs, request UBA’s ACA Advisor, “Understanding Wellness Programs and Their Legal Requirements,” which reviews the five most critical questions that wellness program sponsors should ask and work through to determine the obligations of their wellness program under the ACA, HIPAA, ADA, GINA, and ERISA, as well as considerations for wellness programs that involve tobacco use in any way.

For the latest statistics from the UBA survey examining wellness program design among 19,557 health plans and 11,524 employers, pre-order UBA’s 2016 Health Plan Survey Executive Summary which will be available to the public in late September.

Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

Companies like Google®, L.L. Bean®, and Zappos.com® have the ability to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on wellness programs for their employees. They can build state-of-the-art gym facilities, walking trails around the corporate campus, and offer any number of wellness services to benefit their workers, as well as monetary incentives. For the average employer and small business owners, this type of programming is nearly impossible. Small business owners may not have money to spend on these types of wellness programs, but they do recognize the value of investing in the health and wellbeing for their employees. These are shared strategies you can use to offer your employees opportunities to reduce health risks, control health care costs, and improve productivity and overall wellbeing.

Programming

For small business owners looking to offer “voluntary” wellness programs on a limited budget, look no further than your employee benefits packages. Most employees do not utilize their benefits to their full potential. Motivating and incentivizing your employees to use the benefits that are already provided can be a great way to launch a wellness program. Insurance carriers provide preventive screening schedules that can be used to guide your employees to seek regular medical check-ups at no cost to them. Utilizing the schedule can help employees take control of their health and potentially prevent catastrophic health events before they occur.

Several carriers offer great discount programs on top national brands to make living a healthy lifestyle more fun and affordable. Discounts include gym memberships, weight loss programs, tobacco cessation resources, gym apparel and equipment, and other fitness and nutrition resources.

Utilizing local and national resources is also a great way to educate employees on good, healthy behaviors at a limited cost. Organizations such as the American Heart Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control offer free, online education resources and information tool kits. Local organizations may have access to grants that can help offset the costs of tobacco cessation and nutrition programming. Local chapters may even offer onsite lunch and learns and be willing to participate in your company health fair.

For additional trends among wellness programs, download In UBA’s new whitepaper: “Wellness Programs — Good for You & Good for Your Organization.

Incentives

Small business owners do not have to offer large cash prizes in order to motivate employees to participate in the wellness programming. Setting up challenges where individuals or teams compete to earn a top prize can be a great way to utilize the natural competitive side of your employees while offering a supportive culture.

To understand legal requirements for wellness programs, particularly as it relates to incentives, request UBA’s ACA Advisor, “Understanding Wellness Programs and Their Legal Requirements,” which reviews the five most critical questions that wellness program sponsors should ask and work through to determine the obligations of their wellness program under the ACA, HIPAA, ADA, GINA, and ERISA, as well as considerations for wellness programs that involve tobacco use in any way.

Sample Programming

Begin by offering a thoughtfully created program that recognizes the importance of the work-life balance. For example, create a “passport” to health and wellbeing. We suggest including a few of the following activities:

  • Get an annual physical, dental, and vision exam
  • Take advantage of preventative cancer screenings (skin, colonoscopy, mammogram, etc.)
  • Utilize the Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
  • Get a flu shot
  • Complete a biometric screening
  • Complete online health coaching on a health topic through the insurance carrier portal
  • Attend a company lunch and learn on a health related topic
  • Participate in an office health challenge (step, weight loss, etc.)
  • Volunteer in your community
  • Participate in a community walk, run, bike event

Employees can have their passport stamped as they visit with providers and participate in organizational events. Wellness Committees have found success in offering raffle tickets for each completed item and offering drawings for wellness-related prizes at a company picnic or end of year holiday party. Additionally, a point value can be used and participants can earn points to be in a drawing for achieving gold, silver or bronze status.

To ensure your program produces real culture change over time, consult these six steps to a successful, sustainable workplace program.

Summary

Small business owners do not have to break the bank to offer their employees great wellness programs. Take a look at what is offered through your current benefits and educate your employees on how to take full advantage of what they offer. Do not be afraid to reach out to local organizations to see what kind of free or low-cost programming is available.

For the latest statistics from the UBA survey examining wellness program design among 19,557 health plans and 11,524 employers, pre-order UBA’s 2016 Health Plan Survey Executive Summary which will be available to the public in late September.

Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

Employers with self-insured health plans are facing new Section 6055 regulations regarding the reporting of minimum essential coverage. The proposed regulation requires self-insured employers to report this information to the IRS on either Form 1095-B or in Part III of Form 1095-C, if the coverage is provided by an applicable large employer.

Section 6055 reporting identifies those individuals who are enrolled in minimum essential coverage. In order to accomplish this, the reporting forms require the inclusion of each individual’s Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN). For an individual, this is his or her Social Security number. While employers generally have the SSNs of their employees, they are less likely to have this information for an employee’s spouse or dependents. The proposed regulations include new guidance relating to the solicitation of TINs and the solicitation process employers should follow in order to avoid any penalties for filing without the proper TINs.

As long as “reasonable efforts” are made to secure the TINs of covered individuals, an employer is permitted to report a date of birth when no TIN has been provided. The proposed regulations lay out the following three-point process that should be used in order to meet the “reasonable efforts” guideline.

Reasonable efforts process chartIf individuals are already enrolled in coverage, July 29, 2016, is to be used as the initial solicitation date as long as a TIN was solicited as part of the application for coverage or at any other point before July 29, 2016. The second solicitation is then required within 75 days after July 29, 2016, which would be October 12, 2016.

Dan Bond, Principal at Compliancedashboard said, “Interestingly enough, these proposed regulations do not change the solicitation process for incorrect TINs, and there remains some confusion over what the IRS deems as a trigger for soliciting TINs in the situation that they are incorrect. They included a footnote in these proposed regulations that we presume is referencing the AIR [Affordable Care Act Information Returns] filing system that says just because an error message is received, that error message isn’t a notice for a penalty. Nor does the filer need to start the solicitation process in response to the error message. This statement leaves some question as to what triggers a solicitation need. We are watching to see what the IRS does with this.”

Although this process is part of a proposed rule, the IRS has stated that self-insured employers may rely on the process pending the release of a final rule.

For applicable large employers and self-funded employers of all sizes who have now completed the first round of required IRS reporting under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), request UBA’s ACA Advisor, “IRS Reporting, Now What?” for information on play or pay penalties, when the penalty is triggered, how the penalty will be assessed and documentation employers must have.

Originally posted by www.ubabenefits.com

back to school

As thoughts of changing weather and the impending holidays loom, September (and August, in many states) means back to school for employees with children. Don’t forget about your employees with college-age students, who may be driving them across the country to get set up in dorm rooms and ready to face life on a college campus. Some of your employees may be college students as well, expanding their knowledge base to better their career and serve your organization. Are you ready to support employees with back-to-school obligations?

In addition to your established time off programs (whether an all-encompassing PTO program or vacation time), establishing time or allowing flexible time for employees with school-age children will go far in creating good will in your organization. Any flexibility you offer, such as early start and leave hours or extended lunch periods to attend to school duties, should also be available to your employees who are not parents.

Some states require certain employers to provide unpaid leave to parents and guardians for participation in their student’s educational activities. These laws may be incorporated in a regulatory leave such as school visitation leave or small necessities leave. While many of these statutes allow or even require the use of the employee’s paid leave, it’s important to know the rules for your state for how much time must be accorded under the law and specific usage.

Employees with Young School-Age Children

Do you have plans in place for employees who need to leave early for back-to-school nights, sports, or teacher conferences? What about when a child becomes sick during the school day — can you provide your employees some flexibility to attend to a child who must leave school during the day? Review your policies and the law for your state.

Parents with children just beginning preschool or kindergarten may need a little extra flexibility in those first weeks. If you can provide flexible start times to help ease these employees into what may be a new routine for them and their children, all the better.

Employees with College-Age Children

Employees who are helping their young adult children move into dorm rooms or college apartments are likely already planning that time as part of a vacation or paid time off. However, remember the emotional needs of a parent sending their child off to college. There are strong feelings that can occur at this monumental time in a parent’s life, particularly when sending a first-time college student off, and they may be distracted in those early days or fielding frequent calls during their workday from a nervous student. Offering support in the form of understanding, and flexibility to accept those phone calls (within reason), can go a long way in creating loyalty and good will.

Student Employees

If you have employees who are students, whether in online programs, evening classes, or even day classes that you have agreed to work schedules around, be mindful of their additional requirements to study and produce school work beyond the work required for their job. Student employees may benefit from flex time to prepare for a final or big exam; be mindful of where an employee is in the school year to offer support. Again, when offering support, be alert to how the employee is handling his or her work load and make sure co-workers are not feeling the effects.

What Employers Can Do

Revisit your leave and flexibility policies, and read up on the law in your state for school visitation, parental leave for school activities, or small necessities leave. In many cases, your established policies may not need to change. Be mindful of fairness to your employees who are not parents, and explore ways to be supportive or understanding of those parents who are experiencing parental milestones, such as the first year of any school or a school change. Consider allowing flexibility with work hours as needed to keep parents happy with their work/life balance and satisfied employees in your organization.

originally published by www.thinkhr.com

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has brought about many changes to the health insurance industry. As we are now in the sixth year of implementation of the Act, we are seeing more changes coming just around the corner.

Generally speaking, most health plans can be classified into two categories: HMO and PPO. With an HMO plan, you choose your physician group where you will seek services, and you choose a primary care physician that you will see for all of your needs, who will refer you to a specialist or other service facility, if needed. The HMO model is designed to be as cost-effective as possible, only providing services when the physician deems it necessary, or solely for the benefit of the patient.

Due to the ACA, with an HMO plan, a woman is no longer required to get a referral from her primary care physician to an OB-GYN, and a parent is not required to get a referral to a pediatrician for his or her children even though neither are classified as primary care physicians.

In contrast, a PPO plan has more flexibility for the patient. With a PPO plan you are encouraged to see physicians and providers that are participating in your plan’s network, but are not required to do so. You can, in fact, see any doctor or provider that you wish, when you wish to see them, and without a referral from your primary care physician.

However, times they are a-changin’. Beginning January 1, 2017, Covered California, California’s state insurance exchange, will require both HMO and PPO enrollees to specify their primary care physician during the enrollment process. If one is not selected, the plan will select one for the plan participant. A plan participant is allowed to change their primary care physician at any time. Right now, this is only being implemented for individual plan subscribers.

It is expected that this change will be implemented for group PPO plan subscribers in 2018.

Beginning in 2012, the ACA implemented the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) fee. This is a charge of $1 to $2 per enrollee, per year in a plan. If the plan is fully insured, the fee is paid to the government directly by the insurance carrier. If the plan is self-funded it is paid by the plan sponsor using IRS Form 720 and is due by July 31 for the previous plan year.

The purpose of the PCORI is to help analyze the overall costs of health care and identify trends to find ways to best reduce the overall cost of health care.

HMOs like Kaiser Permanente have fully integrated information systems that allow them to track each patient electronically so that they can see everything about the patient in one place. By tracking each patient, notes from the nurses and physicians, treatments, and medications, they can track costs and trends easily by mining the data from the system.

Most PPO plans do not track this data, in part because patients in the past have not had to choose a primary care physician or provider group. When they can see whomever they choose, it makes tracking of this data very difficult across multiple providers. In addition, participants in a small group, fully-insured plan are pooled with other small groups where claim data is not shared with the plan sponsor, and there is no need to track it closely as the information at the patient level is not relevant to the actuaries that calculate plan costs and premiums.

However, that is going to change. In order to study the overall cost of medical care, identify trends, and discover ways to curb inflating costs, data is needed, and selecting a primary care physician for plan participants is the first step.

Cigna, which provides both HMO and PPO plans, has implemented a Collaborative Care Program with more than 120 physician groups in 29 states, including provider group Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) in the San Francisco Bay area. By tracking client claims data and patient outreach programs to help patients to remember to take their medications as prescribed and continue with follow up treatments, PAMF has been able to reduce its inflation trend by 5 percent compared to other providers in the San Francisco Bay Area. The goal is to duplicate and build on the success that Cigna has already shown through its program and control and reduce the cost of health care.

So when you or your employees are applying for health insurance, make sure that primary care physician information is handy, because it is going to be needed.

Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

On June 8, 2016, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed legislation (H.B. 523) making Ohio the 25th state to adopt a workable medical marijuana law. The legislation will allow seriously ill patients to use and purchase medical cannabis that will be cultivated and processed in-state.

With regards to employment, the bill does not:

  • Require an employer to permit or accommodate an employee’s use, possession, or distribution of medical marijuana.
  • Prohibit an employer from taking any adverse employment action an employer may take under current law because of a person’s use, possession, or distribution of medical marijuana.
  • Permit a person to sue an employer for taking an adverse employment action related to medical marijuana.
  • Prohibit an employer from establishing and enforcing a drug-testing policy, drug-free workplace policy, or zero-tolerance drug policy or interfere with federal restrictions on employment, including U.S. Department of Transportation regulations.

In addition, a person who is discharged from employment because of the person’s medical marijuana use will be found to have been discharged for just cause under the Unemployment Compensation Law if the use violated an employer’s drug-free workplace policy, zero-tolerance policy, or other formal program or policy regulating medical marijuana use and will be thus ineligible for unemployment benefits.

The bill also maintains the rebuttable presumption that an employee is ineligible for workers’ compensation if the employee was under the influence of marijuana and being under the influence of marijuana was the proximate cause of the injury, regardless of whether the marijuana use is recommended by a physician.

The law goes into effect September 8, 2016.

Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

0524Many employers have done an excellent job of integrating financial wellness programs with their employees in order for them to improve their overall financial well-being. However, the most significant progress appears to be when employees actually speak with a qualified human being rather than relying on technology to manage investments. The key, according to an article on the website of Employee Benefit News titled, “Technology Alone Not Enough in Financial Wellness,” is the level of employee engagement.

The article stresses that people who interacted with a certified financial planner five or more times during the year had a much better grasp on their finances, an emergency fund, retirement contributions, and cash flow management when compared to people who only used online tools. Were employees who talked to a real person getting better advice? Were employees who were more worried about their money doing more to understand and solve their problems by actually talking to someone? This was not known, but what was discovered was that technology can only do so much.

For example, if you get on a scale, it’s going to give you a number. The scale won’t tell you what to eat, how many calories you’ll need to burn, or what steps you’ll need to take if something unexpected happens. In terms of a person’s financial well-being, technology overload can occur and he or she will get bombarded with information that’s either not understood or unusable.

Once employers figure out that technology alone is not a viable solution to help employees with their finances, they can shift some of their financial wellness and retirement programs to one-on-one guidance with certified financial planners. Furthermore, they can incorporate education and focused presentations, such as workshops on retirement, student loan repayment, tackling credit card debt, etc., into the mix in order to drive up employee engagement.

The takeaway is that there is no single solution to help employees with their monetary planning and problems. It takes a combination of technology, education, and personal face time to ensure that a company’s workforce is making progress toward their financial goals.

Originally published by United Benefit Advisors – Read More

The Road to Better Absence Management | Ohio Benefits Broker

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By Stephen Coffman, Group Practice Leader
The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America

GettyImages 86236492A more meaningful attempt to manage absences can go a long way toward helping ease the staffing and morale challenges of small and midsize businesses that often feel the impact of absences more acutely than larger firms. What’s more, in an environment where government oversight is only intensifying, effective absence management may become more challenging and burdensome for employers unless they have access to a specialist who understands the increasing and ever-changing federal, state and local Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) laws. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also needs to be considered.  For example, requirements have expanded in recent years to include reasonable accommodations designed to reduce employee stress, which can trigger absences and erode productivity.

Small or midsize employers may not even be aware of all these issues and updates, nor have the staff to appropriately address them, which can leave companies vulnerable to lengthy and costly ligation. Plus, a growing “sandwich generation” combined with an aging population means the incidences and complexity of employee absences will only increase.  For this and many other reasons, outsourcing absence management or partnering with an expert makes a lot of sense.  But what should employers look for when evaluating their outsourcing options? Absence management programs that follow these five best practices, as revealed in the Guardian Absence Management Activity IndexSM and Study*, will generate better outcomes for companies:

  1. A full return-to-work program, starting with a written policy.
  2. Detailed reporting for disability and FMLA usage patterns, costs and more.
  3. A process that gives employees referrals to health management programs.
  4. A central leave-reporting portal for Short Term Disability and Family and Medical leaves.
  5. Using the same resource for Short Term Disability, Family and Medical leaves and other benefit programs.

Aside from helping to ensure compliance with FMLA, a more robust program approach to absence management can help shorten the duration and severity of absences and return employees to work sooner, thereby reducing health care costs and improving productivity.  It’s a win-win for both employers and their employees.

To learn more about absence management best practices and solutions, contact a Guardian Group Sales Representative. Exclusively for UBA Partners, join Guardian’s complimentary webinar “The Road to Better Absence Management” on Thursday, August 21, 2014, at 2:00 p.m. ET / 11:00 a.m. PT. Click here for participation details. If you’re not a UBA Partner and you are interested in the webinar, click here to locate your nearest Partner Firm.

*The Guardian Absence Management Activity IndexSM and Study, 2013