All posts tagged HR

The change in the regulations that would increase the salary threshold for overtime exemption that was all over the news for the last several months may now be decided by the end of June.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has granted the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) another 60-day extension of time to file its final reply brief in the in the pending appeal of a nationwide injunction issued by a federal district court in Texas blocking implementation of the DOL’s final overtime rule. As we reported at the time, the final rule, which raised the salary threshold for the white collar overtime exemptions, was scheduled to go into effect on December 1, 2016. The final brief is now required to be filed by June 30, 2017. In its unopposed motion, the DOL stated that the extension was necessary “to allow incoming leadership personnel adequate time to consider the issues” and noted that the nominee for Secretary of Labor has not been confirmed.

As a result of the extension, it is not likely that employers will see any resolution of this issue until midsummer at the earliest. This also assumes that President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, is confirmed within the next few weeks.

By Rick Montgomery, JD
Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

Flex Work.  No doubt you’ve heard this term (or some variation) floating around the last decade or so, but what exactly does it mean? Flexible work can vary by definition depending on who you ask, but one thing is for sure, it’s here to stay and changing the way we view the workforce. According to a recent study by Randstad, employer commitment to increase the amount of flex workers in their companies has increased 155% over the last four years. If fact, 68% of employers agree that the majority of the workforce will be working some sort of flexible arrangement by 2025.

So then, since the landscape of a traditional office setting is changing, what exactly is Flex Work? Simply stated, it’s a practice employers use to allow their staff some discretion and freedom in how to handle their work, while making sure their schedules coordinate with colleagues. Parameters are set by the employer on how to get the work accomplished.  These guidelines may include employees working a set number of hours per day/week, and specifying core times when they need to be onsite. No matter how it’s defined, with a new generation entering the workforce and technology continuing to advance, employers will need to explore this trend to stay competitive.

Let’s take a look at how this two-fold benefit has several advantages for employers and employees alike.

Increases Productivity

When employees work a more flexible schedule, they are more productive. Many will get more done in less time, have less distractions, take less breaks, and use less sick time/PTO than office counterparts. In several recent studies, employees have stated they’re more productive when not in a traditional office setting. In a recent article published by Entrepreneur.com, Sara Sutton, CEO and Founder of FlexJobs wrote that 54% of 1500 employees polled in one of their surveys would choose to undertake important job-related assignments from home rather than the office. And 18% said that while they would prefer to complete assignments at the office, they would only do so before or after regular hours. A mere 19% said they’d go to the office during regular hours to get important assignments done.

Flexible workplaces allow employees to have less interruptions from impromptu meetings and colleagues, while minimizing the stress of office chatter and politics—all of which can drain productivity both at work and at home. What’s more, an agile setting allows your employees to work when their energy level is at peak and their focus is best. So, an early-riser might benefit from working between the hours of 4:30 and 10 a.m., while other staff members excel in the evening; once children are in bed.

Reduces Cost Across the Board

Think about it, everything we do costs us something. Whether we’re sacrificing time, money, or health due to stress, cost matters. With a flexible work environment, employees can tailor their hours around family needs, personal obligations and life responsibilities without taking valuable time away from their work. They’re able to tap into work remotely while at the doctor, caring for a sick child, waiting on the repairman, or any other number of issues.

What about the cost associated with commuting? Besides the obvious of fuel and wear and tear on a vehicle, an average worker commutes between 1-2 hours a day to the office. Tack on the stress involved in that commute and an 8 hour workday, and you’ve got one tired, stressed out employee with no balance. Telecommuting reduces these stressors, while adding value to the company by eliminating wasted time in traffic. And, less stress has a direct effect – healthier and happier employees.

Providing a flexible practice in a traditional office environment can reduce overhead costs as well. When employees are working remotely, business owners can save by allowing employees to desk or space share. Too, an agile environment makes it easier for businesses to move away from traditional brick and mortar if they deem necessary.

Boosts Loyalty, Talent and the Bottom Line

We all know employees are the number one asset in any company. When employees have more control over their schedule during the business day, it breeds trust and reduces stress. In fact, in a recent survey of 1300 employees polled by FlexJobs, 83% responded they would be more loyal to their company if they offered this benefit. Having a more agile work schedule not only reduces stress, but helps your employees maintain a good work/life balance.

Offering this incentive to prospective and existing employees also allows you to acquire top talent because you aren’t limited by geography. Your talent can work from anywhere, at any time of the day, reducing operational costs and boosting that bottom line—a very valuable asset to any small business owner or new start-up.

So, what can employers do?  While there are still companies who view flexible work as a perk rather than the norm, forward-thinking business owners know how this will affect them in the next few years as they recruit and retain new talent. With 39% of permanent employees thinking to make the move to an agile environment over the next three years, it’s important to consider what a flexible environment could mean for your company.  Keep in mind there are many types that can be molded to fit your company’s and employees’ needs. Flexible work practices don’t have to be a one-size-fits-all approach. As the oldest of Generation Z is entering the workforce, and millennials are settling into their careers, companies are wise to figure out their own customized policies. The desire for a more flexible schedule is key for the changing workforce—often times over healthcare, pay and other benefits. Providing a flexible arrangement will keep your company competitive.

Many employers understand the value of having an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) since the heart and soul of organizations are employees. Employees who are physically and mentally healthy, highly productive, engaged in their work, and loyal to their employer contribute positively to their employer’s bottom line. Fortunately, most employees are positive contributors, yet even the best of employees can occasionally have issues or circumstances arise that may inadvertently impact their jobs in a negative way. Having an EAP in place that can address these issues early may mitigate any negative impact to the workplace. This is a win-win for both employees and employers.

A key component of EAP services lies in “catching things early” by assisting employees and helping them address and resolve issues before they impact the workplace. Most employees will use EAP services on a voluntary, self-referred basis that is completely confidential. Some employers may wonder if services are even being used by employees because it won’t be all that apparent, but most EAPs provide a utilization or usage report that will show the number of people served, and possibly the types of reasons services were requested.

If employee issues do begin to appear in the workplace—related to performance, attendance, behavior, or safety—it is important for managers, supervisors, and human resources to also have access to EAP services. They may wish to consult with an employee assistance professional that can provide guidance and direction leading to problem identification and resolution. These issues have the potential to become very costly for the organization—and again, the earlier they can be addressed, the greater chance of success for both employee and employer, with minimal negative impact to the company’s bottom line.

The key to getting the most out of an EAP is to make it easily accessible to employees, safe to use, and visible enough they remember to use it. It is important that employees understand using the EAP is confidential and their identity will not be disclosed to anyone in their organization. Promoting the EAP services with materials such as flyers, posters, or website information with EAP contact information will also increase the likelihood of employees accessing services.

By Nancy Cannon
Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

Customization of benefits is becoming more popular.  The process of personalizing employee benefits allows for individuals to choose from an array of options, and increases employee satisfaction.

 

 

 

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

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

Determining how an employer develops the most effective formulary, while protecting the financial stability of the plan, is certainly the challenge of this decade. Prescription management used to mean monitoring that the right people are taking medications to control their disease while creating strategies to move them from brand name to generic medications. With the dawn of specialty medications, formulary management has become a game of maximizing the pass-through of rebates, creating the best prior authorization strategies and tiering of benefits to create some barrier to more expensive medications, all without becoming too disruptive. As benefits managers know, that is a difficult challenge. The latest UBA Health Plan Survey revealed that 53.6 percent of plans offer four tiers or more, a 21.5 percent increase from last year and nearly a 55.5 percent increase in just two years. Thus, making “tiering” a top strategy to control drug costs. There are many additional opportunities to improve and help control the pharmacy investment, but focusing on the key components of formulary management and working on solutions that decrease the demands for medications are critical to successful plan management.

When developing a formulary, Brenda Motheral, RPh, MBA, Ph.D., CEO of Archimedes, suggests that chasing rebates is not a strategy to optimize your investment. Some of the highest rebates may be from medications that add no better therapeutic value than an inexpensive medication that does not offer a rebate, but net cost is much lower than the brand or specialty medication being offered. Best formulary management will mean that specific medications that do not offer a significant therapeutic value are removed from the formulary, or are covered at a “referenced price” so the member pays the cost difference. Formulary management will need to focus on where the drug is filled and which medications are available.

When setting up parameters on where a drug is to be filled, the decision needs to be made if a plan will promote mail order. Mail order, if used and monitored appropriately, makes it more convenient for a patient to receive their regularly used medications and may provide savings. In fact, the UBA Health Plan Survey finds that more than one-third (36.3 percent) of prescription drug plans provide a 90-day supply at a cost of two times retail copays. But if mail order programs are not monitored, people can continue to receive medications that are no longer required and never used, adding to medical spend waste. Furthermore, in our analysis, we are finding that not all medications are less expensive through mail order, as shown in Figure 1 below. Therefore, examining the cost differential is critical in a decision to promote, or not promote, mail order.

Figure 1

Drug Name Rx Category Mail Order Retail
Zytiga® Malignancies $8,749 $6,027
Sumatriptan Succinate Migrane / Neurologic $575 $308
Ranexa® Cardiovascular $259 $413

 

Another formulary consideration is in monitoring the increase in same drug pricing. The stories surrounding the price increases of EpiPens® has been well-documented, but how well do you understand the impact of price increases on your plan? Monitoring price increases, as shown in Figure 2, may help an employer turn to their pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) to ask for help in controlling these price increases, or help in decisions related to formulary inclusion.

Figure 2

Drug Name Rx Category Plan Paid per
30-day Supply
(SPLY)
Plan Paid per
30-day Supply
Cialis® Genito-Urinary / Acute Minor $287 $442
AndroGel® Endocrine / Chronic Meidcal $471 $523
Viagra® Genito-Urinary / Acute Minor $615 $978

 

Formulary management solutions can become a cat-and-mouse game. The ultimate approach to manage the total spending on medications is by managing the growing demand. There has been significant press related to the opioid overutilization in the U.S., as illustrated in the article “Prescription Addiction.” But that issue is much broader in our society and relates to taking a pill as a quick solution to solve our medical problems. In March 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stated that 30 percent of the growth in spending related to medications was due to an increase in prescriptions per person. Certainly, medications should be used when there are no alternatives to control disease or pain. However, turning to medications as a first option for chronic condition control for issues like hypertension, blood sugar control, cholesterol control versus improving diet and exercise, etc., is just a band-aid solution that, in most cases, does not resolve the root issue. Yet, because this is sold as a quick fix, we see an increase in the number of individuals on medications. In 2012, 34 percent of plan members engaged in Vital Incite were taking four or more (active ingredients) medications, and that has grown to more than 45 percent in 2016. The data also illustrates that in 2012 more than 42 percent of members were not on any medications, but that group size has shrunk to only 27 percent. No formulary can impact this issue.

Active Ingredient Use, All Clients, All Members 21 Years and Older

This increased use could be considered an improvement in care if their disease were more controlled. Appropriate and medically-impactful utilization would mean that a person is working toward improving diet and exercise and is taking the least expensive, yet effective, medication to control his or her disease.

Considering that diabetes medication options have really expanded, an employer would hope that the more expensive medication is providing the best control of disease. But, taking the medication alone will not control the disease and, at times, the progression of the medication cost can be related to progression of the disease due to a lack of disease management. For instance, a diabetic may have progressed from taking metphormin (marketed under the tradename Glucophage® among others), which costs approximately $27 per month, to metphormin ER (Glucophage® XR), which allows a person to take only one pill a day, so it may provide increased compliance, but costs $274 per month. Now, the option of taking Glumetza® is offered, which can be reimbursed at up to $3,620 per month, and is said to provide more stable results. But, if we examine the A1c control values from Vital Incite, do we find the reduction in A1c values as evidence that this additional investment in medication options is providing better control? Figure 3 provides an example of A1c control by prescription status. The goal would be that those on medications will become controlled. But, in our data, we are not seeing a significant improvement in persons with HgA1c levels above 7 percent. Control is achieved from diet, exercise, and appropriate medications. There are theories that people on these more expensive medications are using that as an approach to help them maintain their unhealthy behaviors. Therefore, taking medications alone does not appear to provide an effective solution and, in fact, providing chronic condition medications for free, without requiring any other effort, may not be the best investment for an employer.

Figure 3

HgA1c Level In Treatment Untreated Discontinued
Treatment
Possibly
Untreated
< 5.7 6 1 2 3
5.7 to 6.4 21 2 1 11
6.5 to 7.0 17 7
> 7.0 53 4 5

 

In conclusion, determining which issues are having the most impact on an employer group will allow benefits managers to determine the company’s priorities. This is not an easy task, but with pharmacy spend increasing at a national average of 7.3 percent annually and becoming a higher percentage of the overall medical spend, new strategies need to be considered. Focusing on the key components that balance formulary management with the correct approach to manage the demand on medications can influence total pharmacy spend.

Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com