All posts tagged wellness programs

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

0624Our May 24, 2016 blog post, “EEOC Finalizes Rules for Employer Wellness Programs,” summarized new regulations issued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) for workplace wellness programs. At that time, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced it would develop a sample notice for employers to use in meeting the ADA’s notice requirement. On June 16, 2016, the EEOC posted the Sample Notice.

By way of background, the ADA’s notice requirement applies to employers that offer wellness programs that collect employee health information, such as health risk assessments and biometric screenings. The employer’s notice must inform the employee what information will be collected, how it will be used, who will receive it, and what will be done to keep the information confidential. The employer may use the EEOC’s Sample Notice by tailoring the text for its wellness program or the employer may design its own notice provided it includes all required information.

The ADA’s notice requirement takes effect as of the first day of the health plan year that begins on or after January 1, 2017. The following questions and answers are provided by the EEOC to assist employers in meeting the requirement:

  1. If wellness program participants already get a notice under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), do they need to get a separate ADA notice?

Employers that already provide a notice that informs employees what information will be collected, who will receive it, how it will be used, and how it will be kept confidential, may not have to provide a separate notice under the ADA. However, if an existing notice does not provide all of this information, or if it is not easily understood by employees, then employers must provide a separate ADA notice that sets forth this information in a manner that is reasonably likely to be understood by employees.

  1. Who must provide the notice?

An employer may have its wellness program provider give the notice, but the employer is still responsible for ensuring that employees receive it.

  1. Does the notice have to include the exact words in the EEOC sample notice?

No. As long as the notice tells employees, in language they can understand, what information will be collected, how it will be used, who will receive it, and how it will be kept confidential, the notice is sufficient. Employers do not have to use the precise wording in the EEOC sample notice. The EEOC notice is written in a way that enables employers to tailor their notices to the specific features of their wellness programs.

  1. When should employees get the notice?

The requirement to provide the notice takes effect as of the first day of the plan year that begins on or after January 1, 2017 for the health plan an employer uses to calculate any incentives it offers as part of the wellness program. For more information about which plan to use in calculating wellness program incentives, refer to EEOC’s questions and answers on the ADA rule and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination (GINA) rule. Once the notice requirement becomes effective, the EEOC’s rule does not require that employees get the notice at a particular time (e.g., within 10 days prior to collecting health information). But they must receive it before providing any health information, and with enough time to decide whether to participate in the program. Waiting until after an employee has completed an HRA or medical examination to provide the notice is illegal.

  1. Is an employee’s signed authorization required?

No. The ADA rule only requires a notice, not signed authorization, though other laws, like HIPAA, may require authorization. Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) requires prior, written, knowing, and voluntary authorization when a wellness program collects genetic information, including family medical history. (See Q&A 7 below.)

  1. In what format should the notice be provided?

The notice can be given in any format that will be effective in reaching employees being offered an opportunity to participate in the wellness program. For example, it may be provided in hard copy or as part of an email sent to all employees with a subject line that clearly identifies what information is being communicated (e.g., “Notice Concerning Employee Wellness Program”). Avoid providing the notice along with a lot of information unrelated to the wellness program as this may cause employees to ignore or misunderstand the contents of the notice. If an employee files a charge with EEOC and claims that he or she was unaware of a particular medical examination conducted as part of a wellness program, EEOC will examine the contents of the notice and all of the surrounding circumstances to determine whether the employee understood what information was being collected, how it was being used, who would receive it, and how it would be kept confidential.

Employees with disabilities may need to have the notice made available in an alternative format. For example, if you distribute the notice in hard copy, you may need to provide a large print version to employees with vision impairments, or may have to read the notice to a blind employee or an employee with a learning disability. A deaf employee may want a sign language interpreter to communicate information in the notice, whether the notice is in hard copy or available electronically. Notices distributed electronically should be formatted so that employees who use screen reading programs can read them.

  1. What notice must employers provide for spouses participating in an employer’s wellness program?

As was the case prior to the issuance of the rules in 2016, GINA requires that an employer that offers health or genetic services and requests current or past health status information of an employee’s spouse obtain prior, knowing, written, and voluntary authorization from the spouse before the spouse completes a health risk assessment. Like the ADA notice, the GINA authorization has to be written so that it is reasonably likely to be understood by the person providing the information. It also has to describe the genetic information being obtained, how it will be used, and any restrictions on its disclosure.

Originally published by ThinkHR – Read More

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

0428ubablogThe terms “wellness” and “well-being” are often used interchangeably; however, they mean very different things when applied to workplace health promotion. Traditionally speaking, employee “wellness” programs have primarily focused on just physical health. Whereas employee “well-being” programs emphasize emotional, mental, social, and financial health in addition to physical health.

With the addition of millennials in the workplace coupled with the aging working population, organizations are realizing that the traditional approach to workplace health promotion isn’t enough. Employers have begun to take a more holistic approach to employee health and are now beginning to focus on well-being. According to the 7th annual survey on corporate health & well-being employers are expanding programs to focus on improving employees’ emotional and financial well-being. This includes offering education and resources focused on stress management, work-life balance and financial health. There is also a social aspect in well-being programs which encourage team-building and boosting morale.

Generally speaking, employee well-being programs tend to be more inviting than traditional wellness programs. Well-being programs offer a larger variety of activities and resources which are based upon interest as well as need. These programs have a greater focus on the “fun factor” the program’s appeal to a broader employee population.

The motivation for employers to offer employee well-being programs has also increased. The desire to address soaring health care costs and increase productivity while reducing presenteeism and absenteeism remains a top priority. However, employers are now positioning their well-being programs to attract top talent and to encourage employee engagement. Employers seek to become an employer of choice by offering thoughtfully designed plans. This is especially valuable if you are looking to acquire millennial talent which tends to be enticed by such offerings.

How do you start an employee well-being program?

There are seven common elements in successful wellness programs, according to the Wellness Council of America. Common elements in successful wellness and well-being program development include the following:

  • Garner C-suite support
  • Develop a cohesive wellness team
  • Collect data to drive a results-oriented wellness initiative
  • Create an operating plan
  • Choose appropriate interventions
  • Create a supportive, health-promoting environment
  • Carefully evaluate outcomes

June 2016 will mark the 8th annual National Employee Wellbeing Month. If your organization has not yet implemented a well-being program, now is a great time to start. Well-being programs are significant additions to a fringe benefit program—for employees and employers.

As you move to well-being programming, be sure your wellness offerings provide a best practice foundation. UBA’s Health Plan Survey Executive Summary can help you benchmark your wellness program components.

Originally published by United Benefit Advisors – Read More

How to Give Your 2016 Resolutions Staying Power | Employee Benefits Ohio

Categories: Special Interest
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With any new year comes a clean slate and a chance to take on new goals. For many, resolutions revolve around healthy changes, but experts caution that resolve begins to waver at the end of January — which is why setting resolutionspecific, realistic goals is proven to be more effective.

“When it comes to fitness resolutions, the focus should be on small steps,” said Tom Holland, exercise physiologist and Bowflex Fitness Advisor. “While having a big goal to work toward can be motivating, it’s important to have small, manageable goals that allow you to celebrate the milestones along your fitness journey.”

Here are three examples of lofty fitness resolutions — and how to break them down into achievable goals:

* “I want to run a marathon.” Training for a race takes months of commitment. Start with a 5K and work your way up to a 10K or half marathon, before deciding if you’re ready to complete the full 26.2 miles. To build endurance before you hit the pavement, consider starting your training on a running machine.

* “I want to look like a bodybuilder.” This route takes serious patience. Begin with smaller goals, such as gaining one pound of muscle per month. You can accomplish this by increasing the amount of weight and reps with each workout.

* “I want to go on a cross-country bike trip.” Like a marathon, months of training go into preparing for this long-distance journey. Experts suggest building up your stamina over time to avoid injury.

Stick to it!  You can do it!

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Congress Taking (Small) Steps for Employee Wellness Programs | Ohio Benefits Broker

Categories: Employee Wellness
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By Jennifer Kupper

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) specifically encourages and promotes the expansion of wellness programs in both the individual and group markets. In the individual market, the secretaries of the Capitol Building, Washington DCdepartments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Treasury, and Labor are directed to establish a pilot program to test the impact of providing at-risk populations who utilize community health centers an individualized wellness plan that is designed to reduce risk factors for preventable conditions as identified by a comprehensive risk-factor assessment. Results will be compared against a controlled group.

In the group market, the secretaries are directed to establish a multi-state, employer-sponsored, health-contingent wellness program demonstration project. The objectives are to determine the effectiveness of employer-sponsored, health-contingent wellness programs, the impact of wellness programs on the affordability and access to care for participants versus non-participants, the impact of cost-sharing and incentives on participant behavior, and the effectiveness of other types of rewards.

There is, however, a huge disconnect within the administration. This is exemplified by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) revived attacks and recent litigation against employers who sponsor presumably PPACA-compliant wellness programs. Employers are waking up to the sad facts that the risk in sponsoring health-contingent wellness programs is mounting, the EEOC remains silent in providing guidance*, and the corporate wellness industry is in quandary.

In response to the recent litigation, two parallel bills were introduced the first week of March (S. 620/H.R. 1189). With less than a 2% chance of being enacted, Mr. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) of the Senate and Mr. Jon Kline (R-Minn.) of the House introduced the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act (the legislation). The purpose of the legislation is “[t]o clarify rules relating to nondiscriminatory employer wellness programs as such programs relate to premium discounts, rebates, or modifications to otherwise applicable cost sharing under group health plans.”

The legislation would allow employers to implement workplace wellness programs or employer-sponsored, health-contingent programs without the fear of running afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its amendments (ADAAA) or Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), so long as the wellness programs operated pursuant to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) nondiscrimination and wellness regulations.

The legislation also provides that a sponsoring employer can establish a deadline of up to 180 days for employees to request and complete a reasonable alternative standard (or waiver of the otherwise applicable standard). Further, the legislation affirms that the employees’ spouse and family members can participate and would have the same protections afforded as an employee-participant. In other words, medical history and biometric information of participating family members would not be an unlawful acquisition under GINA.

* On March 20, 2015, the EEOC voted to send a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the interplay of the ADA and PPACA with respect to wellness programs to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for clearance.

For more data on wellness program features employers are using, download the 2014 Health Plan Executive Summary. This survey – which has been conducted every year since 2005 – is the nation’s largest health plan survey and provides more accurate benchmarking data than any other source in the industry. You can also contact a UBA Partner Firm for a customized benchmark report based on industry, region and business size.

Topics: wellness, employee benefits, wellness programs, PPACA Affordable Care Act, 2014 Health Plan Survey

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By Linda Rowings

Many employee benefit limits are automatically adjusted each year for inflation (this is often referred to as an “indexed” limit). The Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration have released a number of indexed figures for 2015.

Limits of particular interest to employers include the following.Money

For health and Section 125 plans:

  • The health flexible spending account (HFSA) maximum employee contribution is increasing to $2,550.
  • The maximum out-of-pocket limit that applies to non-grandfathered group health plans that are not coupled with a health savings account (HSA) will be $6,600 per individual and $13,200 per family.
  • The maximum out-of-pocket for a high deductible health plan coupled with an HSA will increase to $6,450 per individual and $12,900 per family.
  • The minimum deductible for a high deductible health plan coupled with a health savings account (HSA) will increase to $1,300 per individual and $2,600 per family.
  • The maximum HSA contribution will increase to $3,350 for individual coverage and $6,650 for family coverage. The catch-up contribution (available to those aged 55 and older) remains at $1,000.

 For qualified plans:

  • The annual deferral for 401(k), 403(b), and most 457(b) plans will increase to $18,000.
  • The catch-up contribution limits (available to those aged 50 and older) will increase to $6,000.
  • The threshold for “highly compensated employees” will increase to $120,000.
  • The threshold for an officer to have “key employee” status remains at $170,000
  • The annual compensation limit will increase to $265,000

 Social Security/Medicare Withholding:

  • The taxable wage base will increase to $118,500
  • The OASDI tax rate remains at 6.2%
  • The Medicare tax rate remains at 1.45%

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