All posts tagged wellness

Employee Wellness Programs are a key factor in employee engagement and overall company success in today’s business world. Wellness programs are consistently evolving and changing as employee demands shift. Companies are constantly looking for new ways to engage and encourage their employees, preferably at a lower cost. Below are some effective and cost-efficient ways to enhance your employee wellness programs, leaving your employees happier and more excited about work!

  1. Walk and Talk Meetings

Walk and Talk meetings are becoming a popular new way that companies can encourage employee fitness in the workplace. The average American employee spends the vast majority of the day sitting at the desk, and studies show that 86% of them hate it. The walk and talk meetings provide a way to get up and move around, while still being productive with the work that needs to be accomplished. In addition, walking boosts creativity and new environments produce fresh ideas. A Stanford study recently found that, “walking has a very specific benefit – the improvement of creativity.” So, next time you’re looking for a boost of creativity and activity in your schedule, consider taking your meeting for a walk.

  1. Fit Bit Challenges

Fit Bits are one of the most popular fitness trackers on the market. Several employees already have personal Fit Bits so bringing them into the workplace is an easy transition. For those that do not, many companies are buying them in large bundles for resale at discounted rates to their employees. Companies are finding innovative ways to incorporate Fit Bits into their wellness programs to keep employees active while also fostering teamwork. According to Fit Bit, by holding challenges and competitions using the Fit Bit, companies create group health that is easily trackable. More specifically, “Fit Bit users with one or more friends are 27% more active.” The concept of using the Fit Bit with other employees builds better relationships as well as holds them accountable for being active.

The challenges are a simple and cost efficient way to improve overall health and many companies have had great success through using the Fit Bit. For example, The Cleveland Cavaliers’ employees did a Fit Bit walking challenge in which they logged their daily activities and food. In order to entice workers to take part, they held competitions with prizes that spiked employee participation and overall health and happiness. The result of the challenge- “employees reached their personal fitness and weight loss goals, conference room meetings became walking meetings, and elevator trips were nixed in favor of the stairs. By the time their challenge came to a close, participants had recorded a cumulative 76.6 million steps—more than 38,000 miles—and created new healthy habits to take into the future.” Your company could be the next to see amazing FitBit challenge results!

  1. Healthy Vending Machines

In order to achieve a healthy lifestyle, the combination of exercise and healthy eating is essential. For busy employees, grabbing a quick snack is a typical daily routine, however these quick grabs are often unhealthy. Keeping healthy vending machines, or stocking the fridge with fruits and vegetables allows workers to snag a healthy snack that will aid overall health and also satisfy mid-day hunger cravings. In addition, eating healthy has many cognitive benefits that can transfer into employees’ work. For example, typical benefits that arise from healthy eating are an increase in concentration and alertness, generating better work from each of your employees.

  1. Competitions

Competitions can easily be tailored to fit your company’s culture! One of the most popular workplace competitions is the Biggest Loser challenge. In this type of challenge, the employee or team of employees sets a weight loss goal. The group that loses the most weight by the end of the allotted competition time wins! Another popular challenge is signing up for local 5Ks or half marathons and running the race with your co-workers. You can encourage employees to partake in fitness challenges by having prizes or monetary rewards. Aside from the obvious health results, challenges like these encourage teamwork and healthy competition inside the workplace. Above all else, it’s important to get creative with whichever competition you choose!

The key to a successful wellness program is to make it personal to what your employees enjoy and will want to participate in. These are just a few ways that you can find success in employee wellness throughout your company. So, boost your overall employee morale and efficiency by implementing these simple yet cost efficient wellness ideas in your daily routines!

 

Contributed 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

Many wellness programs start off with good intentions, offer some education and fun, but even after several years, have failed to meet their original goals or produce real culture change. We recently reviewed the first three steps to a successful, sustainable workplace program. Here we conclude with steps four through six for setting up a successful program.

4.  Find internal wellness champions; develop and embrace an organizational vision for wellbeing.

Now that the stars are beginning to align, management is invested in the program, the partners, tools, and resources needed have been established, you can now begin to look internally at where to go next. Most wellness vendors, and consultants like me, recommend setting up a committee to champion the program. Smaller organizations might have one or two people, while a larger organization may have a larger group. To obtain a well-rounded perspective, the committee should represent the office as a whole, not just certain pieces. Different divisions, remote employees, various departments, or other organizational demographics should all be represented. A successful program needs a group of people who are in charge of equal parts of the organization and who are actively engaged in effective change. These champions are the ones the employees come to rely on for information; they are the wellness cheerleaders of your organizations, walking the talk! Members can be appointed or volunteer, but I highly recommend setting guidelines and expectations for committee members up front.

Create a vision within the committee or team and gain insight on what the employees want in a program. What is the goal and purpose of having a health and wellness program? This might seem basic, but it is a necessary question. What do you want to accomplish? Is your organization looking to drive down the cost of claims? Although cost containment may be reason to look at wellness, it should not be your only goal. Successful groups implement programs to improve the lives of employees and their families. Your vision does not have to be formal, but the purpose of the program and why it is being put in place should be communicated. As the employer, sit down and ask the employees what they want in a wellness program. You would be surprised at the number of employers I have worked with that have not asked their employees anything. Engagement with employees is vital to the success of the program; build your vision and plan with their help.

5.  Set health goals and tailor program elements and incentives to meet them.

With the aggregate data in hand, it is time to define a program outline and set goals. It is easy to get ahead of yourself when beginning this program by creating unrealistic goals that are too demanding of employees. You will not have 100 percent participation in your first year. Strategize and establish measurable goals with your committee, wellness vendor, and benefits consultant. Setting realistic expectations is crucial for program success.

Find the balance between offering enough activities to keep employees engaged, but not overwhelming them with so many activities that it becomes taxing. Do not be afraid to want to see your program succeed! Look ahead and create a six- to 12-month program. I prefer to create a 10-month program with some type of monthly healthy activity. Select programs and topics that relate directly back to the aggregate data you collected. For example, if you have data that says less than five percent of your population uses tobacco, then you do not need to implement a 12-week tobacco cessation program. Instead, assist that five percent by providing some free education and resources for support, then focus on where your organization might need more attention.

Find programs that support employees on their overall health journey. Ask questions to identify programs that will encourage and influence behavior changes. For most organizations, it is common to offer programming geared to employees that are pre-hypertensive or hypertensive, overweight, obese, have high cholesterol, or employees experiencing high stress and anxiety. Rely on your benefits consultant or wellness vendor to make the best practice recommendations for creating behavior changes related to these risk areas. You may be able to use your existing Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and market it more heavily. In more extreme cases, you may need to utilize health coaches available with your wellness vendor or through your disease management program.

Think of setting goals in terms of the percentage of participation would you like to see in the first, second, third, and future years. For example, you may want to see utilization of medical preventive care benefits increase from 57 to 75 percent, or see employee engagement increase from one activity to the next. Setting two to five measurable goals early on, then evaluating those goals monthly, provides valuable insight into the program’s success. Make goals and programming obtainable; create an atmosphere of success for your employees.

Do not forget to use incentives. What will get your population “moving?” The discussion of whether intrinsic or extrinsic incentives are more effective is a lengthy one and of much debate these days.

From internal case studies, it is my expert opinion that employers willing to link their wellness program incentives to their benefit plan design in the form of reduced medical premiums, or making contributions to an employee’s health savings account or flexible spending account, see the greatest level of participation and overall behavior change in their employees. Of course, this does not occur overnight, but rather over time in coordination with your benefits consultant. This becomes a way of creating a cost-effective and consumer-driven healthcare plan that uses incentives to encourage your employees to make high-value decisions. A testimonial from one of our client’s employees says it all when it comes to intrinsic vs. extrinsic incentives.

“In short, I came for the savings, I stayed for my health. The first year I only participated for cost savings thinking, ‘Who would really like this?’ The following year I signed up for a health coach. Now I’m living healthier, eating better, exercising more, and more importantly, feeling better. Now I think, ‘Who wouldn’t really like this’?”

6. Kick it off, communicate and evaluate.

Roll out your program! Hold a kick-off party for the employees in the office, and conduct a webinar for the employees who work off-site. Provide employees with an overview of the program so they understand why your organization has created a wellness program, what employees should expect from their program, and the vision of the program.

Make sure to communicate about the program weekly, and use all forms of communication. Ask your employees what frequency of emails they prefer. Many of our clients, including my own company, like to have two emails a week to remind them of what is going on. Use social media, provide videos, webinars, etc. The more buzz that can be created around the program the better. Keep employees engaged and excited when it comes to your program, but do not overwhelm them with communication. Send emails about the challenges keeping employees engaged and involved, on who is winning, and success of activities. Create an environment of success using these communication methods.

Last, evaluate the program realistically. What went well? What needs improvement moving forward? Get real-time reporting from the vendor for participation. Review the program throughout the year and adjust as needed – no program is ever static. If you are not making changes each year, you are not being realistic. Improvements can always be made. Survey employees about things they learned, what they liked, and what they would do differently. You can use your vendor or benefits consultant to assist here. Make sure that the feedback from the employee surveys is taken into consideration when moving forward with the program. The more employees engage in the wellness program in its entirety, the more success you will have moving forward.

Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

 

Many of us have seen or heard about the various wellness programs referred to as “participation–based” programs. These participation-only programs continue to be the starting point for many organizations when they enter the world of workplace wellness. Participatory programs typically include a few individual and team-based activities, offer a level of electronic or onsite seminar education, and offer employees biometric screening and personal health risk assessments. Organizations may even award prizes, hold drawings, or offer giveaways.

These programs are typically created with the goals of promoting and encouraging healthier lifestyles for their employees and their families, reducing healthcare costs of the organization, or simply because ownership feels it is the right thing to do.

Fast forward a few years, and the same program is being offered. In most cases, employees have received some education and had fun, but the organization has yet to meet its original goals or experience a real culture change. Employees still seem to be leading unhealthy lifestyles, productivity and morale seem lower than ever, and healthcare claims continue to skyrocket. So why do you even have this wellness program?

In my eight years working as Wellness Program Manager for a mid-sized benefits consulting firm, I have been a part of and have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of the programs. I have learned from mistakes made early on, and I value sharing those experiences with those I have the opportunity to consult with. I share firsthand examples from my own company’s program, as well as the experiences of my clients and other business partners. A program set up successfully – with the right support, tools, partners, and initial incentives – will absolutely reap the reward, and your organization should recognize a true cultural change.

These are the key factors that I believe contribute most to the success of a wellness program.

1. Secure senior management commitment and participation.

It is easy for business owners to say they want a wellness program, but it is a different story when they actually embrace the concept, support the process, and engage in the program themselves. Owners of organizations have come to me for help in implementing a wellness program. They assign one person to be in charge of the program, typically someone whose time is already limited, and for one reason or another the program stalls. If the top leadership of the organization is not supportive or engaged, it could take anywhere from six months to five years trying to get a sustainable wellness program off the ground. The program may not even take off at all.

I have seen these programs fizzle for many reasons, including a shift in business objectives, lack of established goals, or lack of participation or role-modeling from management or ownership. It can be recognized early whether a program is going to succeed by the support it has from its leaders. Think of a successful program much like the game “follow the leader.” Good leaders and owners should not only sponsor the program, but should also be actively engaged and supporting it, leading by example. When employees see owners and employers participating and supporting the program, they too will “follow the leader.” Once you have backing from the people who invoke change within your organization, laying the groundwork for the program will become a smoother process.

2.  Survey the organization and gather aggregate data to establish need and risk areas.

Once you have built the foundation, it is a good time to collect and gather data to determine need and evaluate aggregate risks in the organization. Of those organizations that created the participatory programs we discussed earlier, how many of them do you think actually asked their employees first what they wanted or needed in order to change unhealthy behaviors or lead a healthy lifestyle? What lifestyle-related claims is the organization experiencing that might be able to be controlled with interventions? What health risks exist within the organization? Organizations typically roll out the program before they gather the data, and then look back and wonder why their participation in their program was so low. Logically, it is because the employees didn’t want or need it or see the value.

When working with a benefits consulting firm, organizations ask for employees to be surveyed annually on their likes and dislikes in medical and dental coverage. It only makes sense that employees also be surveyed about their needs in a wellness program. The employee wellness survey may include questions about areas where they may want help, programs they would be willing to participate in, what would motivate them to engage in the program, and whether or not they are even looking to make any changes. Do not worry or be discouraged, as there is always five to ten percent of a population that is resistant to anything and will never participate regardless of what you provide.

Additional data is then obtained by analyzing your organization’s aggregate claims, if data is available. Along with claims data, organizations may also compile aggregate data through health screenings, biometrics, health and fitness diagnostics and assessments, blood work, and more.

3.  Utilize existing tools and resources, establish partnerships and seek guidance.

Many organizations may not be aware of the variety of wellness program tools and resources available to them. First, look to your benefits insurance consultant. Qualified, reputable benefit consulting firms now have credentialed wellness program managers or coordinators on staff to work alongside you and your team. Consultants can help navigate what is available to you from your insurance carrier or third party administrator and are likely tapped into local and national resources, wellness vendors, and other workplace wellness tools. One of the best parts of my role as a Wellness Program Manager is to share my passion for wellness with our clients and help them design a sustainable program. If you have a benefits consultant that is not providing this level of support or staff, it is worth inquiring.

Establish a partnership with a wellness vendor. This is one resource that is often overlooked because organizations try to do it themselves. Sustainable programs have vendors that can design programs based on need and risk, manage day-to-day program tasks, provide ongoing reporting, and recommend best practices for goal achievement.

Over the last few years, hundreds of new wellness vendors have entered the marketplace. I have worked with great vendors and vendors that I will not work with again. Employers should not settle for a “cookie cutter” program. Look for a partner that shares a similar view on wellness, one who will customize a program to satisfy your organization’s objectives. Ensure that you partner with a vendor that offers actual guidance and management of your program. CAUTION: Many vendors promote account management as a top service they provide, but few deliver. A great way to find the right vendor is through the partnerships your employee benefits consultant has established or from other business referrals and testimonials. When I place a client with a vendor, the most important thing I look for is the type of service my client will receive. Accept nothing but high quality and service.

Originally posted 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

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