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Is Medicare-for-all Good for Business Owners and Employees?

Jeff Griffin

Today the first official votes will be cast, both in Iowa and California, for the 2020 presidential election. A hot button topic in the discourse leading up to this moment has been whether the country should migrate to a single-payer healthcare system commonly referred to as "Medicare-for-all."

While every Democratic candidate still in the running supports some level of change to the current healthcare system, Medicare-for-all is a solution championed primarily by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Both are pushing for a single-payer solution where Americans would be enrolled automatically in a government-run medical insurance plan. Both of their policies call for essentially disbanding private insurance, or relegating it to something only needed to supplement care outside of the provisions provided in their single-payer solutions.

Should Employers Embrace Medicare-for-all?

Would this transition to Medicare-for-all be a good thing for employers, 4.5 million of which are providing employer-sponsored group health insurance to over 160 million Americans representing 49 percent of the country's total population?

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Topics: Cost Containment, Disruption, Legislation

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Best Practices For Maintaining Legally Compliant Workplace Wellness Programs

Dr. Christine Maxwell

There are several comprehensive federal statutes that impact workplace wellness programs. While employers who invest in wellness initiatives almost always do so with the best of intentions, violations of these regulations can be costly.

Today we'll focus on three key federal laws which employers should keep in mind when building out a wellness plan. They are as follows;

1. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) includes nondiscrimination rules that apply to wellness plans being offered in connection with group health plans. Under HIPAA, workplace wellness programs are divided into two categories: participatory wellness programs and health-contingent wellness programs.  

Here are the main differences between these two types of programs;

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Compliance, wellness, employee wellness, wellness program

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Keeping New Year's Resolutions - Here's How Employers Can Help

Dr. Christine Maxwell

The new year is often a time for people to pause and reflect on the past year and consider things they’d like to change. This leads to new year’s resolutions, which frequently include health-related outcomes. Soon after, however, resolve to keep these resolutions starts to get a bit shaky.

Some of the most common new year’s resolutions including losing weight, eating better, exercising more, and engaging in more self-care. Anyone who belongs to a fitness club knows that January is the busiest month of the year, but the crowds start to thin out around mid-February, if not sooner. By that point, most people have given up on their new year’s resolutions and the steady gym members get their favorite machines back.

The bad news is the failure to implement the healthy lifestyle changes your employees were working on might have adverse effects on their mindsets. By the end of February, if they’ve abandoned their new year’s resolutions, they’re back to their old habits, picking up fast food at lunch, downing cans of soda, and probably feeling bad about themselves.

The good news is that you can help them turn things around. Maybe they need a little extra encouragement and support to follow through with their new year’s resolutions, both of which you can provide to them with a bit of effort.  

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Topics: Employee Benefits, wellness, workplace wellness, cost management, Culture

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What’s the Difference Between an Employee Benefits Broker, Consultant and Advisor?

Jeff Griffin

Crafting an employee benefits program for your workforce can be a daunting task, not to mention a great deal of work that often falls outside an employer’s area of expertise. After all, we don’t meet many small to midsize business owners who cherish having to become experts in human resources and employee benefits.

This is precisely why most companies (even and especially large ones), lean on outside resources and subject matter experts for assistance with their employee benefits program.  

While some very small businesses bundle the procurement of benefits with their payroll provider or property/casualty broker (a practice we’d strongly recommend against - and a topic for a future blog post) most businesses elicit the assistance of a professionally licensed and trained employee benefits expert. 

There’s only one problem: most HR professionals are confused as to whether they need an employee benefits broker, an employee benefits consultant, or an employee benefits advisor. Many are also unclear of the difference between these professionals - and many wrongly assume it’s just merely semantics.

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Topics: Administration, Strategy, Corporate Communication, Account Management, Human Resources

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Skyrocketing Prescription Drug Prices - Finally In Bipartisan Crosshairs

Jeff Griffin

Last week we wrote about a recently issued Executive Order by the White House to hopefully usher in healthcare price transparency from hospitals and insurance carriers, both of whom hold their secret price negotiations close to the vest. We expressed optimism over the order’s ability to tame runaway consumer and employer healthcare costs. Sunlight, after all, is said to be the best disinfectant.

There’s another area of equal concern which has been driving up the cost of employer-sponsored healthcare for quite some time - prescription drug pricing. In a word, it is skyrocketing, with no end in sight.

The price of pharmaceutical drugs is rising 3x faster than wages, and 5x faster than inflation. In fact, more than 3,400 drugs have boosted their prices in the first six months of 2019, an increase of 17 percent in the number of drug hikes from a year earlier. And the average price hike across all prescription drugs stands at 10.5 percent.

A new coalition of health advocate groups was formed in October to make their voices heard on drug price transparency, caps on drug price increases, and other price reducing strategies. The coalition has identified drug manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers (aka the middlemen) as the culprits, but it’s literally going to take an act of congress to get this under control.

The drug hikes come at a time when (or perhaps because) lawmakers and the Trump administration have vowed to address the problem of rising prescription costs.

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Topics: Cost Containment, Disruption, Legislation, Price Transparency

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Employers Should Welcome Healthcare Price Transparency, Despite Industry Objections

Jeff Griffin

The Trump administration, hungry to notch a win on healthcare prior to the 2020 election, continues to push ahead on initiatives designed to reign in healthcare costs. We applaud these efforts and are disappointed and dismayed by those in the healthcare industry opposed to these undertakings.

Announced November 15, the White House’s price-disclosure initiative would most certainly upend the $3.5 trillion healthcare industry. In fact, the requirements called for, by executive order, are far more extensive than many industry experts predicted. Somewhat expectedly, they have drawn the ire of hospitals and healthcare delivery providers caught in its crosshairs.

The Executive Order On Healthcare Transparency

Issued jointly by the Department of Labor (DOL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Treasury Department, the proposal imposes new transparency requirements on group health plans and health insurers in both the individual and group markets.

In the simplest of terms, the proposed rule will force hospitals and insurers to disclose the highly secretive rates they negotiate with each other for an extensive list of services, including doctor and facility fees, supplies, and even drug costs.

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Topics: Cost Containment, Disruption, Legislation, Price Transparency

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Cyber Monday Shopping At Work: 4 Ways To Maintain Productivity

David Rook

Over half of U.S. workers will shop online while on the job this Cyber Monday. That's double the number of "work shoppers" from just a few years ago, according to recent research conducted by Robert Half Technology

Once an activity only those with desk jobs could get away with, experts point to the ease in which retailers have now made shopping from smartphones as one of the primary drivers of this dramatic increase in online shopping while at work. 

And while most workers will browse during their lunch breaks, a surprising number will shop all day long, with 44% admitting that their productivity suffers as they surf for the best deals.

Among 28 U.S. cities in the survey, Phoenix tops the list of cities with employees who admit to this hit in productivity, with San Diego and Austin following close behind.

So what can be done about this workplace productivity killer? In a nutshell, not much. Resistance is futile, as they say. In fact, in a separate survey also conducted by Robert Half, 77% of technology leaders said their firms allow "workshopping", but more than half of these same respondents (52%) indicated a preference for employees to not shop from work. (See infographic.)

So here are four ways that you, as an employer, can embrace Cyber Monday in ways designed to minimize workplace disruption and maintain employee productivity.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Company Culture, Education, Employee Productivity

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Take Back Control of Your Employee Benefits Story on Glassdoor and Indeed

David Rook

Every business owner is concerned about their company’s reputation. It not only affects their ability to attract customers, but also the talent they’re able to recruit. And these days, the internet is providing a much louder voice to a much wider audience, making business reputation management both more difficult and more complicated.

Ideally, you want current and former employees to leave shining endorsements of your company and all it has to offer, but the reality is that not everyone will do so. Whether your role in a company is one of ownership, leadership, marketing, or human resources, part of your job is to engage in business reputation management and luckily, the very same internet making the process more difficult has managed to provide some useful tools to help you out.  

The Role the Internet Plays in Company Reputation

One of the most positive things the internet has bestowed upon us is the ability to be more transparent. We don’t buy anything without researching it and reading every review we can find, so why would job-seeking be any different? People can read the company’s website, but let’s face it: what they really want is the inside scoop. They want the dirt. They want to know why employees leave, what they’re upset about, what they wish they could change, and how good the employee benefits really are.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Culture, Reputation Management, Social Media

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A New Theory Emerges On Employee Retention; Its Impact on Wage Growth, Inflation & Productivity

Jeff Griffin

It wasn’t long ago employers feared that the growing popularity of more portable employee benefits such as Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) might lead to a drop in workforce loyalty and employee retention.

Coupled with the ACA’s provision striking down preexisting conditions, HR professionals were fearful this would cause an exodus of workers who perhaps weren’t loyal out of choice, but rather because of their employer-sponsored healthcare coverage and yet-to-vest retirement benefits.

It turns out that these fears have been mostly unfounded. In fact, the rate at which employed workers move to new jobs has been depressed for more than a decade and has only recently approached levels seen before the 2008 financial crisis, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

More precisely, and according to a Wall Street Journal article published earlier this week, 5.8% of U.S. workers switched jobs in the first quarter of 2018 (the most recent period available), compared to an average of 7% per quarter back in 2000 and 3% per quarter in 2009, the latter of which represents an historic low during this period. 

Today's still relatively low level of job switching has economists calling into question a key economic model of our time, called the Phillips Curve. It predicts that inflation rises as unemployment falls, but that hasn't happened lately. So what's going on? And what does this have to do with employee retention?

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Topics: Employee Retention, Recruitment, Compensation

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IRS Finally Announces Official Contribution Caps For FSAs, 401(k)s, HSAs and More (Includes Comparison Tables)

Jeff Griffin

This afternoon the IRS officially announced the final 2020 election/contribution limits for Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), qualified Commuter Benefits, and several retirement savings vehicles. (See comparison tables, below.)

Considering that many employers have already held their employee benefits Open Enrollments for 2020, today’s announcements by the IRS can best be filed under the “better late than never” category.

These IRS statements finally set official contribution limits for Health Care FSAs, Dependent Care FSAs, Limited Purpose FSAs, Qualified Parking and Qualified Transportation Saving Plans, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, most 457 plans, IRAs, SIMPLE Plans, and the Federal Government’s Thrift Savings Plan.

All of these saving plans provide participants with the opportunity to save money, either by paying for qualified expenses with pre-tax savings contributions, or by saving for retirement with pretax elections. 

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Topics: Compliance, Employee Communications, HSAs, Retirement Planning, HDHPs, FSAs

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