Life Insurance 101: Understanding The Different Products

David Rook

As employers search for ways to create meaningful employee benefits packages, many have turned to life insurance policies. It’s become fairly standard to offer life insurance in the amount of the employee’s annual salary at no cost to the worker. Beyond that, it’s common to offer “buy up” options for employees who might want additional coverage for themselves, or sometimes for a spouse. This could be double, triple, or even five times the amount of a person’s annual salary and in these cases, the premium for extra coverage is typically paid entirely by the employee.

Life Insurance 101: Understanding the Policies

Much like health insurance, life insurance options can be confusing. There are three different types (whole, universal, and term) and even variants among those three. How are people supposed to choose? How do they know which policy is best for their family? We put together a cheat sheet to prepare employees and HR professionals alike to make a more informed decision.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Voluntary Benefits, Ancillary Benefits, Worksite Benefits

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If the Employer Mandate is Repealed, Should Companies Drop Employer-Sponsored Healthcare?

Jeff Griffin

President Trump promised to repeal ObamaCare on “day one”. While it’s going to take a little longer than he had planned, it does look inevitable that an overhaul to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will eventually pass both houses of Congress, even despite recent legislative setbacks.

One of the least popular provisions of the law, at least for employers, is the “employer mandate”, which requires certain employers with 50 or more “full-time equivalent” employees (FTEs) to provide an affordable healthcare plan. With the proposed law as it stands today, now in jeopardy, a pressing question is now looming over employers: if the employer mandate really is repealed, should they drop their health coverage?

The issue certainly isn’t cut and dry, with some believing that no matter what happens in Washington, employer-sponsored healthcare is dying and others predicting it will never really go away. Assuming the ACA’s employer mandate is repealed, every company will have an important decision to make, weighing the benefits and pitfalls of dropping coverage.

Repealing the Employer Mandate

Republican lawmakers have spoken on countless occasions about wanting to repeal the employer mandate. The Trump administration even ran on a platform of getting rid of it. In theory, this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but in practice, it’s more difficult than it seems. The employer mandate, after all, is the primary mechanism by which healthier people are brought into the overall risk pool, which is the only way a healthy insurance market works (healthy people subsidize the unhealthy, essentially). Without it, most experts predict that insurers would pull out of the healthcare exchanges and the entire program will collapse.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Affordable Care Act, ACA, Employer Mandate, Employee Retention

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If You Aren’t Offering Voluntary Benefits, You're Missing Out

David Rook

When building a comprehensive benefits package, many business owners are (understandably) grateful just to be able to offer medical coverage. But some employers also tend to leave out voluntary benefits, which can enrich the employment experience and be a helpful recruitment tool for potential employees — all at little or no cost to the employer. If voluntary benefits are outside your purview, check out this quick-reference guide to fill in the blanks.

What Are Voluntary Benefits?

While the definition of voluntary benefits has become somewhat blurred over the years (and are sometimes referred to as worksite benefits or even ancillary benefits) they are, for the most part, insurance products meant to fill in healthcare gaps where health, dental, and vision insurance might not reach, and can increase the value of your employee benefits package. Typically, voluntary benefits are paid in full by the employee and made easy through payroll deductions — most of the time at a lower rate than what can be found on the individual market and frequently taken out of wages pre-tax.

Common examples of voluntary benefits include:

  • Accident Insurance: Provides compensation to employees if they suffer major physical harm due to an accident. Some insurance policies even reimburse employees for seeing their doctor a couple times per year.
  • Critical Illness: Provides a lump sum to enrollees in the event of a critical illness (such as a heart attack or stroke) which can be used to pay medical or non-medical expenses (like child-care) while an employee is unable to work.
  • Cancer Insurance: In the event of a cancer diagnoses, an enrollee receives money with which to pay for treatment and sometimes, to help pay non-medical expenses.
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Topics: Employee Benefits, Cost Containment, Plan Design, Voluntary Benefits

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The Pros and Cons of Telemedicine

Jeff Griffin

Cultivating a truly competitive employee benefits package can sometimes seem like an insurmoutable task. Most employers work in earnest to put in place the very best benefits they can afford, without compromising coverage. This is especially true when it comes to the medical portion of their program. Telemedicine, rapidly growing in popularity, is an excellent way to supplement a medical plan without driving up costs - but it does have some drawbacks as well. So what exactly is telemedicine, and is it a good fit for your company? 

What is Telemedicine?

Originally intended to reach people in remote locations, telemedicine has grown in popularity over the past decade. Telemedicine allows patients to speak to a doctor on the phone (and preferably, with video, as doctors can visually observe the patient). The doctor can diagnose minor health issues and even write prescriptions. If the doctor fears the issue at hand requires immediate medical attention, he or she can recommend the person go the nearest emergency room or urgent care.

Telemedicine is perfect for people who have a hard time getting an appointment with their primary care physician (PCP), people with newborns (who are likely to have a million questions), or those who are disabled and struggle to get to their PCP’s office. Simple medical devices in the home can even be used to help provide vitals and diagnostic information to the doctors so a more accurate diagnosis is possible.

Telemedicine is typically far cheaper than an office visit — for both the patient and the insurance company. In fact, there’s no copay for telemedicine, making it an attractive option for those with copays on the higher end of the spectrum (especially for specialists) or for those who might be tight on cash.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Telemedicine, HSAs

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Are Your Health & Wellness Corporate Communications Missing The Mark?

David Rook

Are you missing the mark with your efforts designed to promote wellness, as well as target other population health issues? Is this inability to effectively target the right employees as well as drive real behavioral change driving up your claim costs, and ultimately your premiums?

If you’re like most small businesses, you’re relying on your employee benefits broker to help out in this area. Unfortunately, most brokers aren’t equipped to help you “unearth” these issues and they certainly aren’t staffed to help guide any effort towards taming your workforce’s true health issues. In fact, when faced with this challenge, most brokers typically hand their clients a set of somewhat generic carrier-generated posters and flyers and call it their “strategic communications plan.”

Here is what you should expect from your employee benefits broker and why customized content is far more effective than cookie-cutter fliers in the break room.

Flying Blind With Generic Marketing Pieces Just Doesn’t Cut It

Setting aside the inability to identify and target true population health risks for a moment, let’s just talk about the efficacy (or inefficacy more likely) of these communication materials. Generic fact-sheets frequently miss the mark because they are written for such a general audience that they fall flat and lack a meaningful call-to-action.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, employee benefits broker, employers

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What Are Required Employee Benefits?

David Rook

When starting a business, most entrepreneurs want to attract employees by offering them a robust benefits package. Then, reality sets in, and they realize that this will have to wait until they establish positive cash flow. Well regardless of if an employer is just starting out or if they’re already well established, employers need to realize that there are certain required employee benefits they MUST offer in order to maintain compliance with the law; failure to do so can trigger large penalties. Here are required employee benefits employers cannot skip — and some that are only applicable as a business grows.

Required Employee Benefits For Employers of Any Size

1. Social Security and Medicare Benefits

Every employer, regardless of size, is subject to the required employee benefit of matching their employees’ social security and Medicare contributions. The current rate for social security is 6.2 percent of the employee’s wage from each party, equalling 12.4 percent in total, up to the first $127,200 in earnings. This amount is also known as the “wage base limit.”

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Affordable Care Act, employers

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Employee Benefits Issues Facing Arizona Employers

David Rook

While employers across the country are battling the rising cost of health care, Arizona employers are facing unique challenges of their own. Arizona’s border with Mexico presents unique circumstances many states don’t encounter, and certain state laws have created a challenging environment for employers to cultivate meaningful employee benefits packages. Here are four issues Arizona employers are facing in 2017 when it comes to employee benefits:

Arizona Employee Benefits Issue #1: Lack of Exchange Options

For small businesses with fewer than 50 full-time equivalents (FTEs), offering a SBHRA (Small Business Healthcare Reimbursement Arrangement) can be a challenge. Taking advantage of newly passed legislation regarding SBHRAs should generally help small businesses with recruitment and retention — however, the lack of Exchange options in Arizona is likely to frustrate employees, rather than appeal to them.  

This lack of Exchange options means competition is virtually non-existent, which generally leads to higher healthcare prices. Of course, this means employees are having difficulty finding affordable healthcare that fits within their budget, leading some employers to feel obligated to increase the amount they offer via SBHRAs.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Cost Containment, HSAs, Arizona

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5 Ways to Help Employees Embrace High Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs)

David Rook

Many employers are making the move from traditional healthcare plans such as HMOs, POSs, EPOs, or PPOs, to high deductible health plans, commonly referred to as HDHPs. Employers find that HDHPs allow them to save on premium costs while at the same time encouraging workers to become more active and educated consumers of healthcare. Some companies might offer HDHPs as one of two or more medical plan options, although this strategy does them little good in terms of saving money if the majority of employees fail to adopt an HDHP plan.

Regardless of the options employers choose to offer, consumer-driven healthcare is on the rise and high deductible health plans aren’t going away anytime soon. As they continue to become more and more prevalent, it’s important for HR to step up their communication efforts. Employees will be (understandably) concerned and confused by the differences in HDHPs, but it’s nothing education, patience and a bit of behavioral economics knowledge can’t solve to ward off buyer's remorse. Here are some ways to help employees embrace high deductible health plans.

1. Communication is Key

As with any other change in your company, you must be very explicit and intentional in your communication. Remember that people like to have explanations for what is happening (and why), rather than have changes dictated to them without any kind of supporting information. Just remember Benjamin Franklin's oft-cited adage "Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn."

When introducing a HDHP, it's critical to hold an active (vs. passive) enrollment. It's also smart to hold an open enrollment meeting so your employees can ask you questions - just make sure they’re prepared for it by sending out the benefits information a few days prior to presentation. In this way, they'll have time to review the information and come prepared with any questions they might have. Be as candid as possible so they feel as though you’re understanding their concerns - and do your best to be as patient as you can to assuage their fears. This course of action will go a long way toward a smooth transition.

2. Educate Employees about How High Deductible Health Plans Work

If your employees have never been enrolled in a high deductible health plan before, they’ll have plenty of questions about how they work. Why aren’t there copays? How much does an office visit cost at the doctor? What if one of the members on the plan is seriously injured? For what type of person are HDHPs most appropriate? Although HDHPs are growing in popularity among employers, employees tend to know very little about them and therefore, shy away from them.

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Topics: Cost Containment, Employee Engagement, Education, HSAs

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Is Your High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) HSA Qualified?

Jeff Griffin

As healthcare costs rapidly started to rise in the 2000s, insurance companies started to push high deductible health plans, which came with lower monthly premiums, but higher than average deductibles. That trend has continued to the present day, where HDHPs (high deductible health plans) are as popular as ever among employers.

According to the
Kaiser Family Foundation, employers offering HDHPs with some kind of savings option has increased 25 percent over the past decade. In fact, 29 percent of workers covered by employer-sponsored health plans are now enrolled in a high deductible health plan.

One of the major perks of being enrolled in an HDHP is the ability for employees to open and contribute to an HSA (health savings account) — but what many employers (and employees) don’t realize is that not all health plans with high deductibles are eligible for this benefit. So how do you know if your high deductible health plan is HSA qualified?

What is an HSA?

An HSA is a tax-advantaged savings account designated for qualifying health expenditures. This means that funds which employees, employers (or both) contribute to an HSA are not subject to tax, thereby lowering the participant's taxable income for the year. While participants can contribute any amount they like, the government caps tax-advantaged funds at $3,400 for individuals and $6,750 for families. 

For people who have experience with FSAs (flexible spending accounts), the concept is very similar. FSAs, designed to offset health and dependent care expenses, are sometimes made available through employer-sponsored benefit programs. The main difference is that funds contributed to an FSA  “expire” at the end of year in what’s called the “use it or lose it” rule. Net, if FSA participants don’t use their entire contribution, they forfeit whatever is left over.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, employee benefits broker, HSAs

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How to Get the Best Work Out of Your Employee Benefits Broker

Jeff Griffin

Some companies regrettably try to "go it alone" when it comes to crafting healthcare and employee benefits programs for their workforce. Perhaps because of a previous broker relationship which they feel didn't bear much fruit, some companies discount the impact a talented employee benefits broker can have on their business. Others fear that the services of a broker will be too expensive, or that it will be difficult to find one they can trust. Despite these objections, most HR professionals will concede that any decent employee benefits adviser knows far more about healthcare and the field of employee benefits than they ever could.

It's true that some employee benefits brokers are essentially "order takers" — simply taking instruction from employers who think they know best and/or are looking to get their benefit selections done as quickly as possible. The really good ones, however, will help companies approach their benefits programs in a highly strategic fashion, thereby driving impactful investment decisions while at the same time identifying critical savings opportunities.

Developing this symbiotic relationship with your benefits broker is a two-way street; these consultants and advisors can’t do all the work alone. To maximize impact, they need your assistance and cooperation. In that regard, here are a few things you can do to ensure you’re getting the best work out of your employee benefits broker — not just during open enrollment, but all year round.

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Topics: Employee Benefits

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