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The Importance of Paid Time Off (PTO)

David Rook

Paid time off is one of the most commonly provided benefits as well as one of the most highly regarded.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that more than 70 percent of employees have at least one form of paid time off, and the rate is much higher among certain types of employers such as large private companies and local, state and federal government entities.

In fact, in a Glassdoor survey, vacation and paid time off proved to be more important for employees than pay raises. Yet despite the desire for it, the United States remains far behind much of the world in both providing and using this benefit.

Even though there’s been a recent uptick in the number of days U.S. employees are taking off annually, they still take very few days off -- and that’s not good for anyone.

The following is an exploration of why paid time off is important to offer and why it's important to take, along with what’s normal in the U.S. and throughout the world. 

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Topics: Company Culture, Paid Time Off (PTO), Employee Retention, workplace wellness, trends, work life balance, Mental Health, Recruitment

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Some of Our Favorite Resources For HR Professionals

David Rook

HR professionals know the value of staying connected and informed better than almost anyone else in the workplace.

Often asked to stretch resources and "make do" with limited budgets, HR professionals have learned to survive by being resourceful and self-sufficient.

Life-long learners at heart, those who work in the field of human resources often tap into the wide range of information resources now available at their fingertips, thanks to the internet. 

As follow-up to a blog post we published last year, "Best Twitter Hashtags for HR Directors to Follow", here are some of our favorite resources beyond Twitter, spanning associations, books, podcasts and blogs.

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Topics: Education, Employee Retention, Strategy, Culture, Training, Human Resources

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Surprise Medical Billing Reaches a Tipping Point

David Rook

All across the country, a sweeping movement to combat surprise medical bills has been slowly percolating and is now finally gaining traction on a national level.

What began as grievances filed by wronged patients has grown into government officials at both the state and federal level championing legislation against this industry practice.

A law that recently went into effect in Arizona and recent remarks from President Trump are merely the latest in an ongoing trend that has the force to reshape how patients are billed for out-of-network expenses.

Unexpected Out-of-Network Charges Result in Surprise Medical Bills

Surprise medical billing isn’t so much an intentional practice of healthcare companies, as much as it’s a byproduct of the fractured healthcare industry. Specifically, it’s a result of multiple institutions and providers treating patients simultaneously while working for different employers.

In its simplest form, a surprise medical bill is an unexpected medical bill that patients receive for out-of-network services that they thought were in-network. The bill is sent after the services are provided, leaving patients with little recourse and high fees since out-of-network charges tend to be much higher than those in-network.

An all too common scenario shows how easy this can happen to patients. A patient goes to a hospital for a covered surgical procedure. They’ve done their research and have made sure that both the hospital and the surgeon’s practice are within their insurer’s network. In completing this due diligence, they then assume that the entire procedure will be covered as an in-network expense. Seems reasonable, right?

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Topics: Cost Containment, Legislation, trends, Arizona, healthcare costs, Arizona Regulations

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Active vs. Passive Open Enrollment; Weighing the Pros & Cons

David Rook

Employers who offer health benefits are  required each year to hold a benefits enrollment "window", commonly referred to as an open enrollment period. 

During open enrollment, employees can renew, adjust, or waive benefit options. Outside of a Qualifying Life Event, open enrollment is essentially the only time an employee can make changes to most (though not all) of their benefits. 

While an employer is required, by law, to hold an open enrollment, what's not defined is whether the enrollment needs to be structured as "active" or "passive". A passive enrollment period is one where an employee's benefit selections from the previous year simply roll-over and/or auto-migrate (within reason) to similar options. An active enrollment, on the other hand, requires an employee to elect, renew, adjust, and sometimes actively decline benefit elections. (The SPD and other plan documents will usually spell out these rules for employees.)

In a nationwide survey conducted by the JP Griffin Group this April, 2019 amongst full-time, benefit-eligible employees in the U.S., 50 percent (half) reported participating in a passive enrollment this year. Compared to a 2011 survey of employers, where 71% reported holding passive enrollments, these new findings represent a 30% decrease in the number of companies conducting their open enrollments passively.

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Topics: HSAs, passive enrollment, open enrollment, active enrollment, Strategy, FSAs, 401(k)s

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Full Replacement High-Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs) Losing Luster with Employers

David Rook

The verdict is in – employer adoption of high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) as the sole medical option for employees is beginning to fade.

Brought on, in part, by the need to offer richer medical benefits in the face of a tightening labor market, a recent survey by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) indicates that 23% of large employers who currently offer an HDHP as the sole medical option for employees are planning to introduce other medical options this year. 

This represents a drop from 39 percent to 30 percent of large employers who only offer an HDHP to their workforce. Similar surveys by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and Mercer support these findings. 

The intense competition for talent (who may be seeking richer plans) is only one reason for the decline in popularity of HDHPs as an employer’s sole medical plan option. Also contributing to this waning interest has been the ongoing postponement of the Affordable Care Act’s “Cadillac tax” on higher-value plans, which was initially a driving force for HDHP adoption by employers. 

The threat of the tax has abated to the point where it seems dubious if the tax will ever come to fruition. (The 40 percent tax on high-value health plans was originally set to take effect in 2018 but was then postponed to 2020 and then again to 2022.)

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Topics: Cost Containment, ACA, Plan Design, High Deductible Health Plans

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What Is Value-Based Insurance Design and Does It Lead To More Effective Employee Benefit Programs?

Jeff Griffin

In an effort to mitigate rising health insurance premiums and increase overall efficiency within the healthcare industry, an increasing number of insurers and employers are integrating value-based insurance design into their group health plans. 

For everyone involved -- including insurers, providers, employers and employees -- insurance plans integrating value-based design help to spotlight and migrate healthcare to services that have been proven to yield better results vs. those which are less effective.

Value-Based Insurance Design Recognizes Value

Value-based insurance design recognizes that not all healthcare services provide patients with the same level of value. Simply put, some health services are more effective than others.

These insurance plans seek to encourage employees to use services that have proven to be more effective and beneficial. Decisions on which services to encourage aren’t made on conjecture, but rather are based on research that shows which services have the best positive impact on patient health given the resources invested. In most cases, encouragement is created in the form of financial incentive (e.g. lower copays).

Some of the highest value services are outpatient treatments offered at clinics, and most value-based designs focus on promoting clinical services. There is a particular surgical example, however, that illustrates how these plan designs work.

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Topics: Cost Containment, Education, Plan Design

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Four Ways Employers Can Reduce Smoking Rates Among Their Workforce

David Rook

Smoking has been in steady decline in the United States for decades, with Gallup reporting that smoking rates among adults have dropped from 45 percent in 1953 to 16 percent in 2018.

Nevertheless, according to the CDC,  almost 38 million adults in the country still smoke cigarettes regularly (defined as “every day” or “some days”). This doesn’t even take into account anyone who enjoys pipe tobacco, cigars or other cigarette alternatives.

The malignant effects of these habits are well documented. In addition to the personal health issues individuals suffer, smoking also impacts non-smokers, both in terms of health risks and more expensive healthcare.

The following is an exploration into just how much smoking costs businesses each year and what measures employers can take to reduce smoking rates among their employees.

The Added Cost of Employing Smokers

CDC research places the increased cost of employing a smoking adult at nearly $6,000 per smoking employee, per year. Much of this figure comes from lost productivity and increased healthcare costs, but it also takes into account other less obvious expenses.

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Topics: Cost Containment, wellness, Behavioral Psychology, Smoking

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Employee Benefits in the Gig Economy

David Rook

From Uber and Lyft to TaskRabbit and Fiverr, the gig economy is now firmly established as a fixture of today’s workplace. 

Gallup surveys show that about 36 percent of U.S. workers have some sort of gig, and 29 percent rely on an "alternative work arrangement" (as it's sometimes called) as their primary source of income.

With such a strong presence in the labor market, the gig economy is altering the shape of employment. The numbers from Gallup are lower than some respected economists originally reported (and lower than some less established source’s statistics), but they still show that the gig economy is here to stay. Few aspects of employment will remain unaltered by it, and employee benefits certainly isn’t immune to its impacts.

In fact, multiple issues related to employee benefits in the gig economy have already been raised. Moving forward, both government agencies and businesses will need to rethink employee benefits programs so that they adequately compensate independent contractors, online platform workers, contract firm workers, on-call workers, temporary workers and others with alternative work arrangements.

Here’s what’s being done for both the distant and near future.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Company Culture, Recruitment

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HSA Contribution Limits; What To Watch-out For When Families Have Multiple Accounts

Jeff Griffin

An increasing number of married employees are obtaining health insurance coverage through their own plans rather than their working spouses’.

Regardless of whether this reflects sound economic strategy (depending on employer contributions), personal preference, or is the result of spousal carve-outs instituted by employers as a cost-mitigation strategy, having two working spouses each go on their own individual high-deductible health plans (HDHP) increases the chance of overfunding health savings accounts (HSAs). This is not unlike the situation some married couples find themselves in when they accidentally overfund their Dependent Care FSA by each accidentally maxing out their contributions through their individual employers.

HSA Contribution Limits for 2019

Unlike last year when the IRS adjusted HSA contribution limits multiple times during the year, the 2019 HSA contribution limits are set and fairly straightforward. They are as follows:

  • $3,500 self-only contribution limit
  • $7,000 family contribution limit
  • $1,000 catch-up limit for people age 55 and over

These represent a $50 increase for individuals and a $100 increase for families compared to last year’s numbers. The catch-up limit has remained unchanged. (All of these figures include both employer and employee contributions.)

When just one person is contributing to an HSA, these limits are easy to apply. A bank representative can explain the account to them and help them make contributions that don't exceed the applicable limit.

In situations that involve two spouses, however, staying within the contribution limit becomes a little more involved. 

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Topics: Compliance, HSAs, HDHPs

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How Does Your Employee Benefits Package Stack-up? Our 2018 Employee Benefits Benchmarking Study Is Now Available

Jeff Griffin

It’s considered conventional wisdom that the fiercest competitors can be found in the world of professional sports. After almost 30 years working in employee benefits, I beg to differ.

Greatly exacerbated by today’s low unemployment rate, the competition for talent in the business world today is as fierce as I’ve ever seen it, most especially in the fields of construction, dining, cybersecurity, nursing, and finance, just to name a few. Bryce Harper and Tom Brady have nothing on today’s business professionals in charge of talent acquisition.

As if competing for customers wasn’t enough, companies often compete against each other for the same pool of talent, whether that be within specialized industries or simply within an overlapping geographic region.

In the quest to attract the best talent, employee benefits benchmarking is crucial. This practice allows employers to gauge their organization's position in terms of benefits versus the competition. Some companies regularly conduct benchmarking as part of a strategy of good governance, while others perform benchmarking in response to something specific, such as an acquisition, the need to fill a specific role, or the launch of a new division.

Introducing Our New Partnership & Benchmarking Study

This year the JP Griffin Group joined with United Benefits Advisors to produce the nation’s largest independent health plan benchmarking survey. In doing so, we’ve created the most comprehensive source of reliable benchmarking data for employers of all sizes.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Benchmarking, Recruitment

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