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Is it Time to Fire Your Employee Benefits Broker?

Jeff Griffin

Many companies stick with their employee benefits broker for years on end, not giving too much thought to whether a change is warranted. HR directors always have long to-do lists full of time-sensitive issues, so finding a new broker is typically the last thing on their minds — except maybe during contract renewal season if the news isn’t good (and it never seems to be with health insurance these days).

The issue here is that there is a point when it’s time to fire your broker, but recognizing it when the time comes is difficult because you have a million things on your mind and far more pressing matters at hand.

However, there are some definite signs it’s time to find a new employee benefits broker and it’s important to keep an eye out for them. Here are some of the big ones.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Compliance, Education, Disruption, Strategy

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Preventive Care Coverage Improves For High Deductible Health Plans

Jeff Griffin

The IRS has added care for a range of chronic conditions to the list of preventive care benefits that can be provided by a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) without a deductible.

This expansion of preventive care services is in response to an executive order signed on June 27 by President Trump. The order, designed to improve price and quality transparency in health care, directed the Treasury Department and IRS to improve the attractability of HSA-compatible HDHPs which cover low-cost preventive care, before the deductible.

The IRS issued Notice 2019-45 in response to this executive order. With this order now in place, it now classifies certain medical care services and items, including prescription drugs for chronic conditions, as preventive care for individuals with certain chronic conditions. 

Employers with HDHPs should review their plan documents and consult with their benefits broker, carriers and benefit administrators to determine how their plans might cover these new preventive care benefits on a go-forward basis. 

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Topics: Cost Containment, Education, HSAs, High Deductible Health Plans

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Common Pitfalls To Avoid With Your High Deductible Health Plan

Jeff Griffin

Employers looking to decrease their healthcare costs often rely on workforce adoption of High Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs), which offer both employers and employees lower premiums. Unfortunately, this strategy doesn’t always work out if enrollment in HDHPs (assuming employees are given a choice) fall short of forecasts.

Rightly or wrongly, HDHPs have been saddled with some baggage. Many people have difficulty making the cognitive leap from traditional healthcare plans to HDHPs for a variety of reasons; in part because change is generally difficult for people, but sometimes, it’s simply a fear of the unknown and a matter of not understanding how they work.

While we certainly aren’t advocating that HDHPs are suitable for everyone, they’re a great fit for some — especially those who are otherwise overpaying for health insurance, meaning that they’re paying high premiums, but rarely using their plans.

Here are some common pitfalls to avoid when designing and marketing a high deductible health plan and suggestions on how to avoid them.

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Topics: Cost Containment, Education, HSAs, High Deductible Health Plans

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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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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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When Employees Should Take Sick Time

Dr. Christine Maxwell

We all have Cal Ripken-like employees in our offices - the ones who pride themselves on never missing a day of work. They are the ones who come in when the snow drifts are two feet high, when the highway is washed out due to a hundred year flood, or when they are on the cusp of falling over due to a cough and fever that would most likely kill the more feeble in our population.

And while we love that these attendance superstars overcome most of these obstacles, it’s the last one which should be of the most concern when caring for the overall health of your workforce. 

For employers, managing employees’ sick time is a challenge and even struggle. Some employees take sick time when they really shouldn’t, while others don’t take time when they ought to for the good of themselves and their fellow workers. The latter is especially harmful, as one person’s communicable disease can quickly spread to others. A study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that working sick costs employers across the nation a cumulative $160 billion in lost productivity each year.

The following are some clear guidelines on when employees should and shouldn't take sick time, along with how employers can communicate the guidelines for the benefit of the entire workforce.

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Topics: Education, Employee Communications, Culture, Population Health

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Employee Benefits in 2019: Trends in Health Insurance, Time Off and More

Jeff Griffin

The past year’s tight labor market has made finding new hires more challenging than usual for employers, and it looks like the trend will continue throughout much of 2019. In order to attract and retain qualified talent, employers aren’t merely offering competitive salaries; they’re also revising their benefits packages, which many employees heavily scrutinize when entertaining job offers. As we enter 2019, here are some of the employee benefits trends that will shape overall compensation in the coming year.

Health Insurance: Promoting Services While Mitigating High-Cost Claims 
 

Health insurance remains the most trying employee benefit for employers to manage (and not only because many are required to offer it). Health insurance has always required a balancing act between giving employees valuable coverage and managing company costs.

In 2019, employers are approaching this balancing act by promoting convenient and high-level service while mitigating the costs associated with major claims (the top 1 percent of which use more resources than the bottom 75 percent of policyholders). Employers are accomplishing this via five methods:

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Topics: Paid Time Off (PTO), Education, HSAs, Mental Health

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Nonprofits Get Tax Relief on Certain Employee Fringe Benefits

Jeff Griffin

Earlier this week, the IRS announced a reprieve to nonprofit organizations with regards to taxing fringe benefits. This comes as good news to those nonprofits concerned about the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which President Trump signed into law in December of last year.

Due to overwhelming pressure placed on top Republican leaders from nonprofit organizations, as well as opposition from the Senate, requests were made to the Treasury Department to delay the implementation of the tax until 2019.

While the reprieve is specific to the 2018 tax year; it will remain in place until such time as when Congress changes the law.

Effects of the Reprieve 

The reprieve offers a financial break to nonprofit organizations specific to calculating the cost of their qualified transportation and commuting benefits. This financial break also extends to penalties that would otherwise be assessed in the event of under-calculating these expenses.

What the Law Includes

The new law includes a provision that imposes a 21 percent tax rate on certain fringe benefits for employees of nonprofit organizations, effective January 1, 2018. These benefits, under Internal Revenue Code sections 132(f) include:

  • Qualified transportation and commuting
    • Transit passes
    • Transportation in a commuter highway transportation vehicle between the employee’s home and workplace paid by the employer
  • Qualified parking
  • Onsite athletic facility

According to estimates from the nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, the new law, specific to disallowing transportation deductions, will save some $17.7 billion over a ten-year period, though these figures include both nonprofits and for-profit organizations.  Of course these figures will now have to be adjusted given this reprieve. 

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Topics: Compliance, Education, nonprofits

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2019 IRS Limits for Commonly Offered Employee Benefits

Jeff Griffin
The IRS recently finalized adjustments to 2019 limits on various tax-advantaged medical and dependent care spending accounts, retirement plans, and other inflation-adjusted employee benefits such as adoption assistance and qualified transportation benefits.
 
The 2.2 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index (PCI) for the 12 months ending this September was just enough to meet the thresholds required to extend these rate adjustments.
 
Despite some of these updates being issued nearly a month later than normal, these new financial caps still go into effect January 1, 2019. While some of the limits are unchanged, many have increased for 2019, affording employees the opportunity to contribute more money into their Health Spending Accounts (HSAs), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), and retirement plans, just to name a few.
 
In preparation for these 2019 plan year changes, employers should update their benefit plan designs for the new limits, ensure that their plan administration will be consistent with the new 2019 limits, and communicate the new benefit plan limits to their employees. 
 
Here is a convenient set of side-by-side comparison tables outlining the changes:
 
Tax-Advantaged Employee Benefits
HSA & HDHP Contribution Limits
The IRS has increased the 2019 annual HSA contribution limit for self-only HDHP coverage by $50, to $3,500, and by $100, to $7,000, for family HDHP coverage. HSA contributions can be made by the HSA account holder or any other person on their behalf, including an employer or family member.
 
 
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Topics: Compliance, Education, HSAs, Retirement Planning, Savings Plans, QSEHRA, HDHPs, FSAs

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Cyber Monday Slowdown: 4 Ways To Maintain Worker Productivity

David Rook
Long holiday weekends are typically an excellent opportunity for employees to relax and recharge their batteries. While the first day back is admittedly a bit crazy, the backlog of calls and emails eventually subsidies, with one dreaded exception...Cyber Monday. 
 
According to the research firm Robert Haft Technology , nearly a quarter of your workforce will shop online during their work-hours on Cyber Monday. And while 46 percent will browse during their lunch breaks, almost a third of employees will shop all day long.
 

So what can be done about this employee productivity killer? In a nutshell, not much. Resistance is futile, as they say. 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.

Sanction Shopping Time
 
Rather than prohibiting or admonishing online shopping throughout the day (it’s going to happen anyway), bring it out from the shadows. In doing so, you might turn this covert experience into something far more social - an activity which can even perhaps foster some group camradery.
 
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Topics: Employee Benefits, Company Culture, Education, Employee Productivity

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