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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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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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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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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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Three Ways for Employees & Employers to Save Money on Healthcare

David Rook

Recent news that the rising cost of healthcare in America may actually be slowing is being met with resounding elation by those looking for ways to save money on their medical insurance. For those with high deductible health plans (HDHPs) and other forms of consumer-driven healthcare, this comes as especially welcome news.

If sustained, this tempering of rising medical care costs will hopefully begin to curb an alarming trend, that being dangerous cost-avoidance practices by some covered individuals, which sometimes includes such dangerous practices as skipping medications and postponing necessary medical procedures. (Many have also skipped out on preventative care, despite the fact that most all of it is covered at 100%.)  While in the short-term such actions will indeed bring down healthcare expenses, they are likely to trigger larger problems later on, which cost far more money.

There are much safer and more effective ways to curb healthcare expenses, but it takes a bit of effort and education to capitalize on them. Here are just a few we’ve found. Please feel free to use these money saving strategies with your workforce — and better yet — try them out yourself.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, HSAs, CFO, employers, CHRO, cost management, Consumer Driven Healthcare, FSAs

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10 Pitfalls to Avoid This Open Enrollment Season

David Rook

For many who work in human resources and employee benefits, open enrollment can be a stressful time of year. Focused on meeting tight deadlines and pleasing multiple stakeholders, many HR professionals often repeat sins of the past and fail to make annual, incremental improvements in their open enrollment processes.

Optimizing your open enrollment is critical to ensuring its ongoing success. After all, over time you learn more about how best to communicate with your organization, particularly as the employee benefits space evolves i.e. new benefit products and services, and new technologies.

In the spirit of continuous improvement, whether you're working off of a well-established checklist or with your employee benefits broker, be sure to avoid these common pitfalls during your next open enrollment.  

1. Ending Open Enrollment Outside of Normal Office Hours

Procrastinating employees will inevitably have last minute questions and may experience technology troubles. Make sure your deadline for open enrollment falls during the workweek and during normal office hours when your HR staff is still on duty to help them through those final steps in the process.

2. Ignoring Other Household Decision Makers

Often times your employee is not the only one weighing-in on benefit decisions. Make sure the communication materials and media channels you're using reach other heads of household and key decision makers such as spouses. Consider extending invitations to open enrollment meetings to the entire family.

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Topics: Employee Engagement, HSAs, open enrollment, HDHPs

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Why Your Employees Aren’t Enrolling In Your HDHP

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 reasons your employees might not be enrolling in your HDHP — and how you can overcome them.

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

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Retirement Savings Options: Are HSAs better than 401(k)s?

David Rook

Retirement savings are on everyone’s mind these days, regardless of age or number of years in the workforce. Millennials are concerned they’ll never be able to retire, while baby boomers are choosing to delay retirement — in part because of employer demand for their expertise in the face of a low unemployment rate, but also because many of them haven’t sufficiently saved for retirement. In fact, according to Time’s Money division, 28 percent of boomers and seniors aged 55 and older don’t have any retirement savings whatsoever and just over half have less than $50,000 saved.

Even more surprising, the median amount Americans have saved for retirement is just $5,000, which means we have a long way to go in helping people prepare for their golden years. This number may seem staggeringly low — and it is. The average retirement savings among Americans age 32 to 61 is just under $96,000. However, averages are pulled up by super-savers, so this number seems artificially high.

With the prevalence of high deductible health plans (HDHPs), a lot of people are now enrolled in health savings accounts (HSAs). While people are mostly familiar with the short-term savings opportunities these accounts provide for healthcare expense reimbursement, many are also realizing that HSAs are a viable retirement savings option as well.

This begs the question — if people had to choose between investing in their 401(k) or maxing out their HSA for the year, which one is a better retirement savings option?

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Topics: Employee Benefits, HSAs, Retirement Planning

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How Employee Benefits Work When An Employee Qualifies For Medicare

Jeff Griffin

Around 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every single day, which means 10,000 more people become eligible for Medicare. If your human resources department hasn’t yet been inundated with questions from your older employees about Medicare eligibility, they will at some point — and soon.

After all, many boomers are choosing to work a bit longer than the standard retirement age of 65 for a variety of reasons — some are still physically able to work, so they’re taking advantage of it, others are trying to save more for retirement (because so many people haven’t saved nearly enough, if anything), and others just aren’t ready to give up their day jobs yet.

It’s possible that some of your employees have deferred Medicare eligibility because they haven’t actually retired yet, but some people who are still employed find it’s cheaper to take the leap into Medicare (and all its parts) than to stay on their employer-sponsored health plan (though many choose to enroll in both). That said, it’s not quite that cut and dry when it comes to those enrolled in health savings accounts (HSAs) through high deductible health plans (HDHPs).

Here are the things that need to be considered when an employee or covered spouse turns 65:

Medicare Part A

With the exception of those employees actively contributing to an HSA, there’s really no reason for them not to enroll in Part A, which covers hospitalization, home health care, care at nursing homes, and hospice care. As long as employees have worked and paid Medicare taxes during a minimum 10-year period of time (the period of time deemed long enough by the government), Medicare Part A comes premium-free (however, it does come with coinsurance). The situation gets a bit more complicated when employees who are ready to enroll in Medicare are also contributing to an HSA.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, HSAs, HSA regulations, Retirement Planning, Medicare

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What is a Limited Purpose FSA? (And Should You Offer One?)

Jeff Griffin

With the rising cost of health insurance, many consumers are opting for high deductible health plans (HDHPs) to keep their medical premiums affordable, especially when they’re relatively young, comparatively healthy, and don't spend much of their budget each year visiting a doctor. However, many people enrolled in qualified HDHPs are disappointed to learn they can no longer, by law, participate in a traditional flexible spending account (FSA). 

The nature of how these plans are designed leaves some wondering how they’ll cover all the expenses incurred prior to reaching their deductible, which has led to the rise of health savings accounts (HSAs) and limited purpose flexible spending accounts (LPFSAs).

Only those enrolled in qualified HDHPs are eligible to open an HSA and reap the tax benefits, but many are unaware that they’re also eligible to open a limited purpose FSA (providing their employer offers one), which frees up the money in their HSA for future use — even retirement. 

What Is a Limited Purpose FSA?

HSAs are usually a major selling point of HDHPs. They allow participants to set aside a portion of their income from each paycheck in order to pay for qualifying healthcare expenses. Limited purpose FSAs are like HSAs in that participants can contribute a specific amount from each paycheck. LPFSAs are like traditional FSAs in that they make funds available immediately, rather than forcing you to wait until enough money has accumulated to access the money you need for necessary vision and dental care (whereas HSAs require funds to be in the account before reimbursement can occur).  

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Topics: HSAs, Consumer Driven Healthcare, High Deductible Health Plans, Savings Plans

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