On October 12, 2017, the White House released an Executive Order, signed by President Trump, titled “Promoting Healthcare Choice and Competition Across the United States.”

It is important to note that the Executive Order (EO) does not implement any new laws or regulations, but instead directs various federal agencies to explore options relating to association health plans, short term limited-duration coverage (STLDI), and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), within the next 60 to 120 days.

The Department of Labor is ordered to explore expansion of association health plans (AHPs) by broadening the scope of ERISA to allow employers within the same line of business across the country to join together in a group health plan. The EO notes employers will not be permitted to exclude employees from an AHP or develop premiums based on health conditions. The Secretary of Labor has 60 days to consider proposing regulations or revising guidance.

Practically speaking, this type of expansion would require considerable effort with all state departments of insurance and key stakeholders across the industry. Employers should not wait to make group health plan decisions based on the EO, as it will take time for even proposed regulations to be developed.

The Department of the Treasury, Department of Labor, and Department of Health and Human Services (the agencies) are directed to consider expanding coverage options from STLDI, which are often much less expensive than Marketplace plans or employer plans. These plans are popular with individuals who are in and outside of the country or who are between jobs. The Secretaries of these agencies have 60 days to consider proposing regulations or revising guidance.

Finally, the EO directs the same three agencies to review and consider changing regulations for HRAs so employers have more flexibility when implementing them for employees. This could lead to an expanded use of HRA dollars for employees, such as for premiums. However, employers should not make any changes to existing HRAs until regulations are issued at a later date. The Secretaries have 120 days to consider proposing regulations or revising guidance.

By Danielle Capilla
Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

On August 22, 2017, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia held that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) failed to provide a reasoned explanation for its decision to adopt 30 percent incentive levels for employer-sponsored wellness programs under both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rules and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) rules.

The court declined to vacate the EEOC’s rules because of the significant disruptive effect it would have. However, the court remanded the rules to the EEOC for reconsideration.

Based on the recent court decision to require the EEOC to reconsider its wellness program rules, does this mean that the EEOC rules no longer apply to employer wellness programs? No. For now, the current EEOC rules apply to employer wellness programs. However, employers should stay informed on the status of the EEOC’s reconsideration of the wellness program rules so that employers can change their wellness programs’ design, if necessary, to comply with new EEOC rules.

According to UBA’s free special report, “How Employers Use Wellness Programs,” 67.7 percent of employers who offer wellness programs have incentives built into the program, an increase of 8.5 percent from four years ago. Incentives are the most prevalent in the Central U.S. (76.1 percent), among employers with 500 to 999 employees (83.2 percent), and in the finance, insurance, and real estate industries (74.7 percent). The West offers the fewest incentives, with only 48.3 percent of their plans having rewards.

Across all employers, slightly more (45.4 percent) prefer wellness incentives in the form of cash toward premiums, 401(k)s, flexible spending accounts (FSAs), etc., versus health club dues and gift cards (40 percent). But among larger employers (500 to 1,000+ employees) cash incentives are more heavily preferred (63.2 percent) over gift certificates and health club dues (33.7 percent). Conversely, smaller employers (1 to 99 employees) prefer health club-related incentives (nearly 40 percent) versus cash (25 percent).

Download our free (no form!) special report, “How Employers Use Wellness Programs,” for more information on regional, industry and group size based trends surrounding prevalence of wellness programs, carrier vs. independent providers, and wellness program components.

For comprehensive information on designing wellness programs that create lasting change, download UBA’s whitepaper: “Wellness Programs — Good for You & Good for Your Organization”.

To understand legal requirements for wellness programs, request UBA’s ACA Advisor, “Understanding Wellness Programs and Their Legal Requirements,” which reviews the five most critical questions that wellness program sponsors should ask and work through to determine the obligations of their wellness program under the ACA, HIPAA, ADA, GINA, and ERISA, as well as considerations for wellness programs that involve tobacco use in any way.

By Danielle Capilla
Originally Published By United Benefit Advisers

A dependent care flexible spending account (DCFSA) is a pre-tax benefit account used to pay for eligible dependent care services. The IRS determines which expenses are eligible for reimbursement and these expenses are defined by Internal Revenue Code §129 and the employer’s plan. Eligible DCFSA expenses include: adult day care center, before/after school programs, child care, nanny, preschool, and summer day camp. Day nursing care, nursing home care, tuition for kindergarten and above, food expenses, and overnight camp are ineligible expenses.

Qualifying Individuals

Only qualifying individuals are eligible for dependent care expenses. A qualifying individual is an individual who spends at least eight hours in the participant’s home.

Dependent care includes care for a child who is under the age of 13 and in the participant’s custody for more than half the year. Dependent care also includes care for a spouse or relative who is physically or mentally incapable of self-care and lives in the participant’s home.

If parents are divorced, then the child is a qualified dependent of the custodial parent. A non-custodial parent cannot be reimbursed under a DCFSA even if the parent claims the child as a tax dependent.

Contributing to a DCFSA

The election is the participant’s contribution amount, which is the amount the participant puts into a DCFSA at enrollment. Participants may change the amount of money to be withheld within a 31-day window after a qualifying event, such as marriage, birth or adoption of a child, dependent death, divorce, or change in employment. Participants may enroll in or renew their election in a DCFSA during open enrollment. Participation is not automatic. Participants must re-enroll every year by the enrollment date.

The employer determines the minimum election amount and the IRS determines the maximum election amount. The IRS sets the following annual contribution limits for a DCFSA:

  • $2,500 per year for a married employee who files a separate tax return
  • $5,000 per year for a married employee who files a joint tax return
  • $5,000 per year for the head of household
  • $5,000 per year for a single employee

Even though a different maximum contribution limit may apply depending on the employer’s plan, the maximum contribution cannot exceed the following earned income limitations:

  • If you are single, the earned income limit is your salary, excluding contributions to your DCFSA.
  • If you are married, the earned income limit is the lesser of: your salary, excluding contributions to your DCFSA, or your spouse’s salary.

All DCFSA contributions are subject to IRS use-it-or-lose-it rules, which means that unused funds within the plan year will be forfeited to the employer unless the employer’s plan offers a grace period extension. Some plans include a two-and-a-half-month grace period.

Participants must report their DCFSA contributions on their federal tax return along with the name, address, and Social Security number (if applicable) of the dependent care service provider.

Reimbursement Requests

A valid DCFSA claim will either have the dependent care provider certify the service by signing the claim form or have the participant provide an itemized statement from the dependent care provider that includes the following: service dates, dependent’s name, type of service, amount billed, and the provider’s name and address along with a completed claim form.

Participants should save supporting documentation related to their DCFSA expenses and claims because the IRS may request itemized receipts to verify the eligibility of their expenses.

By Danielle Capilla
Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

Are you an employer that offers or provides group health coverage to your workers? Does your health plan cover outpatient prescription drugs—either as a medical claim or through a card system? If so, be sure to distribute your plan’s Medicare Part D notice before October 15.

Purpose
Medicare began offering “Part D” plans—optional prescription drug benefit plans sold by private insurance companies and HMOs—to Medicare beneficiaries many years ago. Persons may enroll in a Part D plan when they first become eligible for Medicare. If they wait too long, a “late enrollment” penalty amount is permanently added to the Part D plan premium cost when they do enroll. There is an exception, though, for individuals who are covered under an employer’s group health plan that provides “creditable” coverage. (“Creditable” means that group plan’s drug benefits are actuarially equivalent or better than the benefits required in a Part D plan.) In that case, the individual can delay enrolling for a Part D plan while he or she remains covered under the employer’s creditable plan. Medicare will waive the late enrollment premium penalty for individuals who enroll in a Part D plan after their initial eligibility date if they were covered by an employer’s creditable plan. To avoid the late enrollment penalty, there cannot be a gap longer than 62 days between the group plan and the Part D plan.

To help Medicare-eligible persons make informed decisions about whether and when to enroll in a Part D drug plan, they need to know if their employer’s group health plan provides creditable or noncreditable prescription drug coverage. That is the purpose of the federal requirement for employers to provide an annual notice (Employer’s Medicare Part D Notice) to all Medicare-eligible employees and spouses.

Employer Requirements

Federal law requires all employers that offer group health coverage including any outpatient prescription drug benefits to provide an annual notice to plan participants. The notice requirement applies regardless of the employer’s size or whether the group plan is insured or self-funded:

  • Determine whether your group health plan’s prescription drug coverage is “creditable” or “noncreditable” for the upcoming year (2018). If your plan is insured, the carrier/HMO will confirm “creditable” or “noncreditable” status. Keep a copy of the written confirmation for your records. For self-funded plans, the plan actuary will determine the plan’s status using guidance provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
  • Distribute a Notice of Creditable Coverage or a Notice of Noncreditable Coverage, as applicable, to all group health plan participants who are or may become eligible for Medicare in the next year. “Participants” include covered employees and retirees (and spouses) and COBRA enrollees. Employers often do not know whether a particular participant may be eligible for Medicare due to age or disability. For convenience, many employers decide to distribute their notice to all participants regardless of Medicare status.
  • Notices must be distributed at least annually before October 15. Medicare holds its Part D enrollment period each year from October 15 to December 7, which is why it is important for group health plan participants to receive their employer’s notice before October 15.
  • Notices also may be required after October 15 for new enrollees and/or if the plan’s creditable versus noncreditable status changes.

Preparing the Notice(s)
Model notices are available on the CMS website. Start with the model notice and then fill in the blanks and variable items as needed for each group health plan. There are two versions: Notice of Creditable Coverage or Notice of Noncreditable Coverage and each is available in English and Spanish:

Employers who offer multiple group health plans options, such as PPOs, HDHPs, and HMOs, may use one notice if all options are creditable (or all are noncreditable). In this case, it is advisable to list the names of the various plan options so it is clear for the reader. Conversely, employers that offer a creditable plan and a noncreditable plan, such as a creditable HMO and a noncreditable HDHP, will need to prepare separate notices for the different plan participants.

Distributing the Notice(s)
You may distribute the notice by first-class mail to the employee’s home or work address. A separate notice for the employee’s spouse or family members is not required unless the employer has information that they live at different addresses.

The notice is intended to be a stand-alone document. It may be distributed at the same time as other plan materials, but it should be a separate document. If the notice is incorporated with other material (such as stapled items or in a booklet format), the notice must appear in 14-point font, be bolded, offset, or boxed, and placed on the first page. Alternatively, in this case, you can put a reference (in 14-point font, either bolded, offset, or boxed) on the first page telling the reader where to find the notice within the material. Here is suggested text from the CMS for the first page:

“If you (and/or your dependents) have Medicare or will become eligible for Medicare in the next 12 months, a federal law gives you more choices about your prescription drug coverage. Please see page XX for more details.”

Email distribution is allowed but only for employees who have regular access to email as an integral part of their job duties. Employees also must have access to a printer, be notified that a hard copy of the notice is available at no cost upon request, and be informed that they are responsible for sharing the notice with any Medicare-eligible family members who are enrolled in the employer’s group plan.

CMS Disclosure Requirement
Separate from the participant notice requirement, employers also must disclose to the CMS whether their group health plan provides creditable or noncreditable coverage. The plan sponsor (employer) must submit its annual disclosure to CMS within 60 days of the start of the plan year. For instance, for calendar-year group health plans, the employer must comply with this disclosure requirement by March 1.

Disclosure to CMS also is required within 30 days of termination of the prescription drug coverage or within 30 days of a change in the plan’s status as creditable coverage or noncreditable coverage.

The CMS online tool is the only method allowed for completing the required disclosure. From this link, follow the prompts to respond to a series of questions regarding the plan. The link is the same regardless of whether the employer’s plan provides creditable or noncreditable coverage. The entire process usually takes only 5 or 10 minutes to complete.

Originally Published By ThinkHR.com

When it comes to Employee Assistance Programs, confidentiality is a concern for both employers and employees. As an employer, it is helpful to understand the terms and processes your EAP uses to keep information confidential and ensure that your employees and your workplace are safe.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) rules apply to EAPs and their affiliate providers. All information that is obtained during an EAP session is maintained in confidential files. The information remains confidential except in the following circumstances:

  1. An employee/client provides written permission/consent for the release of specific information. This can be done using a Consent to Inform or Release of Information form.
  2. The life or safety of the client or others is seriously threatened.
  3. Child abuse has occurred.
  4. EAP records are the subject of a court order (subpoena).
  5. Other disclosures required by applicable law.

Depending on the situation, an employee may use EAP services through a self-referral, guided-referral or mandated-referral

Voluntary or self-referrals are the most common. When an employee seeks EAP services voluntarily, all of the employee’s information, including whether he or she contacted the EAP or not, is confidential and cannot be released without written permission.

Guided referrals are an opportunity for the employer to encourage the employee to use EAP services when the employer senses there is a problem that needs to be addressed. This may occur when the employer identifies an employee who may be having personal or work-related difficulties but it is not to the point of mandating that the employee use an EAP. In the case of guided referrals, information disclosed by the employee is still kept confidential.

Mandatory or formal referrals usually occur when substance abuse or other behaviors are impacting productivity or safety. An employer’s policy may allow for putting the employee on a performance improvement plan and may even include a “last chance” agreement that states what an employee must do in order to keep their job. In these cases, employees are mandated by the employer to contact the EAP and a Release of Information is signed so the EAP can exchange information with the employer about employee attendance, compliance and recommendations.

In some cases, it may be advised to send the employee for a Fitness for Duty Evaluation or similar assessment to determine the employee’s ability to physically or mentally perform essential job duties, or assess for a potential threat of violence. These evaluations are performed by specially trained professionals and will come with an additional cost. If the employee has provided written consent, limited information may be released to the employer regarding the results of these evaluations.

By Kathryn Schneider
Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

Quantitative research guides health care decision makers with statistics–numerical data collected from measurements or observation that describe the characteristics of specific population samples. Descriptive statistics summarize the utility, efficacy and costs of medical goods and services. Increasingly, health care organizations employ statistical analysis to measure their performance outcomes. Hospitals and other large provider service organizations implement data-driven, continuous quality improvement programs to maximize efficiency. Government health and human service agencies gauge the overall health and well-being of populations with statistical information.

Health Care Uitilization

Researchers employ scientific methods to gather data on human population samples. The health care industry benefits from knowing consumer market characteristics such as age, sex, race, income and disabilities. These “demographic” statistics can predict the types of services that people are using and the level of care that is affordable to them. Health administrators reference statistics on service utilization to apply for grant funding and to justify budget expenditures to their governing boards.

Resource Allocation

Heath care economists Rexford Santerre and Stephen Neun emphasize the importance of statistics in the allocation of scarce medical resources. Statistical information is invaluable in determining what combination of goods and services to produce, which resources to allocate in producing them and to which populations to offer them. Health care statistics are critical to allocative and production efficiency. Inevitably, allocation decisions involve trade-offs–the costs of lost or missed opportunities in choosing one economic decision over another. Reliable statistical information minimizes the risks of health care trade-offs.

Needs Assessment

According to Frederick J. Gravetter and Larry B. Wallnau, statistics “create order out of chaos” by summarizing and simplifying complex human populations. Public and private health care administrators, charged with providing continuums of care to diverse populations, compare existing services to community needs. Statistical analysis is a critical component in a needs assessment. Statistics are equally important to pharmaceutical and technology companies in developing product lines that meet the needs of the populations they serve.

Quality Improvement

Health care providers strive to produce effective goods and services efficiently. Statistics are important to health care companies in measuring performance success or failure. By establishing benchmarks, or standards of service excellence, quality improvement managers can measure future outcomes. Analysts map the overall growth and viability of a health care company using statistical data gathered over time.

Product Development

Innovative medicine begins and, sometimes, ends with statistical analysis. Data are collected and carefully reported in clinical trials of new technologies and treatments to weigh products’ benefits against their risks. Market research studies steer developers toward highly competitive product lines. Statistics indirectly influence product pricing by describing consumer demand in measurable units.

By Rae Casto
Originally Published By Livestrong.com

A health flexible spending account (FSA) is a pre-tax account used to pay for out-of-pocket health care costs for a participant as well as a participant’s spouse and eligible dependents. Health FSAs are employer-established benefit plans and may be offered with other employer-provided benefits as part of a cafeteria plan. Self-employed individuals are not eligible for FSAs.

Even though a health FSA may be extended to any employee, employers should design their health FSAs so that participation is offered only to employees who are eligible to participate in the employer’s major medical plan. Generally, health FSAs must qualify as excepted benefits, which means other nonexcepted group health plan coverage must be available to the health FSA’s participants for the year through their employment. If a health FSA fails to qualify as an excepted benefit, then this could result in excise taxes of $100 per participant per day or other penalties.

Contributing to an FSA

Money is set aside from the employee’s paycheck before taxes are taken out and the employee may use the money to pay for eligible health care expenses during the plan year. The employer owns the account, but the employee contributes to the account and decides which medical expenses to pay with it.

At the beginning of the plan year, a participant must designate how much to contribute so the employer can deduct an amount every pay day in accordance with the annual election. A participant may contribute with a salary reduction agreement, which is a participant election to have an amount voluntarily withheld by the employer. A participant may change or revoke an election only if there is a change in employment or family status that is specified by the plan.

Per the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), FSAs are capped at $2,600 per year per employee. However, since a plan may have a lower annual limit threshold, employees are encouraged to review their Summary Plan Description (SPD) to find out the annual limit of their plan. A participant’s spouse can put $2,600 in an FSA with the spouse’s own employer. This applies even if both spouses participate in the same health FSA plan sponsored by the same employer.

Generally, employees must use the money in an FSA within the plan year or they lose the money left in the FSA account. However, employers may offer either a grace period of up to two and a half months following the plan year to use the money in the FSA account or allow a carryover of up to $500 per year to use in the following year.

By Danielle Capilla
Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

Thank you for putting the Plan Document together for us!  It is a big accomplishment knowing that we are in compliance!   Once again we are grateful and thankful for your continuing support and enjoy the relationship that we share.

- Office Manager, Food Distribution Company

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