No one foresees needing disability benefits. But, should a problem arise, the educated and informed employee can plan for the future by purchasing disability insurance to help cover expenses when needed.
Watch this short video to learn more!

Lately, there’s been a big focus on America’s opioid addiction in the news. Whether it’s news on the abuse of the drug or it’s information sharing on how the drug works, Americans are talking about this subject regularly. We want to help educate you on this hot topic.

Opioids are made from the opium poppy plant.  Opium has been around since 3,400 BC and it was first referenced as being cultivated in Southwest Asia. The drug traveled the Silk Road from the Mediterranean to Asia to China. Since then, the drug has gained popularity for pain relief but it also has gained notoriety as an abused drug. Morphine, Codeine, and Heroin are all derived from the opium poppy and are all highly addictive drugs that are abused all around the world. As the demand for these drugs has increased, so has the production.  From 2016 to 2017, the area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan increased by 63 percent. In 2016, it killed some 64,000 Americans, more than double the number in 2005.

We can see that the danger from this drug is growing rapidly. What can we do to recognize potential abuse problems and to get help? Here are some facts about opioid addiction:

  • How do they work? Opioids attach to pain receptors in your brain spinal cord, and other areas that recognize pain signals. As they attach to the receptors, it reduces the sending of pain messages to the brain and therefore reduces the feelings of pain in your body.
  • Short-acting opiates are typically prescribed for injuries and only for a few days. They take 15-30 minutes for pain relief to begin and this relief lasts for 3-4 hours. Long-acting opiates are prescribed for moderate to severe pain and are used over a long period of time. Relief typically lasts for 8-12 hours and can be used alongside a short-acting drug for breakthrough pain.
  • Dependence is common with long-term use of an opiate. This means that the patient needs to take more of and higher doses of the medicine to get the same pain relieving effect. This does not necessarily mean the patient is addicted. Addiction is the abuse of the drug by taking it in an unprescribed way—like crushing tablets or using intravenously.
  • Help is available through many channels from private recovery centers to insurance providers. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline is 1-800-662-HELP. This line is confidential, free, and available 24-hours a day and 7 days a week. Family and friends may also call this number for resources for help. Additional resources can be found at drugabuse.com.

Make sure you are educated about the dangers of opioid abuse. But, don’t be discouraged and think that the abuse is incurable! There are many resources that can be used to break the addiction cycle and can make real change in the lives of its victims. Ask for help and offer help.

Have you ever heard the proverb “Knowledge is power?” It means that knowledge is more powerful than just physical strength and with knowledge people can produce powerful results. This applies to your annual medical physical as well! The #1 goal of your annual exam is to GAIN KNOWLEDGE. Annual exams offer you and your doctor a baseline for your health as well as being key to detecting early signs of diseases and conditions.
View the video below for more information.

When evaluating employee benefits, essentials such as health and dental plans, vacation time and 401(k) contributions quickly come to mind. Another benefit employers should consider involves subsidizing learning as well as ambitions. Grants and reimbursements toward advanced degrees and continuing education can be a smart investment for both employers and employees.

Educational benefits are strongly linked to worker satisfaction. A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management revealed that nearly 80 percent of responding workers who rated their education benefits highly also rated their employers highly. While only 30 percent of those rating their higher education benefits as fair or poor conversely rated their employer highly.

These benefits are popular with businesses as well. In a survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, nearly five of six responding employers offer some form of educational benefit. Their top reasons are to retain current employees, maintain or raise employee satisfaction, keep skill levels current, attract new talent and boost innovation and productivity. Tax credits offer additional advantages. Qualifying programs offer employers tax credits up to $5,250 per employee, per year.

At the same time, companies should offer these benefits with care as they do pose potential pitfalls. Higher education assistance can be costly, even when not covering full costs. Workers taking advantage can become overwhelmed with the demands of after-hour studies, affecting job performance. Also, employers would be wise to ensure their employees don’t promptly leave and take their new skills elsewhere.

When well-planned, educational benefits will likely prove a good investment. Seventy-five percent of respondents to SHRM’s survey consider their educational-assistance programs successful. To boost your employee morale, skill levels and job-satisfaction scores, consider the benefit that may deliver them all, and more.

Find out more:
IFEBP: Why Educational Assistance Programs Work
EBRI: Fundamentals of Employee Benefit Programs

By Bill Olson, VP, Marketing & Communications at United Benefit Advisors
Originally posted on UBABenefits.com

Q. Can we provide summary plan descriptions (SPDs) electronically?

A. Yes. However, just sending them is not enough to meet ERISA requirements; you must ensure the intended recipients are actually getting them.

Specifically, ERISA requires SPDs to be furnished using “measures reasonably calculated to ensure actual receipt of the material” via “methods likely to result in full distribution.” Electronic delivery is one way to meet this requirement.

Any electronically delivered documents must be “prepared and furnished in a manner consistent with applicable style, format, and content requirements.” Therefore, it is a good idea to test the electronic document and make sure formatting and style are correct.

Unlike first class mail or hand-delivery options, electronic delivery does not work the same for all recipients. Instead compliance differs depending on whether the recipients:

  • Can access the SPD through the employer’s electronic information system (such as email or intranet) located where they are reasonably expected to perform duties: Members in this group must use the employer’s computer system as an integral part of those duties. This covers employees working from home or who are traveling as well.
  • Cannot access the SPD through employer’s electronic information system in their workspace (access to a kiosk in a workplace common area is not sufficient). This may include employees as well as non-employees such as COBRA participants, retirees, terminated participants with vested benefits, beneficiaries, and alternate payees: Members of this group must “affirmatively consent” to receive the documents electronically, provide an electronic address, and “reasonably demonstrate” their ability to access documents in electronic form.

Both groups of recipients must be notified of their rights to receive paper copies of the documents (at no charge), and reasonable and appropriate steps must be taken to safeguard confidentiality of personal information related to accounts and benefits. A best practice is for employers to ensure return-receipt or notice of undelivered mail features are enabled. Employers may conduct periodic reviews or surveys to confirm receipt as well.

Just emailing the documents or posting them on the company’s intranet or benefit administration portal is not enough. Each time an electronic document is furnished, a notice (electronic or paper) must be provided to each recipient describing the significance of the document.

Originally Published By www.thinkhr.com

Taking control of health care expenses is on the top of most people’s to-do list for 2018.  The average premium increase for 2018 is 18% for Affordable Care Act (ACA) plans.  So, how do you save money on health care when the costs seems to keep increasing faster than wage increases?  One way is through medical savings accounts.

Medical savings accounts are used in conjunction with High Deductible Health Plans (HDHP) and allow savers to use their pre-tax dollars to pay for qualified health care expenses.  There are three major types of medical savings accounts as defined by the IRS.  The Health Savings Account (HSA) is funded through an employer and is usually part of a salary reduction agreement.  The employer establishes this account and contributes toward it through payroll deductions.  The employee uses the balance to pay for qualified health care costs.  Money in HSA is not forfeited at the end of the year if the employee does not use it. The Health Flexible Savings Account (FSA) can be funded by the employer, employee, or any other contributor.  These pre-tax dollars are not part of a salary reduction plan and can be used for approved health care expenses.  Money in this account can be rolled over by one of two ways: 1) balance used in first 2.5 months of new year or 2) up to $500 rolled over to new year.  The third type of savings account is the Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA).  This account may only be contributed to by the employer and is not included in the employee’s income.  The employee then uses these contributions to pay for qualified medical expenses and the unused funds can be rolled over year to year.

There are many benefits to participating in a medical savings account.  One major benefit is the control it gives to employee when paying for health care.  As we move to a more consumer driven health plan arrangement, the individual can make informed choices on their medical expenses.  They can “shop around” to get better pricing on everything from MRIs to prescription drugs.  By placing the control of the funds back in the employee’s hands, the employer also sees a cost savings.  Reduction in premiums as well as administrative costs are attractive to employers as they look to set up these accounts for their workforce.  The ability to set aside funds pre-tax is advantageous to the savings savvy individual.  The interest earned on these accounts is also tax-free.

The federal government made adjustments to contribution limits for medical savings accounts for 2018.  For an individual purchasing single medical coverage, the yearly limit increased $50 from 2017 to a new total $3450.  Family contribution limits also increased to $6850 for this year.  Those over the age of 55 with single medical plans are now allowed to contribute $4450 and for families with the insurance provider over 55 the new limit is $7900.

Health care consumers can find ways to save money even as the cost of medical care increases.  Contributing to health savings accounts benefits both the employee as well as the employer with cost savings on premiums and better informed choices on where to spend those medical dollars.  The savings gained on these accounts even end up rewarding the consumer for making healthier lifestyle choices with lower out-of-pocket expenses for medical care.  That’s a win-win for the healthy consumer!

Have you ever heard the proverb “Knowledge is power?” It means that knowledge is more powerful than just physical strength and with knowledge people can produce powerful results. This applies to your annual medical physical as well! The #1 goal of your annual exam is to GAIN KNOWLEDGE. Annual exams offer you and your doctor a baseline for your health as well as being key to detecting early signs of diseases and conditions.

According to Malcom Thalor, MD, “A good general exam should include a comprehensive medical history, family history, lifestyle review, problem-focused physical exam, appropriate screening and diagnostic tests and vaccinations, with time for discussion, assessment and education. And a good health care provider will always focus first and foremost on your health goals.”

Early detection of chronic diseases can save both your personal pocketbook as well as your life! By scheduling AND attending your annual physical, you are able to cut down on medical costs of undiagnosed conditions. Catching a disease early means you are able to attack it early. If you wait until you are exhibiting symptoms or have been symptomatic for a long while, then the disease may be to a stage that is costly to treat. Early detection gives you a jump start on treatments and can reduce your out of pocket expenses.

When you are prepared to speak with your Primary Care Physician (PCP), you can set the agenda for your appointment so that you get all your questions answered as well as your PCP’s questions. Here are some tips for a successful annual physical exam:

  • Bring a list of medications you are currently taking—You may even take pictures of the bottles so they can see the strength and how many.
  • Have a list of any symptoms you are having ready to discuss.
  • Bring the results of any relevant surgeries, tests, and medical procedures
  • Share a list of the names and numbers of your other doctors that you see on a regular basis.
  • If you have an implanted device (insulin pump, spinal cord stimulator, etc) bring the device card with you.
  • Bring a list of questions! Doctors want well informed patients leaving their office. Here are some sample questions you may want to ask:
    • What vaccines do I need?
    • What health screenings do I need?
    • What lifestyle changes do I need to make?
    • Am I on the right medications?

Becoming a well-informed patient who follows through on going to their annual exam as well as follows the advice given to them from their physician after asking good questions, will not only save your budget, but it can save your life!

In conversations with HR professionals and benefit brokers, we find that the topic of long-term care insurance (LTCi) is often covered in less than two minutes during renewal meetings. When I ask why the topic of conversation is so short, they tell me, “Employees just aren’t asking about it, so they must not be interested.”

If employees aren’t asking about LTCi, does it mean they aren’t interested? They just may be unaware of the value of LTCi and that it can be offered by their employer with concessions not available in the open market. Here are the top seven reasons why LTCi should be a bigger part of the employee benefits conversation.

  1. Do you know LTCi can be offered as an employee benefit?
    There are multiple employer-sponsored products, including those with pricing discounts, guarantee issue, and payroll deduction.
  2. Do you believe Medicaid and Medicare will provide long-term care for employees?
    This is a popular misconception. Medicare and Medicaid will restrict your employees’ choices of where and how they receive care. These options will either not offer custodial or home care, or they’ll force employees to spend down their assets for care.
  3. Do you think LTCi is too expensive, or that your employee population is too young to need it?
    Many plans can be customized to meet personal budgets and potential care needs. It’s also important to know that rates are based on employees’ ages. The younger the employees are, the lower their rates will be.
  4. Are you aware of the variety of LTCi plans?
    Many policies offer flexible coverage options. Depending on the policy an employer selects, LTCi can cover a wide range of care—in some cases even adult day care and home safety modifications.
  5. Do you believe the market is unstable?
    Today’s products are priced based on conservative assumptions, and employers are enrolling very stable LTCi plans for their employees. Each month, we see new plan options and products being introduced along with new carriers entering the market.
  6. Do you already offer an LTCi plan but it’s closed to new hires?
    Being able to offer a similar LTCi benefit to all employees is crucial for most employers. Find a partner that can assist with the current LTCi plan and can assist with bringing in a new LTCi offering for new hires.

 

By Christine McCullugh
Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

Insurance has become the method by which most Americans have their health-care costs paid. By paying a regular monthly bill for health insurance, the cost of expected health care events is spread out into even payments and the cost of major unexpected medical incidents is absorbed by insurance. Lack of health insurance can have a profound negative effect on personal finances.

Bankruptcy

Lack of health insurance can come about due to lack of income to pay for it, or when a breadwinner is between jobs that would otherwise provide health insurance as an employment benefit. If a major illness or accident occurs during the time a person is uninsured, it can lead swiftly to bankruptcy, reports the Oregon Public Broadcasting News. Under-insurance, that is, health insurance which is not sufficient to cover the costs of a major health incident, can also lead to bankruptcy. A study published by the American Journal of Medicine in August 2009, reported that well over 60 percent of U.S. bankruptcies filed. in 2007 were due to inability to pay medical costs. Most of these debtors had medical debts over $5,000, which represented a significant portion of their household annual income; three-quarters had health insurance insufficient to cover their bills, and one-quarter had no insurance.

Reduction in Income

Lack of health insurance can lead to a breadwinner's death, further causing the most severe reduction on household income. According to a Harvard Medical School study reported by Reuters news, about 45,000 people in the United States die each year due to lack of health insurance. Thus, people who could otherwise serve as breadwinners or care-givers are removed from being able to do so. The Urban Institute points out that people lacking health insurance create the significant economic impact of reduced personal earnings, because poorer health means less productive work years and more time off work due to illness or injuries during those working years.

Penalties

Beginning January 1, 2014, most people will be required to maintain health insurance, and individuals who do not obtain health insurance will have to pay a penalty under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. The insurance requirement penalty provision exempts people with income below the poverty level, as well as those in jail, members of registered Indian tribes, those whose religious tenets preclude health insurance, and individuals for whom essential health insurance coverage cost for one month would exceed 8 percent of their household gross income for the year. People who do not meet one of these exemptions, but who decline to purchase health insurance, may be penalized up to $95 in 2014, $350 in 2015, $750 in 2016, and $750 plus a cost of living increase for subsequent years. According to SmartMoney, the penalty provision is likely to have the strongest impact on the personal finances of younger, unmarried consumers. Although the statute exempts the poorest people from its provisions, the penalty for failure to have health insurance will negatively impact the personal finances of those to whom it applies.

By Cindy Hill
Originally Published By LiveStrong.com

Online enrollment platforms are great, but communication and understanding are terribly important for the end-user.

I always say, “technology is great, when it works.” Online enrollment platforms have been around for years, and the technology that powers them has grown and advanced at an exponential rate. Who would have guessed that we would be enrolling in our employee benefits directly from our own phones and tablets, without being given the huge enrollment packets from HR?

In this virtual communication age, you can’t take the “human” out of Human Resources, and you can’t take the confusion out of insurance benefits just because you wrap it in a nice, pretty website with fancy graphics and videos.

An employee’s health concerns and needs are as diverse and different as hair colors are at Comic Con, so while a brief overview of plan details is fine for one person, someone else wants to know how many physical therapy visits they can have in a year, or if their child’s insulin pump will be covered on their plan.

A simple online enrollment platform does not always meet the needs of all employees, and not all platforms will offer the level of detail some will require. Aside from posting the evidence of coverage, or insurance contract, at a place that is easily found on the portal, there may not be a way to achieve that level of detail. However, even for those that don’t need that level of detail, critical information must be communicated easily and effectively.

Costly mistakes can be made when benefits are not communicated effectively, or when important information is simply omitted. For example, since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was implemented, some employers have opted to offer minimum value plans (MVPs), or plans that cover very few procedures such as office visits, preventive care, and hospital room and board, but they do not cover a wide range of other services such as ambulance, surgery, medical devices, physical or occupational therapy, etc.

When an employee sees a number of choices or plans from which to choose, they will likely compare the various plan options by looking at the carrier, if the plans are HMOs or PPOs, and the cost. From there, an employee may look at the office copays, deductibles, prescription drug costs, and coinsurance.

If the comparison shows MVP plans as well as traditional health plans, but does not call out in big, bold letters, all of the items the MVP plan does not cover, one could come away with the understanding that if they choose the MVP plan, they are selecting a plan that is a comprehensive insurance plan just like the other plans shown, or like they have had in the past.

Most of us don’t read our car insurance policy in detail until we get in an accident and the insurance adjustor says, “sorry, your policy does not cover that.” The same is usually true for our health insurance plans.

You could argue that it is the responsibility of the employee to verify that the plan they are choosing meets all of their needs, certainly. But if that information is not easy to locate, you could find fault with the employer, or insurance carrier, if there were to be a problem. Furthermore, an employer would want to show their employees that they want to take care of them, and not set them up for failure in the event of a crisis.

Let’s walk through a scenario. An employee named “Joe” is 28, and is enrolling in his company’s health plans during open enrollment. His company recently merged with another larger company, and so the benefits being offered are slightly different, but look pretty close to what they had been last year. There are four plans offered, two that are HMO plans with Kaiser and two that are PPO plans, one is labeled Silver, the other Gold.

Joe is young and single, and when he was living at home with his parents, he had never had Kaiser and always traditionally had PPO coverage. Last year, Joe enrolled in the Silver PPO plan so he could continue to see the doctors that had been managing his care for all of his adult life, so he elects the same plan this year. The online system shows a $250 deductible, $40 office visit copay, and 30% coinsurance. In addition, the Kaiser premiums have gone up considerably from what he remembered them to be last year, and are higher than the PPO plan options, so he feels comfortable that he has made the choice that is best for him.

Later in the year, he comes down with a bad cold. The pressure in his head that is caused by the cold is so severe that when he sneezed, he blew out his right ear drum. He goes to the doctor, and his doctor orders a CT scan of his ear. The CT scan shows he has perforated his ear drum and will need surgery to repair it. The surgery is scheduled for two weeks after that. He contacts the hospital and surgeon to confirm they are contracted, in-network providers under his health plan, and asks them to do a pre-determination of benefits so he will know up front how much he should expect to pay as his 30% of the cost of the procedure.

While waiting for the surgeon and hospital to get back to him regarding the out-of-pocket costs, he receives the bill for the CT scan and explanation of benefits from his doctor for the office visit and CT scan. They show his office copayment that he paid at the time of service, and his $250 deductible, plus 30% of the remaining cost of the CT scan, which came out to a total of $500. He pays the bills and continues to work even though he is in extreme discomfort from his right ear.

The surgeon and hospital both get back to him and let him know the surgery itself will cost approximately $20,000 because his plan does not cover surgery, period. Joe is not an executive in a large company; he does not have the money to pay for a $20,000 surgery and also afford to take three weeks off of work in order for him to recover. So, what is he to do?

He can’t enroll in another plan offered by his employer for another nine months when they go through open enrollment again. It is March, so he has missed the state Exchange open enrollment window, and he has not experienced an involuntary loss of coverage that would enable him to enroll in a state Exchange plan. If he were to purchase a short-term, comprehensive medical plan it won’t cover any pre-existing conditions, which his perforated ear drum would certainly be considered. So, unless he gets married and enrolls on his new spouse’s plan if they were offered one by their employer, he is out of options. He will simply have to wait until open enrollment next year.

How do you think Joe is feeling about his employer right now? Do you think he is counting his blessings that he only ruptured his ear drum and was not diagnosed with cancer that needed to be removed before it spread any further? Or is he going to be using a few choice words to describe an employer that offers a medical plan to its employees that has a longer list of services not covered than are covered? I can’t say that I know for sure, but I can guess.

Now, the question becomes how does an employer prevent their employees from running into these kinds of pitfalls? It comes down to clear communication—multiple forms of communication that are easily accessible to employees and their family members that may also play a role in making plan decisions. Having someone to partner with your company, such as a UBA Partner Firm that will not only help you develop long-term plan strategies for your employee benefits package, but can be an integral part of developing and implementing online systems, hard copy communications, and give you access to tools such as smartphone applications that not only give employees access to essential information, but also push out important communications that contain relevant information at the appropriate times like open enrollment. Making plan details easily accessible in the online platform, with clear and bold statements if there are essential benefits that are not covered on the plan such as a warning, should be clearly stated so that employees are well informed.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Insurance is a complicated business and you, as an employer, would not want to make decisions about the health care you offer your employees without someone to guide you through the various options and possibilities. As responsible employers, our employees should not have to either.

By Elizabeth Kay
Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

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