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We have entered Open Enrollment season and that means you and everyone in your office are probably reading through enrollment guides and trying to decipher it all. As you begin your research into which plan to choose or even how much to contribute to your Health Savings Account (HSA), consider evaluating how you used your health plan last year. Looking backward can actually help you plan forward and make the most of your health care dollars for the coming year.

Forbes magazine gives the advice, “Think of Open Enrollment as your time to revisit your benefits to make sure you are taking full advantage of them.” First, look at how often you used health care services this year. Did you go to the doctor a lot? Did you begin a new prescription drug regimen? What procedures did you have done and what are their likelihood of needing to be done again this year? As you evaluate how you used your dollars last year, you can predict how your dollars may be spent next year and choose a plan that accommodates your spending.

Second, don’t assume your insurance coverage will be the same year after year. Your company may change providers or even what services they will cover with the same provider. You may also have better coverage on services and procedures that were previously not eligible for you. If you have choices on which plan to enroll in, make sure you are comparing each plan’s costs for premiums, deductibles, copays, and coinsurance for next year. Don’t make the mistake of choosing a plan based on how it was written in years prior.

Third, make sure you are taking full advantage of your company’s services. For instance, their preventative health benefits. Do they offer discounted gym memberships? What about weight-loss counseling services or surgery? How frequently can you visit the dentist for cleanings or the optometrist? Make sure you know what is covered and that you are using the services provided for you. Check to see if your company gives discounts on health insurance premiums for completing health surveys or wellness programs—even for wearing fitness trackers! Don’t leave money on the table by not being educated on what is offered.

Finally, look at your company’s policy choices for life insurance. Taking out a personal life insurance policy can be very costly but ones offered through your office are much more reasonable. Why? You reap the cost benefit of being a part of a group life policy. Again, look at how your family is expected to change this year—are you getting married or having a baby, or even going through a divorce? Consider changing your life insurance coverage to account for these life changes. Forbes says that “people entering or exiting your life is typically a good indicator that you may want to revisit your existing benefits.”

As you make choices for yourself and/or your family this Open Enrollment season, be sure to look at ALL the options available to you. Do your research. Take the time to understand your options—your HR department may even have a tool available to help you estimate the best health care plan for you and your dependents. And remember, looking backward on your past habits and expenses can be an important tool to help you plan forward for next year.

Recently, the President signed a bill repealing the Affordable Care Act’s Individual Mandate (the tax penalty imposed on individuals who are not enrolled in health insurance). While some are praising this action, there are others who are concerned with its aftermath. So how does this affect you and why should you pay attention to this change?

First, as an individual, if you do not carry health insurance, you are currently paying a penalty of $695/adult not covered and $347.50/uninsured child with penalties going even as high as $2085/household. These penalties have been the deciding factor for most uninsured Americans—go broke buying insurance but they have insurance or go broke paying a fine and still be uninsured. With the repeal signed in December 2017, these penalties are zeroed out starting January 1, 2019.  While it seems that the repeal of the tax penalty should be good news all around, it does have some ramifications. Without reform in the healthcare arena for balanced pricing, when individuals make a mass exodus in 2019, we can expect higher premiums to account for the loss of insured customers.

As a business, you are still under the Employer Mandate of the ACA. There have been no changes to the coverage guidelines and reporting requirements of this Act. However, with healthy people opt-ing out of health insurance coverage, the employer premiums can expect to be raised to cover the increased expenses of the sick. Some do predict the possibility of the repeal of some parts of the Employer Mandate —specifically PCORI fees and employment reporting. The Individual and Employer Mandates were created to compliment each other and so changes to one tend to mean changes to the other.

So, why should you pay attention to this change? Because the balance the ACA Individual Mandate was designed to help make in the health insurance marketplace is now unbalanced.

Taking one item from the scale results in instability. Both employers and employees will be affected by this tax repeal in one way or another.

 

Since the ACA was enacted eight years ago, many employers are re-examining employee benefits in an effort to manage costs, navigate changing regulations, and expand their plan options. Self-funded plans are one way that’s happening.

In 2017, the UBA Health Plan survey revealed that self-funded plans have increased by 12.8% in the past year overall, and just less than two-thirds of all large employers’ plans are self-funded.

Here are six of the reasons why employers are opting for self-funded plans:

1. Lower operating costs frequently save employers money over time.

2. Employers paying their own claims are more likely to incentivize employee health maintenance, and these practices have clear, immediate benefits for everyone.

3. Increased control over plan dynamics often results in better individual fits, and more needs met effectively overall.

4. More flexibility means designing a plan that can ideally empower employees around their own health issues and priorities.

5. Customization allows employers to incorporate wellness programs in the workplace, which often means increased overall health.

6. Risks that might otherwise make self-funded plans less attractive can be managed through quality stop loss contracts.

If you want to know more about why self-funding can keep employers nimble, how risk can be minimized, and how to incorporate wellness programs, contact us for a copy of the full white paper, “Self-Funded Plans: A Solid Option for Small Businesses.”

by Bill Olson
Originally posted on ubabenefits.com

The Department of Labor’s new claim rules for disability benefits took effect April 2, 2018. The changes were announced over a year ago, but the effective date was delayed to give insurers, employers, and plan administrators adequate time for implementation. Although we’ve reported on the key issues in this blog previously, now seems like a good time for a refresher on how the new rules affect employer plans.

Affected Plans

The new claim rules apply to disability benefits provided under plans covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA); that is, plans sponsored by private-sector employers. Then the new rules apply if the ERISA plan must make a determination of disability in order for the claimant to obtain the benefit. Group short- and long-term disability plans are the most common examples, but pension, 401(k), and deferred compensation plans also may be affected.

Many plans do not make their own determination of disability, but instead condition the plan’s benefit on another party’s determination. For instance, employer plans that base the benefit on a disability determination made by the Social Security Administration (SSA) are not affected by the new rules.

New Rules

For ERISA plans affected by the new rules, the following additional requirements apply to disability claims filed on or after April 2, 2018:

  • Disclosure Requirements: Benefit denial notices must explain why the plan denied a claim and the standards used in making the decision. For example, the notices must explain the basis for disagreeing with a disability determination made by the SSA if presented by the claimant in support of his or her claim.
  • Claim Files and Internal Protocols: Benefit denial notices must include a statement that the claimant is entitled to request and receive the entire claim file and other relevant documents. (Previously this statement was required only in notices denying benefits on appeal, not on initial claim denials.) The notice also must include the internal rules, guidelines, protocols, standards or other similar criteria of the plan that were used in denying a claim or a statement that none were used. (Previously it was optional to include a statement that such rules and protocols were used in denying the claim and that the claimant could request a copy.)
  • Right to Review and Respond to New Information Before Final Decision: Plans are prohibited from denying benefits on appeal based on new or additional evidence or rationales that were not included when the benefit was denied at the claims stage, unless the claimant is given notice and a fair opportunity to respond.
  • Conflicts of Interest: Claims and appeals must be adjudicated in a manner designed to ensure the independence and impartiality of the persons involved in making the decision. For example, a claims adjudicator or medical or vocational expert could not be hired, promoted, terminated or compensated based on the likelihood of the person denying benefit claims.
  • Deemed Exhaustion of Claims and Appeal Processes: If plans do not adhere to all claims processing rules, the claimant is deemed to have exhausted the administrative remedies available under the plan (unless exceptions for minor errors or other conditions apply). In that case, the claimant may immediately pursue his or her claim in court. Plans also must treat a claim as re-filed on appeal upon the plan’s receipt of a court’s decision rejecting the claimant’s request for review.
  • Coverage Rescissions: Rescissions of coverage, including retroactive terminations due to alleged misrepresentations or errors in applying for coverage, must be treated as adverse benefit determinations that trigger the plan’s appeals procedures.
  • Notices Written in a Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Manner: Benefit denial notices must be provided in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner in certain situations. Specifically, if the claimant’s address is in a county where 10 percent or more of the population is literate only in the same non-English language, the notices must include a prominent statement in the relevant non-English language about the availability of language services. The plan would also be required to provide a verbal customer assistance process in the non-English language and provide written notices in the non-English language upon request.

Action Steps for Employers

Employers are reminded to work with their carriers, third-party administrators, and advisors to make sure their plans comply with the new requirements. Consider these steps:

  • Identify all plans that are subject to ERISA. (Plans sponsored by governmental employers, such as cities and public school districts, and certain church plans, are exempt from ERISA.)
  • Does the ERISA plan provide any benefit based on disability? If so, is the benefit conditioned on a determination of disability made by the plan or by another party, such as Social Security?
  • For insured plans, such as group STD and LTD insurance plans, the carrier generally is responsible for compliance with ERISA’s claim rules. The employer, however, does have a duty to make reasonable efforts to ensure the carrier is complying.
  • For self-funded plans, the employer is responsible for compliance. Although the employer may engage the services of a third-party claims administrator, the employer remains responsible for the plan’s compliance with all rules.

Originally Published By ThinkHR.com

As the costs of health care soar, many consumers are looking for ways to control their medical spending. Also, with the rise of enrollment in high deductible health plans, consumers are paying for more health care out-of-pocket. From medical savings accounts to discount plans for prescriptions, patients are growing increasingly conscious of prices for their healthcare needs. Price shopping procedures and providers allows you to compare prices so that you are getting the best value for your care.

Why do you need to look beyond your nearby and familiar providers and locations for healthcare? Here’s a hypothetical example: Chris is a 45-year old male in good physical health. During his last check-up he mentions to his doctor that he’s had some recent shortness of breath and has been more tired as of late. His doctor orders an EKG to rule out any problems. If Chris went to his local hospital for this procedure, it would cost $1150. He instead looks online and shops around to find other providers in his area and finds he can get the same procedure for $450 at a nearby imaging center. His potential savings is $700 simply by researching locations.

So where do you start when shopping around for your health care?  A good place to begin is by researching your health plan online. Insurance companies will post cost estimates based on facility, physician, and type of procedure. Keep in mind that these are just estimates and may vary based on what coverage you are enrolled in. Another way to shop is by checking out websites that have compiled thousands of claims information for various procedures and locations to give an estimate of costs. However, deciphering whether a site is reporting estimates based on the “medical sticker price” of charges or rates for private insurance plans or Medicare is difficult.  There are huge differences in prices at different providers for the exact same procedure. This is because contracts between insurance agencies and providers vary based on negotiated amounts. This makes it hard to get consistent pricing information.

Check out these sites that do a great job comparing apples to apples for providers:

  • Healthcare Blue Book
    • What Kelly Blue Book is to cars, Healthcare Blue Book is to medical pricing
  • New Choice Health
    • Reports on pricing of medical procedures, providers, quality of facilities, and customer feedback for healthcare in all 50 states
  • The Leapfrog Group
    • Publishes data on hospitals so patients can compare facilities and costs for treatments and procedures

After compiling all the information on prices and procedures, you can still call and negotiate costs with the location of your care. Fair Health Consumer has tips on how to negotiate with providers and plan for your healthcare needs.

Knowledge is POWER and when you spend time researching and comparing healthcare costs, you are empowering yourself!  Exercising due diligence to plan for you and your family’s medical needs will save you money and give you confidence in your decisions for care.

Do you offer health coverage to your employees? Does your group health plan cover outpatient prescription drugs? If so, federal law requires you to complete an online disclosure form every year with information about your plan’s drug coverage. You have 60 days from the start of your health plan year to complete the form. For instance, for a calendar-year health plan, this year’s deadline is March 1, 2018.

Background

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is a federal agency that collects data and administers various federal programs. The agency utilizes the CMS online tool to collect information from employers about whether their group health plan’s prescription drug coverage is creditable or noncreditable. Creditable coverage means the group health plan’s prescription drug coverage is actuarially equivalent to Medicare’s Part D drug plans. In other words, the group plan is considered creditable if its drug benefits are as good as or better than Medicare’s benefits.

To confirm whether your plan provides creditable or noncreditable coverage, check with the plan’s carrier or HMO (if insured) or the plan’s actuary (if self-funded). CMS provides guidance to help plan sponsors, carriers, and actuaries determine the plan’s status.

Deadline for Disclosure

All group health plans that include any outpatient prescription drug benefits, regardless of whether the plan is insured, self-funded, grandfathered, or nongrandfathered, must complete the CMS disclosure requirement. There is no exception for small employers.

Complete the CMS online disclosure form every year within 60 days of the start of the plan year. For instance, for calendar-year plans, this year’s deadline is March 1, 2018.

Additionally, if your plan terminates or its status changes between creditable and noncreditable coverage, you must disclose the updated information to CMS within 30 days of the change.

Completing the Disclosure Form

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. To save time, have the following information handy before you start filling in the form:

  • Information about the plan sponsor (employer): Name, address, phone number, and federal Employer Identification Number (EIN).
  • Number of prescription drug options offered (e.g., if employer offers two plan options with different benefit levels, the number is “2”).
  • Creditable/Noncreditable Offer: Indicate whether all options are creditable or noncreditable or whether some are creditable and others are noncreditable.
  • Plan year beginning and ending dates.
  • Estimated number of plan participants eligible for Medicare (and how many are participants in the employer’s retiree health plan, if any).
  • Date that the plan’s Notice of Creditable (or Noncreditable) Coverage was provided to participants.
  • Name, title, and email address of the employer’s authorized individual completing the disclosure.

We suggest you print a copy of the completed disclosure to keep for your records.

Note: Employers that receive the Retiree Drug Subsidy (RDS), or sponsor health plans that contract directly with one or more Medicare Part D plans, should seek the advice of legal counsel regarding the applicable disclosure requirements.

Additional Disclosure Requirement

Separate from the CMS online disclosure requirement, employers also must distribute a disclosure notice to Medicare-eligible group health plan participants. The deadline for distributing the participant notice is October 14 of the preceding year. It often is difficult for employers to identify which employees and spouses may be Medicare-eligible, so most employers simply distribute the notice to all participants regardless of age or status. For information about the notice requirement, see our previous post.

 

Originally Published By ThinkHR.com

The ACA requires employers to report the cost of coverage under an employer-sponsored group health plan. Reporting the cost of health care coverage on Form W-2 does not mean that the coverage is taxable.

Employers that provide “applicable employer-sponsored coverage” under a group health plan are subject to the reporting requirement. This includes businesses, tax-exempt organizations, and federal, state and local government entities (except with respect to plans maintained primarily for members of the military and their families). Federally recognized Indian tribal governments are not subject to this requirement.

Employers that are subject to this requirement should report the value of the health care coverage in Box 12 of Form W-2, with Code DD to identify the amount. There is no reporting on Form W-3 of the total of these amounts for all the employer’s employees.

In general, the amount reported should include both the portion paid by the employer and the portion paid by the employee. See the chart below from the IRS’ webpage and its questions and answers for more information.

The chart below illustrates the types of coverage that employers must report on Form W-2. Certain items are listed as “optional” based on transition relief provided by Notice 2012-9 (restating and clarifying Notice 2011-28). Future guidance may revise reporting requirements but will not be applicable until the tax year beginning at least six months after the date of issuance of such guidance.

  Form W-2, Box 12, Code DD
Coverage Type Report Do Not
Report
Optional
Major medical X    
Dental or vision plan not integrated into another medical or health plan     X
Dental or vision plan which gives the choice of declining or electing and paying an additional premium     X
Health flexible spending arrangement (FSA) funded solely by salary-reduction amounts   X  
Health FSA value for the plan year in excess of employee’s cafeteria plan salary reductions for all qualified benefits X    
Health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) contributions     X
Health savings account (HSA) contributions (employer or employee)   X  
Archer Medical Savings Account (Archer MSA) contributions (employer or employee)   X  
Hospital indemnity or specified illness (insured or self-funded), paid on after-tax basis   X  
Hospital indemnity or specified illness (insured or self-funded), paid through salary reduction (pre-tax) or by employer X    
Employee assistance plan (EAP) providing applicable employer-sponsored healthcare coverage Required if employer charges a COBRA premium   Optional if employer does not charge a COBRA premium
On-site medical clinics providing applicable employer-sponsored healthcare coverage Required if employer charges a COBRA premium   Optional if employer does not charge a COBRA premium
Wellness programs providing applicable employer-sponsored healthcare coverage Required if employer charges a COBRA premium   Optional if employer does not charge a COBRA premium
Multi-employer plans     X
Domestic partner coverage included in gross income X    
Governmental plans providing coverage primarily for members of the military and their families   X  
Federally recognized Indian tribal government plans and plans of tribally charted corporations wholly owned by a federally recognized Indian tribal government   X  
Self-funded plans not subject to federal COBRA     X
Accident or disability income   X  
Long-term care   X  
Liability insurance   X  
Supplemental liability insurance   X  
Workers’ compensation   X  
Automobile medical payment insurance   X  
Credit-only insurance   X  
Excess reimbursement to highly compensated individual, included in gross income   X  
Payment/reimbursement of health insurance premiums for 2% shareholder-employee, included in gross income   X  
Other situations Report Do Not
Report
Optional
Employers required to file fewer than 250 Forms W-2 for the preceding calendar year (determined without application of any entity aggregation rules for related employers)     X
Forms W-2 furnished to employees who terminate before the end of a calendar year and request, in writing, a Form W-2 before the end of the year     X
Forms W-2 provided by third-party sick-pay provider to employees of other employers     X

By Danielle Capilla
Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

Fall.  With it comes cooler temperatures’, falling leaves, warm seasonal scents like turkey and pumpkin pie, and Open Enrollment.  It goes without saying; employees who understand the effectiveness of their benefits are much more pleased with those packages, happier with their employers, and more engaged in their work. So, as your company gears up for a new year of navigating Open Enrollment, here are a few points to keep in mind to make the process smoother for both employees and your benefits department. Bonus: it will lighten the load for both parties alike during an already stress-induced season.

Communicate Open Enrollment Using a Variety of Mediums

Advertise 2018 benefit changes to employees by using a variety of mediums. The more reminders and explanation of benefits staff members have using more than one mode of media, the more likely employees will go into Open Enrollment with more knowledge of your company’s benefit options and when they need to have these options completed for the new year.

  • Consider explainer videos to simplify the amount of emails and paperwork individuals need to review come Open Enrollment time. These videos can increase the bottom line as well, eliminating the high cost of print material.
  • Opt for placards placed throughout your high-traffic areas. Communicate benefit options and remind employees of Open Enrollment dates for the new year by posting in such areas as the lobby, break room and bathroom stalls.
  • Choose SMS texting. Today, over 97% of individuals use text. Ninety-eight percent of those that use text open messages within the first three minutes of receiving them; 6-8 times higher than the engagement rate for email. Delivering a concise message to employees’ mobile devices creates more touch points along the Open Enrollment journey. The key, however, is making it quick so as to entice your employees to take action.
  • Promote apps and in-app tools. Push notifications and apps like Remind 101 can help drive employee engagement during Open Enrollment season simply by providing short messages reminding them to enroll. Notifications like these can also be tailored to unique employee groups based on location, job level, eligibility status and more.

Utilize Mobile Apps and Web Portals for Open Enrollment

Now that your company has communication down pat for Open Enrollment, simplify the arduous task employees have of enrolling for the coming year by going paperless. Utilize web portals through benefit brokers and companies like ADP to eliminate the hassle of employees having to fill out paperwork both at renewal, and at the time of hire.  With nearly three quarters of individuals in the United States checking their phone once an hour and 90% percent of this time is spent using one app or another as a main source of communication, mobile apps can make benefits engagement much easier due to the anywhere/anytime accessibility they offer.

The personal perks for employees are great too! Staff members with a major lifestyle event can make benefit adjustments quickly with the ease of mobile apps.  Employees recognize this valuable and time-saving trend and enjoy having this information at their fingertips.

Open Enrollment season can be a stressful time but hopefully these tips will help for a smoother transition into the next year for your business. Simple things like using explainer videos, placing reminders in high traffic areas and utilizing mobile apps and text messaging can save time and stress in the long run for your employees and benefit department.

It’s not surprising that 2017 stands to be the year many will have an experience to share using a Telemedicine or a Virtual Doctor service. With current market trends, government regulations, and changing economic demands, it’s fast becoming a more popular alternative to traditional healthcare visits.  And, as healthcare costs continue to rise and there are more strategic pricing options and digital models available to users, the appeal for consumers, self-insured employers, health systems and health plans to jump on board is significant.

In a recent study conducted by the Aloft Group on the state of Telemedicine, 47.7% of respondents weren’t sure about what Telemedicine meant, but it’s possible they may have experienced it, as 52.4% have had interaction with a physician or clinician via email or text. Further, 78.5% of respondents indicated they would be comfortable talking with a physician using an online method.

Dr. Tony Yuan, an experienced ER doctor in San Diego, who also consults for Doctor on Demand, provides insight into this increasing trend during a recent Q and A session. Currently, over half of the patients he sees in his ER could utilize a digital healthcare model. In fact, 90% of patients who head to the ER for minor illnesses can be treated through this service. So, the next sinus, ear infection, or other minor health issue just may provide you and your family the chance to try what will become the new standard in minor healthcare.

Here are few benefits TeleMedicine has to offer:

It’s Fast and Simple

There’s no question apps are available for everything to make our lives easier—and TeleMed is no exception. Within minutes, standard first time users can set up an account, complete a few medical profile questions, then create and save a session. Having the ability to log on with a board-certified physician or clinician 24/7/365, using any PC, smart device, and even phone in some cases, saves time and money. Many services, like Teledoc and MDLive, will connect you with a licensed doctor or clinician online in just a few minutes – no scheduling or wait required. Once on, you can discuss your healthcare needs confidentially. After the visit, the doctor will update his/her records, notify your primary care physician of the call, and send an electronic prescription to the pharmacy of your choice, if necessary—all in the time it takes for a lunch break.

 

It’s Flexible

The ability to connect with a professional whether you are at home, work, or traveling makes getting the care you need invaluable. How often have you experienced the symptoms—or the full blown-effect—of getting sick while traveling? Many, no doubt, have had to adjust flight/travel plans to get the help needed from their PCP, in order to avoid getting worse.  By using an app or online service from your smart phone or laptop, you’re able to get the antibiotics you need quicker without cutting trips short or missing work to do so.

 

In addition, patients in smaller communities without the resources available of classically- trained, emergency-med physicians, see the benefit and flexibility of tapping into these online doctor services. Not only is it a plus for the patient to access more advanced care if needed, doctors in these rural areas value this as well. These digital healthcare models provide immediate, life-saving tools for both doctors and their patients who may not have access to higher, acute facilities.

 

It’s Affordable

Many TeleMedicine services now accept insurance, making a patient’s visit free, or at minimum the same as most deductible or co-insurance amounts for office visits; around $40. For those on a high-deductible plan, paying $40 for an online doctor service is a much cheaper alternative than paying $150 or more for an Urgent Care visit, or over $1200 for a trip to the ER. For employers, group options are low cost and can be a clear asset when creating solutions EEs will value.

 

It’s Beneficial to Employers

Today, 3 of 5 corporations, or 59% of employers provide digital healthcare benefits to their employees. As an employer, the benefits are straightforward. First, employees can participate in professional consultations for their family members or themselves without taking away from productivity. Second, when employers incorporate these services into their benefit plans, non-emergency care is redirected from expensive ER visits, ultimately saving thousands of dollars or more to the bottom line. Additionally, TeleHealth services offer frequent monitoring from clinicians for those employees who may need regular support due to more chronic issues, reducing trips to the hospital. Reducing these costs have a direct ROI for the employer and relieves the stress on the employee’s pocketbook. Third, many companies are now adding this digital benefit to their packages as a way to recruit new talent.

 

There’s no doubt 2017 will see a greater opportunity for all to experience the increasing trend of Telemed. Creating a clear communication strategy to make sure employees know how to find, access and utilize this service to the highest potential is key.

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