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.

What people want in their benefits package is changing. Retirement and health care still rank high but soft perks and voluntary benefits factor into satisfaction more than any other benefits, so says “Employees Increasingly Excited About Soft Perks and Company-Culture Benefits,” in Employee Benefit News.

When considering a job offer, these types of benefits are top of mind for potential employees and should, therefore, be priorities for employers. Still, over 4 in 10 respondents said their company didn’t offer any perks, a sign that employers still value traditional benefits more.

With a tightening work force and historically low unemployment, employers may need to adjust their offerings to better align with the people they need and want to hire.

Sure, free snacks and coffee are always appreciated. With millennials and Gen Z entering the workforce, it’s clear a new generation of workers is looking for a new generation of benefits. At the same time, baby boomers are working longer than the generations prior. Companies, then, must develop not only perks but also voluntary solutions that meet a sprawling range of life experiences according to “9 voluntary solutions for today’s diverse workforce” and “10 perks that help attract and retain workers,” in BenefitsPRO.

More and more, flexible hours are a leading request in interviews. Likewise, the opportunity to work from home or a company keeping summer hours can boost satisfaction. Having control over when and where work happens is more and more important to employees.

Other perks seen as essential were professional development and fitness and health programs. Wellness programs might include discounts for fitness wearables. Professional development could include creating opportunities to learn about topics as diverse as coding to project management. Lunch-and-learn events are a small-scale way to invest in employee development, and it’s seen as even better if the employer provides the lunch.

Read “Employees Increasingly Excited About Soft Perks and Company-Culture Benefits” here.

Read “9 voluntary solutions for today’s diverse workforce” here.

Read “10 perks that help attract and retain workers” here.

By Bill Olson

Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

Do you offer coverage to your employees through a self-insured group health plan? Do you sponsor a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA)? If so, do you know whether your plan or HRA is subject to the annual Patient-Centered Research Outcomes Institute (PCORI) fee?

This article answers frequently-asked questions about the PCORI fee, which plans are affected, and what you need to do as the employer sponsor. PCORI fees for 2017 health plans and HRAs are due July 31, 2018.

What is the PCORI fee?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) created the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to study clinical effectiveness and health outcomes. To finance the nonprofit institute’s work, a small annual fee is charged on health plans.

Most employers do not have to take any action, because most employer-sponsored health plans are provided through group insurance contracts. For insured plans, the carrier is responsible for the PCORI fee and the employer has no duties.

If, however, you are an employer that self-insures a health plan or an HRA, it is your responsibility to determine whether PCORI applies and, if so, to calculate, report, and pay the fee.

The annual PCORI fee is equal to the average number of lives covered during the health plan year, multiplied by the applicable dollar amount:

  • If the plan year end date was between January 1 and September 30, 2017: $2.26.
  • If the plan year end date was between October 1 and December 31, 2017: $2.39.

Payment is due by July 31 following the end of the calendar year in which the plan year ended. Therefore, for plan years ending in 2017, payment is due no later than July 31, 2018.

Does the PCORI fee apply to all health plans?

The fee applies to all health plans and HRAs, excluding the following:

  • Plans that primarily provide “excepted benefits” (e.g., stand-alone dental and vision plans, most health flexible spending accounts with little or no employer contributions, and certain supplemental or gap-type plans).
  • Plans that do not provide significant benefits for medical care or treatment (e.g., employee assistance, disease management, and wellness programs).
  • Stop-loss insurance policies.
  • Health savings accounts (HSAs).

The IRS provides a helpful chart indicating the types of health plans that are, or are not, subject to the PCORI fee.

If I have multiple self-insured plans, does the fee apply to each one?

Yes. For instance, if you self-insure one medical plan for active employees and another medical plan for retirees, you will need to calculate, report, and pay the fee for each plan. There is an exception, though, for “multiple self-insured arrangements” that are sponsored by the same employer, cover the same participants, and have the same plan year. For example, if you self-insure a medical plan with a self-insured prescription drug plan, you would pay the PCORI fee only once with respect to the combined plan.

Does the fee apply to HRAs?

Yes. The PCORI fee applies to HRAs, which are self-insured health plans, although the fee is waived in some cases. If you self-insure another plan, such as a major medical or high deductible plan, and the HRA is merely a component of that plan, you do not have to pay the PCORI fee separately for the HRA. In other words, when the HRA is integrated with another self-insured plan, you only pay the fee once for the combined plan.

On the other hand, if the HRA stands alone, or if the HRA is integrated with an insured plan, you are responsible for paying the fee for the HRA.

What about QSEHRAs? Does the fee apply?

Yes. A Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement (QSEHRA) is new type of tax-advantaged arrangement that allows small employers to reimburse certain health costs for their workers. Although a QSEHRA is not the same as an HRA, and the rules applying to each type are very different, a QSEHRA is a self-insured health plan for purposes of the PCORI fee. In late 2017, the IRS released guidance confirming that small employers that offer QSEHRAs must calculate, report and pay the PCORI fee.

Can I use ERISA plan assets or employee contributions to pay the fee?

No. The PCORI fee is an employer expense and not a plan expense, so you cannot use ERISA plan assets or employee contributions to pay the fee. An exception is allowed for certain multi-employer plans (e.g., union trusts) subject to collective bargaining. Since the fee is paid by the employer as a business expense, it is tax deductible.

How do I calculate the fee?

Multiply $2.26 or $2.39 (depending on the date the plan year ended in 2017) times the average number of lives covered during the plan year. “Covered lives” are all participants, including employees, dependents, retirees, and COBRA enrollees. You may use any one of the following counting methods to determine the average number of lives:

  • Average Count Method: Count the number of lives covered on each day of the plan year, then divide by the number of days in the plan year.
  • Snapshot Method: Count the number of lives covered on the same day each quarter, then divide by the number of quarters (e.g., four). Or count the lives covered on the first of each month, then divide by the number of months (e.g., 12). This method also allows the option — called the “snapshot factor method” — of counting each primary enrollee (e.g., employee) with single coverage as “1” and counting each primary enrollee with family coverage as “2.35.”
  • Form 5500 Method: Add together the “beginning of plan year” and “end of plan year” participant counts reported on the Form 5500 for the plan year. There is no need to count dependents using this method since the IRS assumes the sum of the beginning and ending of year counts is close enough to the total number of covered lives. If the plan is employee-only without dependent coverage, divide the sum by 2. (If Form 5500 for the plan year ending in 2017 is not filed by July 31, 2018, you cannot use this counting method.)

For an HRA, count only the number of primary participants (employees) and disregard any dependents.

How do I report and pay the fee?

Use Form 720, Quarterly Excise Tax Return, to report and pay the annual PCORI fee. Report all information for self-insured plan(s) with plan year ending dates in 2017 on the same Form 720. Do not submit more than one Form 720 for the same period with the same Employer Identification Number (EIN), unless you are filing an amended return.

The IRS provides Instructions for Form 720. Here is a quick summary of the items for PCORI:

  • Fill in the employer information at the top of the form.
  • In Part II, complete line 133(c) and/or line 133(d), as applicable, depending on the plan year ending date(s). If you are reporting multiple plans on the same line, combine the information.
  • In Part II, complete line 2 (total).
  • In Part III, complete lines 3 and 10.
  • Sign and date Form 720 where indicated.
  • If paying by check or money order, also complete the payment voucher (Form 720-V) provided on the last page of Form 720. Be sure to fill in the circle for “2nd Quarter.” Refer to the Instructions for mailing information.

Caution! Before taking any action, confirm with your tax department or controller whether your organization files Form 720 for any purposes other than the PCORI fee. For instance, some employers use Form 720 to make quarterly payments for environmental taxes, fuel taxes, or other excise taxes. In that case, do not prepare Form 720 (or the payment voucher), but instead give the PCORI fee information to your organization’s tax preparer to include with its second quarterly filing.

Summary

If you self-insure one or more health plans or sponsor an HRA, you may be responsible for calculating, reporting, and paying annual PCORI fees. The fee is based on the average number of lives covered during the health plan year. The IRS offers a choice of three different counting methods to calculate the plan’s average covered lives. Once you have determined the count, the process for reporting and paying the fee using Form 720 is fairly simple. For plan years ending in 2017, the deadline to file Form 720 and make your payment is July 31, 2018.

Originally posted on thinkhr.com

While there’s plenty of talk about work/life balance, many employees want to feel human while at work, too. Being able to bring their whole selves, according to “3 Ways to Create a More Human Workplace,” from Workforce, is an essential piece of a welcoming, inclusive workplace environment.

Putting employees first as a defined company value means helping team members feel connected, valued, and like their work is having an impact. Supporting employee well-being improves everything from engagement to loyalty.

Small changes, like building breaks into the day, as well as larger wellness initiatives are some of the best investments in resources, time, and money a company can make in both its people and its bottom line.

As companies think about the customer experience more and more, it’s also a smart idea to think about the employee experience. One-off opportunities or programs to check the wellness box, for example, are less powerful than a holistic experience. Employers should consider whether their employees would enthusiastically recommend a friend apply for a job, and craft a workplace experience that makes that a reality.

That whole person, whole experience approach also applies when building a diverse and inclusive workplace. Recruitment and hiring are often the talked about steps, but it’s as critical to think about the employee experience after the job starts.

Beyond the overall workplace environment, employers can strive to make the workplace a more inclusive space, according to “6 Steps for Building an Inclusive Workplace,” from the Society for Human Resource Management. After successfully hiring a diverse workforce, employers need to support and retain talented individuals.

It starts at the top, with education for leadership on topics ranging from inclusion to unconscious bias to training on how to best accommodate an employee with a disability. Creating a dedicated council or committee to act as intermediaries between executives and employees, clear employee goal setting, and regular reviews are just a few next steps.

Giving dedicated time, space, and opportunities (both organic and organized) to share about individuals’ background and opinions can help employees feel connected and seen in their workplace. Ensuring diversity is supported in both action and physical space—whether a meditation or prayer room or a space for nursing mothers—is essential. Likewise, celebrating culture and identity can also be a powerful connective tool.

Even the way day-to-day work happens showcases how inclusive a company is. Employers can learn what employees need and want by making time to listen part of the day. Rotating meeting times and checking on technology needs for remote workers are small choices a company can make to show it cares about its individuals.

And, ultimately, keeping inclusivity top-of-mind and visible for everyone helps foster a culture of expectations. Having leadership and management communicate goals and measure progress for an inclusive workplace ensures everyone knows inclusion is valued.

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

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.

“Gary Wheeler, partner at Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP, a well-respected national employment law firm and legal partner to ThinkHR, explains five mistakes he sees frequently in his clients’ employee handbooks.”

It’s too long, inconsistent, or redundant.

Like with your house, when you live with an employee handbook for a while, you collect things and it gets cluttered. Your handbook gets longer and runs the risk of having internal inconsistencies. Once or twice a year, it’s a good idea to give it a thorough review to remove inconsistent or redundant policies, plus make it shorter and more readable. If you want people to follow the rules, it’s important to have them be clear and accessible.

It reads more like an operations manual.

An overly-detailed handbook becomes too much of a procedures manual. For example, it’s important to state that complaints of harassment will be responded to with a prompt and thorough investigation. But the policy should avoid giving too much detail, such as the number of days to expect each step of the investigation to take. Ultimately, if the employer needs to be flexible and deviate from unnecessary details in the handbook, this can be used against them.

Another area that often gets too detailed is the progressive discipline policy. If an employer has a collective bargaining unit, there are reasons these details may need to be given. But sometimes nonunion employers will have progressive disciplinary policies in their handbooks that don’t allow them to maintain flexibility in handling employee behavior or performance issues.

It sounds too overbearing or paternalistic.

Some handbooks include policies that, as written, sound more intrusive and paternalistic than they really are in operation. For example, a financial services company had a policy that required employees to handle their finances in a responsible manner, which sounds intrusive. However, the policy was truly only concerned with financial accounts they had through the employer. The policy wasn’t ultimately harmful in that case, but it required further explanation to make it clear the employer wasn’t concerned with what the employees were doing with their personal lives. Carefully tailored language can help avoid a perception of the employer being overbearing or paternalistic.

It’s missing information that affects enforcement.

Another mistake is including language that, while acceptable, isn’t the best training tool for supervisors because it omits certain nuances. For example, an attendance policy may state a specific number of absences that are unacceptable during a certain timeframe. If the policy fails to state that absences covered by FMLA or local sick leave rules don’t count against employees, you can end up having a well-meaning supervisor discipline an employee for absences that should have been allowed.

It doesn’t identify the right contact people.

One of the things I see frequently is employers missing the opportunity to specify who their company’s “first responders” are. These are the company representatives who will receive reports of anything from alleged misconduct to medical leave.

Employers should be selecting these people appropriately and training them about their role. For example, a person who receives reports of absences should understand when FMLA or local leave laws might come into play. A person who may receive reports of harassment should be trained to determine whether it’s a general grievance best handled by an immediate superior or if it will need a more formal investigation.

However, the handbook will be more durable if you mention the reporting person by title and not name. Be sure the titles used in the handbook match the titles that actually exist in your organization; for example, don’t tell someone to report misconduct to the HR director if you don’t have an HR director.

Get it All

Evaluate your employee handbook using our free Employee Handbook Self-Audit. If it’s time to update or replace your handbook, trust the ThinkHR Multi-State Handbook Builder, which now includes premium features including the ability to customize it for every state you operate in and to translate it into Spanish. Learn more by attending a demo webinar on May 22 or 24.

Originally Published thinkhr.com

Curious about when you should notify a participant about a change to their health care plan?

The answer is that it depends!

Notification must happen within one of three time frames: 60 days prior to the change, no later than 60 days after the change, or within 210 days after the end of the plan year.

For modifications to the summary plan description (SPD) that constitute a material reduction in covered services or benefits, notice is required within 60 days prior to or after the adoption of the material reduction in group health plan services or benefits. (For example, a decrease in employer contribution is a material reduction in covered services or benefits. So is a material modification in any plan terms affecting the content of the most recent summary of benefits and coverage (SBC).) While the rule here is flexible, the definite best practice is to give advance notice. For collective practical purposes, employees should be told prior to the first increased withholding.

However, if the change is part of open enrollment, and communicated during open enrollment, this is considered acceptable notice regardless of whether the SBC, SPD, or both are changing. Essentially, open enrollment is a safe harbor for all 60-day prior/60-day post notice requirements.

Finally, changes that do not affect the SBC and are not a material reduction in benefits must be communicated and summarized within 210 days after the end of the plan year.

By Danielle Capilla
Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

Did you know that you can save time and money on your prescription drugs by simply signing up for a discount card online? With savings as much as 80% off, these discount cards keep your health care costs down even when the prices of prescriptions are sharply rising.  At no cost to the patient, discount drug programs negotiate the price of medicines with pharmacies and then pass the savings on to the consumer.  These programs give subscribers a personalized discount card to be used at any pharmacy. While the discount card cannot be used in conjunction with health insurance, the consumer may see that the cost of their medicine is actually LESS with the card than it is with their insurance.

Another benefit to the consumer is that these programs will publish at which pharmacy you can find your medicine. This is especially helpful to the person who has specialty drug prescriptions. For example, Rebekah is prescribed a specialty drug for pain and neuropathy due to Multiple Sclerosis. This drug is not commonly stocked in pharmacies and so many times, she has had to wait for them to order it. By using the discount drug program, Rebekah is able to see which pharmacies have her medicine in stock and the estimated price.

So where do you start? Here are a few discount drug programs to investigate costs and providers for your prescriptions:

  • staterxplans.us
    • Provides free drug cards to reduce the out-of-pocket cost of prescription drugs.
    • Click on your state and the site will redirect you to your corresponding prescription assistance program.
  • goodrx.com
    • Compares prices and discounts at thousands of pharmacies.
    • Receive coupons via phone, email, or text to print or present for discounts.
  • refillwise.com
    • Free drug card to present at pharmacy for cost savings on prescriptions.
    • Earn rewards each time you use their card—similar to credit card rewards. Each fill is 500 points and when you reach 5,000 points, you earn a gift card to various retailers.

Being a savvy consumer can save you money! Shop around to find the best cost for your prescription drugs and save time by locating the pharmacy that has your meds in stock. Discount drug programs are a great resource so do your research and find one that fits your needs.

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

Kathy! You are amazing! I was speaking with Dr. Abel today re a patient and on his own he brought up how you were able to fix his wife and daughter’s insurance in less than 24 hours AND you were so NICE and PROFESSIONAL. He then said you were AMAZING. I absolutely love working with you, Ron, and the entire gang! Just wanted to pass this on - and again thank you for all you do for us!!!!

- Office Manager, Surgical Center in San Francisco

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