Will Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan coalition kickstart a benefits revolution?

What will happen if the Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan coalition becomes a real thing? Find out in this article from Employee Benefit Advisor.

The announcement that Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase would form an independent healthcare company for their U.S. employees is just one more move in a growing, albeit relatively quiet, revolution inside the benefits industry: Employers banding together for more control over a health system they see as wasteful and inefficient.

Employee medical expenditures have been the driving factor behind these moves. Last year, premiums for employer-sponsored family coverage hit $18,764, up 3% from the previous year, with employees paying an average $5,714 toward the cost, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Frustration with those costs — and the lack of quality that often goes along with them — has resulted in a number of employer initiatives. But the news of the three corporate behemoths’ coalition may propel even more employers to band together, looking for alternatives on how they provide coverage while driving transparency in an industry notorious for obfuscation.

While it didn’t make the same splash as the big three’s news, two years ago 20 of the country’s biggest companies, including American Express, Berkshire’s BNSF Railway, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola, du Pont, IBM, Ingersoll Rand, Marriott and Verizon, joined together to form the Health Transformation Alliance. The goal of the group is to use data analytics, collective leverage and shared expertise to lower costs for all members. The group has grown to almost 40 members.

And at about the same time, health and financial consulting firm Mercer started running employer collectives to help companies save on pharmacy costs. There also are individual efforts. Intel, notes American Benefits Council president James Klein, has been a leader in direct contracting with healthcare providers.

“When large and successful companies come together in this way, it’s potentially disruptive,” says Frank Easley, senior vice president of Aon’s health and benefits group, about the Amazon, Berkshire and JPMorgan partnership. “The healthcare system is ripe for positive disruption and is in need of new solutions that improve employee satisfaction and reduce costs.”

While the three giants did not detail what their new company would do, they did say in a statement that the entity’s focus will be on technology that will provide employees and their families with “simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.”

The collaboration will likely pressure profits for middlemen in the healthcare supply chain. Potential ways to bring down costs include providing more transparency in prices for doctor visits and lab tests, and by enabling direct purchasing of some medical items, a person familiar with the companies’ plans said.

Efforts to increase transparency have been an important focus for employers of late and have “enormous potential” when it comes to transforming employer healthcare, says benefits consultant Jack Kwicien. If employers can explain to employees how and where their healthcare dollars are going, it will not only give workers a better understanding of their own money, but it has the potential to build a better relationship between employer and employee.

In addition, Amazon’s e-commerce operation could be used to send medication direct to patient’s homes, saving them trips to a pharmacy. Its cloud-computing division can store patient healthcare records so they can be easily accessed by doctors anywhere. And its payments system could be used to automate payments with healthcare providers.

If Amazon, Berkshire and JPMorgan are successful in lowering costs, the weight of the big three might kick the transformation engine into high gear, leading to a dramatic shift in the benefits delivery as more employers look to use combined leverage to lower their health costs.

“Any time organizations of this caliber — these are world class organizations — say they are going to tackle healthcare, you have to pay attention,” says Mike Thompson, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions. The organization advises around 12,000 organizations that buy health plans for millions of employees.

Thompson says that given Amazon and Berkshire’s records, it’s clear “that they have the potential to truly change the consumer experience for their employees, and frankly, that could become a model that could be used by other employers.”

Some benefits insiders, however, express doubts that the three behemoths will spur a widespread industry disruption. Their two biggest doubts: that corporate America can successfully battle the nation’s largest healthcare players and, even if successful, if they can cut costs in a meaningful way.

“Most health costs are incurred by a small percent of the population with chronic conditions,” Klein says. “So if this initiative is just about how health costs are paid for, and does not promote ways to improve health itself, the impact will be minimal.”

Still, business groups say the potential is there for more employer involvement in controlling costs and delivering healthcare, and the need is real.

“New entrants with fresh approaches like these may be just the prescription our ailing healthcare system needs,” says Brian Marcotte, CEO of the National Business Group on Health. “The collective resources of these three companies, emerging technologies and Amazon’s customer obsession and supply-chain savvy gives me optimism that they will pursue a consumer-focused model that will transcend the fragmented, provider-centric delivery system that we have today.”

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Mayer K. (31 January 2018). "Will Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan coalition kickstart a benefitsrevolution?" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/will-amazon-berkshire-jpmorgan-coalition-kickstart-a-benefits-revolution?feed=00000152-175f-d933-a573-ff5f3f230000

CenterStage: February is American Heart Month - Are Your Loved Ones Knowledgeable?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.

Talking with your loved ones about heart disease can be awkward, but it’s important. In fact, it could save a life. At the dinner table, in the car, or even via text, have a heart-to-heart with your loved ones about improving heart health as a family. Engaging those you care about in conversations about heart disease prevention can result in heart-healthy behavior changes.

Source: Wellness Layers (27 June 2017). Retrieved from http://www.wellnesslayers.com/june-2017-american-heart-association-launched-its-new-heart-and-stroke-patient-support-network-and-patients-registry-powered-by-rmdy/

Here are three reasons to talk to the people in your life about heart health and three ways to get the conversation started.

Three Reasons You Should Talk to Your Loved Ones About Heart Health

#1. More than physical health is at risk

Millions of people in the US don’t know that they have high blood pressure. High blood pressure raises the risk for heart attacks, stroke, heart disease, kidney disease and many other health issues. Researchers are learning that having high blood pressure in your late 40s or early 50s can lead to dementia later in life. Encourage family members to be aware of blood pressure levels and monitor them consistently.


#2. Feel Younger Longer

Just as bad living habits can age you prematurely and shorten your lifespan, practicing good heart healthy habits can help you feel younger longer. On average, U.S. adults have hearts that are 7 years older than they should be, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Just beginning the conversation with the people in your life that you care about can begin to make changes in their heart health.


#3. You Are What You Eat

Even small changes can make a big difference. Prepare healthier versions of your favorite family recipes by making simple ingredient swaps, simply searching the internet is all it usually takes to find an easy ingredient alternative. Find a new
recipe to cook for your family members, or get in the kitchen together and you’ll finish with something delicious and possibly making some new favorite memories as well. When grocery shopping, choose items low in sodium, added sugar, and trans fats, and be sure to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables.

Three Ways to Start the Conversation

  1. Encourage family members to make small changes, like using spices to season food instead of salt.
  2. Motivate your loved ones to incorporate physical activity into every day. Consider a family fitness challenge and compete with each other to see who can achieve the best results.
  3. Avoid bad habits together. It has been found that smokers are twice as likely to quit if they have a support system. This applies to practicing healthier practices as well. Set goals and start by making small, positive changes, chances are they may have a big difference.

The key to heart health is a healthy lifestyle. It’s important to try to let go of bad habits that increase your risk of heart disease. By setting small, achievable goals and tracking those goals, you can possibly extend your life expectancy a little bit each day.

Heart disease can be prevented by making healthy choices and consciously monitoring health conditions. Making healthy choices a topic of conversation with your family and loved ones is a great way to open the door to healthier practices in all walks of life.

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Tax Cut Spurs Employers to Boost 401(k) Contributions

Following one after the other, large employers including Wal-Mart, Aflac and SunTrust have announced significant compensation and benefits changes and attributed them to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law in December.

Experts expect hundreds of other employers to join suit.

A new study from global consulting and advisory firm Willis Towers Watson found that about half of 333 large and mid-sized companies polled plan on making changes to their employee benefits, compensation, total rewards and executive pay programs within the next year.

All told, 66% of employers surveyed have either made changes to their benefits packages or are considering making changes. The most common changes are expanding personal finance planning (34%), increasing 401(k) contributions (26%) and increasing or accelerated pension plan contributions (19%), according to WTW.

About 22% of employers say they plan on addressing pay gap issues — a hot topic in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the public firings of top CEOs, editors and TV anchors, politicians and chefs — as part of a broad-based approach to compensation, according to the report.


“The tax reform law is creating economic opportunity to invest in their people programs,” says John Bremen, managing director of human capital and benefits at Willis Towers Watson. “While a significant number have already announced changes to some of their programs, the majority of employers are proceeding to determine which changes will have the highest impact and generate the greatest value.”

Although the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act slashed the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35%, one expert says the decision of where to place those extra savings is going to vary by employer.

“Clearly you have that situation where there has been a tremendous amount of activity,” says Jack Towarnicky, executive director for Plan Sponsor Council of America. “I haven’t seen a comparable situation in the past where somebody announced a particular change and so many others have moved in the same direction. I think it would be as varied as the enterprises themselves where they deploy any corporate reduction.”

Some companies, such as Boeing, Disney and MidWestOne Bank, announced one-time bonuses and student loan repayment contributions, respectively, but said those decisions were not made with consideration to the tax reform.

The heavy lift of raising retirement benefits

Any changes to a company’s employee benefits plan require analysis and strategy to determine the predicted costs, which is more time-consuming than giving every employee a one-time bonus, Towarnicky says.

“There have been a handful of employers that have announced changes in 401(k) savings plans, but it’s clearly dwarfed by the number of employers that announced one-time bonus payments,” he says. “There is a difference between a one-time action and a change to your 401(k) match. It is reasonably predictable if you’ve got a match and you’re going to increase it.”

Employers may also apply those extra savings to voluntary or employer-sponsored benefits, a growing trend for 2018, and wellness initiatives that transcend the benefits package.

Companies with larger, campus-like office buildings are beginning to invest in bike trails around the area and ergonomic work stations, says Catherine O’Neill, senior healthcare consultant at Willis Towers Watson.

Employers are “trying to blend their work environment with their benefits strategy or wellness strategy to make it more successful,” O’Neill says.

While the changes will remain to be seen, Towarnicky warns employers faced with reinvesting their tax savings that those rates may not remain in effect indefinitely.

“Too many times, particularly when it comes to retirement, people develop expectations,” he says. “Any reductions [to benefits or compensation] have a negative impact on employee relations.”

Read more.

Eisenburg A. (28 January 2018). "Tax cut spurs employers to boost 401(k) contributions" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/tax-cut-spurs-employers-to-boost-401k-contributions?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000

Tax Law Fuels Changes to Benefits and Compensation Programs

What changes will your employee benefits embark on with The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed? This article from Employee Benefit Advisor touches on the topic.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is fueling changes to corporate America’s employee benefits, compensation and executive pay programs, according to a survey by Willis Towers Watson.

Of 333 large and midsize employers who responded, 49% are considering making a change to at least one of these programs either this year or next.

“The tax reform law is creating economic opportunity to invest in their people programs,” says John Bremen, managing director of human capital and benefits at Willis Towers Watson. “While a significant number have already announced changes to some of their programs, the majority of employers are proceeding to determine which changes will have the highest impact and generate the greatest value.”

The most common changes organizations have made or are planning or considering include expanding personal financial planning, increasing 401(k) contributions and increasing or accelerating pension plan contributions.

Beth Ashmore, the senior consultant for retirement risk management at Willis Towers Watson, says when it comes to expanding personal financial planning and increasing 401(k) contributions, for an employer, the value of making adjustments in those areas is to ensure employees they are going to be taken care of.

“Whenever any employer is thinking about making a change in total rewards, they need to be thinking about it from the perspective of the compensation as the benefit,” Ashmore says. “What is the best value and impact I can make for my employees?”

As for increasing or accelerating pension plan contributions, Ashmore says with the tax law change the majority of employers have a short-term opportunity to make a pension contribution and potentially deduct at a higher tax rate at the beginning of 2018. “Going forward, that tax deduction will be less for a lot of employers under the new tax law,” Ashmore says.

Other potential changes to benefit programs include increasing the employer healthcare subsidy, reducing or holding flat the employee payroll deduction, or adding a new paid family leave program in accordance with the Family and Medical Leave Act’s tax credit available for paid leave for certain employees.

Compensation plans

At least 64% of employers are planning to or considering taking action on their broad-based compensation programs, or have already taken action. The most common changes organization have made or are planning include conducting a review of their compensation philosophy, addressing pay-gap issues and introducing a profit-sharing or one-time bonus payout to all employees.

Steve Seelig, executive compensation counsel at Willis Towers Watson, says when it comes to changing compensation philosophy employers should re-evaluate their pay structure to determine if they want to continue to offer the same compensation.

“Employers may want to consider a more fixed compensation — similar to what Netflix started — where the CEO is paid much more salary and less performance-based compensation,” Seelig says.

Many employers answered questions on addressing pay gaps from the perspective of closing a gender pay gap. However, Seelig says employers could also refer to pay gaps between levels within an organization, such as an associate to a supervisor.

“The CEO pay ratio will be disclosed later on this year and employers could take this time as an opportunity to narrow the gaps between positions before the disclosure,” Seelig says.

Read more.

Olsen C. (28 January 2018). "New tax law fuels changes to benefits and compensation programs" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/new-tax-law-fuels-changes-to-benefits-and-compensation-programs?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000

Health Care Lags As Hot-Button Issue

As it turns out - according to this poll conducted by Kaiser Health News - health care is not a key issue battleground voters wish to discuss. Instead, a large number of voters are more interested in dealing with issues regarding our economy and jobs.

Read further in this article below.

background-voters-poll-health careAs the midterm elections approach, health care ranks as the top issue, mentioned more frequently among voters nationwide than among those living in areas with competitive races, a new poll finds.

In areas with competitive congressional or gubernatorial races, the economy and jobs ranked as the top issue for candidates to discuss, with 34 percent of registered voters listing it as No. 1, according to the poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.) Following economics was the conflict with North Korea (23 percent), immigration (22 percent) and health care (21 percent). The competitive areas are 13 states with statewide races and 19 House districts judged as toss-ups by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Nationwide, 29 percent of registered voters ranked health care as the most important issue for electoral discussion — though it was far more important for Democrats than Republicans. Economy and jobs were close behind with 27 percent of voters rating it most important, and then immigration, with 24 percent listing it.

The poll found that nearly half of Americans believed there is still a federal requirement for everyone to obtain health insurance, even though Congress’ tax bill last year repealed the penalties for that requirement in the Affordable Care Act, known as the individual mandate. Only a third of the public was sure that those penalties had been repealed.

Fifty percent of the public expressed a favorable view of the health law, while 42 percent disliked it. Six in 10 people said that since President Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress have altered the law, they are responsible for any problems. Like other opinions about the law, there was a strong partisan split: Only 38 percent of Republicans thought their party is now responsible, while 77 percent of Democrats thought so. Half of Republicans still listed repealing the health law as a top priority.

There was less of a partisan split over the importance that the president and Congress address the epidemic of prescription painkiller addiction. Among Republicans, 43 percent rated it a top priority; 54 percent of Democrats agreed.

There was no such comity over whether lawmakers should allow people brought illegally to this country by their parents — the so-called Dreamers — to stay in the country legally: 21 percent of Republicans called that a top priority, while 66 percent of Democrats did. And while 43 percent of Republicans said they wanted lawmakers to focus on passing federal funding for a border wall with Mexico, only 5 percent of Democrats and 19 percent of independents did.

The poll was conducted Jan. 16-21 among 1,215 adults. The margin of error was +/-3 percentage points. The poll included 298 people who said they were registered to vote in one of the areas the Cook Report identified as a battleground in the fall elections. The margin of error for results for this group was +/-7 percentage points.

Read the original article.

Rau J. (26 January 2018). "In Battleground Races, Health Care Lags As Hot-Button Issue, Poll Finds" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://khn.org/news/in-battleground-races-health-care-lags-as-hot-button-issue-poll-finds/

5 things to know about this year’s flu

The nation is having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad flu season.

Flu is widespread in 46 states, according to reports to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Nationally, as of mid-December, at least 106 people had died from the infectious disease.

In addition, states across the country are reporting higher-than-average flu-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits. Hospitalization rates are highest among people older than 50 and children younger than 5.

In California, which is among the hardest-hit states, the virus struck surprisingly early this season. The state’s warmer temperatures typically mean people are less confined indoors during the winter months. As a result, flu season usually strikes later than in other regions.

Health experts aren’t sure why this season is different.

“We’re seeing the worst of it right now,” said Dr. Randy Bergen, a pediatrician who is leading Kaiser Permanente-Northern California’s anti-flu effort. “We’re really in historic territory, and I just don’t know when it’s going to stop.” (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

Here are five things you should know about this flu season:

1. It’s shaping up to be one of the worst in recent years.

The H3N2 influenza A subtype that appears to be most prevalent this year is particularly nasty, with more severe symptoms including fever and body aches. Australia, which U.S. public health officials follow closely in their flu forecasting — in part because their winter is our summer — reported a record-high number of confirmed flu cases in 2017. Another influenza B virus subtype also is circulating, “and that’s no fun, either,” Bergen said.

Flu season in the U.S. typically starts in October and ends in May, peaking between December and February.

2. This season’s flu vaccine is likely to be less effective than in previous years.

U.S. flu experts say they won’t fully know how effective this season’s vaccine is until the it’s over. But Australia’s experience suggests effectiveness was only about 10 percent. In the U.S., it is 40 to 60 percent effective in an average season. Vaccines are less protective if strains are different than predicted and unexpected mutations occur.

3. You should get the flu shot anyway.

Even if it is not a good match to the virus now circulating, the vaccine helps to ease the severity and duration of symptoms if you come down with the flu.

Children are considered highly vulnerable to the disease. Studies show that for children a shot can significantly reduce the risk of dying.

High-dose vaccines are recommended for older people, who also are exceptionally vulnerable to illness, hospitalization and death related to the flu, according to the CDC.

“Some protection is better than no protection,” Bergen said, “but it’s certainly disappointing to have a vaccine that’s just not as effective as we’d like it to be.

Shots may still be available from your doctor or local health clinic, as well as at some chain drugstores. Check the Vaccine Finder website for a location near you.

4. Basic precautions may spare you and your family from days in bed.

As much as possible, avoid people who are sick. Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes.

Masks aren’t particularly effective in keeping you from catching the flu, although they may help keep sick people who wear them from spreading their germs further.

If you are sick, cover your cough and stay home from work if you can, Bergen said. Remaining hydrated, eating nutritious foods and exercising can also help strengthen your immune system.

Because elderly people are so vulnerable to the flu, some nursing homes and assisted living facilities may limit visitors and resident activities, depending on the level of illness.


5. Don’t mistake flu symptoms for those of a common cold.

The hallmarks of flu are fever and body aches that accompany cough and congestion, Bergen said.

If you feel as if you’re having trouble breathing, or if your fever can’t be controlled with medication like Tylenol, check with your doctor. It’s even more important for patients to see a doctor if they have a chronic medical condition like diabetes or heart disease, or if they are young or elderly.

Kaiser Permanente doctors now are being advised to prescribe antiviral drugs like Tamiflu — given as a pill or, for kids, an oral suspension — even without a lab test for influenza, Bergen said. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, however, Tamiflu supplies are running low.

And Bergen cautioned that these medications are only partly effective, reducing the time of illness by just a day or two.

Read the original article.

Kaiser Health News (22 January 2018). "5 things to know about this year’s flu" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://workwell.unum.com/2018/01/5-things-know-years-flu/

Tax Bill Provision Designed To Spur Paid Family Leave To Lower-Wage Workers

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., arrives in the Capitol for a vote on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. She recently proposed a tax credit to companies that offer at least two weeks of paid family or medical leave annually to workers. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Tucked into the new tax law is a provision that offers companies a tax credit if they provide paid family and medical leave for lower-wage workers.

Many people support a national strategy for paid parental and family leave, especially for workers who are not in management and are less likely to get that benefit on the job. But consultants, scholars and consumer advocates alike say the new tax credit will encourage few companies to take the plunge.

The tax credit, proposed by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), is available to companies that offer at least two weeks of paid family or medical leave annually to workers, but two key criteria must be met. The workers must earn less than $72,000 a year and the leave must cover at least 50 percent of their wages.

If contributing at the half-wage level, a company receives a tax credit equal to 12.5 percent of the amount it pays to the worker. The tax credit will increase on a sliding scale if the company pays more than 50 percent of wages. It could go up to a maximum credit of 25 percent of the amount the employer paid for up to 12 weeks of leave.

Payments to full- and part-time workers taking family leave who’ve been employed for at least a year would be eligible for the employer’s tax break. But the program, which is designed to test whether this approach works well, is set to last just two years, ending after 2019.

Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar in economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, says the new tax credit sidesteps a pitfall for Republicans. They are wary of any legislation mandating that employers provide paid leave. The tax credit also is appropriately aimed at lower-wage workers who are most likely to lack access to paid leave, said Mathur, who co-authored a recent report on paid family leave.

But it’s not a big enticement.

“Providing this benefit is a huge cost for employers,” Mathur said. “It’s unlikely that any new companies will jump on board just because they have a 12.5 to 25 percent offset.”

That view is shared by Vicki Shabo, vice president for workplace policies and strategies at the National Partnership for Women & Families, an advocacy group, who said it will primarily benefit workers at companies already offering paid family leave. The new tax credit “just perpetuates the boss lottery,” she added.

Heather Whaling said her 22-person public relations company probably qualifies for the new tax credit, but she doesn’t think it’s the right approach. Whaling, the president of Geben Communication in Columbus, Ohio, already offers paid leave. The company provides up to 10 weeks of paid leave at full pay for new parents. Four employees have taken leave, and by divvying up their work to other team members and hiring freelancers they’ve been able to get by.

“It is an expense, but if you plan and budget carefully it’s not cost-prohibitive,” she said.

The tax credit isn’t big enough to provide a strong incentive to provide paid leave, said Whaling, 37. Besides, “having access to paid family leave shouldn’t be luck of the draw, it should be available to every employee in the country.”

Still, the tax credit may be appealing to companies that have been considering adding a paid family and medical leave benefit, said Rich Fuerstenberg, a senior partner at benefits consultant Mercer.

By defraying some of the cost, the tax credit could help “tip them over” into offering paid leave, he said. But  “I’m not even sure I’d call it the icing on the cake,” Fuerstenberg said. “It’s like the cherry on the icing.”

Only 15 percent of private-sector and state and local government workers had access to paid family and medical leave in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Compensation Survey. Eighty-eight percent had access to unpaid leave, however.

Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, employers with 50 or more workers generally must allow eligible employees to take unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks annually for specified reasons. These include the birth or adoption of a child, caring for your own or a family member’s serious health condition, or leave for military caregiving or deployment. An individual’s job is protected during such leaves.

A tax credit that can be claimed at the end of the year is unlikely to encourage small businesses to offer paid family and medical leave, said Erik Rettig, an expert on family leave policies at the Small Business Majority, which advocates for those firms on national policy.

“It isn’t going to help the family business that has to absorb the costs of this employee while they’re gone,” Rettig said.

A better solution, according to Shabo and others, is to provide a paid family leave benefit that’s funded by employer and/or employee payroll contributions. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) last year reintroduced such legislation. Their bill would guarantee workers, including those who are self-employed, up to 12 weeks of family and medical leave with as much as two-thirds of their pay.

A handful of mostly Democratic states — including California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York — have similar laws in place, and a program in the District of Columbia and Washington state will begin in 2020.

“We know from states that this approach works for both employees and their bosses,” Shabo said.

Read the original article.

Andrews M. (23 January 2018). "Tax Bill Provision Designed To Spur Paid Family Leave To Lower-Wage Workers" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://khn.org/news/tax-bill-provision-designed-to-spur-paid-family-leave-to-lower-wage-workers/


CHIP Renewed For Six Years As Congress Votes To Reopen Federal Government

President Donald Trump signed a bill Monday evening that would extend federal funding until Feb. 8, as well as fund the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for the next six years. (Joyce N. Boghosian/White House)

A brief, partial shutdown of the federal government ended Monday, as the Senate and House approved legislation that would keep federal dollars flowing until Feb. 8, as well as fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program for the next six years.

President Donald Trump signed the bill Monday evening.

The CHIP program, which provides coverage to children in families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance, has been bipartisan since its inception in 1997. But its renewal became a partisan bargaining chip over the past several months.

Funding for CHIP technically expired Oct. 1, although a temporary spending bill in December gave the program $2.85 billion. That was supposed to carry states through March to maintain coverage for an estimated 9 million children, but some states began to run short almost as soon as that bill passed.

The Georgetown University Center for Children and Families estimated that 24 states could face CHIP funding shortfalls by the end of January, putting an estimated 1.7 million children’s coverage at risk in 21 of those states.

Meanwhile, both houses of Congress had been at loggerheads over how to put the program on firmer financial footing.

In October, just days after the program’s funding expired, the Senate Finance Committee approved a bipartisan five-year extension of funding by voice vote. But that bill did not include a way to pay the cost, then estimated at $8.2 billion.

In November, the House passed its own five-year funding bill for the program, but it was largely opposed by Democrats because it would have offset the CHIP funding by making cuts to Medicare and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The reason, explained CBO, is that the landmark tax bill passed in December eliminated the ACA’s individual mandate, which would likely drive up premiums in the individual market. Those higher premiums, in turn, would increase the federal premium subsidies for those with qualifying incomes. As a result, if kids were to lose their CHIP coverage and go onto the individual exchanges instead, the federal premium subsidies would cost more than their CHIP coverage.

Driving that point home, on Jan. 11, CBO Director Keith Hall wrote to Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) that renewing CHIP funding for 10 years rather than five would save the federal government money. “The agencies estimate that enacting such legislation would decrease the deficit by $6.0 billion over the 2018-2027 period,” the letter said.

That made it easier for Republicans to include the CHIP funding in the latest spending bill. But it infuriated Democrats, who had vowed not to vote for another short-term spending bill until Congress dealt with the issue of immigrant children brought to the country illegally by their parents.

Republicans, said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday, “were using the 10 million kids on CHIP, holding them as hostage for the 800,000 kids who were Dreamers. Kids against kids. Innocent kids against innocent kids. That’s no way to operate in this country.”

Republicans, however, said it was the opposite — that Democrats were holding CHIP hostage by not voting for the spending bill. “There is no reason for my colleagues to pit their righteous crusade on immigration against their righteous crusade for CHIP,” said Hatch. “This is simply a matter of priorities.”

The CHIP renewal was not the only health-related change in the temporary spending bill. The measure also delays the collection of several unpopular taxes that raise revenues to pay for the ACA’s benefits. The taxes being delayed include ones on medical device makers, health insurers and high-benefit “Cadillac” health plans.

The bill does not, however, extend funding for Community Health Centers, another bipartisan program whose funding is running out. That will have to wait for another bill.

Read the original article.

Rovner J. (22 January 2018). "CHIP Renewed For Six Years As Congress Votes To Reopen Federal Government" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://khn.org/news/chip-renewed-for-six-years-as-congress-votes-to-reopen-federal-government/


What’s ahead for HR technology?

As technology modernizes business, HR has worked hard to keep up. In 2017, there were numerous innovations, so we can't wait to see what 2018 brings! Check out this article from Employee Benefit Advisor on some trends in HR Technology this year.

The past year saw a number of HR technology innovations and significant product introductions — and 2018 promises to bring about even bigger changes.

“The whole field of HRIS is really exciting right now,” says Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of consulting firm Leader Networks and a Columbia University faculty member. “There is so much change and innovation happening.”

Indeed, experts contend, innovations in artificial intelligence and analytics, along with development in cloud, social and mobile technologies, are making HR systems more intelligent and more engaging.

So what will smarter, friendlier HR systems do?

To begin with, they’ll provide more targeted support for employees by helping them gain access to the benefits and services they need. Employees with a new baby, for instance, would not only have their benefits packages updated automatically, but would also receive alerts and recommendations for store discounts, childcare facilities and other products and services geared toward helping them better manage their new family responsibilities.

Smarter HR systems also will deliver the type of workforce analytics that employers need to make better staffing decisions. The manager of a chain of convenience stores, for example, might want to schedule employees who have demonstrated a higher level of job performance for the late shift, because they can be counted on to close a store. The supervisor at a large hospital, on the other hand, might look to assign the facility’s most reliable employees — those who are more likely to show up for work on time — to care units that need to remain in compliance with their government-mandated staffing requirements.

But automatic updates and more efficient workforce scheduling are only two ways in which the latest digital advances will enhance human capital management. There are many others, including:

  • Increased employee retention and more effective recruitment.
  • Less biased performance management and KPIs.
  • Improved knowledge sharing and employee collaboration.
  • Greater workforce diversity and inclusion.

To illustrate this, DiMauro points to a new set of talent acquisition tools aimed at helping employers take advantage of underutilized labor pools by increasing the diversity of their workforce. These include applications to help improve outreach efforts to military veterans and people with disabilities, among other populations.

Offering another example, she cites an emerging category of applications designed to minimize gender, ethnic and other forms of bias, when it comes to performance reviews and considering employees for raises and promotions.

Building a smart system

What gives these new applications their power and joins them together, as part of an integrated HR information system (HRIS), is their ability to feed and draw from the same set of employee records. Building this smart HR system — and setting forth on the employer’s digital “journey,” of which it is a part — is likely to begin with the deployment of an employee-collaboration or knowledge-management platform that serves as the hub for all of the employer’s future HR tech endeavors.

The knowledge platform is linked through a single sign-on to the organization’s employee records database. HR staffers and other employees can organize the information into groups, which employees can join. A new hire might begin by logging into the “new employee orientation” group, which might auto-join the employee into a “benefits” group or a “training” group.

Over time, employees can continue to be auto-joined to different groups and auto-fed applicable content, as they experience different life events (such as a home purchase) or reach various milestones (such as a promotion) in their careers. Each of the groups might be built around a corresponding app — some of which might be designed for a mobile device.

Utilizing a hub and spoke model, different HR applications can be added to the system and tied into the employee database. In this way, employers are able to incrementally build out a 360-degree HRIS “wheel” that eventually includes performance reviews, employee engagement portals and talent acquisition tools that auto-reward employees for successful referrals.

The auto-classification and auto-taxonomy features embedded in the collaboration platform and corresponding apps, DiMauro explains, eliminate many of the purely rote administrative tasks that HR is saddled with today.

Meeting employee needs

Citing consumer research, the consultant notes that most customers — including most employees — want to self-serve. “Who wants to wait until morning, if you have a middle-of-the-night problem?” she asks. “When employees can readily find their own answers to less complex questions, that is a win-win for both the employee and the HR rep who would’ve had to handle the request.”

Behind all these innovations are a number of new technologies that will continue to gain steam in 2018. The most important of these is the cloud.

“From a technology standpoint, this is the biggest trend in HRIS,” says Lisa Rowan, vice president for HCM and talent management at market researcher International Data Corp.

Cloud-based HRIS solutions, which are hosted at remote facilities and maintained by the service provider, offer employers many advantages over traditional on-premise solutions that they had to maintain themselves. Chief among these are lower maintenance costs, faster transaction times, a more streamlined and easier-to-use interface, and software that is always up to date.

Human resource execs are embracing applicant tracking, training management, performance management and other software applications.

Keeping HRIS software current is important, if the employer wants to take advantage of other leading-edge technologies as they become available, including more graphically-oriented, intuitive applications for complex undertakings like a benefits enrollment. But it does require certain tradeoffs.

Traditionally, if an HRIS system didn’t support the precise way an HR organization handled a given task or function, custom software code would be written to adapt the system to the process. This was expensive and time-consuming, and forced companies to delay adopting new versions of the software, since every upgrade required complex rewrites of their customized code. Cloud-based systems eliminate these requirements and are much easier to deploy, but the HR department must adapt to the workflow prescribed by the system — and not the other way around.

As cloud-based systems become prevalent, says Rowan, “HR professionals will have to face the fact that they will have to do things a little differently to fit within the scope of a configurable, but not customizable, system.”

The cost efficiencies and operational advantages associated with a cloud-based system pave the way for other break-through HRIS technologies as well. Chief among them are:

  • Social media, which offers employees new ways to share work and collaborate, and provides employers with new tools for disseminating their message and attracting job candidates.
  • Mobile devices, which let employers tailor their outreach to select groups of employees, and allow employees to clock-in, enroll for benefits and handle many other tasks remotely, at a time and place of their choosing.
  • Artificial intelligence, which is paving the way for new and different ways to respond to employee demands. Chat boxes, for instance, will soon replace human operators at HR call centers. Employees who phone or text in will still feel as though they are dealing with a person, but it will be a computer algorithm at the other end of the line.
  • Data analytics, which give HR pros tools to gauge and influence employee behaviors, improve open enrollment outcomes and deepen employee engagement. But data analytics can also be utilized in a more strategic manner: By correlating workforce composition and activity with specific business outcomes, employers can systematically reshape their workforce to improve those outcomes.

“Analytics allow employers to identify useful trends by asking simple questions,” explains Bob DelPonte, general manager for the workforce ready group at Kronos, a provider of human capital management products and services. “For example, what’s the turnover rate for employees who live more than 20 miles away from work, compared with those who live less?”

The answer, he says, can inform the employer’s hiring and scheduling decisions. “Why risk losing a hard-to-replace employee because you’re forcing her to travel farther than she needs to, if you have the option of transferring her to a closer facility?”

Proceeding with caution

While technologies like artificial intelligence can be a boon to HR, they can also pose challenges. By increasing automation, AI will free HR staff from many repetitive tasks, allowing them to focus on more strategic concerns. But analysts like Rowan are not demure about the fact that some HR staffers will also be replaced by the software.

“How does that play out?” she asks. “You have HR personnel today who are geared toward answering phone calls, and when there are fewer calls, they may no longer be needed. There’s no point to sugar-coating that reality. There are HR professionals that need to think about re-skilling themselves.”

DiMauro also offers a word of caution. “It’s important that HR executives don’t get drunk at the bar of tools. There are so many new applications,” she says, “that they need to keep their wits about them and determine what they really need. Look for the right tool to solve the problem. Don’t just collect and decorate because it’s all out there and available.”

Read the original article.

Kass E. (17 January 2018). "What’s ahead for HR technology?" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/whats-ahead-for-hr-technology?feed=00000152-175f-d933-a573-ff5f3f230000

The Importance of Effective Employer and Employee Relations

Before investing in multiple employee benefit options, it's best to get to know your employees first. Understanding what they need and communicating effectively with them will discontinue money and time waste.

Internal communication is vital to a successful company. The communication that occurs between the employer and its employees directly effects the company’s overall productivity.

No matter what kind of business it is, communicating with employees is essential to people management. Establishing and maintaining effective lines of communication with employees can help a business enormously in many ways. Good communication from an employer can help motivate their staff, help deliver quality customer service and help cultivate a strong team of workers.

Every business deals with both planned and unplanned change. The ability of the business to navigate change successfully relies heavily on whether employees know employer expectations and understand the business and its goals.

Communication promotes employee dedication to the company. Employees are more motivated. Regular talks among employers and employees lets them know they are a valued part of a team. If employers can demonstrate to their employees that the company depends on their input, they will feel a sense of responsibility for the company’s goals and success.

Good, effective communication can help prevent certain detrimental effects that arise when employees feel uninformed. Employees who feel that information is being kept from them will have negative perceptions. Not communicating with employees will only enhance feelings of mistrust towards the employer. The employer should make their staff feel involved with business decisions so that they feel well informed and valued. This promotes a trusting relationship among employees and their employer.

Employers can often times overlook the value of their employees. Open lines of communication allow employees to provide potentially useful information they have to employers. Because employees do a lot of the “field work,” they have a better idea of customer trends and changes. Any bit of feedback can have a significant difference in the success or failure of a business.

Communication between employers and their employees can come in many forms. Some forms of communication are internal newsletters, bulletin boards, intranet and email. The most important thing for an employer to keep in mind is that communication works both ways.

Communication is a full-time responsibility for an employer in order to have a healthy and well orchestrated business team. As a result the overall company will be much more structurally sound. Therefore, effective, positive, and frequent communication with the employees should be the main focus of any successful business.



tylertalkstruth (17 November 2012). "The Importance of Effective Employer and Employe Relations" [web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://tylertalkstruth.wordpress.com/2012/11/17/employer-and-employee-relations/