3 questions to ask about paid leave programs

Paid time off policies are offered by employers for numerous reasons, employee wellness being one of them. Continue reading to learn about the 3 key questions to ask about these programs and their costs.


Employers provide paid time away from work policies for a variety of reasons: to attract and retain talent (responding to employee needs and changing demographics); to be compliant with local, state and federal laws (which are proliferating); and to support general employee well-being (recognizing that time away from work improves productivity and engagement).

While offering paid absence policies delivers value to both employees and the employers, employers recognize the need to balance the amount of available time with the organization’s ability to deliver its products and services.

To help employers balance paid time away drivers, here are three key questions to ask to get a handle on the costs and benefits of paid leave.

1. Do you have a complete picture of the costs associated with your employees’ time away from work?

A challenge for many employers is getting a handle on the cost of time away from work and the related benefits. If an employer cannot quantify the costs of absence, it may not be able to define management strategies or to engage leadership to adopt new initiatives, policies or practices related to paid and unpaid time away programs.

Ninety percent of employers participating in the 2017 Aon Absence Pulse Survey reported they hadn’t yet quantified the cost of absence, and 43 percent of participants identified defining the cost of absence as a top challenge and priority. Though intuitively managers and executives recognize there is an impact when employees are absent from work, particularly when an absence is unscheduled, they struggle to develop concrete and focused strategies to address absence utilization without the ability to measure the current cost and collectively the impact of new management initiatives.

Employers struggle to quantify the cost of absence in the context of productivity loss, including replacement worker costs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2017, employers’ cost of productivity loss associated with absenteeism was $225.8 billion, and 9.6 percent of compensation was spent on lost time benefits and overtime.

Employers are expanding their view of absence, recognizing that use of paid and unpaid time away programs are often associated with an employee’s health. As a result, combining data across health and absence programs allows an employer to recognize drivers of absence “work-related value” and define strategies to address not just how to manage the absence benefit, but to target engagement to improve well-being and the organization’s bottom-line.

As an example, musculoskeletal conditions are frequently associated with absence, which is not surprising when 11 percent of the workforce has back pain. It is noteworthy that of those with back pain, 34 percent are obese, 26 percent are hypertensive and 14 percent have mood disorders. The Integrated Benefits Institute reported in 2017 that back pain adds 2.5 days and $688 in wages to absence associated with this condition. It is this type of information pairing that provides employers with the insight to develop strategies to address comprehensive absence.

When absence and health costs are quantified, organizations quickly recognize the impact on the business’s bottom line. As the old saying goes, “we can only manage what we can measure.”

2. What is your talent strategy to improve work-life benefits, inclusive of time off to care for family?

The race for talent is on, and every industry recognizes the huge impact the changing workforce demographics currently has, and will continue to have. The current workforce incorporates five generations, though an Ernst and Young report from 2017 estimates that by 2025 millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce. As a result, the work-life needs of millennials—and their perspectives around benefits—is driving change, including time away from work policies.

It is worth noting that, per a 2015 Ernst and Young survey, millennial households are two times more likely to have both spouses working. The Pew Research Center reported in 2013 that, among all workers, 47 percent of adults who have a parent 65 years or older are raising a minor child or supporting a grown child. Additionally, a 2016 report from the Center for Work Life Law at the University of California Hastings claimed that 50 percent of all employees expect to provide elder care in the next five years.

In response, employers are expanding paid time off programs for care of family members. The paid family leave continuum often begins with a paid parental policy providing time to bond with a new birth or adoption placement. An elder care policy may follow, and the culmination might be a family care policy covering events like those under the job-protected Family Medical Leave Act. An Aon SpecSelect Survey reported that 94 percent of employers offer some form of paid parental leave in 2017; this is a significant change from 2016 when 62 percent offered this benefit. Two weeks of 100 percent paid parental leave was the norm per Aon’s SpecSelect 2016 Survey, but we are finding that many employers are expanding these programs, offering between 4 to 12 weeks.

Offering paid leave programs on their own may meet immediate needs for both time and financial support, but may be incomplete to help the employee address the full spectrum of issues that could affect success at work. In combination with family care needs—even those associated with a happy event such as a birth—there may be other health, social or financial issues. Employers combining their paid leave programs with a broader well-being strategy deliver greater value, improve engagement and increase productivity.

3. If you’re a multi-state employer, how are you ensuring your sick and family leave policies are compliant across all relevant jurisdictions?

Paid leave is a hot legislative topic lately. Last December saw the enactment of a paid FMLA tax credit pilot program as part of the federal Tax Reform The paid sick leave law club now totals 42 states and myriad municipalities. Both Washington state and Washington, D.C. are ramping up to implement paid family leave laws in 2020, joining the four states and one city that already have some form of paid family or parental leave law.

How are multi-state employers keeping up with this high-stakes evolving environment? The 2017 Pulse Survey saw 70 percent of employers report they are aware they have an employee who is subject to a paid sick leave law. Ten percent of respondents said they did not know if they had anyone subject to such a law. If knowledge is the first step in the process of compliance, deciding on a compliance strategy and then successfully implementing it are surely steps two and three.

With respect to paid sick leave, there are three major compliance options: comply on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction level, with as many as 42 different designs and no design more generous than it has to be; comply on a national level with one, most generous design, or meet somewhere in the middle, perhaps with one design for each state where a state- or local-level law is in place, or by grouping jurisdictions with similar designs together to strike a balance between being overly generous and being bogged down by dozens of administrative schemes.

Data analytics can be a key driver in designing a successful compliance strategy—compare your employee census to locations with paid sick leave laws. The ability to track and report on available leave is a requirement in all jurisdictions, and at this point, few if any third-party vendors are administering multi-state paid sick leave.

For paid family leave, the primary policy design issue is how an employer’s FMLA, maternity leave and short-term disability benefits will interact with the various paid family leave laws. So, while there may be fewer employer choices to be made with statutory paid family leave, clear employee communications will be critical to success.

Employers may tackle time away from work program issues individually to meet an immediate need, or collectively as a comprehensive strategy. Such a strategy would include data analytics across health and lost-time programs, absence policies that meet today’s needs for the employer and employee, health and wellness programs targeting modifiable health behaviors, and absence program administration that is aligned to operational goals. The expected outcome for time away from work programs isn’t about the programs themselves: it is about an engaged, productive workforce who delivers superior products/services. How do your programs stack up?

SOURCE:
VanderWerf, S and Arnedt, R (13 July 2018) "3 questions to ask about paid leave programs" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/05/3-questions-to-ask-about-paid-leave-programs/


'Pawternity' leave acknowledges pet owners' needs

Studies show that pet-friendly policies are trending. Are you considering implementing pet-friendly employer policies? In this article, Gurchiek lists questions employers should consider when creating pet-friendly policies. 


When Anne Doussan adopted Celie, a Labrador retriever mixed breed in 2016, she had no idea her 8-week-old pup had three serious heart conditions and would require frequent trips to the veterinarian. Her boss at One-Sixteen, a real estate investment company in New Orleans, was understanding when Doussan needed to take paid time off (PTO) for Celie's appointments.

"They were incredibly understanding of my puppy's special needs," Doussan said, noting that she was allowed to report to work a few minutes later than scheduled or leave a few minutes early from her job as executive assistant. And with her supervisor's permission, she took extended lunch breaks to check on Celie. When Celie began having seizures, Doussan's boss let her bring Celie to work so Doussan could keep a careful eye on her. Her boss even let Celie take refuge under his own desk during rainstorms. When Celie's condition required her to stay home, Doussan was allowed to work remotely.

Doussan experienced the benefit—however informally—of "pawternity" leave. Pet-friendly employer policies are a trend, according to Steven Feldman, executive director at Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) in Washington, D.C. HABRI conducts research into the health benefits of having pets.

"Over the last five years we've seen this [trend] increase," Feldman said.  "Millennials are getting pets as their 'starter kits.' A lot of Millennials, before they have children, often end up with feline or canine children as a way to start [parenting]."

In fact, Millennials are the primary pet-owning generation, slightly edging out Baby Boomers (35 percent and 32 percent, respectively), according to the American Pet Products Association.

"Those [pets] are just as much a part of their families as human kids will be later on. They're looking for … acknowledgement [from employers] of the important role of pets in their lives."

That acknowledgement can take different forms. Organizations that don't allow pets in the workplace may still offer pet-supportive benefits—pet health insurance, pet bereavement leave, time off to take a pet to the vet—that "signal you're looking at the employee's entire family," Feldman said. "These are all things that show you care."

That can translate into engagement and retention. Ninety percent of employees in pet-friendly workplaces feel highly connected to their company's mission, fully engaged in their work and willing to recommend their organization to others, according to a survey of 2,002 full-time workers in the U.S. HABRI and Nationwide, a health insurance provider headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, conducted the online survey in December.

Pets are considered part of the real estate team at AE Home Group in Baltimore, said Jeff Miller, who is a realtor for the company.

"Most of our real estate agents have dogs, and many of our clients are the direct result of time spent at the dog park," Miller said in an e-mail. "Whenever an agent gets a dog, it's like we're gaining a new team member. We'll lower that agent's client load for the month and encourage them to get involved with local dog-training groups and organizations. We find that this almost always pays off with even more clients and a larger network of homeowners and potential homeowners."

Questions to Consider

Marie Larsen, SHRM-CP, office manager and HR generalist at Searls Windows and Doors Inc. in Plainfield, Ill., said her employer does not offer pawternity or pet bereavement leave, but it would support an employee who wanted to use PTO for pet care or time to mourn.

"I've been that grieving employee and knew that I would be useless at work after putting our dog down last August. That's why we took her in on a Friday afternoon, I took the afternoon off, and my family and I had the weekend to be together and grieve. If a pet were to die suddenly, obviously the timing would be out of the employee's control," she said.

However, while Searls would allow an employee whose pet had died to take the day off unpaid if that employee had no PTO left to use, Larsen said she would struggle to recommend offering specific pet bereavement or other pet-related time off.

"Having specific days for pet care or pet grieving leaves a company wide open for problems. Having a general policy that allows employees with pets to utilize their standard PTO for furry family members might be a better overall approach," she said.

Creating a pet-friendly office takes some thought, Larsen noted. She suggested employers consider the following questions before venturing into pet-supportive benefits:

  1. "What constitutes a pet? A Dog? Cat? Lizard? Gerbil? Fish? Horse? Someone's pet is someone's pet, regardless of what type of critter it is. If one pet owner gets time off, ALL pet owners should get time off," Larsen said in a SHRM Connect discussion.
  2. "How much time would a company allow? One day per year? Two? One per pet? One day per pet might work if the employee lost one animal, but what do you do for someone who lost a tank full of fish? I had a friend who put one of her dogs down, then less than a month later had to put her other dog down. How much time off would she get? One day for each dog? More? Less?"
  3. "Bringing a new pet home, especially a very needy puppy or kitten, could take weeks for them to mature beyond the 'baby' stage. How much time would a policy allow for these situations? A couple of days? A couple of weeks?" she asked.
  4. "What do you do about employees with no pets? How do you provide similar benefits to prevent these employees from claiming discrimination?"

A specific pet policy makes sense, Larsen said, for businesses where pets are part of the culture, such as Rover.com, which provides dog-sitting services nationwide.

That's the case at Seattle-based Trupanion, which provides medical insurance for pets. The company offers its 500 employees three days of pet bereavement leave. It has had 250 dogs "and a few brave cats" in the workplace, according to Michael Nank, the company's public relations manager.

"Our pets are an important part of our culture, and they constantly remind us why we come to work—to help the pets we all love to receive the best veterinary care," Nank said in an e-mail. "When one of our employees loses a pet, we are acutely aware of the family-like bond that exists between them and their pet, and the need they may have to take the time to grieve and process the loss."

SOURCE:
Gurchiek, K (10 July 2018) "'Pawternity' Leave Acknowledges Pet Owners' Needs" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/pawternity-leave-acknowledges-pet-owners-needs.aspx


Who are Benefits for, Anyway?

U.S. employees often decline benefits to them by their employers. Continue reading to find out why your employees may be declining their benefits.


With many Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck, U.S. employees have a significant need for financial protection products to secure their income and guard against unplanned medical expenses. However, employees frequently decline these benefits when they are offered at the workplace. Only two-thirds of employees purchase life insurance coverage at work when given the option, while roughly half enroll in disability coverage and less than one-third select critical illness insurance coverage. Why do so many employees choose not to enroll in benefits?

Is this right for me?

Some employees may opt out of nonmedical benefits because they do not believe these offerings are intended for people like them. In a recent report, “Don’t Look Down: Employees’ Understanding of Benefits and Risk,” LIMRA asked employees whether they thought life, disability, and critical illness products were “right for someone like me.”

While a majority of employees feels that life insurance coverage is appropriate for someone like them, they are on the fence about other coverages. Fewer than half believe they need disability insurance and only 36 percent feel they need a critical illness policy.

It is also noteworthy that a large portion of employees respond neutrally or only slightly agree or disagree with these sentiments, which suggests a lot of uncertainty. Given employees’ poor understanding of these benefits, many simply do not know if the coverage is intended for them.

Role of behavioral economics

Behavioral economics reveals that human behavior is highly influenced by social norms, particularly among groups that people perceive to be similar to themselves. In light of this, LIMRA asked employees if they think most people like them own certain insurance products. Their responses indicate that employees feel very little social pressure to enroll in these benefits.

Only 22 percent of employees think most people like them are covered by critical illness insurance, while 47 percent disagree. Similarly, 38 percent disagree that most people like them have disability coverage (versus only 34 percent who agree). Life insurance is the only product where a majority of employees (60 percent) think most others like them have the coverage.

Employees who believe others like them purchase benefits will tend to be influenced by this peer behavior. This could lead them to take a closer look at the information provided about these benefits and possibly enroll.

However, for the larger group of employees who think others like them do not have coverage, social pressure will discourage them from enrolling. These employees will perceive not having coverage to be the “norm” and assume it is safe to opt out, without giving these benefits proper consideration.

Who should purchase benefits?

If employees do not think insurance benefits are right for them, who do they believe these products are intended for?

Of employees who are offered disability insurance at work, only 38 percent recognize that anyone with a job who relies on their income should purchase this coverage. Troublingly, more than 1 in 5 think disability insurance is only for people with specific risk factors, such as having a physical or dangerous job, a family history of cancer, or a current disability.

Similarly, less than half of employees recognize that critical illness insurance is right for anyone. One in five think this coverage is only for people with a family history of cancer or other serious illness, while 15 percent believe the coverage is for people who have personally been diagnosed with a serious health condition.

Employees have a better understanding of life insurance. Eighty percent of employees recognize that life insurance is appropriate for anyone who wants to leave money to their spouse or dependents upon their death. However, some employees still express uncertainly about this or believe life insurance is only for high-risk individuals.

Confusion about who should purchase insurance benefits is contributing to low employee participation in these offerings. To counteract this trend, educating employees to understand how these products apply to their own lives is crucial. By clearly explaining what the products do and providing examples of how anyone could use them, benefit providers can help employees see the relevance of these offerings and help them make more informed financial decisions.

SOURCE:
Laundry, K (12 July 2018). "Who are benefits for, anyway?" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/12/who-are-benefits-for-anyway/


HSA How-To

Health Savings Accounts can be tricky, employees have the control, employers and insurance companies are there to guide them in the right direction. Here is a how to helping guide to assist your customers to the right HSA plan.


If an employer wants to offer employees pretax payroll deferrals to their health savings accounts, the employer needs to first create a Section 125 plan or cafeteria plan that allows HSA deferrals.

A cafeteria plan is the only way for employers to offer employees a choice between taxable and nontaxable benefits, “without the choice causing the benefits to become taxable,” the IRS says. “A plan offering only a choice between taxable benefits is not a Section 125 plan.”

Here are five things to know about HSAs and Section 125 plans.

1. A Section 125 plan is just one of several ways for employers to help employees with funding their HSAs.

Employers offering HDHPs face the choice of whether and how to help their employees with the funding of the employees’ HSAs. The options include the following:

  • Option 1 – Employee after-tax contributions.Employers are not required to help with the employees’ HSAs and may choose not to. In this case, employees may open HSAs on their own and receive the tax deduction on their personal income tax return. This option allows for income tax savings, but not payroll taxes. A variation on this option is for employers to allow for post-tax payroll deferral (basically, direct deposit of payroll funds into an HSA without treating the deposit any differently than other payroll which may also be directly deposited into an employee’s personal checking account).

    This does not change the tax or legal situation, but it does provide convenience for employees and will likely increase HSA participation and satisfaction.

  • Option 2 – Employee pretax payroll deferral.Employers can help employees fund their HSAs by allowing for HSA contributions via payroll deferral. This is inexpensive and can be accomplished by adding a Section 125 cafeteria plan with HSA deferrals as an option. Employers benefit by not having to pay payroll taxes on the employees’ HSA contributions. Employees save payroll taxes as well. Plus, HSA contributions are not counted as income for federal, and in most cases, state income taxes. Setting up automatic payments generally simplifies and improves employee savings.
  • Option 3 – Employer-funded contributions.Employers may make contributions to their employees’ HSAs without a Section 125 plan if the contributions are made directly. The contributions must be “comparable,” basically made fairly (with a lot of rules to follow). This type of contribution is tax deductible by the employer and not taxable to the employee (not subject to payroll taxes or federal income taxes and in most cases, not subject to state income taxes either).
  • Option 4 – Employer and employee pretax funding.Employers can combine options 2 and 3, where the employer makes a contribution to the employees’ HSAs and the employer allows employees to participate in a Section 125 plan and enabling them to defer a portion of their pay pretax into an HSA. This is a preferred approach for a successful HDHP and HSA program, as it ensures that employees get some money into their HSA through the employer contribution and allows for the best tax treatment to allow for employees to contribute more on their own through payroll deferral.
  • Options for more tax savings.Some employers go beyond these options to increase tax savings even more. Although a number of strategies exist to increase tax savings, using a limited-purpose FSA (or HRA) is a common one. Generally, FSAs are not allowed with HSAs; however, an exception exists for limited-purpose FSAs. Limited-purpose FSAs are FSAs limited to payments for preventive care, vision and dental care. This provides more tax savings and employees use the FSA to pay for the limited-purpose expenses (dental and vision) and save the HSA for other qualified medical expenses.

HRAs can also be used creatively in connection with HSA programs. The HRA cannot be a general account for reimbursement of qualified medical expenses, but careful planning can allow for a limited-purpose HRA, a postdeductible HRA, or other special types of HRAs.

2. There are several benefits for an employer using a Section 125 plan combined with an HSA.

  • Employees can make HSA contributions through payroll deferral on a pretax basis.
  • Employees may pay for their share of insurance premiums on a pretax basis.
  • Employers and employees save payroll taxes (7.65 percent each on FICA and FUTA for contributions).
  • Employers avoid the “comparability” rules for HSA contributions although employers are subject to the Section 125 plan rules.

3. The employer is responsible for administering the Section 125 plan.

For payroll deferral into an HSA through a Section 125 plan, the employer must reduce the employees’ pay by the amount of the deferral and contribute that money directly into the employees’ HSA.

The employer may do this administration itself or it may use a payroll service or another type of third-party administrator. In any case, the cost of the Section 125 plan itself and the ongoing administration are generally small and offset, if not entirely eliminated, by employer savings through reduced payroll taxes.

Another administrative element is the collection of Section 125/HSA payroll deferral election forms from employees. Employers that have offered Section 125 plans prior to introducing an HSA program are familiar with this process.

Unlike other Section 125 plan deferral elections, which only allow annual changes, the law allows for changes to the HSA deferral election as frequently as monthly.

Although frequent changes to the elections create a small administrative burden on the employer, the benefit to employees is significant. Employers are not required to offer changes more frequently than annually.

The full extent of the administrative rules for Section 125 plans is beyond the scope of this discussion.

4. Contributions to HSAs under Section 125 plans are subject to nondiscrimination rules.

A cafeteria plan must meet nondiscrimination rules. The rules are designed to ensure that the plan is not discriminatory in favor of highly compensated or key employees.

For example, contributions under a cafeteria plan to employee HSAs cannot be greater for higher-paid employees than they are for lower-paid employees. Contributions that favor lower-paid employees are not prohibited.

The cafeteria plan must not: (1) discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees as to the ability to participate (eligibility test), (2) discriminate in favor of HCEs as to contributions or benefits paid (contributions and benefits test), and (3) discriminate in favor of HCEs as measured through a concentration test that looks at the contributions made by key employees (key employee concentration test). Violations generally do not result in plan disqualification, but instead may cause the value of the benefit to become taxable for the highly compensated employees or key employees.

The nondiscrimination rules predate the creation of HSAs and how the rules apply to HSA contributions is an area where additional government guidance would be welcome.

5. An employer needs a Section 125 plan to allow for HSA contributions through payroll deferral.

Can an employer allow for HSA contributions through payroll deferral without a Section 125 plan? No, not if the goal is to save payroll taxes. Employers can offer HSA payroll deferral on an after-tax basis without concern over the comparability rules or the Section 125 plan rules. Amounts contributed under this method are treated as income to the employee and are deductible on the employee’s personal income tax return. The lack of any special tax treatment for this approach makes it unattractive for most employers and with just a small additional investment of money and time, a Section 125 plan could be added allowing for pretax deferrals.

Here is an example: Waving Flags, Inc. does not offer health insurance or a Section 125 plan to its employees. Waving Flags does provide direct deposit services to its employees that provide it with their personal checking account number and bank routing number. Maggie, an employee of Waving Flags, Inc., approaches the human resources person and asks to have her direct deposit split into two payment streams with $100 per month being directly deposited to her HSA and the balance of her pay being deposited into her personal checking account. She provides Waving Flags the appropriate account and routing numbers and signs the proper election forms.

Waving Flags is not subject to the Section 125 nondiscrimination rules for pretax payroll deferral, nor is Waving Flags subject to the HSA comparability rules. Waving Flags is simply paying Maggie by making a direct deposit into her HSA. The $1,200 Maggie elects to have directly deposited to her HSA in this manner will be reflected in Box 1 of her IRS Form W-2 from Waving Flags as ordinary income. She will be subject to payroll taxes on the amount. She can claim an HSA deduction on line 25 of her IRS Form 1040 when she files her tax return.

Maggie benefits from this approach by setting up an automatic contribution to her HSA, which often improves the commitment to savings. Most HSA custodians will offer a similar system that HSA owners can set up on their own by having their HSA custodian automatically draw a certain amount from a personal checking account at periodic intervals. Employer involvement is not necessary. Individuals with online banking tools available to them may be able to set it from their personal checking account as well to push money periodically to an HSA.

SOURCE:
Westerman, P (2 July 2018) "HSA How-To" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/01/01/hsa-how-to/


3 Ways to Reshape How You Communicate About Benefits with Millennials

Communicating the benefit needs amongst generations and can cause confusion when keeping up with the satisfaction of your younger employees. Ensure millennial happiness with these tips on their unique benefit standards.


As two millennials ourselves, we know what most people think about Generation Y. Many use terms like “techy,” “entitled” and maybe even “lazy” to describe our generation.

But, the reality is today’s millennials are more global, civic-minded and, though you may not expect it,financially conscious than any other generation. And, according to the Pew Research Center, we now represent 35 percent of today’s workforce.

Millennials are also now getting married and starting families. And yes, purchasing more benefits products through their employers as a result.

As we millennials grow up, it’s important to reconsider how you communicate with us about benefits—because it’s a lot different than how you’ve communicated with other employees in the past.

For example, consider your Gen X and Baby Boomer employees for a moment. When you communicate about benefits with them, it’s relatively straightforward. You probably use tools like email, in-person meetings, flyers and newsletters. And messaging probably revolves around safety, reducing risk and explaining the finer points of the benefits themselves.

But when you’re talking about benefits to millennials, things should be a little different. We’re more digitally fluent than other generations. We’re demanding more flexibility—in our work and family lives. And, we’re increasingly cost-conscious.

It’s a different approach. And, we want to talk about three key ways you can start to reshape how talk with millennials more effectively when it comes to benefits:

For millennials, it’s all about the emotion and sense of responsibility. One of the most interesting findings we’ve picked up over the last few years when communicating with millennials has been to focus messaging on making an emotional connection. Highlight the peace of mind benefits will provide. Discuss the fact that purchasing benefits like disability, life and critical illness insurance through their employer is the right, and responsible, thing to do.

In a recent survey conducted on behalf of Trustmark Voluntary Benefit Solutions “providing peace of mind” was the number one reason millennials gave for why they enrolled in key benefit areas. While this was true across all generations in the study, millennials chose “it’s the responsible thing to do” more than others as a secondary reason for purchase. That emotional connection tied in with responsibility is absolutely key when talking to this demographic.

Millennial stereotypes don’t apply. If you’re communicating with millennials, most people would think digital technologies like text messages and social media would be the way to go. However, that’s not the case. According to Trustmark research, millennials listed “meeting in person” and “calling a representative” as their top preferred channels for communicating during enrollment periods—followed by digital communications channels. Surprising, right? It probably shouldn’t be, given millennials’ desire for more personalization in multiple facets of their lives.

Value, convenience and high-level messaging are key. Through our research, we found that millennials react favorably to messaging around value and convenience—so be sure to hit on those points throughout the enrollment process. For instance, explain why coverage is needed or why an employer-paid policy is not enough. Talk about benefit policy costs in comparison to other low-cost items, like a daily cup of coffee. Discuss the value of employer contributions—and what those contributions can mean to millennials’ bottom lines. Also, make sure to share the convenience and ease of payroll deductions; how their employer is simplifying things by making the deduction and payment for them.

Finally, remember, when it comes to benefits, millennials aren’t as concerned about the details of their insurance plans. They want to understand the basics—what’s covered, how much it costs, and why they might consider a specific offering over another. Resist the urge to focus on the fine print, and keep messaging at the higher levels.

Magic number 3

One more thing that may help reshape your approach to communicating with millennials: The number three. That’s the minimum number of times you should be communicating with millennials during your enrollment process. Our research found that employees remembered and appreciated benefits more when they saw three or more distinct communications. In fact, 72 percent of employees who received three types of benefits communication rate themselves “likely” or “very likely” to recommend their employer based specifically on their benefits program.

Does that help give you some ideas for how to reshape your approach to communicating with millennials about benefits? Overall, just make sure to remember that we millennials are looking for personal and professional offerings from our employers that are unique to us—including benefits. And be sure you’re ready to talk with millennials using the right messaging, the right tools and the right cadence to ensure success.

SOURCE:
Dahlinger, M and Moser, C (27 June 2018) " 3 ways to reshape how you communicate about benefits with millennials" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/06/27/3-ways-to-reshape-how-you-communicate-about-benefi/


3 questions advisers should ask about the potential CVS-Aetna deal

In a rapid changing market, stay ahead of the curve by asking these three questions on the potential CVS-Aetna deal to help determine how it will impact the health insurance industry.


The news that CVS has reportedly launched a $66 billion bid to buy Aetna shows that once unimaginable mergers are becoming the norm. But it also raises some important questions for brokers about the future of group benefits, and how to operate in a fast-moving and constantly changing landscape.

Here are three questions to ask when determining how this potential business deal will impact the employer-based health insurance market:

1) Will this move give Aetna a competitive advantage in the group space?

How are other carriers going to feel about having to compete with an insurer that has pharmacy data on the majority of Americans? Anthem may be at the top of the list with worries, as the company just last week announced that it will partner with CVS to launch its own pharmacy benefits manager called IngenioRx.

2) Are healthcare companies too focused on M&A?

A year ago, Aetna was trying to acquire Humana, and Anthem was trying to buy Cigna. Brokers everywhere were concerned about carrier consolidation and what a lack of competition would do to group prices. How have things pivoted to pharmacy so quickly?

The CVS deal may represent gains for both parties. The deal would give Aetna a new avenue for business growth, and CVS would gain some much needed ground against Amazon’s rumored entrance into the drug business.

But what does this emphasis on inorganic, M&A growth say about the healthcare industry? Healthcare consolidation has been a trend for years, but it hasn’t always worked in consumers’ favor, which could leave brokers wary of this deal.

3) Why should employers care?

What impact will this deal have on prescription prices for employers? Prescription drug costs are one of the largest drivers of employer healthcare spend, so the question is critical. Will Aetna and CVS be able to improve efficiencies and lower costs, or monopolize their group markets?

Another point of interest for employers is the possibility of narrowed prescription options. With narrowing provider networks becoming standard, this deal could result in limited consumer options when it comes to prescription drugs.

On the other hand, the deal could spark cost-saving changes in healthcare delivery. It’s not hard to imagine CVS augmenting their MinuteClinic operations with Aetna’s volume.

Employees might find they like having retail access to primary care at a lower price point, with after-hours service, easy-to book appointments, and pharmacy services built right in. This partnership may be the push retail healthcare needs to become a cornerstone of the primary care model.

SOURCE:
Tolbert, B (22 June 2018) "3 questions advisers should ask about the potential CVS-Aetna deal" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/3-questions-advisers-should-ask-about-the-potential-cvs-aetna-merger


Five steps to becoming a trusted retirement plan adviser

Discover creative ways to deliver the best retirement plan to your employees with these five steps in retirement plan advising.


Many trends within the employee benefits industry challenge advisers to think creatively on behalf of their clients. For instance, millennials are more likely to pay off student loans and less likely to contribute to their company’s 401(k) plan. They lose the benefit of compound interest over all those years to retirement, which over decades, can amount to up to 80% of a millennial’s nest egg.

When companies experience low participation rates with new hires, the overall health of the plan will suffer and many of the more highly compensated and key employees may not be able to defer as much as they would like into the plan. Advisers must develop relationships with business owners to establish customized retirement plans that work best for their and their employees’ needs.

When advisers overcome these challenges they expand their client base and move toward success. The following five steps will help retirement plan advisers bring their career to the next level:

Understand the fiduciary requirements and minimize the risk of the employer

Strive to impart knowledge on the employer and the participants to make them confident in their retirement plans. Company owners will feel more comfortable if an adviser helps to reduce the fiduciary risk associated with the creation and ongoing operation of a plan. Advisers can share and even take over most of the fiduciary responsibility with the employer to lessen the pressure. With the right information, a business owner can understand the requirements of the plan and is motivated to establish a 401(k) or other type of plan for the benefit of their employees and overall business objectives.

Know the best plan options for the companies you’re serving

Not every company should have a 401(k) plan. While 401(k) plans may be optimal for large and even small companies, small companies may benefit from other types of plans. Small businesses often operate at a loss or minimal profit for many years before they generate significant profit. As a result, business owners may seek a plan — such as a defined benefit plan — that allows them to contribute more toward their retirement. In some cases, this may more than triple the amount of yearly contributions an employer can make compared to a 401(k) plan. Employers can contribute to a defined benefit plan and take a tax deduction equivalent to the contributions made to the plan.

Understand the tax advantages of retirement plans

Successful plan advisers should understand the tax advantages associated with the chosen retirement plan for both the owners and the participants. Traditional 401(k) plans tend to provide the most benefits to employees with tax-deferred contributions. On the other hand, small company owners can benefit from the tax advantages of properly designed cash balance or defined benefit plans. These frequently overlooked plans enable employers to deduct the cost of the company’s plan from their taxable income to secure tax savings.

Employee benefit advisers must have this foundational understanding of the tax advantages to successfully serve their clients. Partner with a retirement company record-keeper and a third-party administrator to learn the details for each option.

Discover profitable prospects among small companies too

Many employee benefit advisers in search of success avoid talking to small companies. However, these small companies have significant potential and are vital to success in an otherwise crowded market. Small companies, even with only three to five employees, are great to work with, especially if you help them establish a defined benefit plan, and if it’s the best plan for them. Through these plans, retirement plan advisers can receive the fees needed to provide the service because the company is making larger contributions than to a profit sharing or 401(k) plan.

Target underserved, yet vibrant markets

According to a recent study from the Pew Charitable Trusts, only 53% of small to midsize companies have retirement plans in place. Owners may think they are too small to be able to afford and monitor a program. These businesses are important prospects to pursue. Make yourself known to these companies and show the employer that there is a retirement plan that will work for their employees and company, no matter the size. Explain what program the company can implement and easily administer with your guidance.

Small companies provide great opportunities for advisers to become successful and differentiate themselves from other industry professionals. Keep in mind that these small companies are also more dependent on advisers because of the costs and risk associated with retirement plans. They will require more frequent contact for advice and personalized service. If you do not have the right expertise in the beginning, partner with someone in your office or a TPA until you have the credentials and knowledge to advise small companies on your own.

SOURCE:
Weintraub, M (19 June 2018) "Five steps to becoming a trusted retirement plan adviser" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/five-steps-to-becoming-a-trusted-retirement-plan-adviser?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000


7 wellness program ideas you may want to steal

Need more energy and excitement in your office? Keep your employees healthy and motivated with these fun wellness program ideas.


Building your own workplace wellness program takes work–and time–but it’s worth it.

“It’s an investment we need to make,” Jennifer Bartlett, HR director at Griffin Communication, told a group of benefits managers during a session at the Human Resource Executive Health and Benefits Leadership Conference. “We want [employees] to be healthy and happy, and if they’re healthy and happy they’ll be more productive.”

Bartlett shared her experiences building, and (continually) tweaking, a wellness program at her company–a multimedia company running TV outlets across Oklahoma –over the last seven years. “If there was a contest or challenge we’ve done it,” she said, noting there have been some failed ventures.

“We got into wellness because we wanted to reduce health costs, but that’s not why we do it today,” she said. “We do it today because employees like it and it increases morale and engagement.”

Though Griffin Communication's wellness program is extensive and covers more than this list, here are some components of it that's working out well that your company might want to steal:

  1. Fitbit challenge.Yes, fit bits can make a difference, Bartlett said. The way she implemented a program was to have a handful of goals and different levels as not everyone is at the same pace-some might walk 20,000 steps in a day, while someone else might strive for 5,000. There are also competition and rewards attached. At Griffin Communications, the company purchased a number of Fitbits, then sold them to its employees for half the cost.
  2. Race entry.Griffin tries to get its employees moving by being supportive of their fitness goals. If an employee wants to participate in a race-whether walking or running a 5k or even a marathon, it will reimburse them up to $50 one time.
  3. Wellness pantry.This idea, Bartlett said, was "more popular than I ever could have imagined." Bartlett stocks up the fridge and pantry in the company's kitchen with healthy food options. Employees then pay whole sale the price of the food, so it's a cheap option for them to instead of hitting the vending machine. "Employees can pay 25 cents for a bottled water or $1.50 for a soda from the machine."
  4. Gym membership."We don't have an onsite workout facility, but we offer 50 percent reimbursement of (employees') gym membership cost up to a max of 200 per year," she said. The company also reimburses employees for fitness classes, such as yoga.
  5. Biggest Loser contest.Though this contest isn't always popular among companies, a Biggest Loser-type competition- in which employees compete to lose the most weight-worked out well at Griffin. Plus, Bartlett said, "this doesn't cost us anything because the employee buys in $10 to do it." She also insisted the company is sensitive to employees. For example, they only share percentages of weight loss instead of sharing how much each worker weights.
  6. "Project Zero" contest.This is a program pretty much everyone can use: Its aim is to avoid gaining the dreaded holiday wights. The contest runs from early to mid- November through the first of the year. "Participants will weigh in the first and last day of the contest," Bartlett said. "The goal is to not gain weight during the holidays-we're not trying to get people to lose weight but we're just to not get them to not eat that third piece of pie."
  7. Corporate challenges.Nothing both builds camaraderie and encourages fitness like a team sports or company field day. Bartlett said that employees have basically taken this idea and run with it themselves- coming up with fun ideas throughout the year.

SOURCE:
Mayer K (14 June 2018) "7 wellness program ideas you may want to steal" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2015/10/10/7-wellness-program-ideas-you-may-want-to-steal/


Lack Of Insurance Exposes Blind Spots In Vision Care

Vision problems are typically not life threatening but can impact the success of your everyday life. Vision care is a significant benefit that could change the lives of many families.


Every day, a school bus drops off as many as 45 children at a community eye clinic on Chicago’s South Side. Many of them are referred to the clinic after failing vision screenings at their public schools.

Clinicians and students from the Illinois College of Optometry give the children comprehensive eye exams, which feature refraction tests to determine a correct prescription for eyeglasses and dilation of their pupils to examine their eyes, including the optic nerve and retina.

No family pays out-of-pocket for the exam. The program bills insurance if the children have coverage, but about a third are uninsured. Operated in partnership with Chicago public schools, the program annually serves up to 7,000 children from birth through high school.

“Many of the kids we’re serving fall through the cracks,” said Dr. Sandra Block, a professor of optometry at the Illinois College of Optometry and medical director of the school-based vision clinics program. Many are low-income Hispanic and African-American children whose parents may not speak English or are immigrants who are not in the country legally.

Falling through the cracks is not an uncommon problem when it comes to vision care. According to a 2016 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, as many as 16 million people in the United States have undiagnosed or uncorrected “refractive” errors that could be fixed with eyeglasses, contact lenses or surgery. And while insurance coverage for eye exams and corrective lenses clearly has improved, significant gaps remain.

The national academies’ report noted that impaired vision affects how people experience their world, including normal communication and social activities, independence and mobility. Not seeing clearly can hamper children’s academic achievement, social development and long-term health.

But when people must choose, vision care may lose out to more pressing medical concerns, said Block, who was on the committee that developed the report.

“Vision issues are not life-threatening,” she said. “People get through their day knowing they can’t see as well as they’d like.”

Insurance can make regular eye exams, glasses and treatment for medical problems such as cataracts more accessible and affordable. But comprehensive vision coverage is often achieved only through a patchwork of plans.

The Medicare program that provides coverage for millions of Americans age 65 and older doesn’t include routine eye exams, refraction testing or eyeglasses. Some tests are covered if you’re at high risk for a condition such as glaucoma, for example. And if you develop a vision-related medical condition such as cataracts, the program will cover your medical care.

But if you’re just a normal 70-year-old and you want to get your eyes examined, the program won’t cover it, said Dr. David Glasser, an ophthalmologist in Columbia, Md., who is a clinical spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. If you make an appointment because you’re experiencing troubling symptoms and get measured for eyeglasses while there, you’ll likely be charged anywhere from about $30 to $75, Glasser said.

There are a few exceptions. Medicare will pay for one pair of glasses or contact lenses following cataract surgery, for example. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer vision care.

Many commercial health insurance plans also exclude routine vision care from their coverage. Employers may offer workers a separate vision plan to fill in the gaps.

VSP Vision Care provides vision care plans to 60,000 employers and other clients, said Kate Renwick-Espinosa, the organization’s president. A typical plan provides coverage for a comprehensive eye exam once a year and an allowance toward standard eyeglasses or contact lenses, sometimes with a copayment. Also, individuals seeking plans make up a growing part of their business, she said.

Vision coverage for kids improved under the Affordable Care Act. The law requires most plans sold on the individual and small-group market to offer vision benefits for children younger than 19. That generally means that those plans cover a comprehensive eye exam, including refraction, every year, as well as a pair of glasses or contact lenses.

But since pediatric eye exams aren’t considered preventive care that must be covered without charging people anything out-of-pocket under the ACA, they’re subject to copays and the deductible.

Medicaid programs for low-income people also typically cover vision benefits for children and sometimes for adults as well, said Dr. Christopher Quinn, president of the American Optometric Association, a professional group.

But coverage alone isn’t enough. To bring down the number of people with undiagnosed or uncorrected vision, education is key to helping people understand the importance of eye health in maintaining good vision. Just as important, it can also reduce the impact of chronic conditions such as diabetes, the national academies’ report found.

“All health care providers need to at least ask vision questions when providing primary care,” said Block.

SOURCE:
Andrews M (13 JUNE 2018). "Lack Of Insurance Exposes Blind Spots In Vision Care" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/lack-of-insurance-exposes-blind-spots-in-vision-care/


Viewpoint: Coaching Your Employees to Finish Strong as They Near Retirement

10,000 people a day are retiring. Help your employees transition into retirement with these important strategies. ​


Baby Boomers are beginning to retire in large numbers. AARP says 10,000 people a day are retiring from work. Most companies have no formal program to aid these employees in this transition. Although we often have extensive onboarding programs, little to nothing is done when an employee is ending his or her career, except a goodbye party.

For many people, upcoming retirement means coasting until the day they are done. Dave was a senior-level manager who announced his retirement one year in advance. The problem was that Dave then became "retired on the job." He stopped innovating. He stopped moving new ideas forward. He avoided conflict by ignoring problems. He no longer aggressively led his team.

Dave had been very successful in his career but he ended poorly, so that was how everyone remembered him. His team suffered poor morale because its members felt they were stuck until Dave left his position. That is a problem for the whole company.

Help retiring employees to end strong at your company. Instead of letting employees coast and drain the company coffers, HR can support retiring workers as they end their careers in the best way possible, fully contributing up until the last day.

Some key strategies include:

  • Creating a planning-to-retire educational program.HR should develop a workshop to show employees how to plan out their future, paying special consideration to how they will handle all the free time they will have once they leave the company. The course can cover financial planning, too. The employee will be grateful for this assistance.
  • Coaching the employee's manager.Managers of departing employees need instruction on how to support someone leaving the group. The formal coaching should offer proven strategies to keep the employee engaged until his or her last day. The supervisor should encourage the employee to complete as many key projects as possible and accept the responsibility to not let the employee become retired on the job.
  • Documenting their knowledge.As many Baby Boomers walk out the door, their depth of experience and insight depart with them. Companies should have these employees document their knowledge by creating a training manual or by adding pages to the organization's intranet so other employees can learn from these folks.
  • Training a new employee.Ideally, the organization should promote or hire a replacement and have the departing employee train the new person. Having a two- to three-week training period helps the new employee get up to speed and be more productive, more quickly. 
  • Offering a "bridge job."Finding talented workers to replace departing Baby Boomers will become harder to do in our tight labor market. Developing a transitional or bridge job where the employee remains at work on a part-time basis may allow the company to avoid the quest for talent that is often not available. Baby Boomers want more flexibility and fewer work hours at the end of their career. In fact, 72 percent say they plan to work in their retirement. Annette was an IT specialist who wanted to leave the energy utility she worked for. The HR department was under the gun to deliver a new human resource information system and asked her to continue working three days a week with the ability to take more unpaid vacations. This new bridge job kept her in her role for 18 months until the big project was completed.

Final days may be a bittersweet time for employees to say goodbye to their co-workers, friends and the company itself. Having a supportive send-off is a great policy to ensure that everyone leaves on a positive note and will speak highly of your organization after the departure.

 

SOURCE:
Ryan R (4 June 2018) "Viewpoint: Coaching Your Employees to Finish Strong as They Near Retirement" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/benefits/Pages/Viewpoint-Coaching-Your-Employees-on-Finishing-Strong-As-They-Retire-.aspx?_ga=2.37756515.1310386699.1527610160-238825258.1527610159