New resource offers guidance on digital tools for diabetes management

The market for digital diabetes management tools is continuing to mature. Read this blog post for the Northeast Business Group on Health’s updated guide on diabetes management tools.


The Northeast Business Group on Health has updated its “Digital Tools and Solutions for Diabetes: An Employer’s Guide,” to include both enhanced and new solutions—and promising future innovations—to help employers help their workers better manage their diabetes, lower costs and ultimately save more lives.

“Employers are well aware of the costs associated with diabetes in their employee and dependent populations—they continue to indicate this is a top concern and are increasingly aware of the links between diabetes and other chronic and debilitating health conditions, including cardiovascular disease,” says Candice Sherman, CEO of NEBGH.

The market for digital diabetes prevention and management solutions continues to mature since the group published its first guide in 2016, Sherman says. The updated guide provides a detailed checklist of the features and functionalities of the digital tools available now to manage diabetes, as well as information on several unique and innovative digital diabetes solutions that are being targeted to employers but were not part of NEBGH’s research, including Proteus Discover, BlueLoop and do-it-yourself programs.

“Proteus Discover is comprised of ingestible sensors, a small wearable sensor patch, an application on a mobile device and a provider portal,” the guide cites the provider. “Once activated, Proteus Discover unlocks never-before-seen insight into patient health patterns and medication treatment effectiveness, leading to more informed healthcare decisions for everyone involved.”

“BlueLoop is the one and only tool that allows kids and their caregivers to log and share diabetes information—both online and with the app—in real time, via instant e-mail and text message, giving peace of mind to parents,more class time for students and fewer phone calls and paper logs for school nurses,” the provider tells NEBGH. “Online, parents can share real-time BG logs with their clinicians, who can see logs (in the format they prefer), current dosages and reports, all in one place.”

The guide also hints at promising future innovations:

“Technology is constantly evolving: by connecting sensors, wearables and apps, it is increasingly possible to pool and leverage data in innovative ways to provide timely interventions so that people with diabetes can be truly independent and effectively self-manage their care,” the authors write.

The guide lists a hypothetical scenario: A person with diabetes enters a restaurant where a GPS sensor identifies the location, reviews the menu and proposes the best choices based on caloric and carbohydrate content. The technology also proposes and delivers a rapidly acting insulin bolus dose based on the person’s exercise level that day and prior experiences when eating similar meals.

Also included are key questions for employers considering implementing digital diabetes tools or solutions, including:

  • What does the company want to achieve with a digital tool?
  • How much is the company willing to pay?
  • How will success be measured?
  • How will digital solutions and tools be marketed to employees and their families?
  • What privacy issues need to be addressed when tools or solutions are implemented?

“Digital health tools hold the promise of improved health outcomes and reduced health care expenses through improved engagement, better collaboration and sustained behavior change,” says Mark Cunningham-Hill, NEBGH’s medical director. “However, digital diabetes solutions are not a panacea. Employers will need to address several obstacles such as the difficulty of recruitment and enrollment, lack of sustained employee engagement and the cost of deployment of digital solutions. This can be accomplished through careful planning and learning from other employers that have successfully implemented these tools.”

SOURCE: Kuehner-Hebert, K. (4 December 2018) "New resource offers guidance on digital tools for diabetes management" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/12/04/new-resource-digital-tools-for-diabetes-management/


4 trends in employee wellness programs for 2019

Employee wellness programs will be impacted by intelligent personalization, social recognition, virtual wellness and smarter analytics, according to a white paper by MediKeeper. Read on to learn more.


Employee wellness programs will likely be transformed in the coming year by intelligent personalization, social recognition, virtual wellness and smarter analytics, according to MediKeeper’s white paper, “Four Emerging Employee Wellness Trends for 2019.”

“Embracing change and knowing what organizations need to keep driving wellness offerings forward in the next few years will help them lay the groundwork for building stronger employee wellness programs and increasing employee engagement,” says MediKeeper’s CEO David Ashworth. “With health care costs on the rise, companies that pay attention to these key trends will have the greatest success investing in their employees’ overall well-being.”

Intelligent Personalization

Intelligent personalization allows companies to make more informed decisions based on understanding risks and their causes and identifying what is driving present and future cost, according to the white paper.

“Every person is different, so it only makes sense that everyone’s wellness portal experience should also be different — this includes personalization, targeted messages and offerings.,” the authors write. “Adding business intelligence/data mining capabilities delivers the ability to take data captured within the portal, manipulate it, segment it and merge with other sets of data to perform complex associations all within each population groups’ administration portal will be the key to truly managing the population’s health.”

Social Recognition

In the coming year, workplace wellness programs will also implement a multitude of ways to include social recognition that fosters a team-oriented atmosphere intended to encourage people to perform to the best of their abilities, according to the white paper.

“Through social recognition, which can include posting, sharing, commenting and other virtual interactions, employees can help motivate each other to reach their goals,” the authors write. “These interactions foster both a competitive and team-oriented atmosphere that encourages people to perform to the best of their abilities.”

In addition to support from coworkers, managers can also promote their employees’ achievements by offering praise in an online public forum or even further boost morale by handing out incentive points that can be redeemed for tangible rewards.

Virtual Wellness Programming

In 2019, the importance of offering virtual wellness programming will grow as more employees work remotely or set flexible hours, according to the white paper.

“Since employees may work variable hours or work in several locations around the world, it simply doesn’t make sense to solely rely on lunchtime health seminars that may not be accessible to much of the workforce,” the authors write. “Instead of providing physical classes, consider hosting virtual programs that can be viewed at any time or any place. By making your wellness program available online, you’re able to reach a broader audience and make more of an impact within the entire working population.”

Smarter Analytics

Smarter analytics will also be at the forefront in 2019, according to the white paper.

“Now you can generate reports targeted specifically to the information that you are seeking, as well as layering various reports including biometrics, incentives, health risk assessments and challenges, to see what is working and what is not,” the authors write. “You can use these results to inform and better customize the intelligent personalization side of your wellness program. You’ll also be able to send messages from the reports, making them actionable instead of just informative.”

As employers continue to evaluate the effectiveness of their wellness programs, they should keep these four emerging trends in mind in order to ensure that their business is providing all the tools necessary to keep their employees both happy and healthy, according to the white paper.

“Remember that just because you’ve seen success in the past, you can’t just sit back and relax now,” the authors write. “Continual advances in wellness technology mean that you need to stay on top of the trends and adjust frequently in order to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive workplace environment.”

SOURCE: Kuehner-Hebert, K. (28 November 2018) "4 trends in employee wellness programs for 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/11/28/4-trends-in-employee-wellness-programs-for-2019/


Peer Support Strengthens Mental Health Offerings

Are you considering providing workplace peer-support programs to your employees? Peer-support programs serve as an outreach for employees who are struggling with mental and emotional health problems. Read on to learn more.


In workplace peer-support programs, employees are encouraged to talk to their co-workers before personal issues cascade out of control.

In peer support, employees who have experienced mental and emotional health challenges and learned to manage them help co-workers who are facing similar issues. It isn't meant to replace professional therapy but instead serves as an outreach to those who are struggling. Peers let their co-workers know they're not alone in dealing with mental and emotional health problems and encourage them to take advantage of counseling through an employee assistance program (EAP). Peers also provide ongoing support as employees work to resolve addiction, depression and other issues.

That's good for employees and good for the company, said Mike Weiner, EAP director for global consultancy EY, where peer counseling has proved successful. "It means people are more comfortable getting the care they perhaps had been uncomfortable reaching out for previously."

Two years ago, when the company introduced the peer-support program, it hoped for "a boost in people calling the employee assistance program to get support, and that's exactly what has happened," Weiner said.

EY is not alone. Other companies are creating peer-support systems for their workers.

"We have increased our EAP utilization and have decreased our sick leave, both short and long-term, related to mental health cases," said Lyne Wilson, assistant vice president for talent management at Nav Canada, a not-for-profit corporation that runs Canada's civil air navigation system. "There are employees who are at work today who [otherwise] would have gone out on sick leave, and we were able to prevent that."

Another Source of Support

Stéphane Grenier had served in the Canadian army for 29 years and was dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression when a colleague's offer to talk opened the floodgates of inspiration. Grenier is the founder of Ottawa, Ontario-based consultancy Mental Health Innovations (MHI) and a past member of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Peer support at the worksite can help with issues that are no less debilitating just because they're common. "When you are getting a divorce, you are struggling emotionally. That is a mental health challenge," Grenier said.

As helpful as peer support can be, however, it should be considered part of an overall mental health benefits package that includes clinical expertise, he pointed out.

In the past two decades, large employers in the United States and Canada have "availed themselves of good employee assistance programs," Grenier said. Peer support "fast-tracks employees into the hands of care providers when they need it to ensure they get the best support available."

The problem is, he added, "people do not recover in their clinicians' office." In addition to health care and counseling with a professional therapist, "the third leg is to actually support people through the recovery process."

Nav Canada, an MHI client, launched a peer-support program called Light the Way in 2012. EY began its program, originally called r u ok?, in 2016. Other organizations contemplating peer support might look to these employers and their programs for best practices.

A Wider Scope

About a year ago, EY expanded its peer-support program beyond addiction and clinically designated mental illness (such as depression and anxiety) to cover emotional challenges, and it rebranded the program as We Care, Weiner said.

"We saw the rebranding as an opportunity to broaden the scope, and so we talk about issues like sleep, relationships and challenges that come up in the workplace," Weiner said the effort led to a 45 percent increase in calls to the EAP.

"That's a good thing," he said. "It doesn't mean there are more issues; it means people are more comfortable getting care."

Employers can customize the peer-support approach to fit their culture. In Nav Canada's case, trained employees who have gone through similar challenges provide support either in person or through a variety of communication technologies, Wilson said. The Nav Canada intranet includes contact and biographical information on each of the company's peer supporters.

"The description of their experience is written in their own words―whether they went through a marriage breakdown, child custody issues or whatever they dealt with," Wilson noted. "They struggled through that period of time, but they made it through and things are better for them."

Someone going through something similar can text or e-mail a supporter or, if they are in the same building, "just talk over coffee, and the peer supporter may just listen or may refer them to the EAP or a clinical professional, depending on the situation," Wilson explained.

At EY, employees companywide are trained to recognize when a colleague might be dealing with an emotional or mental health issue, and they are encouraged to act, such as by telling the colleague how the EAP can help, Weiner said.

He recognized that some might regard such action as "intrusive" and emphasized that peer supporters are instructed to be respectful.

Nav Canada convenes its 50 peer-support volunteers, divided into seven regions nationwide, at its Cornwall, Ontario, training center for a couple days every year to teach effective ways to reach out to colleagues and what is and isn't appropriate.

Worth the Cost

Annual costs for a company of 2,000 to contract with MHI to launch a peer-support program amounts to "a middle manager's salary," Grenier said.

Calculating whether a peer-support program is worth the cost is not an easy dollars-and-cents equation, however.

"I know [return on investment] comes up," Weiner said. "What's most important to me is that people are using the services. If people are getting help through the employee assistance program, that means they are getting help proactively before there is a very serious issue."

"You don't know what you're preventing," Wilson said. "It is an investment in creating a healthy [and] an engaged workforce."

"Anyone can implement this kind of program," Weiner added. "This is all on a voluntary basis; employees do this because they want to. The size of the program may be smaller at a smaller company, but anyone can do it."

SOURCE: Goth, G. (29 November 2018) "Peer Support Strengthens Mental Health Offerings" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/peer-support-strengthens-mental-health-offerings.aspx/


How to make on-demand fitness work for wellness

Does your business offer on-demand, virtual fitness to their employees? This new technology is making it easier for people to engage in physical activity. Continue reading to learn more.


The way we work out is changing. Technology makes it possible to watch movies, order meals, even rent bikes on our own terms, and people increasingly expect their fitness options to be just as easy. Enter on-demand, virtual fitness.

The demand for virtual fitness is booming. In the United States alone, the virtual fitness market is expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2022. Whether people are too intimidated to go to the gym, have difficulty finding time in their schedules to attend a class, or have difficulty finding classes that fit their needs — virtual fitness makes it easy for them to engage over time.

As a result, more employers are realizing the value of investing in employee health and the benefits of keeping employees physically active. Lack of physical activity contributes to numerous health risks, which can lead to increased healthcare costs and lost productivity. Physical activity has also been found to have a positive impact on mental health and well-being. For example, it’s been estimated that employees who are in poor health are twice as likely as their healthier coworkers to be disengaged from work.

On-demand, virtual fitness is an option that can be more affordable than establishing an on-site gym, and with 35% of employees working remotely, on-demand fitness allows employers to offer the workouts to more employees.

As would-be fitness fanatics increasingly turn to apps to help tone their abs, what should employers know to ensure success? Here are a few strategies.

1. Make it personal. It’s a simple concept: People will be more likely to exercise if they find a workout that appeals to them. The best on-demand options offer classes for a wide range of interests — from cycling to yoga to kickboxing, to mom-and-baby fitness or simple stretching.

2. Make it flexible. People come in all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels. Make sure classes work even if your employees aren’t super fit. Even better, look for something that offers users a natural progression from wherever they start to higher levels of fitness.

3. Make it accessible. The whole point of virtual fitness is that people can take part anytime and anywhere. Look for programming that makes classes available online from a desktop or laptop computer and on both Android and iOS-based smartphones or tablets. This allows employers to make fitness available during lunchtime in the break room, while also giving employees access to short exercises they can do during a break at their desks or even on the road.

4. Make it trackable. Virtual fitness programming can be integrated into your benefits portal to allow for tracking of wellness incentive points. This encourages employees to track their progress and to create a virtual community that encourages the success of all its members.

Today’s workforce is tech-savvy, and that dynamic is only going to become more prevalent. Using mobile devices or apps to give employees what they need to balance life and work will continue to be a smart move for employers.

SOURCE: Von Bank, J. (30 November 2018)  "How to make on-demand fitness work for wellness" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/tips-to-make-on-demand-fitness-work-for-your-wellness-program?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000


Who let the dogs in? More companies are welcoming pets

More and more companies are welcoming pets. Seven percent of employers are now allowing employees to bring their pets to work. Read this blog post to learn more about setting up pet-friendly policies.


The list is growing of companies that now have bring your dog to work “paw-licies.” Is yours next? 

Google, Zappos and Amazon are some big companies that are pet-friendly, but smaller businesses are going to the dogs too, adding to the now 7% of employers that permit pets.

‘Ruff’ day? Take your dog to work

For example, electronics maker Crutchfield Corp. has a dog-friendly office, which the company says reduces stress.

Walking a dog helps to keep its owner fit, says Adrienne Webster, HR VP, Carfax, another pet-friendly company. But she adds that her employees are responsible for making sure their pets are well behaved.

Many companies implement policies that stipulate dogs need to be healthy, clean and up-to-date on vaccinations.

Dog-friendly office? ‘Paws’ for a foolproof pet policy

If you’re not quite ready to let the dogs in on a full-time basis, you might “paws” to allow your folks’ four-legged friends to sit, stay and play for a day, and see how it works out.

“Policies around bringing pets to work should be clear,” says employment attorney Karen Michael. “To be successful, careful attention and respect for all employees must be considered.”

Since allowing pets into the workplace creates a whole list of concerns – “from unruly, jumpy, biting, irritating dogs, to those that relieve themselves inside to those that bark and disrupt the workplace,” she urges employers to put certain rules in place:

  • Written pet policy that dictates a pet owner’s responsibilities, who’s responsible for animal bites, etc.
  • Sign-up calendar (to prevent too many pets at the same time)
  • Zero-tolerance policy for bad-behaving pets (barking, biting, etc.)
  • Pet-free zone (for those with allergies or a fear of animals)
  • Liability insurance (employers might ask workers to get as well)
  • Employee discipline (for those who fail to clean up after their pets)

SOURCE: Mucha, R. (30 November 2018) Who let the dogs in? More companies are welcoming pets" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://www.hrmorning.com/who-let-the-dogs-in-more-companies-are-welcoming-pets/


From HSA to 401(k) contribution limits, 11 numbers to know for 2019

Do you offer HSAs, FSAs or 401(k)s to your employees? There are many important numbers companies and employees need to know regarding HSAs, FSAs and 401(k)s. Read this blog post to learn more.


There are a slew of important figures companies and employees need to know regarding health savings accounts, 401(k)s and flexible spending accounts. While the IRS announced HSA changes in May, the agency only recently announced annual changes to FSAs and 401(k)s. From contribution limits to out-of-pocket amounts, here are the figures employers need to know — all of which take effect in January.

$19,000: 401(k) pre-tax contribution limits

The IRS in November said it is increasing the pre-tax contribution limits for employees who participate in a 401(k), 403(b) and most 457 plans to $19,000 from $18,500. That limit also applies to the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan.

$6,000: 401(k) catch-up contribution limit

For participants ages 50 and over, the additional 401(k) catch-up contribution limit, which is set by law, will stay at $6,000 for 2019.

$6,000: IRA contribution limits

IRA contribution limits are being raised to $6,000 from $5,500 — the first time the IRS has increased the limits since 2013. The catch-up contribution limit for people 50 and over will still be $1,000.

$3,500: Annual HSA contribution limit for individuals

The 2019 annual health savings account contribution limit for individuals with single medical coverage is $3,500, an increase of $50 from 2018.

$7,000: HSA contribution limit for family coverage

For HSAs linked to family coverage, the 2019 contribution limit will rise by $100, to $7,000, above the family cap set for 2018.

$1,350: HDHP minimum deductible for individual

The minimum deductible for a qualifying high-deductible health plan remains unchanged for 2019: $1,350 for individual coverage.

$2,700: HDHP minimum deductible for family

The minimum deductible for a qualifying high-deductible health plan remains at $2,700 for family coverage.

$6,750: HDHP maximum out-of-pocket amounts (individual)

Deductibles, copayments and other amounts that do not include premiums will have a maximum limit of $6,750 for individual coverage next year, up $100 from 2018.

$13,500: HDHP maximum out-of-pocket amounts (family)

Deductibles, copayments and other amounts that do not include premiums will have a maximum limit of $13,500 for family coverage, up $200 from 2018.

$1,000: HSA catch-up contributions

Individuals 55 years or older can contribute an extra $1,000 to their health savings account in 2019. The amount remains unchanged from 2018.

$2,700: FSA contribution limit

The health flexible spending account contribution limit for 2019 is $2,700 — an increase of $50 over the 2018 limit. The increase also applies to limited-purpose FSAs that are restricted to dental and vision care services, which can be used in tandem with health savings accounts.

SOURCE: Mayer, K. (6 December 2018) "From HSA to 401(k) contribution limits, 11 numbers to know for 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/from-hsa-to-401-k-contribution-limits-11-numbers-to-know-for-2019


2019: A Look Forward

A number of significant changes to group health plans have been made since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted in 2010. Many of these changes became effective in 2014 and 2015 but certain changes to a few ACA requirements take effect in 2019.

 Changes for 2019 

  1. Cost-sharing Limits – Non-grandfathered plans are subject to limitations on cost sharing for essential health benefits (EHB). The annual limits on cost sharing for EHB are $7,900 for self-only coverage and $15,800 for family coverage, effective January 1, 2019.
    • Health plans with more than one service provider can divide maximums between EBH as long as the combined amount does not exceed the out-of-pocket maximum limit for the year.
    • Beginning in 2016, each individual – regardless of the coverage the individual is enrolled – is subject to the self-only annual limit on cost sharing.
    • The ACA’s annual cost-sharing limits are higher than high deductible health plans (HDHPs) out-of-pocket maximums. For plans to qualify as an HDHP, the plan must comply with HDHP’s lower out-of-pocket maximums. The HDHP out-of-pocket maximum for 2019 is $6,750 for self-only coverage and $13,500 for family coverage.
  2. Coverage Affordability Percentages – If an employee’s required contribution does not exceed 9.5 percent of their household income for the taxable year (adjusted each year), then the coverage is considered affordable. The adjusted percentage for 2019 is 9.86 percent.
  3. Reporting of Coverage – Returns for health plan coverage offered or provided in 2018 are due in early 2019. For 2018, returns must be filed by February 28, 2019, or April 1, 2019 (if electronically filed). Individual statements must be provided by January 31, 2019.
    • ALEs are required to report information to the IRS and their eligible employees regarding their employer-sponsored health coverage. This requirement is found in Section 6056. Reporting entities will generally file Forms 1094-B and 1095-B under this section.
    • Every health insurance issuer, self-insured health plan sponsor, government agency that provides government-sponsored health insurance, and any other entity that provides MEC is required to finalize an annual return with the IRS, reporting information for each individual who is enrolled. This requirement is found in Section 6055. Reporting entities will generally file Forms 1094-C and 1095-C under this section.
    • ALEs that provide self-funded plans must comply with both reporting requirements. Reporting entities will file using a combined reporting method on Forms 1094-C and 1095-C.
    • Forms Used for Reporting – Reporting entities must file the following with the IRS:
      1. A separate statement for each individual enrolled
      2. A transmittal form for all returns filed for a given calendar year.
    • Electronic Reporting – Any reporting entity that is required to file 250 or more returns in either section must file electronically on the ACA Information Returns (AIR) Program. Reporting entities that file less than 250 returns can file in paper form or electronically on the ACA Information Returns (AIR) Program.
    • Penalties – Entities that fail to comply with the reporting requirements are subject to general reporting penalties for failure to file correct information returns and failure to furnish correct payee statements. Penalty amounts for failure to comply with the reporting requirements in 2019 are listed below:
Penalty Type Per Violation Annual Maximum Annual Maximum for Employers with up to $5 million in Gross Receipts
General $270 $3,275,500 $1,091,500
Corrected within 30 days $50 $545,500 $191,000
Corrected after 30 days but before August 1 $100 $1,637,500 $545,500
Intentional Disregard $540* None N/A

**Intentional disregard penalties are equal to the greater of either the listed penalty amount or 10 percent of the aggregate amount of the items required to be reported correctly.

Expected Changes

  1. Health FSA Contributions – Effective January 1, 2018, health FSA salary contributions were limited to $2,650. The IRS usually announces limit adjustments at the end of each year. This limit does not apply to employer contributions or limit contributions under other employer-provided coverage.
  2. Employer Shared Responsibility Regulations – The dollar amount for calculating Employer Shared Responsibility 2 penalties is adjusted for each calendar year. Applicable large employers (ALEs) must offer affordable, minimum value (MV) healthcare coverage to full-time employees and dependent children or pay a penalty. If one or more full-time employees of an ALE receive a subsidy for purchasing healthcare coverage through an Exchange, the ALE is subject to penalties.
    • Applicable Large Employer Status – ALEs are employers who employ 50 or more full-time employees on business days during the prior calendar year.
    • Offering Coverage to Full-time Employees – ALEs must determine which employees are full-time. A full-time employee is defined as an employee who worked, on average, at least 30 hours per week or 130 hours in a calendar month. There are two methods for determining full-time employee status:
      1. Monthly Measurement Method – Full-time employees are identified based on a month-to-month analysis of the hours they worked.
      2. Look-Back Measurement Method – This method is based on whether employees are ongoing or new, and whether they work full time or variable, seasonal or part-time. This method involves three different periods:
        • Measurement period – for county hours of service
        • Administration period – for enrollment and disenrollment of eligible and ineligible employees
        • Stability period – when coverage is provided based on an employee’s average hours worked.
      3. Applicable Penalties – ALEs are liable for penalties if one or more full-time employees receive subsidies for purchasing healthcare coverage through an Exchange. One of two penalties may apply depending on the circumstances:
        • 4980H(a) penalty – Penalty for not offering coverage to all full-time employees and their dependents. This penalty does not apply if the ALE intends to cover all eligible employees. ALEs must offer at least 95 percent of their eligible employees’ health care coverage. Monthly penalties are determined by this equation:
          1. ALE’s number of full-time employees (minus 30) X 1/12 of $2,000 (as adjusted), for any applicable month
          2. The $2,000amount is adjusted for the calendar year after 2014:
          3. $2,080 – 2015; $2,160 – 2016; $2,260 – 2017; $2,320 – 2018
        • 4980H(b) penalty – penalty for offering coverage – ALEs are subject to penalties even if they offer coverage to eligible employees if one or more full-time employees obtain subsidies through an Exchange because:
          1. The ALE didn’t offer all eligible employees coverage
          2. The coverage offered is unaffordable or does not provide minimum value.
          3. Monthly penalties are determined by this equation: 1/12 of $3,000 (as adjusted) for any applicable month
            1. $3,120 – 2015; $3,240 – 2016; $3,390 – 2017; $3,480 – 2018

Contact one of our advisors for assistance or if you have any questions about compliance in the New Year.

SOURCES: www.dol.gov, www. HHS.gov, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/04/17/2018-07355/patient-protectionand-affordable-care-act-hhs-notice-of-benefit-and-payment-parameters-for-2019, https://www.irs.gov/e-fileproviders/air/affordable-care-act-information-return-air-program


The benefits issue that costs employers big: Ineligible dependents on company plans

Frequently, roughly 10 percent of enrolled dependents are ineligible for the healthcare programs. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


Are you paying insurance premiums for people who aren’t qualified to be on your company plan?

For some employers, too often the answer is “yes.”

In our experience, we find that nearly 10% of dependents enrolled in employee health and welfare plans are not eligible to be in the program. And for a company with a couple of hundred employees that spends around $2 million a year on benefits, ineligible dependents can become a significant financial issue.

When employers pay for ineligible dependents, costs increase for them and employees. Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-common issue that employers need a solid strategy to combat.

So how do ineligible dependents get enrolled in the first place? There are a couple of common ways that employers end up paying health insurance premiums for ineligible dependents. The most basic factor is a change in a person’s situation — children pass the age of 26, spouses get jobs, people get divorced, etc. — and the employee is unaware of the need to notify the plan sponsor. Most often, these situations arise because the employer doesn’t have a process in place.

But some situations are more nefarious: An employee mischaracterizes someone as a dependent. They may claim that a nephew is a son, or that they’re still married to an ex-spouse. In either of these situations, the employer loses.

Prevent ineligible dependents with best practices

Prevent paying for ineligible dependents by putting into place best practices that begin when a new employee joins the company.

During onboarding, investigate each potential plan member when the employee applies for insurance coverage. That means seeking documentation — such as marriage certificates and birth certificates — to verify that a person is, in fact, married, or that their kids are their kids and not someone else’s. Following these processes at the outset prevents the awkwardness of having to question employees about their various family relationships. Nobody wants to ask a colleague if the divorce is final yet.

To make it easy for employees to verify everyone’s eligibility, provide access to a portal where they can upload scans or images of relevant documents. This will also make it easier to track—and keep track of—onboarding documents and dependent audits when the time comes.

Once this best practice is established, it’s important to conduct periodic dependent eligibility audits, as required by ERISA. The employer can conduct an audit or hire an external auditor. This decision is usually driven by the size of the workforce.

The most logical time to conduct an audit is during benefit enrollment. Employees are already considering options for the next plan year, and they likely won’t be confused by the need to submit verifying documents. (During this exercise, it’s also a good idea to ask plan participants to verify beneficiaries on employer-provided life insurance.)

Some employers — again, depending on the size of the workforce — will conduct random sample audits of 20-25% of their employee population. Obviously, the larger the sample size, the better. Benefits administration platforms typically streamline this process.

What happens when employers identify an ineligible dependent?

Many employers offer workers an amnesty period during which an employee can come forward to say they have someone that should be taken off the plan. If the plan sponsor identifies an ineligible dependent, employees are typically offered a one-time pass. Then, they must sign an affidavit attesting that they can be terminated if it happens again.

If the employer has processed insurance claims for an ineligible dependent, they can declare fraud and seek back payment of claims payouts. Again, most in this situation prefer a more benevolent approach and will ask the employee to make monthly differential payments until the account is even. Conducting regular dependent eligibility audits as part of the benefits administration process needs to be handled with finesse for the good of organizational culture.

Some employers may shy away from conducting audits out of concern for creating awkward situations. But frankly, it’s the plan sponsor’s job to help them navigate the waters, educate them and keep them engaged in the process by becoming their best advocates. This will not only help enhance the efficiency and accuracy of employee benefit offerings, but it will result in a smoother ride for everyone involved.

Ensuring that a health and welfare benefits program follows eligibility best practices is the responsibility of the plan sponsor. But employees have a share in that responsibility, too.

SOURCE: O'Connor, P.(28 November 2018) "The benefits issue that costs employers big: Ineligible dependents on company plans" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from:


What’s in store for voluntary benefits in 2019

Voluntary benefits will continue to be popular with benefit managers who are trying to lower healthcare costs and retain employees. Read this blog post for more 2019 voluntary benefits trends.


Benefit managers are still catching their breath as the curtain closes on this year’s open enrollment season. But smart benefits managers are already evaluating new products and benefit changes for the 2019-2020 season.

Themes around cost-saving strategies concerning healthcare premiums will continue to resonate — but what else will happen in the upcoming year? Voluntary benefits will continue to hold the key for many benefit managers looking to lower costs and maintain value for employees by providing flexibility to a diverse workforce.

Voluntary benefits offer pivotal advantages to employers and employees alike. By offering these programs through an employer, employees often receive better pricing, plan designs and underwriting support compared to what is available on the individual market. Payroll deduction capability and enrollment as part of their normal core enrollment process and portability are also available.

Here are three voluntary benefits to watch in 2019.

Employee purchase programs.

Nearly one quarter of all Americans do not have adequate emergency savings, according to a survey by consumer financial services company Bankrate. This means that if they need to make a significant purchase, they are likely to withdraw a loan from their 401(k) plan.

Employee purchase programs help employees pay for items they may need immediately, but may not have the funds or credit available. These programs generally allow employees to spread out the payments on the purchased products — such as appliances, car tires or computers — over a period of time through payroll deduction. Young employees who are trying to establish credit while managing student loan repayments — and may be strapped for cash — can especially benefit from an employee purchase programs.

Group legal insurance plans.

Group legal plans are not new, but they are still valuable for employees. For a cost that is less than a cup of coffee, group legal plans provide employees with access to attorneys for will preparation, estate planning, dealing with elderly parents, traffic violations, real estate purchases, and document review and preparation. These plans offset the expense of professional legal representation and the time it takes to locate the right representation to handle legal matters.

These plans may be especially valuable to employees who are thinking of buying a house, adopting a child or planning for their estate. Still, group legal insurance plans are available to all employees, and can provide a buffer for workers who may need to navigate identity restoration after a theft or combat an unforeseen traffic ticket. These plans also save employees time and money when the need for a legal professional arises.

Student loan benefits.

Student loan benefits have been one of the hottest topics in voluntary benefits in 2018 and it’s not going away any time soon. An IRS private letter ruling this past August allowed one company to amend its 401(k) plan to allow employer contributions of up to 5% to individuals who contribute at least 2% to their student loan. This may just be the start to more legislation concerning student loan debt solutions.

In the interim, as the tuition debt crisis grows, employers are seeking ways to support their employees. There are several strategies that can be employed.

Some solutions can be offered at no cost, while others have administrative charges and the cost of contributions to factor in. For employers who have the budget, a student loan repayment plan may be the answer. There are many vendors who can partner with an employer to help develop a plan that is designed to meet the company’s goals.

Employers without a budget can seek a student loan solution partner that offers comprehensive educational tools such as written materials, debt navigation tools, FAQs, one-on-one counselors and webinars. Another option is to offer student loan refinancing. These lenders can help employees manage their debt. Even though refinancing is not for everyone, well-vetted student loan refinancing partners should be considered as part of a comprehensive student loan debt solution strategy. Understanding the approval rate is important, as well as whether there are any other incentives, such as a welcome bonus, that may be applied to the loan principal.

SOURCE: Marcia, P. (28 November 2018) "What’s in store for voluntary benefits in 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/whats-in-store-for-employers-and-voluntary-benefits-in-2019


Viewpoint: Why Respect, Dignity and Kindness Are Foundational Workplace Principles

Corporate leadership shouldn't wait for disruptive incidents to occur before they focus on the state of their workplace environment. Read this blog post to learn more.


SHRM has partnered with Security Management magazine to bring you relevant articles on key HR topics and strategies. 

This is the #MeToo era. The great wave of public accusations involving inappropriate conduct such as sexual harassment between managers, employees and co-workers has washed over U.S. workplaces, unsettling everything in its wake.

But sexual harassment is not the only conduct that can help turn a working environment hostile. Given this, employers who take action now to help establish and solidify a welcoming and hostility-free work environment will be better positioned for the future. Such actions can come in many forms, ranging from zero-tolerance anti-harassment policies and violence prevention training to diversity task forces and team-building exercises.

While they vary, these actions all benefit from a proactive approach. Opposing views and opinions are inevitable among a diverse workforce, but leaders of organizations should not wait until disruptive incidents break out before focusing on the state of the workplace environment. Instead, they can start immediately.

Respect and Dignity

Human resources is a team sport. No one HR manager, no matter how talented or knowledgeable, can completely shoulder the burden of protecting his or her firm from employee issues and litigation. A cohesive HR team, on the other hand, is positioned to tackle anything thrown its way. But when one gear gets out of whack, the whole team is affected and compromised.

Take, for example, how an entire company can be impacted by one disruptive manager. Sam's team was led by a small group of managers who worked well together; they collaborated to achieve goals and boost one another to success. However, a new manager, Chris, was brought on.

Chris had a markedly different type of attitude and leadership style. Chris was demanding and sometimes even yelled at employees in public. He occasionally disparaged another manager's directions to team members and would even threaten a firing in an attempt to improve performance.

A few months after this leadership transition, some employees began to leave Sam's team by choice. But those are not the only changes triggered by the new manager. Some of Sam's team members absorbed the negative qualities Chris exhibited, including degrading public chastisements, gossiping and expressing increased agitation in the office. Chris' overwhelming negativity threw a wrench into a once strong team and threatened to break it down into an unproductive group of individuals.

Before Chris took over, Sam's team members respected one another and successfully accomplished goals. Chris' harsh leadership eroded the members' respect and kindness, causing productivity to decrease and spirits to drop.

How can HR help make sure this type of situation is addressed and avoided? When building a team, it is important to establish respect, dignity and kindness as foundational principles. This will very likely increase productivity and reduce the risk of violent workplace behaviors. When employees feel respected and treated with dignity, they are more likely to treat co-workers and customers the same way. This creates a positive culture within the organization.

To facilitate this, HR should go beyond simply asking employees to be civil and respect one another. They should also explain how to do so, and demonstrate what civility means to the organization by providing examples of positive interactions.

Support the Company's Culture

During my time as a line manager, there were key opportunities for me to support the company culture. All managers can take advantage of the same opportunities, if their organizations are willing to provide them.

For example, orientation sessions are an opportunity for HR leaders to introduce themselves, their department and the values of the organization to those who are being onboarded. Time can be devoted to explaining appropriate workplace behavior through the use of scenario-based situations.

In addition, department team meetings offer opportunities for HR professionals to join in to discuss relevant issues and provide training through small group discussion or case study review. Team members can assess a situation and provide feedback on how it should have been appropriately handled. Using both positive and negative behaviors as examples will help employees understand the difference.

Open houses are another possible venue for educating discussions. HR may arrange with company leaders to have a time where employees stop by, ask questions and participate in discussions that help them understand their role as part of the larger effort to maintain a healthy, inclusive workplace.

Finally, it is important to remember that HR staff should help line managers serve as role models of appropriate behavior. If they are behaving badly by being rude, disrespectful or uncivil, how can HR expect them to help the organization promote a culture that values everyone?

In the end, HR cannot assume that people managers understand what is and is not appropriate. Setting expectations from the start, and clearly demonstrating how to positively act and show respect to co-workers is an effective way for HR to set the right tone—and a more active and effective approach than simply hoping for the best. This will have a ripple effect throughout the workforce, and it will help prevent future breaches of conduct from triggering a domino effect of disrespect, such as the one caused by Chris' behavior.

This article is adapted from Security Management magazine with permission from ASIS © 2018. All rights reserved.

SOURCE: Solon, R. (28 November 2018) "Viewpoint: Why Respect, Dignity and Kindness Are Foundational Workplace Principles" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/Viewpoint-Why-Respect-Dignity-and-Kindness-Are-Foundational-Workplace-Principles.aspx