High-Deductible Health Plans Promote Increased Wellness Program Participation

Are you looking for a new way to increase participation in your wellness program? Take a look at this interesting article by Nick Otto from Employee Benefit News on how offering high-deductible health plans can be a great way to boost enrollment into your wellness program.

Employer-provided healthcare continues to be the most common access to health insurance in the U.S., and as employers continue to look for ways to cut costs, consumer-driven high-deductible health plans continue to grow with the added benefit of increased employee engagement in healthcare choices.

Fourteen percent of the U.S. population was enrolled in a CDHP and 14% was enrolled in an HDHP, a slight increase for both from the previous year, according to the 2016 EBRI/Greenwald & Associates Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey.

And the number of workers who were in a CDHPs or HDHPs was more likely than those in a traditional plan to exhibit cost-conscious behaviors, according to a recent report from the non-partisan Employee Benefit Research Institute.

“This survey found that high deductibles are associated with new behaviors [that are] often encouraged by employers and insurers,” says Paul Fronstin, director of EBRI’s Health Research and Education Program and co-author of the report.

The theory behind CDHPs and HDHPs is that the cost-sharing structure is a tool that will be more likely to engage individuals in their health care, compared with people enrolled in more traditional coverage, the study suggests.

And with the employees taking a bigger interest in their healthcare planning, employers are noticing their wellness programs taking a bigger role.

The study focused on three types of wellness programs: a health-risk assessment, a health-promotion program to address a specific health issue, and a biometric screening.

“CDHP enrollees and HDHP enrollees were more likely than traditional-plan enrollees to report that they tried to find cost information. They are also more likely to participate in wellness programs.” Adds Fronstin.

Specifically, 45% of CDHP enrollees reported that their employer offered a health risk assessment, compared with 34% of traditional-plan enrollees and 30% of HDHP enrollees. When asked about the availability of health-promotion programs, 53% of CDHP enrollees, 32% of HDHP enrollees and 41% of traditional-plan enrollees reported that their employer offered such a program.

Additionally, when asked about biometric-screening programs, 45% of CDHP enrollees reported that their employer offered such a program, compared with 36% among traditional-plan enrollees and 33% among HDHP enrollees.

CDHP and HDHP enrollees were also more likely than traditional-plan enrollees to report that their employer offered a cash incentive or reward for participating in a biometric screening program. Seventy percent of CDHP and 67% of HDHP enrollees reported a cash incentive or reward for a biometric screening, compared with 51% among traditional-plan enrollees.

While these numbers represent self-reported awareness of available health and wellness programs and cannot be cross-referenced with objective data from employers and insurers, it is significant that, across the board, CDHP enrollees are aware and participate at higher rates in wellness programs, the author notes.

Another trend the study found was the increased interest in health savings accounts.

Among individuals enrolled in CDHPs, 56% opened an HSA, 19% were in an HRA, and 25% were enrolled in an HSA-eligible health plan but had not opened an HSA.

It’s more common for employers to contribute to HSAs than in the past, and the dollar amount is also increasing, EBRI says. Seventy-eight percent of CDHP enrollees reported that their employer contributed to the account in 2016, up from 67% in 2014.

Additionally, 20% of CDHP enrollees reported an employer contribution of at least $2,000 in 2016, up from 10% in 2014.

 

See the original article Here.

Source:

Otto N. (2017 June 1). High-deductible health plans promote increased wellness program participation [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/high-deductible-health-plans-promote-increased-wellness-program-participation


hand in the sun

7 Morning Rituals To Make Your Day 8 Times More Productive

Are you looking for a way to make your morning more productive? Take a look at this great article by Karen Reed from Positive Health Wellness and check out these 7 great tips for boosting your productivity in the morning.

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine. ” — John C. Maxwell

Rituals make you who you are. The morning ritual is rediscovering productivity at the start of the day. You need not wake at the crack of dawn to have a productive start to your day. Instead, you need to take a close look at how you start your day and figure out how to get more from it. One way to do that is establishing a morning ritual.

What Is Morning Ritual?

A morning ritual is something you do daily as part of your morning.It must be a right blend of both physical activities and mental activities.If you start your day with a few simple tasks, it helps you to begin a cycle of results that will increase your vigor to be productive through your day.

The morning ritual gives you a chance to center yourself and embrace your day instead of fleeing from it. It will help you to enjoy the luxury of time you’ve given yourself by rising at an appropriate time.

Why Creating A Morning Ritual Will Make You More Successful?

Establishing healthy habits and morning routine are critical for a lifetime of success. Your morning routine sets the right tone for the whole day. If you do each day right, you’ll do life right. If you don’t have a good morning routine, you may feel overwhelmed and disorganized.

The first step to work smarter and not harder is that you need to create healthy habits. The personal ritual that you set up for yourself will put you in the right mindset and offset any morning procrastination.

The other reason to create a morning routine is to avoid mental fatigue. We have only certain amount of energy and willpower when we wake up each morning. It slowly gets drained away with decisions. It is especially true if you have hundreds of small decisions to make in the morning that means nothing, but will affect how you make decisions for the rest of the day.

So try to have the first hour of your day vary as little as possible with routine. Knowing how the first few minutes of your day looks like, is powerful and it helps you to feel “in control” and “non-reactive.” This action, in turn, reduces anxiety and ensures that you’re more productive throughout the day.

Steps To Put Your Morning Ritual Into Place

  • Write down a list of things you do every morning and what you like to add.
  • Estimate the time it’ll indeed take to do everything on your list.
  • Adjust your wake-up time to fit in your new ritual.
  • Familiarize your list each morning for at least 2-3 days before making adjustments.
  • Once you’ve got used to your changes, start enjoying your morning rituals.

You could work on “Habit Stalking” to craft yourself a good morning routine that works for you. Habit Stalking is a way to build a new practice into your life by stalking it on top of something that you’re currently doing.

Avoid designing something long and complicated when you’re starting off.  Start with an easily manageable chunk of time. You can start with a  five or 10-minute ritual and move your way up. Just take your time to build a balanced morning schedule. There’s nothing like starting your day off fabulous both mentally and physically.

Benefits Of Having A Morning Ritual

  • A morning routine helps you to feel more grounded and embodied.
  • It helps you to slow down and tune into your intuition.
  • Enables you to batch your energy sources and self-care in a defined amount of time.
  • Makes you less reactive and more intentional as you start your work day.
  • Helps you feel more productive without feeling fragmented.
  • Promotes more space and pause to make choices that nourish you.
  • It syncs with your natural feminine rhythms and those of nature.
  • It optimizes your decision making power for creative and productive work.

7 Morning Rituals You Should Adapt

Here are seven tips to build your morning routine that will help to become the best version of yourself and will make you take on your day confident and energized.

Meditation

Meditation helps you to start your day on a positive note. It helps you to be more at peace with yourself. Research has shown that meditation can enhance your:

  • Attention
  • Creativity
  • Working memory
  • Emotional regulation
  • Immune function
  • Cognitive performance
  • Self-control
  • Healthy habits
  • While reducing stress

Researchers from the Carnegie Mellon University have found that meditation reduces Interleukin-6 an inflammatory health biomarker found in highly stressed individuals. If you begin your day with meditation, it calms your “busy mind syndrome,” which results if you don’t activate your mental spam filter.

Meditating helps to filter out the internal and external noise and negative self-talk that can sabotage your otherwise sharp, clear, perpetual acuity. Meditating as a morning ritual helps you to tame your emotions and keeps your emotional brain in check.

A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry says that patients who were suffering from an anxiety disorder or panic disorder underwent three months of meditation and relaxation training. And at the end of the three-month period, their panic attacks had substantially reduced.

Meditation also improves empathy and positive relationships. It enhances feelings of competence about one’s life and promotes environmental mastery, ego resilience, and purpose in life.

What a beautiful way to start your day, filling your soul,mind, and body from the “Higher Power” to embark on your day’s journey.

Gratitude

Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude,writes, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts, and benefits we’ve received.”

In the second part of gratitude, he says, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

After you’ve completed your meditation just take a few minutes and be thankful for all the positive things that happened to you.  You might be grateful for an unexpected visit from an old friend, a beautiful encounter with a kind stranger, or a new opportunity that shines your way.

Practicing gratitude as a morning ritual can have tremendous benefits for your overall health. Being grateful increases your self-esteem makes you more optimistic and less materialistic and self-centered.  It increases your happiness, makes you more relaxed, resilient and less envious.

Gratitude increases your energy, longevity, improves your sleep quality and immunity. It boosts your career growth by increasing your goal achievement, productivity and decision making. It results in better management and improved networking.

Your social relationships get a boost by being grateful. It results in healthier marriage, more friendships and deeper relationships. The real power of gratitude is that it helps you to pick out and focus on what is working in your life –what is in tune with your being as a whole. If you have time, you can also practice gratitude journaling.

Writing Down Your Tasks

Journaling your important tasks is a practical ritual. It helps you to focus your day and life on what is essential. It helps you to prioritize and manage your time better.

Start the ritual by identifying and writing down one to three essential tasks you need to complete during that day. They may be the tasks that support your long-term goals that are related to your purpose, passion or the general direction of life.

You can also write down mundane tasks which David Allen, productivity speaker and author of Getting Things Done calls “core dump.”this involves writing down every project, task, and activity you need to address.

You can write down every “to do” item you can think of. It clears the space in your head for more important topics.

Morning Pages is a technique developed by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. It involves writing approximately 750 words of conscious writing. If you follow this practice as a morning ritual, it clears your head for the day’s most important thinking.

Writing down your tasks helps you to process your emotions, gives a record of your past, gains you a sense of achievement, helps you think big and makes you more committed.

Positive Affirmations

Barrie Davenport writes in live bold and bloom that affirmations are a form of auto suggestion. If you practice it deliberately and repeatedly, they reinforce chemical pathways in the brain and strengthen neural connections.

If you practice positive thought patterns or affirmations regularly, you create neuroplasticity in the area of the brain that processes what you’re thinking about.

Some of the positive affirmations you can say are:

  • I awake in the morning feeling happy and enthusiastic about my day.
  • I can tap into the wellspring of inner happiness anytime I wish.
  • I have healthy boundaries with my partner
  • Success is my natural state,and I expect to be successful in all of my endeavors.
  • I am energetic and enthusiastic. Confidence is my second nature.
  • I always attract only the best of the circumstances and the best positive people in my life.
  • I choose to be proud of myself.
  • I am talented.
  • I am attractive and beautiful.
  • Every cell in my body quivers with energy and good health.
  • I breathe in peace. I breathe out chaos and disorder.

Exercise

Morning is a great time for exercise. It’s quiet and peaceful in the morning.You can go for a mindful run and have little interruptions. Even a simple 5-minute exercise workout will wake up your muscles and get them ready for the day ahead.

A quick morning exercise jumpstarts your cells.You could jog, walk, dance, do yoga- anything to get your blood flowing.  The options are endless. If you’re on a weight-loss mission, a brisk morning walk is a key to shedding a few pounds.

According to researchers from Northumbria University, people can burn up to twenty percent more body fat by exercising in the morning when they are on an empty stomach.

Researchers say that the morning light helps synchronize your body clock. Researchers, from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, say that light is the most potent agent to harmonize your internal body clock that regulates the circadian rhythms. This aspect, in turn,controls energy balance. It is not rocket science to understand that including exercise as a morning ritual keeps you productive and energetic the whole day.

Listen To Uplifting Music

Music uplifts your physical and mental health in numerous ways. When you combine music and your exercise together,you get stunning results. Researchers found that participants pedaled faster when riding stationary bicycles while listening to music. Listening to pumping music helps you to run faster, and increases your workout endurance.

Music makes you feel happier because it enhances blood vessel function. It reduces stress levels and relieves depression. It improves your cognitive performance and helps you perform better in high-pressure situations. If you’re hard pressed for time, just combine this ritual while doing your morning exercise or while driving to work.

Detoxify With Lemon Water

Drinking warm water first thing in the morning helps flush the digestive system and rehydrates the body. Drinking lemon water acts as a natural flush and cleanses your liver. Lemon juice enhances stomach acid production and bile production. It results in a clean liver and lymph system.

Lemon contains vitamin C and potassium. When you drink lemon water first thing in the morning, it helps your body to absorb these vitamins and provides a little immune boost. Vitamin C is good for your adrenals and contributes to reducing your stress levels.

Since lemon water flushes your body, you enjoy a cleaner skin. The vitamin C helps in collagen production and makes your skin smooth and healthy. If you drink lemon water first thing in the morning, it will help you maintain a healthy weight.

Conclusion

You are what you frequently do everyday. If you include special routines in your daily schedule, you can turn your life around for the better. The main thing about rituals is that you can start your own and train yourself through practice.

Be conscious because routines work both in positive and negative ways. So be smart and choose the right ones. If you follow the ones that we’ve discussed above, we are positive that these morning rituals will bring only good things to your life.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Reed K. (2017 June 11). 7 morning rituals to make your day 8 times more productive [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.positivehealthwellness.com/fitness/7-morning-rituals-to-make-your-day-8-times-more-productive/


Retirement Calculator Seen as Critical Tool

Did you know that the most impactful tool for employee financial wellness is a retirement calculator? Find out more in this article by Bruce Shutan from Employee Benefit News on why you should have a retirement calculator included in your employee benefits program.

In analyzing the financial behaviors of 67,089 U.S. employee financial wellness assessments, Financial Finesse concluded that the most impactful action was for employers to offer a retirement calculator. The 2016 Year in Review Report also suggested that they promote it to the hilt with the help of their brokers and advisers.

“Running that projection is driving other behavior,” such as changes in cash flow or higher retirement plan contributions over time, explains Cynthia Meyer, a financial planner with Financial Finesse and author of the report.

She says advisers can help spotlight the use of a retirement calculator in an educational workshop or enrollment meeting where they can detail examples or case studies involving the potential effect of this handy tool.

The report uncovered a few bright spots. More employees ran a retirement projection, which jumped to 49% in 2016 from 35% in 2015. In addition, about 60% of these employees discovered they were on track to retire comfortably while about 40% discovered they were underfunded and needed to make changes.

Another positive development was that repeat usage of workplace financial wellness programs appears to be gaining momentum. The number of employees who have done annual workplace assessments of their finances multiple times has climbed steadily since 2013 when it was just 6% to 15% in 2014, 16% in 2015 and 29% in 2016.

However, problems persist. Virtually all demographic groups were still found to have insufficient savings for a comfortable retirement. For example, while 92% of the employees studied participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, just 77% contribute enough to earn the full employer match.

Still, Meyer notes that packaging financial wellness content with a good retirement plan is becoming a standard practice as the movement toward a more holistic view of employee finances gains traction.

Aon Hewitt’s 2017 Hot Topics in Retirement and Financial Wellbeing survey found that 59% of employers are very likely and another 33% are moderately likely to focus on the financial wellbeing of workers in ways that extend beyond retirement decisions. Moreover, 86% of employers are very or moderately likely to communicate to their workforces the link between health and wealth.

Rob Austin, director of retirement research at Aon Hewitt, says this is an indication of “just how much I think employers still care about their employees.” It certainly bodes well for brokers and advisers who can expect to be busy in the coming years helping their clients create a strategy and build out a plan that appeals to each workforce, he believes.

Aon Hewitt’s survey, whose 238 respondents represent nearly 9 million employees, noted several other key trends. They include employers enhancing both the accumulation and decumulation phases for their defined contribution plan participants, and defined benefit plan sponsors revisiting ways they’re removing risk from their plan.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Shutan Bruce (2017 May 29). Retirement calculator seen as critical tool [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/retirement-calculator-seen-as-critical-tool?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


women's health icon

Here's What The GOP Bill Would (And Wouldn't) Change About Women's Health Care

What will change about women's healthcare and what will stay the same? Danielle Kurtzleben explores the potential changes in the following article for NPR.

The Affordable Care Act changed women's health care in some big ways: It stopped insurance companies from charging women extra, forced insurers to cover maternity care and contraceptives and allowed many women to get those contraceptives (as well as a variety of preventive services, like Pap smears and mammograms) at zero cost.

Now Republicans have the opportunity to repeal that law, also known as Obamacare. But that doesn't mean all those things will go away. In fact, many will remain.

Confused? Here's a rundown of how this bill would change some women-specific areas of health care, what it wouldn't change, and what we don't know so far.

What would change:

Abortion coverage

There are restrictions on abortion under current law — the Hyde Amendment prohibits federal subsidies from being spent on abortions, except in the case of pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest or that threaten the life of the mother. So while health care plans can cover abortions, those being paid for with subsidies "must follow particular administrative requirements to ensure that no federal funds go toward abortion," as the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, explains.

But the GOP bill tightens this. It says that the tax credits at the center of the plan cannot be spent at all on any health care plan that covers abortion (aside from the Hyde Amendment's exceptions).

So while health care plans can cover abortion, very few people may be able to purchase those sorts of plans, as they wouldn't be able to use their tax credits on them. That could make it much more expensive and difficult to obtain an abortion under this law than under current law.

Planned Parenthood funding

This bill partially "defunds" Planned Parenthood, meaning it would cut back on the federal funding that can be used for services at the clinics. Fully 43 percent of Planned Parenthood's revenue in fiscal year 2015 — more than $550 million — came from government grants and reimbursements.

Right now, under Obamacare, federal funds can be spent at Planned Parenthood, but they can't be used for abortion — again, a result of the Hyde Amendment and again, with the three Hyde Amendment exceptions. But this bill goes further, saying that people couldn't use Medicaid at Planned Parenthood.

To be clear, it's not that there's a funding stream going directly from the government to Planned Parenthood that Congress can just turn off. Rather, the program reimburses Planned Parenthood for the care it provides to Medicaid recipients. So this bill would mean that Medicaid recipients who currently receive care at an organization that provides abortions would have to find a new provider (whom Medicaid would then reimburse).

Abortion is a small part of what Planned Parenthood does: The organizations says it accounted for 3.4 percent of all services provided in the year ending in September 2014. (Of course, some patients receive more than one service; Planned Parenthood had around 2.5 million patients in that year. Assuming one abortion per patient, that's roughly 13 percent of all patients receiving abortions.)

Together, providing contraception and the testing for and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases made up three-quarters of the services the organization provided in one year.

That means low-income women (that is, women on Medicaid) could be among the most heavily affected by this bill, as it may force them to find other providers for reproductive health services.

Of the other government money that goes to Planned Parenthood, most of it comes from Title X. That federal program, created under President Richard Nixon, provides family planning services to people beyond Medicaid, like low-income women who are not Medicaid-eligible. Earlier this year, Republicans started the process of stripping that funding.

What wouldn't change (yet):

Republicans have stressed that this bill was just one of three parts, so it's hard to say definitively what wouldn't change at all as a result of their plan. But thus far, here's what is holding steady:

Maternity and contraceptive coverage

Because this was a reconciliation bill, it could cover fiscal-related topics only. It couldn't get into many of the particulars of what people's coverage will look like, meaning some things won't change.

The essential health benefits set out in Obamacare — a list of 10 types of services that all plans must cover — do not change for other policies. Maternity care is included in those benefits, as is contraception, so plans will have to continue to cover those. The GOP bill also doesn't change the Obamacare policy that gave women access to free contraception, as Vox's Emily Crockett reported.

In addition, maternity and contraception are still both "mandatory benefits" under Medicaid. That doesn't change in the GOP bill. (Confusingly, the bill does sunset essential health benefits for Medicaid recipients. But because there is overlap and these particular benefits remain "mandatory," they aren't going away.)

However, all of this won't necessarily remain unchanged. In response to a question about defunding Planned Parenthood this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said that he didn't want to "violate anybody's conscience." When a reporter asked how this relates to birth control, Price did not give a definite answer.

"We're working through all of those issues," he said. "As you know, many of those were through the rule-making process, and we're working through that. So that's not a part of this piece of legislation right here."

So this is something that could easily change in the second "phase" of the health care plan, when rules are changed.

"Preventative services [the category that includes contraception] hasn't been touched, but we expect those to be touched probably via regulation," said Laurie Sobel, associate director for women's health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The end of gender rating

Prior to Obamacare, women were often charged more for the same health plans as men. The rationale was that women tend to use more health care services than men.

However, Obamacare banned the practice, and that ban seems unlikely to change, as the GOP cites nondiscrimination as one of the bill's selling points:

"Our proposal specifically prohibits any gender discrimination. Women will have equal access to the same affordable, quality health care options as men do under our proposal."

See original article Here.

Source:

Kurtzleben, D. (10 March 2017). Here's What The GOP Bill Would (And Wouldn't) Change About Women's Health Care. [Web Blog Post] Retrieved from address http://www.npr.org/2017/03/10/519461271/heres-what-the-gop-bill-would-and-wouldnt-change-for-womens-healthcare


GOP’s Health Bill Could Undercut Some Coverage In Job-Based Insurance

Thanks to the new legislation passed by Congress health care is on the verge of changing as we know it. Check out this interesting article by Michelle Andrews from Kaiser Health News on how these changes to healthcare will affect Americans who get their healthcare through an employer.

This week, I answer questions about how the Republican proposal to overhaul the health law could affect job-based insurance and what the penalties for not having continuous coverage mean. Perhaps anticipating a spell of uninsurance, another reader wondered if people can rely on the emergency department for routine care.

Q: Will employer-based health care be affected by the new Republican plan?

The American Health Care Act that recently passed the House would fundamentally change the individual insurance market, and it could significantly alter coverage for people who get coverage through their employers too.

The bill would allow states to opt out of some of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, including no longer requiring plans sold on the individual market to cover 10 “essential health benefits,” such as hospitalization, drugs and maternity care.

Small businesses (generally companies with 50 or fewer employees) in those states would also be affected by the change.

Plans offered by large employers have never been required to cover the essential health benefits, so the bill wouldn’t change their obligations. Many of them, however, provide comprehensive coverage that includes many of these benefits.

But here’s where it gets tricky. The ACA placed caps on how much consumers can be required to pay out-of-pocket in deductibles, copays and coinsurance every year, and they apply to most plans, including large employer plans. In 2017, the spending limit is $7,150 for an individual plan and $14,300 for family coverage. Yet there’s a catch: The spending limits apply only to services covered by the essential health benefits. Insurers could charge people any amount for services deemed nonessential by the states.

Similarly, the law prohibits insurers from imposing lifetime or annual dollar limits on services — but only if those services are related to the essential health benefits.

In addition, if any single state weakened its essential health benefits requirements, it could affect large employer plans in every state, analysts say. That’s because these employers, who often operate in multiple states, are allowed to pick which state’s definition of essential health benefits they want to use in determining what counts toward consumer spending caps and annual and lifetime coverage limits.

“If you eliminate [the federal essential health benefits] requirement you could see a lot of state variation, and there could be an incentive for companies that are looking to save money to pick a state” with skimpier requirements, said Sarah Lueck, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Q: I keep hearing that nobody in the United States is ever refused medical care — that whether they can afford it or not a hospital can’t refuse them treatment. If this is the case, why couldn’t an uninsured person simply go to the front desk at the hospital and ask for treatment, which by law can’t be denied, such as, “I’m here for my annual physical, or for a screening colonoscopy”?

If you are having chest pains or you just sliced your hand open while carving a chicken, you can go to nearly any hospital with an emergency department, and — under the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) — the staff is obligated to conduct a medical exam to see if you need emergency care. If so, they must try to stabilize your condition, whether or not you have insurance.

The key word here is “emergency.” If you’re due for a colonoscopy to screen for cancer, unless you have symptoms such as severe pain or rectal bleeding, emergency department personnel wouldn’t likely order the exam, said Dr. Jesse Pines, a professor of emergency medicine and health policy at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.

“It’s not the standard of care to do screening tests in the emergency department,” Pines said, noting in that situation the appropriate next step would be to refer you to a local gastroenterologist who could perform the exam.

Even though the law requires hospitals to evaluate anyone who comes in the door, being uninsured doesn’t let people off the hook financially. You’ll still likely get bills from the hospital and physicians for any care you receive, Pines said.

Q: The Republican proposal says people who don’t maintain “continuous coverage” would have to pay extra for their insurance. What does that mean? 

Under the bill passed by the House, people who have a break in their health insurance coverage of more than 63 days in a year would be hit with a 30 percent premium surcharge for a year after buying a new plan on the individual market.

In contrast, under the ACA’s “individual mandate,” people are required to have health insurance or pay a fine equal to the greater of 2.5 percent of their income or $695 per adult. They’re allowed a break of no more than two continuous months every year before the penalty kicks in for the months they were without coverage.

The continuous coverage requirement is the Republicans’ preferred strategy to encourage people to get health insurance. But some analysts have questioned how effective it would be. They point out that, whereas the ACA penalizes people for not having insurance on an ongoing basis, the AHCA penalty kicks in only when people try to buy coverage after a break. It could actually discourage healthy people from getting back into the market unless they’re sick.

In addition, the AHCA penalty, which is based on a plan’s premium, would likely have a greater impact on older people, whose premiums are relatively higher, and those with lower incomes, said Sara Collins, a vice president at the Commonwealth Fund, who authored an analysis of the impact of the penalties.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Andrews M. (2017 May 23). GOP's health bill could undercut some coverage in job-based insurance[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://khn.org/news/gops-health-bill-could-undercut-some-coverage-in-job-based-insurance/


top secret folder

Ear To The Door: 5 Things Being Weighed In Secret Health Bill Also Weigh It Down

With Congress passing the American Health Care Act a few weeks, the legislation now shifts to the Senate for its final approval. Take a look at this article by Julie Rovner from Kaiser Health News and find out where we are at on the healthcare repeal process and which aspects of the AHCA legislation the Senate is bound to change.

Anyone following the debate over the “repeal and replace” of the Affordable Care Act knows the 13 Republican senators writing the bill are meeting behind closed doors.

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continues to push for a vote before the July 4 Senate recess, Washington’s favorite parlor game has become guessing what is, or will be, in the Senate bill.

Spoiler: No one knows what the final Senate bill will look like — not even those writing it.

“It’s an iterative process,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Politico, adding that senators in the room are sending options to the Congressional Budget Office to try to figure out in general how much they would cost. Those conversations between senators and the CBO — common for lawmakers working on major, complex pieces of legislation — sometimes prompt members to press through and other times to change course.

Although specifics, to the extent there are any, have largely stayed secret, some of the policies under consideration have slipped out, and pressure points of the debate are fairly clear. Anything can happen, but here’s what we know so far:

1. Medicaid expansion

The Republicans are determined to roll back the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The question is, how to do it. The ACA called for an expansion of the Medicaid program for those with low incomes to everyone who earns less than 133 percent of poverty (around $16,000 a year for an individual), with the federal government footing much of the bill. The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the expansion was optional for states, but 31 have done so, providing new coverage to an estimated 14 million people.

The Republican bill passed by the House on May 4 would phase out the federal funding for those made eligible by the ACA over two years, beginning in 2020. But Republican moderates in the Senate want a much slower end to the additional federal aid. Several have suggested that they could accept a seven-year phaseout.

Keeping the federal expansion money flowing that long, however, would cut into the bill’s budget savings. That matters: In order to protect the Senate’s ability to pass the bill under budget rules that require only a simple majority rather than 60 votes, the bill’s savings must at least match those of the House version. Any extra money spent on Medicaid expansion would have to be cut elsewhere.

2. Medicaid caps

A related issue is whether and at what level to cap federal Medicaid spending. Medicaid currently covers more than 70 million low-income people. Medicaid covers half of all births and half of the nation’s bill for long-term care, including nursing home stays. Right now, the federal government matches whatever states spend at least 50-50, and provides more matching funds for less wealthy states.

The House bill would, for the first time, cap the amount the federal government provides to states for their Medicaid programs. The CBO estimated that the caps would put more of the financial burden for the program on states, who would respond by a combination of cutting payments to health care providers like doctors and hospitals, eliminating benefits for patients and restricting eligibility.

The Medicaid cap may or may not be included in the Senate bill, depending on whom you ask. However, sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations say the real sticking point is not whether or not to impose a cap — they want to do that. The hurdles: how to be fair to states that get less federal money and how fast the caps should rise.

Again, if the Senate proposal is more generous than the House’s version, it will be harder to meet the bill’s required budget targets.

3. Restrictions on abortion coverage and Planned Parenthood

The senators are actively considering two measures that would limit funding for abortions, though it is not clear if either would be allowed to remain in the bill according to the Senate’s rules. The Senate Parliamentarian, who must review the bill after the senators complete it but before it comes to the floor, will decide.

The House-passed bill would ban the use of federal tax credits to purchase private coverage that includes abortion as a benefit. This is a key demand for a large portion of the Republican base. But the Senate version of the bill must abide by strict rules that limit its content to provisions that directly impact the federal budget. In the past, abortion language in budget bills has been ruled out of order.

4. Reading between the lines

A related issue is whether House language to temporarily bar Planned Parenthood from participating in the Medicaid program will be allowed in the Senate.

While the Parliamentarian allowed identical language defunding Planned Parenthood to remain in a similar budget bill in 2015, it was not clear at the time that Planned Parenthood would have been the only provider affected by the language. Planned Parenthood backers say they will argue to the Parliamentarian that the budget impact of the language is “merely incidental” to the policy aim and therefore should not be allowed in the Senate bill.

5. Insurance market reforms

Senators are also struggling with provisions of the House-passed bill that would allow states to waive certain insurance requirements in the Affordable Care Act, including those laying out “essential” benefits that policies must cover, and those banning insurers from charging sicker people higher premiums. That language, as well as an amendment seeking to ensure more funding to help people with preexisting conditions, was instrumental in gaining enough votes for the bill to pass the House.

Eliminating insurance regulations imposed by the ACA are a top priority for conservatives. “Conservatives would like to clear the books of Obamacare’s most costly regulations and free the states to regulate their markets how they wish,” wrote Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who is one of the 13 senators negotiating the details of the bill, in an op-ed in May.

However, budget experts suggest that none of the insurance market provisions is likely to clear the Parliamentarian hurdle as being primarily budget-related.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Rovner J. (2017 June 16). Ear to the door: 5 things being weighed in secret health bill also weigh it down [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://khn.org/news/ear-to-the-door-5-things-being-weighed-in-secret-health-bill-also-weigh-it-down/


HSAs on the Rise, but Employees Need to Know More About Them

Are your employees aware of the many benefits and features associated with HSAs? Check out this great article by Marlene Y. Satter from Benefits Pro on why it is important employees are knowledgeable about HSAs, so they can prepare for their health care expenses while planning for retirement.

According to Fidelity Investments, health savings accounts — and the assets within them — are rising quickly, as both employers and employees try to find ways to pay for health care. Still, a number of the features of HSAs are still underutilized.

While Fidelity says that assets in its HSAs rose 50 percent in the past year, now topping $2 billion, and the number of individual account holders rose 46 percent during the same period to 657,000, it points out more work still needs to be done on showing employees the advantages of such accounts.

Since it’s estimated that couples retiring today could need $260,000 — perhaps even more — to cover their health care costs during retirement, the need for a way to save just for health care expenses, aside from other retirement expenses, is becoming more urgent.

HSAs offer a tax-advantaged way to set aside more money than a retirement account alone provides — and people who have both tend to save more overall, with 2016 statistics indicating that people who had both defined contribution and HSA accounts saved on average 10.7 percent of their annual income in the retirement account. Those with just a DC account saved on average 8.2 percent in it.

People are mostly satisfied with HSAs — 80 percent say they are, while 76 percent are satisfied with the ease of using it HSA for medical expenses, 77 percent with the quality of their health care coverage and 77 percent with how the plan helps them manage their health care costs.

But that doesn’t mean they’ve got all the ins and outs figured out yet; 39 percent mistakenly believe that they’ll lose unspent HSA contributions at the end of the year. Yet unlike contributions to health flexible spending accounts (FSA), unspent contributions to HSAs roll over from year to year.

Still, employees are learning that HSAs can provide them a means of saving that’s not restricted to cash. While it’s still not common, more people are putting HSA money into investments that can then grow toward covering longer-term health expenses, but employers, says Fidelity, can do more to educate workers on such an option. Nationally, only 15 percent of all HSA assets are invested outside of cash.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Satter M. (2017 May 26). HSAs on the rise, but employees need to know more about them [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/05/26/hsas-on-the-rise-but-employees-need-to-know-more-a?ref=hp-news


Helping Your Employees Protect Against Identity Theft

Are you doing enough to help your employees protect themselves from identity theft? Make sure to take a look at this article by Irene Saccoccio from SHRM on what employers can do to protect their employees from identity theft.

Social Security is committed to securing today and tomorrow for you and your employees. Protecting your identity and information is important to us. Security is part of our name and we take that seriously.

Identity theft is when someone steals your personally identifiable information (PII) and pretends to be you. It happens to millions of Americans every year. Once identity thieves have your personal information they can open bank or credit card accounts, file taxes, or make new purchases in your name. You can help prevent identity theft by:

  • Securing your Social Security card and not carrying it in your wallet;
  • Not responding to unsolicited requests for personal information (your name, birthdate, social security number, or bank account number) by phone, mail, or online;
  • Shredding mail containing PII instead of throwing it in the trash; and
  • Reviewing your receipts. Promptly compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.

It is important that your employees take the necessary steps to protect their Social Security number. Usually, just knowing the number is enough, so it is important not to carry your Social Security card or other documents unless they are needed for a specific purpose. If someone asks for your employees’ number, they should ask why, how it will be used, and what will happen if they refuse. When hired, your employees should provide you with the correct Social Security number to ensure their records and tax information are accurate.

If your employees suspect someone else is using their Social Security number, they should visit IdentityTheft.gov to report identity theft and get a recovery plan. IdentityTheft.gov guides them through every step of the recovery process. It’s a one-stop resource managed by the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency. You can also call 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338); TTY 1-866-653-4261.

Your employee should also contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and file an online complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

Don’t let your employees fall victim to identity theft. Advise them to read our publication Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number or read our Frequently Asked Questions for more information. If you or an employee suspects that they’re a victim of identity theft, don’t wait, report it right away!

See the original article Here.

Source:

Saccoccio I. (2017 May ). Helping your employees protect against identity theft [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://blog.shrm.org/blog/helping-your-employees-protect-against-identity-theft


3 HSA Facts Employers Need to Know

With the passing of the AHCA, HSAs are on the verge of changing as we know it. Take a look at this informative article from Benefits Pro about what changes to HSAs means for employers by Whitney Richard Johnson.

Health Savings Accounts offer employers a way to help employees with health care costs without being as involved as they might be with, say, a Flexible Saving Account. But what are some other advantages?

And what are employers' responsibilities? Although employers will want to research more indepth about HSAs, here is a quick look at some basic HSA questions and answers:

#1: What are the advantages to an employer of offering an HDHP and HSA combination?

The benefits of offering employees an HDHP and HSA vary dramatically depending upon the circumstances. A major strength of offering an HSA program is flexibility.

Employers can be very generous and fully fund an HSA and also pay for the HDHP coverage. Alternatively, employers can also use the flexibility of the HSA to allow for the employer to reduce its involvement in benefits and put more responsibility onto the employee.

Generally, employers switch to HDHPs and HSAs to save money on the health insurance premiums (or to reduce the rate of increase) and to embrace the concept of consumer driven healthcare. The list below elaborates on strengths of HDHPs and HSAs.

Lower Premiums. HDHPs, with their high deductibles, are usually less expensive than traditional insurance.

Consumer-driven health care. Many employers believe in the concept of consumer-driven healthcare. If an employer makes employees responsible for the relatively high deductible, the employees may be more careful and inquisitive into their health care purchases. Combining this with an HSA where employees can keep unused money increases employees’ desire to use health care dollars as if they were their own money – because it is their own money.

Lower administration burden. Given the individual account nature of HSAs, much of the administrative burden for HSAs is switched from the employer (or paid third-party administrator) to the employee and the HSA custodian as compared to health FSAs and HRAs. This increased burden on the employee comes with significant perks: more control over how and when the money is spent, increased privacy, and better ability to add money to the HSA outside of the employer.

Tax deductibility at employee level. The ability of employees to make their own HSA contributions directly and still get a tax deduction is advantageous. Although it is better for employees to contribute through an employer, an employee can make contributions directly. An employer may not offer pretax payroll deferral or it may be too late for an employee to defer. For example, an employee that decides to maximize his prior year HSA contribution in April as he is filing his taxes can still do so by making an HSA contribution directly with the HSA custodian.

HSA eligibility. Becoming eligible for an HSA is a benefit that also stands on its own. Although not all employees will embrace HSAs, savvy employees that understand the benefits of HSAs will value a program that enables them to have an HSA.

#2: What are the employer responsibilities regarding employee HSAs?

If an employer offers pretax employer contributions, then the employer has the following responsibilities:

Make comparable contributions. If the employer is making a pretax employer contribution (nonpayroll deferral), it must do so on a comparable basis.

Maintain Section 125 plan for payroll deferral. If the employer allows pretax payroll deferral, then the employer must adopt and maintain a Section 125 plan that provides for HSA deferrals. This includes collecting employee deferral elections, sending the deferred amount directly to the HSA custodian, and accounting for the money for tax-reporting purposes.

HSA eligibility and contribution limits. Employers should work with employees to determine eligibility for an HSA and the employee’s HSA contribution limit. Although it is legally the employee’s responsibility to determine his or her eligibility and contribution limit, a mistake in these areas generally involves work by both the employer and the employee to correct. Mistakes are best avoided by upfront communication. Also, the employer does have some responsibility not to exceed the known federal limits. An employer may not know if a particular employee is ineligible for an HSA due to other health coverage but an employer is expected to know the current HSA limits for the year and not exceed those limits.

Tax reporting. The employer needs to properly complete employees’ W-2 forms and its own tax-filing regarding HSAs (HSA employer contributions are generally deductible as a benefit under IRC Section 106).

Business owner rules. Business owners generally are not treated as employees and employers need to review HSA contributions for business owners for proper tax reporting.

Detailed rules. There are various detailed rules that fall within the responsibility of the employer that are too numerous to list here but include items such as: (1) holding employer contributions for an employee that fails to open an HSA, (2) not being able to “recoup” money mistakenly made to an employee’s HSA, (3) actually making employer HSA contributions into employees HSAs on a timely basis, and (4) other detailed rules.

#3: How do employers switching from traditional insurance to HDHPs explain the change to employees?

Although there is no certain answer to this question, a straight-forward and honest approach to the change will likely work best.

Changing from traditional insurance to a high deductible plan with an HSA can be significant because employees likely face a higher deductible (although traditional health plan deductibles have been increasing to the point they are close to HDHPs).

Often the largest obstacle to the change is that employees feel something is being taken away from them. An employer that can show that the actual dollars contributed by the employer are level, or increased, versus the previous year helps a lot – especially if the employer makes a substantial HSA contribution for employees.

If the employer is making the change to reduce its health care expenses, then the employer will have to explain and justify that change to employees to get employees’ support for the change (e.g., the business is in a tough spot due to a difficult economy, etc.).

Depending on the facts, the change will likely be an improvement for some employees and HSA eligibility provides benefits to all employees. Some specific benefits include the following:

Saving money. The HDHP is generally significantly less expensive. Depending upon the circumstances, this fact often saves not only the employer money but also the employee. Highlighting the savings will help convince employees the change is positive. Although an actual reduction of the employee’s portion of the premium expense may be unlikely given increasing health insurance premiums, explaining that without the change the employee’s portion of the premium would have increased by more will help reduce tension.

Tax savings. The HSA enables tax savings. For some employees these tax savings are significant.

Control. HSAs give individuals control over their money and accordingly their doctor and treatment choices.

Flexibility. An HSA is very flexible and allows for some employees to put aside a large amount and get a large tax benefit. For those that prefer not to do so, the HSA allows that as well. Plus, even better, the HSA allows employees to change their mind mid-year. If an employee believes they are not going to need any medical services, the employee needs to contribute only a minimum deposit to an HSA. If it turns out that the employee does incur some medical treatment, the employee can contribute at that time and still get the tax benefits. Employees are often frustrated by HSA rules because of some confusion, but when explained that the rules are very flexible they appreciate HSAs more.

Distribution reasons. HSAs allow for more distribution reasons than FSAs: namely to pay for health insurance premiums if unemployed and receiving COBRA, to pay for some health insurance premiums after age sixty-five, to use for any purpose penalty-free after age sixty-five, to carry forward a large balance, and more.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Johnson W. (2017 May 11). 3 HSA facts employers need to know [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/05/11/3-hsa-facts-employers-need-to-know?kw=3+HSA+facts+employers+need+to+know&et=editorial&bu=BenefitsPRO&cn=20170514&src=EMC-Email_editorial&pt=Benefits+Weekend+PRO&page_all=1


6 Actions Employers Can Take to Boost Retirement Savings

Preparing your employees for their retirement has become a major responsibility for employers. From education to offering the right program for your employees to start saving, employers now more than ever must be prepared for everything involved with retirement. Take a look at this great article from Benefits Pro on what you can do to prepare yourself and your employees for retirement by Marlene Y. Satter.

Lots of people point to self-indulgent millennials or debt-beleaguered GenXers or negligent boomers as the reason for the retirement crisis and the cause of their own hardships.

But a Morningstar study instead points the finger at employers, and their disinterest in working harder to improve retirement plans so that they elicit the best response from employees.

A blog post from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College highlights the study and points out that employers could improve retirement outcomes for their workers—if they were sufficiently interested in doing so—based on research already in hand.

Employers who offer 401(k)s to their workers made some progress, mostly, along the path of automatic enrollment, the blog post notes, during the early 2000s, with notable success: “Today,” it says, “nearly 90 percent of automatically enrolled employees stay where they are put, while only about half of workers sign up to save when 401(k) enrollment is strictly voluntary.”

But progress along those lines has ground to a halt, it points out, and because of the huge variations among 401(k) plans there are plenty of cracks in the private system through which employees are all too ready to fall—and employers apparently too ready to let them.

The Morningstar report points out that even when companies do use auto-enrollment, plans aren’t designed well enough to encourage an adequate level of savings—or, in fact, actually discourage it.

The report, titled “Save More Today: Improving Retirement Savings Rates with Carrots, Sticks, and Nudges,” highlights a number of ways in which plan features actually work against employees saving enough to actually retire on—but the flip side of that is that those features can be tweaked so that they work for the employee’s benefit, and turned into those carrots, sticks and nudges.

And it doesn’t even have to be expensive, since many employers are concerned about the outlay for a retirement plan and are often reluctant, at best, to add to it.

Here are 6 ways employers can encourage their employees to save more for retirement—and at limited, or no, additional cost.

6. Auto-enrollment.

If a company’s plan doesn’t have automatic enrollment, it should, since the results are so outstanding.

Lots of people fail to sign up, if “voluntary” enrollment is required, due to procrastination, preoccupation or other human failings—but if it’s an automatic feature, they get swept up and are saving for retirement almost before they know it.

Says the report: “[P]articipation rates are significantly higher in plans with automatic enrollment (compared to voluntary enrollment schemes).” It adds, “[E]arly research by Madrian and Shea (2001) noted a 48-percentage-point increase in 401(k) participation among new employees after the adoption of automatic enrollment.”

That’s a small action to have such a large effect.

5. Automatic reenrollment.

The marked effect of auto-enrollment on participation has a corollary: existing eligible employees aren’t usually included when the feature is added to a plan.

And this is not unusual.

In fact, the study cites two others that find the inclusion of “reenrollment”—adding existing employees to a plan—is “relatively uncommon,” with the studies finding only 15 percent or 12 percent of plans offering that opportunity.

However, adding “reenrollment” when an auto-enrollment feature is added can significantly boost the participation of existing employees.

4. Higher default savings rate.

An aggressive default savings rate will get employees saving more from the very beginning—and although employers say that workers will be reluctant to accept a rate of anywhere from 6–8–10 percent rather than the more common 3 percent, that’s contrary to study findings.

In fact, says the study, “Roughly half of investors tend to accept the initial default savings rate regardless of level, up to 6 percent using empirical data and up to 12 percent based on the online survey.”

And that’s not all: it adds that “Participants who reject the default rate tend to select higher savings rates, on average, as default rates rise,” which means they are saving even more.

This can be particularly important since, the report says, many employers are more concerned with the participation rate than the savings rate—but the savings rate is what will save employees come retirement.

3. Mandatory auto-escalation.

Automatic escalation, the study reports, “is commonly offered in conjunction with automatic enrollment (e.g., 62 percent of plans offering automatic enrollment also offered automatic escalation according to Aon.”

But only a third to a half of plans actually offer it, despite its benefits—and 62 percent of those who do provide it on an opt-in, rather than an opt-out, basis.

That design is poor on two counts: not only does it not “sweep” everyone into an automatic increase in savings, people who have to opt in don’t always keep doing so.

Just 11 percent, the report says, stay in the plan when it is opt-in, compared with 68 percent who do so when it is opt-out.”

And then there’s the issue of whether the auto-escalation rate is set high enough. Since workers will often accept whatever the default is, setting the rate higher rather than lower would push them to save more and better prepare them for retirement.

2. Matching contributions.

Matching contributions are a thorny issue, since driving up the participation rate will require more in contributions.

As a result, employers might not only be reluctant to boost the participation rate too much, they’re not all that anxious to increase their matching contributions either.

But again, a tweak can change employee behavior without a large increase in cost.

One option is to stretch the match out further; for instance, matching 25 percent of the first 8 percent of employee deferrals instead of matching 50 percent of the first 4 percent employee deferrals. Another option is moving to a discretionary match approach.

1. In-plan advice.

Plans that provide employees with advice can also have a marked effect on savings behavior, with higher recommended savings levels from in-plan financial advisors.

In fact, 90 percent of participants who engaged an in-plan advice solution increasing their savings rates—by about 2 percentage points on average.

“Additionally,” the report says, “higher savings recommendations result in higher implemented savings levels (i.e., more is better).”

This is one area in which it’s not clear whether opting in or having to opt out is more effective.

Perhaps it’s that those who are willing to save more seek out guidance on how much to save.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Satter M. (2017 May 15). 6 actions employers can take to boost retirement savings [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/05/15/6-actions-employers-can-take-to-boost-retirement-s?ref=hp-top-stories&page_all=1