Two opportunities created by association health plans

The new regulations around association health plans (AHPs) — which loosen restrictions for small businesses, franchises and associations — create two distinct opportunities in the benefits industry.

The first is for brokers, who will be crucial advisors to employers eligible for the new coverage options now available.

The second opportunity is for benefits and HR tech vendors, who will be instrumental in managing the transactional and administrative challenges that would otherwise hinder AHP success.

What challenges do association health plans represent? Let’s consider an example — the Nashville Hot Chicken restaurant franchise.

Let’s say Nashville Hot Chicken has 1,000 franchisees, each with five full-time employees. Before AHP options became available to this organization, these five-employee groups would either have had to pursue small group coverage, or employees would have had to find individual plans.

Both options likely would have been prohibitively expensive for the organization or the employees. With the new AHP regulations, however, these 1,000 franchisees may be able to pull all 5,000 workers together and create a large group benefits plan.

In doing so, they would reap the advantages of collective purchasing, just like large groups do. However, this AHP would not work like a regular group plan.

If a regular group has 5,000 employees, they would all be part of a centrally-operated payroll system and the insurance companies would receive just one check for all of the employees enrolled at the group. But under an AHP of franchisees, all the payroll systems would operate independently, and there is no clear, centralized entity to pay carriers.

This creates a massive administrative headache for Nashville Hot Chicken corporate, as well as all the individual franchise owners. In other words, who is going to manage the AHP?

Here’s where the brokers come in. Employers need brokers to walk them through all the complexities of AHPs, including sourcing carriers, third-party vendors, and compliance needs.

It would also be incredibly impractical to manage 5,000 employees through 1,000 separate businesses without a benefits and HR platform.

But brokers can provide a solution to this challenge by adopting a platform. With a benefits and HR system, the various administrative differences from franchisee to franchisee can be accounted for, while still allowing the 5,000-life group to enroll in the group offering.

By removing the administrative headache, benefits tech makes AHPs a real option for Nashville Hot Chicken. But it also gives the tech-savvy broker a clear leg up on the competition. A broker without a tech solution will be at a severe disadvantage for Nashville Hot Chicken’s business compared to a broker who has a platform.

So as small employers, franchisees and industry associations band together for group coverage, benefits tech can give brokers a competitive differentiator for this new business segment.

Read the article.

Source:
Tolbert A. (1 March 2018). "Two opportunities created by association health plans" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/03/01/two-opportunities-created-by-association-health-pl/


Boring Little Miracles

From SHRM, this article goes into the importance of "boring little miracles" in the workplace


The success of an organization is often borne on the backs of people performing boring little miracles.

Boring little miracles don’t make headlines. They, perhaps purposely so, fly under the radar, disguised as everyday tasks performed under pressure or work that doesn’t feel like much to the person performing it. People performing boring little miracles get the job done and then pack up and go home like it was no big deal.

But it IS a big deal.

Boring little miracles add up over time. They are the compounding interest of organizational productivity, and they are performed by people who invest early and often. These miracles sneak up on you and can quickly become the expectation rather than the exception.

Boring little miracles are still miracles.

They aren’t jobs or tasks that are easy, they just appear that way because of the person doing the work. Highly experienced and highly trained professionals doing what they do don’t have to sweat the work that other people dread. They just do it.

“Hey, she’s always been good at this stuff”," or “Well, he’s the only one who knows how to do it,” you might hear around the office. But you shouldn’t take it for granted.

Recognize and reward the behavior you want to see more of. Make space for the work that grabs headlines AND the work that doesn’t in your rewards and recognition structure. Pay special attention to the people who prefer to stay out of the spotlight; honor their work and contributions because it is important, not necessarily because it grabs attention.

Make recognition for this work specific. Make it count.

Do it well enough, and your team and organization might just become a boring little miracle itself.

Read the article.

Source:
Escobar C. (26 February 2018). "Boring Little Miracles" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://blog.shrm.org/blog/boring-little-miracles


The decline of the employment drug test

Employers are struggling to hire workers in tightening U.S. job market. Marijuana is now legal in nine states and Washington, D.C., meaning more than one in five American adults can eat, drink, smoke or vape as they please. The result is the slow decline of pre-employment drug tests, which for decades had been a requirement for new recruits in industries ranging from manufacturing to finance.

As of the beginning of 2018, Excellence Health Inc., a Las Vegas-based health care company with around 6,000 employees, no longer drug tests people coming to work for the pharmaceutical side of the business. The company stopped testing for marijuana two years ago. “We don’t care what people do in their free time,” said Liam Meyer, a company spokesperson. “We want to help these people, instead of saying: ‘Hey, you can’t work for us because you used a substance,’” he added. The company also added a hotline for any workers who might be struggling with drug use.

Last month, AutoNation Inc., the largest U.S. auto dealer, announced it would no longer refuse job applicants who tested positive for weed. The Denver Post, owned by Digital First Media, ended pre-employment drug testing for all non-safety sensitive positions in September 2016.

So far, companies in states that have legalized either recreational or medicinal marijuana are leading the way on dropping drug tests. A survey last year by the Mountain States Employers Council of 609 Colorado employers found that the share of companies testing for marijuana use fell to 66 percent, down from 77 percent the year before.

Drug testing restricts the job pool, and in the current tight labor market, that’s having an impact on productivity and growth. In surveys done by the Federal Reserve last year, employers cited an inability by applicants to pass drug tests among reasons for difficulties in hiring. Failed tests reached an all-time high in 2017, according to data from Quest Diagnostics Inc. That’s likely to get worse as more people partake in state-legalized cannabis.

“The benefits of at least reconsidering the drug policy on behalf of an employer would be pretty high,” said Jeremy Kidd, a professor at Mercer Law School, who wrote a paper on the economics of workplace drug testing. “A blanket prohibition can’t possibly be the most economically efficient policy.”

Companies are having a hard enough time hiring, with unemployment hovering around 4 percent. “Employers are really strapped and saying ‘We’re going to forgive certain things,’” said James Reidy, a lawyer that works with employers on their human resources policies. Reidy knows of a half-dozen other large employers that have quietly changed their policies in recent years. Not all companies want to advertise the change, fearing it might imply they are soft on drugs. (Even former FBI director James Comey in 2014 half-joked about the need for the bureau to re-evaluate its drug-testing policy to attract the best candidates.)

Why the change? Pre-employment testing is no longer worth the expense in a society increasingly accepting of drug use. A Gallup poll in October found that 64 percent of Americans favor legalization. That’s the most since the company first started asking the question in 1969, when only 12 percent supported changing the plant’s status. Drug tests costs from $30 to $50 a pop, but the potential costs to an employer are far greater than the actual test.

In addition to helping ease the labor market, eliminating drug testing could have even broader benefits for the economy, said Kidd. Employers could hire the best, theoretically most-productive workers, he said, instead of rejecting people based on their recreational habits. Companies have said they lose out to foreign competitors because they can’t find people who can pass drugs tests, a particularly acute problem in the areas most affected by the opioid crisis.

Some jobs, such as those involving the use of heavy machinery, will always require drug tests. Excellence Health still drug-tests any employee working on a government contract, even in states where weed is legal. Companies are also reserving the right to test after an accident or if an employee comes to work notably impaired.

Not all companies are ready to change course. Restaurant Brands International Inc., which owns Burger King, hasn’t altered its corporate marijuana policy, said Chief Executive Officer Daniel Schwartz. Ford Motor Co. still treats pot as an illegal substance, according to a company spokeswoman.

Weed-averse employers have a notable ally: Attorney General Jeff Sessions. A longtime opponent of legalization, Sessions rescinded in January the Obama-era policies that enabled state-legalized cannabis industries to flourish. The uncertainty caused by the Justice Department’s actions may discourage companies from making changes.

Employers can also get discounts on workers’ compensation insurance for maintaining a “drug-free workplace” by, in part, drug-testing workers. But the types of workplaces forgoing pre-employment tests already enjoy relatively small savings. A job in an office setting, for example, won’t have very many workers’ compensation claims, compared to a factory. The money saved by meeting the qualifications for a drug-free zone isn’t worth it.

“We assume that a certain level of employees are going to be partaking on the weekends,” said Reidy, the employment lawyer. “We don’t care. We’re going to exclude a whole group of people, and we desperately need workers.”

Read the article.

Source:
Greenfield R, Kaplan J. (5 March 2018). "The decline of the employment drug test" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/03/05/the-decline-of-the-employment-drug-test/


3 simple ways to get motivated

Getting and staying motivated can be tough, whether you are coming back from vacation, dealing with something you’d rather avoid or getting focused on a Monday. Not every day will be super productive, and there is no sense in punishing yourself because of it, but there are three great ways to get back on track.

One way is to take the simplest task and make it even simpler. For example, if you have to write an email, then focus on doing the first sentence. Make writing the first sentence your goal. It may feel ridiculously easy, which is the point: Once you write that first sentence, then you will likely have the confidence to begin on the second sentence, and so on.

Another approach is to think about being in bed, tonight, right before you go to sleep. What did you accomplish today? Did you feel good about what got done? What do you wish you had gotten done so you wouldn’t be worried about doing it tomorrow? Now you can stop imagining: It’s wonderful that you still have the day ahead of you and you can get things done now.

Lastly, work on your next task for only five minutes. It will be a focused five minutes, which means no multitasking. Set an alarm as necessary. Chances are that the five minutes will go by quickly and, if you like, you can set the alarm for another five minutes.

Our motivation is usually hampered by either inertia, like when we have taken a break, or by timidity, like when we are intimidated by a major goal. By using these three methods, you can move towards success and focus on the next small step towards your big successful goal.

Read the article.

Source:
Brown D. (21 February 2018). "3 simple ways to get motivated" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address http://workwell.unum.com/2018/02/3-simple-ways-to-get-motivated/


Employer Responsibility Under the Affordable Care Act

Here's a helpful chart from the Kaiser Family Foundation to decipher the penalties employers may have for not offering ACA coverage in 2018.


The Affordable Care Act does not require businesses to provide health benefits to their workers, but applicable large employers may face penalties if they don’t make affordable coverage available. The employer shared responsibility provision of the Affordable Care Act penalizes employers who either do not offer coverage or do not offer coverage that meets minimum value and affordability standards. These penalties apply to firms with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees. This flowchart illustrates how those employer responsibilities work.

Read the article.

Source:
Kaiser Family Foundation (5 March 2018). "Employer Responsibility Under the Affordable Care Act" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.kff.org/infographic/employer-responsibility-under-the-affordable-care-act/


Strengthening the Relationship between Education and Employers: Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., Appointed Chair of President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs

From the SHRM CEO, here is his opinion on the newly appointed Chair of President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs.


Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, president and chief executive officer of the Society for Human Resource Management, was appointed chair of the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) at a White House ceremony today.

In accepting the volunteer advisory appointment to the White House Initiative on HBCUs by President Donald Trump, Taylor gave these remarks:

Thank you, President Trump and Secretary DeVos.

I appreciate the trust you have placed in me to chair the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs. It has been my life’s work to unleash talent — in all its forms, from wherever it originates.

As CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), I work with employers across the country.  No matter their industry, size or longevity, today’s organizations all share the same challenge — closing the skills gap while building diverse, inclusive, engaged workforces.

For each of them, the “War for Talent” will never end and, thanks to this incredibly strong economy we’re experiencing, it is now a way of life. And today, people are an organization’s only competitive edge.

Employers depend on our country’s educational institutions as a reliable source of the multi-faceted talent they need. HBCUs are a critical conduit for this talent. Every year, over 300,000 students turn to these institutions for their education and to prepare them for their careers.

This President’s Advisory Board can be the nexus between higher education institutions and employers. As a CEO (in both non-profit and for-profit businesses), a former Fortune 500 chief HR executive, and someone with over 7½ years of experience in the HBCU space, I am up for this very challenge.

At SHRM, we are the experts on people and work and on building powerfully diverse organizational cultures that drive success. SHRM’s 300,000 members impact the lives of over 100 million people in the American workforce. SHRM is also an experienced academic partner, currently providing human resources curricula through 465 programs on 354 college campuses.

By working together, across all sectors, the HR profession, HBCUs and this Advisory Board can strengthen the relationship between education and employers. This Advisory Board can facilitate this critical relationship and support innovations in work-based learning opportunities for HBCU students. And as the world’s largest human resources association, SHRM can work with CEOs to connect industry to the diverse talent at these institutions.

This Board has an incredible opportunity to highlight HBCUs as wellsprings of the diverse talent American employers want and need today. HR and education, along with the support of this administration, must move together, forward.

Read the article.

Source:
 SHRM (27 February 2018). "Strengthening the Relationship between Education and Employers: Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., Appointed Chair of President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://blog.shrm.org/blog/strengthening-the-relationship-between-education-and-employers-johnny-c-tay

4 trends in financial education

Having financial wellness within your business is incredibly valuable for its overall growth and success. In this article, we are going to take a look at four trends contributing towards financial wellness in the employee benefits realm. Read more below.


Employees’ financial well-being is a hot topic these days. Right now, it’s top-of-mind with most employees. And it’s becoming more so with employers, not only because they are realizing the effect employee financial stress has on their bottom line, but also because industry surveys are revealing that employees want their employers to help by providing financial education and benefits.

Benefit advisers have a definite role in helping employers take steps toward building a more financially-secure workforce through financial wellness benefits. What should advisers expect to see this year in financial wellness benefits?

Industry research confirms the impact employee financial stress has on a company’s bottom line, including lower productivity, higher absenteeism and more healthcare claims. Only about half of employers offered some kind of counseling or instruction about money last year, according to SHRM and IFEBP surveys. Certainly, more employers will want to add financial education benefits this year. Benefit advisers can help by bringing this to the attention of their clients.

Another trend to consider is that financial education benefits are becoming more holistic. Financial education benefits should be more than planning for retirement and having access to supplemental medical benefits. Financial education benefits today should include financial education tools and resources as well as voluntary benefits that are designed to address both physical and emotional struggles while working to help employees with short-term financial needs.

Look for more student loan repayment benefits to become available in the industry this year. In 2017, more Americans were burdened by student loan debt than ever before. It’s a major concern among today’s millennials, the largest generation in today’s workforce. This year we likely will see more student loan repayment benefits appear, including programs in which employers are making contributions to loan balances or providing methods for employees to refinance their debt.

Increased attention to helping employees with short-term financial issues also will be a focus this year. In spite of the improved economy, employees are still struggling financially. Statistics show the alarming number of employees that continue to live paycheck-to-paycheck and do not have even $1,000 in savings for emergency needs.

While financial education benefits can help employees with budgeting and debt reduction needs, employers should offer additional voluntary benefits that provide employees some financial assistance in the short-term. Benefit advisers should bring short-term financial assistance voluntary benefits to the attention of their clients. Among these are employee purchase programs and low interest installment loans and credit that help employees avoid payday loans and cash advances from credit cards when they have emergency needs such as a broken refrigerator or unexpected out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Employers are realizing the important role that financial education plays in an employee’s overall well-being and will look to increase their financial wellness benefits on several levels. Benefit advisers not only can bring the need to the attention of their clients, but can also offer benefit recommendations to round out their clients’ employee benefits programs.

Read the original article.

Source:
Halkos E. (February 9th, 2018). "4 trends in financial education" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/4-trends-in-financial-education

5 things to know about this year’s flu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. You should get the flu shot anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Read the original article.

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

Level-funded plan uptake trickling down market

What are level-funded plans, and why are they becoming so popular? Allow this article to break down the facts for you.


A brighter light is being cast on level-funded group health plans as benefits decision-makers tackle open-enrollment season. Several industry observers say the trend is more pronounced given that the Affordable Care Act remains largely intact — for now.

There has been an ebb and flow to these self-insured underwritten plans over the past 18 months, says Michael Levin, CEO and co-founder of the healthcare data services firm Vericred. But with a fixed monthly rate for more predictability, he says they can drive 25% to 35% savings relative to fully-insured ACA plans that must comply with the medical loss ratio for a certain segment of the market.

Level funding typically leverages an aggregate and/or specific stop-loss product to cap exposure to catastrophic claims. These plans are offered by an independent third-party administrator or health insurance carrier through an administrative-services-only contract.

It’s best suited for companies with a very low risk profile comprised of young or healthy populations, according to Levin. And with low attachment, stop-loss coverage in most states, he explains that the plans have “very little downside risk from the group’s perspective.” Two exceptions are California and New York whose constraints on the stop-loss attachment point “essentially preclude level-funded plans from being offered” there, he adds.

The arrangement is trickling down market. “We’ve heard from carriers that will go down to seven employees, plus dependents, while others cut it off at 20 or 25,” he says.

David Reid, CEO of EaseCentral, sees a “resurgence of level funding” across more than 38,000 employers with less than 500 lives that his SaaS platform targets through about 6,000 health insurance brokers and 1,000 agencies. His average group is about 30 employees.

He’s also seeing more customers using individual-market plans rather than group coverage through Hixme’s digital healthcare benefits consulting platform. Under this approach, health plans are bundled with other specific types of insurance and financing as a line of credit to fill coverage gaps. Employer contributions are earmarked for individual-market plans, which are purchased through payroll deduction.

Read further.

Source:
Shutan B. (17 November 2017). "Level-funded plan uptake trickling down market" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/level-funded-plan-uptake-trickling-down-market?feed=00000152-175e-d933-a573-ff5ef1df0000

Fresh Brew: Brianna Matchett Loves Alreddy Cafe

Welcome to our brand new segment, Fresh Brew, where we will be exploring the delicious coffees, teas, and snacks of some of our employees! You can look forward to our Fresh Brew blog post on the first Friday of every month.

“Loving what you do everyday is key.”

Brianna Matchett loves working as the Marketing Coordinator at Saxon Financial Services.

She was born and raised here in Cincinnati, Ohio and loves the outdoors. When she’s not working, she enjoys exploring the city of Cincinnati and spending time with friends and family. Her favorite hobbies include staying in and watching movies with popcorn and taking on new challenges.

Favorite Brew

Chai Tea Latte

“I love grabbing my favorite brew from my local coffee shop, Alreddy Cafe.”

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Favorite Snack

BLT

“Mmm…BLT with two eggs from Alreddy Cafe goes perfectly with my latte.”

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