The unpaid caregiver crisis is landing on employers’ doorsteps

According to new data, 43 million Americans currently are tending to a family member in need, which can be both physically and emotionally taxing on the caregiver. Read this blog post for more on the unpaid caregiver crisis.


Scott Williams knows firsthand what it is like to support a sick relative. But even after spending 20 years tending to his ailing mother, he didn’t consider himself a caregiver.

“She suffered from multiple chronic conditions, but I never considered myself a caregiver,” he says. “I just thought I was a son who loved his mom.”

Williams, who is vice president and head of global patient advocacy and strategic partnerships at the biopharmaceutical company EMD Serono, realized that because he didn’t think of himself as a caregiver, he wasn’t able to take advantage of the benefit offerings his company had in place for these workers.

“Until I really started to think about it, I didn’t realize how burned out I really was,” Williams says. “I was in that sandwich generation, which is a situation that many caregivers find themselves in sometimes.”

Williams dilemma is not uncommon. There are 43 million Americans currently tending to a family member in need, according to data from LIMRA. AARP estimates that caring for a loved one can cost close to $7,000 out of pocket.

"I never considered myself a caregiver, I just thought I was a son who loved his mom.” Scott Williams

It is also both physically and emotionally taxing — 57% of caregivers need medical care or support for a mental health condition, according to an Embracing Carers survey. About 55% of caregivers say their own physical health has diminished, 54% say they don’t have time to tend to their own medical needs and 47% report feeling depressed.

The caregiving crisis puts employers in a unique position to offer benefits, policies and resources that can ease some of this stress. Indeed, there are some employers that already stepped up. For example, Starbucks launched a new caregiver benefit last year. Amgen and Brinker International, use digital tools to offer caregiving benefits to their workers.

Regardless, the need for employer-provided backup child, adult and senior care options is still largely unmet. Only 4% of employers offer backup childcare services and only 2% offer backup elder care, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management.

The breakdown of communication between the company and the worker may be keeping the majority of employees from accessing the assistance they need. If employers ignore this issue or simply fail to communicate with employees, it can end up becoming a burden that costs the company money or result in the loss of a worker.

But there are some steps employers can take. The first is to identify the responsibilities of the family caregiver so that employers can better address their needs. One of the biggest responsibilities caregivers face is the amount of time they have to spend transporting loved ones, says Ellen Kelsay, chief strategy officer for the National Business Group on Health citing recent data on the subject. These employees often have to leave work early, come in late or take off to get an ill family member to their doctor’s appointments.

“The financial impact is considerable, many of these employees are paying out of their own pocket to support the medical care of a loved one. So there is financial assistance that they need,” Kelsay says. “When you think about the impact on the employee, they [struggle from a] physical, mental and emotional wellbeing perspective.”

About half of unpaid caregivers work full time outside of their home and many have to take leaves of absence or cut back their work hours due to the demands of caring for a family member, LIMRA research shows. A significant portion of employees had to stop working in order to better care for their loved one — about 22% say they voluntarily quit their jobs, 18% had their employment terminated and 13% chose to retire early.

Unlimited PTO, remote work, shared sick time and an employee resource group are just a few offerings employers can offer staff, Williams says. For instance, EMD Serono created an employee resource group for caregivers, a peer to peer network where employers can find dedicated resources, while also having an exchange with colleagues who are going through similar situations.

But there is still more that can be done, Williams says. Training managers to be more understanding of an employee’s needs can go a long way toward bridging the gap. Another option companies should consider is enhancing employee assistance programs to include caregivers, he adds.

“One of the things we see employers doing that can really help is being able to raise the visibility of [the available] resources,” Williams says. “To really ensure that whether you’re a new employee or an established employee in an unpaid caregiving situation that you have access to them.”

SOURCE: Schiavo, A. (11 July 2019) "The unpaid caregiver crisis is landing on employers’ doorsteps" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/improving-caregiving-challenges-through-the-workplace


Giving onsite clinics an engagement booster shot

In efforts to reduce healthcare spend and increase the population's health, many employers are offering a variety of employee wellness services and programs. Read this blog post to learn more about increasing engagement in onsite clinics.


Employers of all sizes and industries are currently offering a variety of wellness services that include preventive, acute, primary, chronic disease and occupational healthcare programs at or near the worksite. These benefits are intended to reduce healthcare spend, increase the population’s health and productivity and positively impact recruitment and retention efforts.

In fact, according to two 2018 studies by the National Association of Worksite Health Centers, more than one-third of all employers and close to 50% of large firms are now operating worksite clinics. But just because employers offer such benefits doesn’t mean employees will take advantage of these services, even when they’re free.

But many employers are frustrated to find that 20% or less of the targeted or covered workers utilizes their programs — with millions of dollars in benefits wasted.

Failure can be caused by lack of promotion, inadequate incentives, poor communications or providers who don’t fit into the culture of the employer. However, one of the most significant problems than can undermine a benefit program, especially a worksite clinic, is when employees don’t trust that their personal health data will be confidential and fear it will be used for employment decisions.

Employers who achieve high benefit utilization build the foundation for success by informing their workforce, prior to a benefit or clinic being available and on an ongoing basis, of the many federal and state confidentiality and privacy laws that dictate who can receive personal and occupational health information and the limitations placed on employers.

Communications, posters, presentations and other marketing vehicles must assure employees that the employer will only see aggregate, not personal data from the offered benefit programs. Emphasize that the program’s or clinic’s medical providers will be the only individuals dealing with this information, and that by law they are legally and ethically obligated to keep this confidential.

Understanding the culture and labor-management dynamics of an organization are also critical to building trust. To increase use, it’s often best to market the program or facility under a new brand name, such as “The Healthy Life” or use the name of the provider who manages the program or clinic, rather than the employer’s name.

The physical design or location of a benefit program or clinic also needs to be kept in mind. Clinical or counseling activities should be separate from business offices or fitness centers where a person taking advantage of the benefit could be seen by their peers, managers and supervisors.

Achieving engagement in a health benefit program or clinic is key to its success, as well as obtaining the resources and support of senior management for its expansion and continuance. The design, marketing and location of benefit programs need to be well-planned so the workforce is confident that the confidentiality of their patient records will be maintained and not used for employment decisions.

SOURCE: Boress, L. (9 July 2019) "Giving onsite clinics an engagement booster shot" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-to-increase-employee-engagement-in-healthcare-benefits


PCORI Fee Is Due by July 31 for Self-Insured Health Plans

The annual fee for the federal Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is due July 31, 2019. Plans with terms ending after September 30, 2012, and before October 1, 2019, are required to pay an annual PCORI fee. Read this article from SHRM to learn more.


An earlier version of this article was posted on November 6, 2018

The next annual fee that sponsors of self-insured health plans must pay to fund the federal Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is due July 31, 2019.

The Affordable Care Act mandated payment of an annual PCORI fee by plans with terms ending after Sept. 30, 2012, and before Oct. 1, 2019, to provide initial funding for the Washington, D.C.-based institute, which funds research on the comparative effectiveness of medical treatments. Self-insured plans pay the fee themselves, while insurance companies pay the fee for fully insured plans but may pass the cost along to employers through higher premiums.

The IRS treats the fee like an excise tax.

The PCORI fee is due by the July 31 following the last day of the plan year. The final PCORI payment for sponsors of 2018 calendar-year plans is due by July 31, 2019. The final PCORI fee for plan years ending from Jan. 1, 2019 to Sept. 30, 2019, will be due by July 31, 2020.

In Notice 2018-85, the IRS set the amount used to calculate the PCORI fee at $2.45 per person covered by plan years ending Oct. 1, 2018, through Sept. 30, 2019.

The chart below shows the fees to be paid in 2019, which are slightly higher than the fees owed in 2018. The per-enrollee amount depends on when the plan year ended, as in previous years.

Fee per Plan Enrollee for Payment Due
July 31, 2019
Plan years ending from Oct. 1, 2018, through Sept. 30, 2019. $2.45
Fee per Plan Enrollee for Payment Due
July 31, 2018
Plan years ending from Oct. 1, 2017, through Dec. 31, 2017, including calendar-year plans. $2.39
Plan years ending from Jan. 1, 2017, through Sept. 30, 2017 $2.26
Source: IRS.

Nearing the End

The PCORI fee will not be assessed for plan years ending after Sept. 30, 2019, "which means that for a calendar-year plan, the last year for assessment is the 2018 calendar year," wrote Richard Stover, a New York City-based principal at HR consultancy Buck Global, and Amy Dunn, a principal in Buck's Knowledge Resource Center.

For noncalendar-year plans that end between Jan. 1, 2019 and Sept. 30, 3019, however, there will be one last PCORI payment due by July 31, 2020.

"There will not be any PCORI fee for plan years that end on October 1, 2019 or later," according to 360 Corporate Benefit Advisors.

The PCORI fee was first assessed for plan years ending after Sept. 30, 2012. The fee for the first plan year was $1 per plan enrollee, which increased to $2 per enrollee in the second year and was then indexed in subsequent years based on the increase in national health expenditures.

FSAs and HRAs

In addition to self-insured medical plans, health flexible spending accounts (health FSAs) and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) that fail to qualify as “excepted benefits” would be required to pay the per-enrollee fee, wrote Gary Kushner, president and CEO of Kushner & Co., a benefits advisory firm based in Portage, Mich.

As set forth in the Department of Labor's Technical Release 2013-03:

  • health FSA is an excepted benefit if the employer does not contribute more than $500 a year to any employee accounts and also offers a group health plan with nonexcepted benefits.
  • An HRA is an excepted benefit if it only reimburses for limited-scope dental and vision expenses or long-term care coverage and is not integrated with a group health plan.

Kushner explained that:

  • If the employer sponsors a fully insured group health plan for which the insurance carrier is filing and paying the PCORI fee and the same employer sponsors an employer-funded health care FSA or an HRA not exempted from the fee, employers should only count the employees participating in the FSA or HRA, and not spouses or dependents, when paying the fee.
  • If the employer sponsors a self-funded group health plan, then the employer needs to file the form and pay the PCORI fee only on the number of individuals enrolled in the group health plan, and not in the employer-funded health care FSA or HRA.

An employer that sponsors a self-insured HRA along with a fully insured medical plan "must pay PCORI fees based on the number of employees (dependents are not included in this count) participating in the HRA, while the insurer pays the PCORI fee on the individuals (including dependents) covered under the insured plan," wrote Mark Holloway, senior vice president and director of compliance services at Lockton Companies, a benefits broker and services firm based in Kansas City, Mo. Where an employer maintains an HRA along with a self-funded medical plan and both have the same plan year, "the employer pays a single PCORI fee based on the number of covered lives in the self-funded medical plan (the HRA is disregarded)."

Paying PCORI Fees

Self-insured employers are responsible for submitting the fee and accompanying paperwork to the IRS, as "third-party reporting and payment of the fee is not permitted for self-funded plans," Holloway noted.

For the coming year, self-insured health plan sponsors should use Form 720 for the second calendar quarter to report and pay the PCORI fee by July 31, 2019.

"On p. 2 of Form 720, under Part II, the employer needs to designate the average number of covered lives under its applicable self-insured plan," Holloway explained. The number of covered lives will be multiplied by $2.45 for plan years ending on or after Oct. 1, 2018, to determine the total fee owed to the IRS next July.

To calculate "the average number of lives covered" or plan enrollees, employers should use one of three methods listed on pages 8 and 9 of the Instructions for Form 720. A white paper by Keller Benefit Services describes these methods in greater detail.

Although the fee is paid annually, employers should indicate on the Payment Voucher (720-V), located at the end of Form 720, that the tax period for the fee is the second quarter of the year. "Failure to properly designate 'second quarter' on the voucher will result in the IRS's software generating a tardy filing notice, with all the incumbent aggravation on the employer to correct the matter with the IRS," Holloway warned.

A few other points to keep in mind: "The U.S. Department of Labor believes the fee cannot be paid from plan assets," he said. In other words, for self-insured health plans, "the PCORI fee must be paid by the plan sponsor. It is not a permissible expense of a self-funded plan and cannot be paid in whole or part by participant contributions."

In addition, PCORI fees "should not be included in the plan's cost when computing the plan's COBRA premium," Holloway noted. But "the IRS has indicated the fee is, however, a tax-deductible business expense for employers with self-funded plans," he added, citing a May 2013 IRS memorandum.

SOURCE: Miller, S. (2 July 2019) "PCORI Fee Is Due by July 31 for Self-Insured Health Plans" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/2019-pcori-fees.aspx


Financial Fitness Benefits Take Center Stage as Debt Worries Grow

According to speakers from the Society for Human Resource Management 2019 Annual Conference & Exposition, employees who are taking advantage of financial health benefits have less stress, reduced distraction and lower absenteeism. Read this blog post for more on financial fitness benefits.


LAS VEGAS—Employers that help workers improve their financial health are seeing increased productivity, job satisfaction and retention. Employees taking advantage of these benefits have less stress, reduced distraction and lower absenteeism, according to speakers at the Society for Human Resource Management 2019 Annual Conference & Exposition.

"Your employees are financially stressed, and it's affecting your business," said Dan Macklin, CEO of Salary Finance, a financial technology firm, during a June 24 panel discussion on financial wellness benefits. A survey conducted by his firm, with responses from 10,484 U.S. employees, found that 48 percent were worried or stressed about their finances. Financially stressed employees lost nearly one month of productive workdays per year.

Money management problems exist across all income levels, Macklin noted.

"Financial worries are the No. 1 cause of employee stress," said Kent Allison, national leader for employee financial education and wellness at PwC. The consultancy's 2019 Employee Financial Wellness Survey, with responses from 1,686 full-time employees, showed that 59 percent cited financial or money matters as their chief source of stress, followed by their job (15 percent) and relationships.

Nearly half (49 percent) of all employees said they find it difficult to meet household expenses on time each month, PwC found.

"Employees are seeking personalized financial guidance and coaching," Allison said. "Successful financial wellness programs find the optimal way to combine technology and human interaction" to help employees get back on track financially.

Organizations are more likely to thrive when they help employees "bring their healthiest and happiest self to work," said Felicia Cheng, wellness benefits program manager at HR technology firm SalesForce.

Organizations are more likely to thrive when they help employees 'bring their healthiest and happiest self to work.'

Have meaningful conversations with employees, said Wendy Myers Cambor, Northeast U.S. HR leader at consulting firm Accenture. "Ask what they want, what they need and how we might be in a position to accommodate them."

Accenture, like many companies, has five generations of employees in its workforce, whose concerns range from "managing student debt and affording to have a child and buy a home, to helping to care and provide for aging parents while preparing for their own retirement," Cambor noted.

Physical wellness and financial wellness are deeply interrelated, said Allison, because financial distress can lead to health distress.

Similar to health risk assessments, he said, financial wellness assessments can be helpful because "how can you change behaviors if you don't know what these behaviors are?" He advised, "Assess employees to know where they are financially and what their needs are, and what behaviors they may need to change."

Financial health assessments could be stymied if employees don't feel comfortable revealing their distress—and don't trust their employers with this information, panelists noted. Cheng said it was important to help employees overcome taboos around admitting to money problems, because, if employers don't understand the scope of the challenges their employees face, they can't provide the help that employees need.

Macklin noted that younger workers seem more willing to discuss their financial difficulties and are grateful for the guidance and assistance employers provide.

Younger workers seem more willing to discuss their financial difficulties and are grateful for the assistance employers provide.

"Engage employees at the right time to provide help when needed," Allison suggested.

"People are suffering," Cambor said. "There are opportunities for HR to make a difference in peoples' lives."

"Employees' stories are powerful," Cheng said. HR should "bring them to the leadership team, coupled with data on the positive impact of financial wellness," to make the case for financial wellness benefits.

Student Loan Benefits Are in Demand

Student loan debt affects employees at all stages of their careers, said Kevin Fudge, director of consumer advocacy at American Student Assistance, a nonprofit that helps students manage their education debt, during a June 25 conference session.

He noted that more than 3 million Americans ages 60 and older currently owe more than $86 billion in unpaid student loans, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Employees face different concerns at different career stages, Fudge pointed out, including:

  • Early career: Paying off student loans and related debt.
  • Mid-career: Supporting a family and saving for children's college education.
  • Late career: Helping children and grandchildren by co-signing loans and preparing for retirement.

Fudge pointed to innovative ways employers are helping with student loans. For instance:

  • Abbott Laboratories allows employees to save for retirement and pay down their student loans. If an employee is paying off student loans (using 2 percent or more of their pay), Abbott will put the equivalent of 5 percent of the employee's pay into his or her 401(k) account.
    Abbott received a private letter ruling from the IRS to allow this practice. The IRS is expected to sanction similar plans with broader guidance. Legislation has also been introduced to allow this practice.

In a June 24 conference session on student loan benefits, Meera Oliva, chief marketing officer at Gradifi, a loan benefits administrator; Jane Fontaine, senior vice president of HR at Digital Federal Credit Union; and Chad Carter, vice president of benefits at Fareway Stores, shared these examples, showing the range of student loan aid employers are providing:

  • AECOM, a Fortune 500 engineering firm, offers student loan refinancing along with student loan counseling and financial wellness content.
  • Carvana, an e-commerce platform for buying cars, offers up to $1,000 per year to help full-time employees pay off their student loans.
  • Connelly Partners, a Boston-based advertising agency, offers a total benefit of $10,000 with contributions starting at $100 a month for the first year and then increasing $25 a month for the next four years. In another effort to retain employees, the firm gives a $1,000 retention bonus at the end of the fifth year of employment.
  • Sotheby's, an auction house and private sales firm, offers $150 per month contribution toward student loans indefinitely until employees are no longer in debt, including parents who have taken on debt for their children.
2019 Student loan graph.png

SOURCE: Miller, S. (27 June 2019) "Financial Fitness Benefits Take Center Stage as Debt Worries Grow" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/financial-fitness-benefits-take-center-stage.aspx


Creating an ‘urgent care first’ mindset for employee benefits

With urgent cares continuing to pop up everywhere, it’s important to guide your employees in adopting an "urgent care first" mentality. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


Urgent care centers are popping up everywhere, which means getting quick healthcare is easier and more convenient for patients. But these centers could also help employers minimize expensive emergency room claims. That’s why it’s important to guide employees to adopt an “urgent care first” mentality.

The concept of urgent care has been around since the 1970s, but rising healthcare costs, especially for ER care, have spurred an increase in centers across the U.S. over the last decade. In fact, from 2014 through June 2017, the number of urgent care centers rose by nearly 20%.

Urgent care centers provide care for health problems that aren’t life-threatening, but can’t wait for an appointment with a primary care provider. No one wants to suffer with a sore throat all weekend. Many urgent care centers are staffed with doctors and nurses, and provide more advanced capabilities than what’s typically available at a primary care doctor’s office. For example, some urgent care centers give stitches, provide X-rays and even MRIs.

Patients can also get treatment at urgent care for conditions they’d typically see a primary care doctor for, such as the flu or a fever, mild to moderate asthma, skin rashes, sprains and strains, and a severe sore throat or cough — illnesses that produce unnecessary high claims if treated in an ER.

Still, when a severe sore throat and high fever strike on a weekend and the doctor’s office is closed, employees may gravitate to the ER because they’re sick and need help right now. That’s where the urgent care first mindset becomes good medicine. It typically costs the employer (and often the employee) far less if that sore throat is treated in an urgent care facility.

The high cost of ER care is enough to make anyone run a high temp. From 2009 to 2016 (the most recent data available), the average amount that hospitals billed insurance carriers for an emergency room visit more than doubled, from $600 to $1,322. By contrast, urgent care typically costs about $150 per visit. Members often pay a lower copay for urgent care visits, too.

The urgent care first mindset is starting to take hold. New data analysis from Aetna shows that as urgent care centers began to proliferate, ER visits for minor health issues dropped 36%, while the use of urgent care and other non-emergency health settings increased 140%.

However, the same study shows that plans only saw a decrease in ER visits if there were several urgent care centers in the geographic region where their employees lived. Awareness is key.

Fostering an urgent care first mentality

Employers can’t just include urgent care in a benefits plan and expect employees to use it. They need to design the plan to encourage use and follow up with plenty of education.

Education about the benefits of primary care versus urgent care versus the ER should take place during open enrollment and throughout the plan year so members understand the medical necessity and financial implications of each option. Including the closest urgent care centers to employees, as well as a list of services they provide, can help encourage them to adopt an urgent care first mentality.

A word of caution: not every nearby urgent care center is actually in-network. It literally pays for employees to keep a list of nearby in-network centers handy when that inevitable weekend sore throat strikes.

Reminders about urgent care before spring allergies, summer vacations, fall school physicals and flu season can also help encourage their use.

The too-low ER copay

Plan design is another important piece of the puzzle to help steer employees to the right level of care for their needs. It’s not that unusual to see a $100 copay for an emergency department visit. While no one wants to discourage ER visits for true emergencies, it makes sense to adjust the plan design to encourage primary and urgent care visits instead. That may mean a $20 copay for primary care, a $40 copay for urgent care and a $200 to $250 copay for ER visits — which is waived if the plan participant is admitted to the hospital.

For high-deductible health plans paired with a health savings account, the savings can be even more drastic; patients may pay $200 for an urgent care visit versus $1,200 for an ER visit.

The combination of education and plan design can help curb unnecessary ER visits, which could help employers control healthcare increases from plan year to plan year. For health issues that crop up during off hours, the urgent care first mindset is good for both employers and employees, who will ultimately save time and money.

SOURCE: O'Conner, P. (5 July 2019) "Creating an ‘urgent care first’ mindset for employee benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/creating-an-urgent-care-first-mindset-for-employees


Here’s how to ensure employees know how to pick the right benefits

Open enrollment is an important time for employees, but it's often a stressful one as well. According to recent research, the average employee spends less than 30 minutes selecting their benefits. Read this blog post for more on communicating benefit options to employees.


Annual enrollment is an important time for employees — but it’s also a stressful one. The choices they make can affect their financial health, yet the average employee spends less than 30 minutes selecting their benefits, according to research from benefits provider Unum.

With annual enrollment planning underway, now is the time for employers to ask themselves, “How can we help employees make the right benefits decisions?” The answers may be more valuable than they think.

See Also: Ideas for Effectively Demonstrating Plan Choices

Today’s workforce is the most diverse in history, with four generations actively working, and a fifth connected through benefits and pensions. A robust benefits package is increasingly important for recruitment and retention, challenging employers to provide choices and options that support diverse needs.

About 80% of employees prefer a job with benefits over one with a higher salary but no benefits, according to the American Institute of CPAs. As such it’s vital that employers ensure their workforce is engaged with their benefits and taking full advantage of what is available. Here are five ways employers can make sure that happens.

See Also: Ideas to Help Employees Find their "Best Fit" Plan

1. Acknowledge that decision support addresses personalized needs. Tools that demystify the benefits selection process can help employees make choices that align with their risk tolerance, financial circumstances and unique needs. The best tools lead employees to a recommended suite of benefits options that fit their individual physical, emotional and financial health.

2. Know that year-round engagement improves benefits literacy. While employees appreciate benefits, they aren’t experts. Indeed, roughly one-third of employees are outright confused about their benefits, according to recent data from Businessolver. Keeping up a cadence of communication about benefits throughout the year can help address this challenge.

3. Recognize the power of a total rewards statement. It empowers employees to maximize the benefits available to them, and these tools can be accessed at any time, not just during enrollment. The most impactful solutions aggregate all employee benefits options in one integrated offering that demonstrates the full value of compensation and benefits investments made by them and their employer.

See Also: Communicating the Value of Employee Benefits

4. Think about different generations. Customizable benefits options are a crucial step in meeting the needs of today’s workforce. For example, our latest data shows that nearly two-thirds of millennials are concerned with managing their monthly budget, while over 50% of boomers are most worried about a large, unexpected cost. Having core medical plan offerings along with complementary voluntary options helps employees address varying financial needs. Likewise, paid parental leave and different health plan options assist families at any stage, and they make it likelier that your employees will engage with their benefits and remain with your organization.

5. Be sure employees know that savings vehicles contribute to financial well-being. Employees of all ages and income levels are facing financial stressors — but they may not be the same ones. Offering different financial benefits, such as student loan assistance and emergency savings accounts, in addition to retirement benefits, enables your employees to address both their immediate and long-term financial needs.

See Also: Avoiding Communication Overload During Open Enrollment

More than ever, employers have a responsibility to help employees make informed decisions when it comes to selecting the right benefits. Otherwise, they risk losing top talent to organizations that are better implementing benefits strategies and technologies.

By meeting the needs of a diverse workforce with an array of benefits options supported by appropriate decision support resources, employers can ensure they’re meeting their workforce’s needs and retaining valuable employees.

See Also: Incorporating Incentives to Create Educated Benefit Consumers

SOURCE: Shanahan, R. (26 June 2019) "Here’s how to ensure employees know how to pick the right benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/educating-employees-to-pick-the-right-benefits


Finding the Hidden Benefits within your Offered Health Insurance Plan

Benefits packages offered by employers are just one of the many elements an employee considers when joining, remaining at or leaving a company. Striking the right balance of what employees want and what your business has to offer will allow for a return on investment. In this installment of CenterStage, Kelley Bell, a Group Health Benefits Consultant at Saxon Financial, explains how to unlock and bring forth benefits often overlooked by employers and employees.

The Reason for Employee Benefits

Employers of all sizes within the United States aim to offer attractive health insurance benefits that will both attract prospective employees and retain those talented individuals who are currently employed. Aside from looking to earn money to put food on the table, pay bills and set aside for later, people seek employment for assistance in alleviating the burden of having to pay for insurance plans singlehandedly. Thus, they plan where they will work and for how long they will work based on what your company has to offer.

When looking at benefits plans, most people assume the usual: a comprehensive health plan that assists in providing medical insurance and reduces pharmacy costs. However, a benefits package you receive from an employer today is no longer your parents’ benefits package. Just as trends in fashion and pop culture come and go, so should the benefits within an employer’s plan.

It is unique offerings that attract potential employees and retain current ones. Additionally, it is in the hands of employers to offer methods to achieve and shift culture in a positive way by offering necessary methods to do so. Employee benefits packages today are shaped to fit the needs of the employees.

As the nation’s health has declined, an uptick in the popularity in offering benefits such as discounted or free gym memberships has become a major plus. How are employees to be aware of the perks of employment with your business? They need to be properly educated about their plans. Kelley explained, “Employers must take time to educate employees as they are their most valuable asset.”

Benefits That Get Overlooked

Every employer, no matter how big or small, has something to offer. With over 25 years of experience in the financial industry, Kelley has seen and heard it all from employers with whom she partners with in selecting benefits for their employees. “I’ve heard people say they have a horrible plan but in reality, it is not a horrible plan, they don’t understand it or how to use it.” When investing in an ‘add-on’ benefit, there is typically a large sum injected into a new initiative, but the results are often short-lived, a short spark of novelty. The benefits that carry stamina are usually those that hold tremendous value in both a sense of time and money. Kelley continued, “Some of the embedded benefits in their existing plans will help save them money, become a wise consumer and ultimately choose to live a healthier lifestyle.”

What are some examples of benefits that fly under the radar of employers and their employees?

  • Telemedicine medical services. Telemedicine is a fantastic way to recover and receive treatment for an illness or injury from the comfort and convenience of their car, work or home rather than in a doctor’s office.
  • Wellness initiatives are another fantastic offering which is simply implementing a wellness committee dedicated to the well-being of your employees.
  • Saxon offers a free portal with wellness information available to clients. Becoming a member includes receiving newsletters, email blasts, wellness information and challenges your business can utilize.
  • Consumers of healthcare have historically been conscious purchasers. Within your plan, check for the ability to leverage multiple doctors and pharmacies to find the most cost-effective option for each employee. Medical offices inside pharmacy’s, or retail outlets, as well as Urgent cares, have seen increased rates of attention simply for their competitive prices as opposed to a traditional hospital.
  • Employers looking for additional ways to offer savings for employees on their prescription medications can turn to mobile apps such as GoodRx which offers money-saving coupons for medications.
  • Online wellness tools allow you to view claims, ID cards, locate doctors, browse medications and estimate costs. Many of the plans have teams to help people who are pregnant, want to stop smoking, lose weight or have specific health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, etc.”

How Saxon Helps

Kelley understands every business is unique and is dedicated to proactively serving the needs of each client. At Saxon, Kelley and our team of advisors begin by engaging experts that truly listen, building successful strategies that stay focused on your vision and goals.

Saxon exists to care, cultivate and empower through relationships, expertise and exceptional standards of service. Saxon’s WIN team is always available at your convenience to unlock the benefits you did not know you had in order to excel your organizational efforts upward.

To begin the conversation about putting your overlooked benefits into action, contact Kelley Bell today at (513) 774-5493 or (937) 672-1547 or via email at kbell@gosaxon.com.


One overlooked way to promote well-being: Target oral health

Are you promoting oral health when promoting employee wellness? Research shows an association between gum disease and conditions like diabetes and coronary artery disease. Continue reading to learn more.


With the cost of employer-sponsored healthcare benefits approaching $15,000 a year per employee, according to the National Business Group on Health, innovative companies are looking for new and creative ways to get maximum value from their benefits dollars.

By embracing benefits strategies focused on overall health, companies can help their current employees be healthier and more productive and attract and retain the workers they need to succeed in today’s competitive labor markets.

And although wellness programs or health apps might first spring to mind, there’s an overlooked way to promote employees’ health: oral care.

Guided by research that shows associations between gum disease and conditions like diabetes and coronary artery disease, forward-thinking dental insurers are developing products that emphasize the importance of regular oral care, particularly for workers with those conditions — and smart companies are jumping on board.

Products that emphasize the importance of maintaining oral health are an important step in integrating care. Over the next several years, leading-edge insurers will create new ways to engage patients in conversations about their dental and overall health, as they seek to encourage behavior changes and improve health outcomes. To help improve oral and overall well-being, insurers will need to share oral care information with their members through targeted emails, text messages and phone calls.

Additionally, because individuals dealing with a complex treatment plan may put off receiving oral care while they address their medical issues, they could benefit from plans featuring a case manager, or a “dental champion.” Working in conjunction with medical case managers, a dental champion can help employees understand how receiving regular oral care can influence their overall health. They also can ensure a company’s workforce is getting the oral care they need, helping them find providers and arrange appointments.

Savvy employers recognize that any realistic effort to limit the increase in healthcare costs begins by addressing chronic ailments. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, six in 10 Americans live with at least one chronic disease, like heart disease, cancer, stroke or diabetes.

By promoting overall health — including regular oral care — employers can encourage positive lifestyle changes that help their employees reduce the likelihood of many chronic problems. Those who brush and floss their teeth regularly, receive frequent cleanings and checkups and deal with oral issues at early stages are taking steps to improve their overall health.

Because everyone’s individual situation is different, insurers and employers will need to include a more personalized approach, engaging members in conversations about their dental health and how it contributes to attaining their overall health goals.

SOURCE: Palmer, T. (13 June 2019) "One overlooked way to promote well-being: Target oral health" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/promoting-wellbeing-through-dental-health


Move over, financial wellness. It’s time for financial flexibility

Are your employees stressed out about their personal finances? Many find it hard to believe that a majority of employees live paycheck-to-paycheck, despite the fact that most Americans have recovered from the Great Recession. Continue reading to learn about financial flexibility.


It’s somewhat hard to believe that most employees today continue to live paycheck-to-paycheck. Despite the fact that Americans have recovered from the Great Recession a decade ago and that the unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in many years, employees are essentially making the same amount of money they did during the pre-recession “good days” many years ago. Of course, living costs have gone up in this same period.

That means employees are stressed about their finances. They don’t have enough emergency savings for unexpected expenses and struggle to make minimum monthly payments on credit cards and loans. And the problem is bigger than that because their financial stress also distracts them at work. Whether it’s student loans, car payments, mortgage/rent payments, credit card debt, an unexpected expense or some other financial matter that they are worried about, the bottom line is they are spending time at work on these issues rather than doing the job employers are paying them to do.

Thus, employees’ personal financial stress affects employers as well. When employees bring that financial stress to work, it results in low productivity, absenteeism and, in many cases, higher healthcare costs.

Today’s employees want to make their money to do more. Financial flexibility can help them get there.

So what is financial flexibility? It’s the ability to manage expenses and make everyday life affordable. It’s the financial stage beyond living paycheck-to-paycheck. It means being smart about how we use our monthly income and finding ways to make our money do more so that we are able to pay bills on time, take a vacation, have an emergency fund for unexpected expenses and perhaps splurge on something small occasionally. Financial flexibility is the stage between living paycheck-to-paycheck and financial security (a level few employees ever achieve).

Being financially flexible means finding ways to make our money do more by following a monthly budget, being wise shoppers and taking advantage of employer-offered financial wellness tools and voluntary benefits such as financial counseling, student loan refinancing programs, employee purchase programs and payroll-deducted savings programs.

Providing financial flexibility at work

Financial education benefits can help employees with budgeting and debt reduction needs, and over the past several years, growing numbers of employees have begun using the services their employer provides to assist them with their personal finances.

But it takes more to have financial flexibility. While financial education benefits can help employees with budgeting and debt reduction needs, employers should adopt additional voluntary benefits that provide employees the opportunity to have some financial flexibility.

Among these are:

  • 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 unexpected out-of-pocket medical expenses.
  • Student loan repayment benefit programs in which employers are making contributions to loan balances or providing methods for employees to refinance their debt.
  • Automated savings programs that encourage employees to start taking control of their financial future by saving money each month from their paycheck. Many employees don’t have $1,000 or more in savings to use for emergencies and saving a little each month can help build that emergency fund.
  • Employee purchase programs that allow workers to purchase consumer products and services through payroll deduction when they are unable or prefer not to use cash or credit. The program is an alternative to high-interest credit cards and other sub-prime financing options for customers desiring to pay for a purchase over time.
  • Bill payment programs that empower employees with debt paydown strategies and the ability to make recurring bill payments on-time each month through payroll deduction

Today’s employees want — and need — their money to do more so they aren’t living paycheck-to-paycheck. Employees who are less financially stressed are happier. That results in more engaged, productive workers and an increased bottom line for employers. The new normal is financial flexibility. And there’s a role for voluntary benefits in helping employees get there.

SOURCE: Halkos, E. (23 April 2019) "Move over, financial wellness. It’s time for financial flexibility" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/use-voluntary-benefits-to-help-employee-financial-wellness


Here’s how to get the best ROI on a wellness program

How many hours do your employees work per year? According to the International Labour Organization, Americans work nearly 500 more hours per year than French workers and 260 more hours per year than British workers. Continue reading to learn how employers can get the best ROI on a wellness program.


U.S. employees are working harder than ever and need more support from their employers as a result.

In fact, according to the International Labour Organization, Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and nearly 500 more hours per year than French workers.

With that growing burden — along with more individuals of all ages recognizing how important their health is — comes an increased need for companies to invest in well-designed health and wellness programs. Rolling out these programs can lead to better employee morale and engagement, a healthier and more inclusive culture and fewer absences due to illness, according to research — all of which are especially important in today’s fast-paced work atmosphere.

In addition, the rise of social media means that businesses are being held accountable by their employees in a way that was not the case for previous generations. According to the British Standards Institution, employees trusting their employers’ commitments is now an increased focus. Health and well-being are becoming a significant part of that workforce trust agenda.

With these points in mind, it’s important to recognize that your organization needs to make and keep commitments to investing in and executing successful health and wellness programs for your workforce. These programs must keep trust momentum going to ensure healthier and happier workers, and it is proven that happier and healthier workers are more productive. This can lead to overall company success.

For example, a recent employee wellness study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce showed that effective wellness programs have good return on investment of $1.50 to $3.00 per wellness dollar spent over a two to nine year timeframe. Another study from the Australian-based Black Dog Institute concluded that thriving and healthy workforces typically perform more than two times above average, compared with organizations that do not invest at all in their employees’ health and well-being.

BSI recommends a three-pronged approach for successfully investing in your employees’ health and wellness. First, it’s important to define your health and well-being initiative and what it means for your company. While there are many definitions, BSI recommends considering one that recognizes the need to manage workplace occupational health and safety, in addition to the promotion and support of managing healthy behavior, such as stress management, work-life balance and an ever-changing work environment.

Next, employers should define what their health and wellness program for workers should include. In particular, BSI suggests a good model to follow: the U.S. federal government’s recommended approach for workplace health and well-being programs. Created by the Center for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the program is called Total Worker Health.

TWH is a holistic approach to occupational health and safety and worker well-being. It recognizes that work has an important function in the social determinants for health and is defined as “policies, programs, and practices that integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards with promotion of injury and illness prevention efforts to advance worker well-being.”

However, this program also goes much further than other wellness programs and reflects the nature and challenges of the changing workplace, from new forms of employment to new technologies. It also reflects that non-work-related illness and stress can be adversely impacted by work, can have health and safety implications within the workplace, and the way an organization manages absence and rehabilitation policies can have hugely positive or negative impacts on the individual and the business.

Once you know what health and well-being means to your business and what kind of program your organization wants to execute, it’s time to move forward. For step three, BSI recommends companies review and implement ISO 45001, the new global management system standard on occupational health and safety. This standard has physical, mental and cognitive well-being and health at its core, while continuing to drive high safety standards for companies.

ISO 45001 also recognizes that the most successful and productive organizations take a holistic approach and therefore, good occupational health and safety management can be integrated with employee well-being initiatives. Related to this, holistic employee wellness programs can be used as a recruitment tool. Evidence from WhenIWork.com suggests that employees want their employers to take an active role in their health, so if you can show potential employees that you are invested in their well-being, you will gain an advantage over companies offering only bare-bones benefits.

As a global standard, ISO 45001 also enables a consistent worldwide approach. With its focus on culture and employee participation, it also provides businesses a best practice model for developing an effective health and well-being program. And employee participation will happen. For example, experts from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recently analyzed surveys to determine the overall perceptions of wellness programs from employee and employer perspectives. Its data analysis revealed that nearly 60% of employees think employers should attempt to improve the health of their workers.

Overall, seeking accredited certification of the standard not only builds trust within the organization, but also provides external assurance to customers, shareholders and the wider community. Investing in employee health and wellness programs increases healthy behavior and curbs the risk of lifestyle-related disease, leading to happier workers, more productivity and overall company success.

SOURCE: Field, K. (4 June 2019) "Here’s how to get the best ROI on a wellness program: (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/how-to-get-the-best-roi-for-your-wellness-program