Engaging employees in healthcare — even while traveling

In 2018, Americans took 463.6 million trips for business, leaving employees unsure of what to do when they get sick or injured while away. Read this blog post for how employers can engage employees who are traveling in healthcare.


Business travel is booming. Americans took 463.6 million trips for business last year. But what happens when a business traveler gets sick or injured while away from home and how can employers help their employees in this situation?

It starts with a simple solution: Make sure you’re providing employees with a health insurance plan that includes coverage outside the state or region where the business is located. While the majority of plans provide coverage for illnesses and injuries that meet the insurer’s definition of an emergency, some plans don’t cover care for common serious, but non-emergency health problems like strep throat, migraine headaches, a sprained ankle or back pain. Employers should ensure they offer at least one plan option that includes either an extended physician and hospital network or coverage for out-of-network care.

If employees need to travel out of the country for business, employers may want to consider offering travel medical insurance, which provides coverage during the period of time while the employee is outside the U.S. and medical evacuation if needed. To ensure employees have all the immunizations they need and are aware of any health risks at their destinations, employers can offer access to or reimbursement for pre-trip visits with a travel medicine specialist.

Even when employees have health insurance that gives them access to care while they’re away from home, connecting with experienced healthcare providers can still be difficult. Some insurers offer phone support for plan members seeking care providers, although often these providers are not heavily vetted for the experience or providing the highest quality care. Health advisory services can also help employees find and connect with healthcare providers in the U.S. and overseas.

When considering health advisory firms, employers should ask how the firm vets the healthcare providers it connects employees with and whether the firm uses a set network of providers or whether it connects employees with the most appropriate providers regardless of their health system affiliation.

Make sure employees know how to find the right type of care

When an employee falls ill or gets injured while traveling for business, her or his first instinct may be to seek care at a local emergency room, but that’s not always the best option. In addition to long wait times, the cost of care delivered in the emergency room is significantly higher than other care settings.

  • Employers can help employees make better choices by providing information about the options available and how to choose the right care setting:
  • The emergency room for serious, life-threatening illnesses and injuries such as chest pain, symptoms of a stroke, serious burns, head injury or loss of consciousness, eye injuries, severe allergic reactions, broken bones and heavy bleeding
  • An urgent care center for conditions you’d usually make a doctor’s appointment for such as vomiting or diarrhea, fever, sprains, moderate flu symptoms, small cuts, wheezing and dehydration
  • A walk-in or retail clinic for minor problems such as a rash with no fever, mild flu-like symptoms, sore throat, cough and congestion, ear pain and eye itchiness or redness
  • Telemedicine or virtual physician visits for minor illnesses and injuries and advice on whether additional care is needed

The key to helping employees know which care setting is the most appropriate is ongoing communication and education, which can take the form of in-person meetings with the benefits team, newsletter articles and email blasts, and video content shared through the company’s intranet channels.

Employees who are living with chronic health conditions should take special steps when traveling for business, including ensuring they have enough of any prescription medication they take and bringing an extra prescription with them for essential medications in case they’re lost in transit.

Ensure employees can quickly share their medical records with providers

Another important part of the healthcare equation for business travelers is ensuring that when they need care while they’re on the road, the healthcare providers who treat them can get quick, secure access to their medical records. Access to these records is important for several reasons:

  • It gives a provider who’s not familiar with the employee’s medical history a comprehensive look at past and current health problems and chronic conditions, medications, allergies or adverse reactions, and treatments and surgeries. Having this information can lower the risk of misdiagnosis, inappropriate care and duplicate care or testing, which not only adds unneeded costs but can also cause harm.
  • This information can be especially important when employees are seriously ill or injured and can’t speak for themselves to share medical history and their wishes about issues like the use of a ventilator or feeding tube.

There are several online services and apps that allow users to upload medical records so they can share them with healthcare providers. Another option is to work with a health adviser who can make sure employees’ records are carefully reviewed to ensure accuracy and stored in a secure universal medical record that can be accessed in minutes by treating physicians anywhere in the world.

Giving employees who travel for business the right resources and guidance can not only increase their peace of mind, it can help make sure they have access to the care they need wherever work takes them.

SOURCE: Varn, M. (18 June 2019) "Engaging employees in healthcare — even while traveling" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/engage-employees-in-healthcare-when-traveling


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


Who Can I Name as a Beneficiary on My Life Insurance Policy?

Wondering who you can name as a beneficiary on your life insurance policy? A beneficiary is usually the person or people who will receive your life insurance payout after you die, but it can also be a trust, charity or your estate. Read this blog post to learn more.


First off, great job on buying life insurance! You took an important step by protecting the ones you love.

Every life insurance policy requires you to name a beneficiary. A life insurance beneficiary is typically the person or people who get the payout on your life insurance policy after you die; it may also be a trust, charity or your estate.

You can also name more than one beneficiary, as well as the percentage of the payout you want to go to each one—for instance, you could designate 50% to a spouse and 50% to an adult child.

You’ll typically be asked to pick two kinds of beneficiaries: a primary and a secondary. The secondary beneficiary (also called a “contingent beneficiary”) receives the payout if the primary beneficiary is deceased.

Providing for Kids
A big reason why people buy life insurance is to provide for children left behind. Usually this is done by making the surviving spouse or partner who cares for and is raising the kids the beneficiary. But what if you’re widowed or—God forbid—-both you and your partner pass away at the same time?

First, know that it’s not a good idea to name a minor as a beneficiary. That’s because the law forbids life insurance payouts to anyone who has not reached the age of majority, which is 18 to 21 depending on your state. If a child were to be named, then it would be turned over to probate court. The court will name a guardian who has oversight of the money/estate until the child comes of age.

Fortunately, there are two options. The first is to name an adult custodian. The custodian should be someone you can trust to use the money for things like housing, health care, and education until the child reaches the age of majority. At that point, any remaining money gets turned over the child and they can spend it any way they want.

The second option is to work with an attorney to set up a trust. In this scenario, the trust is the beneficiary and a trustee is named to manage and distribute the funds. The main advantage of a trust over naming a custodian is having more control.

A trust lets you specify how you want the money distributed—and it lets you do so even when your kids are adults. (One quick word of caution: Definitely consult with an attorney if you’re setting up a trust for a special needs child. They can help you create one that doesn’t impact your child’s eligibility for government assistance like Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income.)

Naming a Charity
Do you have a cause that’s near and dear to your heart? If so, you might consider naming a charitable organization as the beneficiary of your life insurance.

There are several ways to do this. They include naming the charity as a beneficiary on a new or existing life insurance policy, making the charity both the owner and the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, adding a charitable-giving rider to a life insurance policy, or working with a community foundation to figure out the best way to distribute a payout.

Final Tips
Think carefully about naming your estate as a beneficiary. This can trigger a long and costly legal process known as probate. A faster and more efficient solution is to name specific individuals or organizations as beneficiaries.

1. Get specific. Instead of naming “my spouse” or “my children” as beneficiaries, list their names along with their addresses and Social Security numbers. This saves a lot of time since the insurance company doesn’t have to track down information.

2. Always name a contingent beneficiary. Passing away and leaving behind life insurance without a living beneficiary could mean the payout goes to someone you never wanted your policy to benefit. It could also require a court-appointed administrator to sort things out.

3. Pick trustworthy custodians and trustees. Really consider who’d you trust your child’s financial well-being with if you weren’t in the picture. Your kids may love their uncle or aunt, but is he or she mature and responsible with money? If not, pick someone else who is.

4. Regularly review your beneficiaries. It’s a good idea to review your beneficiaries about once a year and after major life events like a marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or a death in the family.

5. Communicate your wishes. Let your beneficiaries know your intentions and how to find the policy.

6. Be aware of special situations. There are some situations that could trigger a tax on the life insurance benefit—for instance, when the policyholder and the insured aren’t the same person. Likewise, things can get sticky if you live in a community property state and don’t name your spouse as a beneficiary. An insurance agent can give you life insurance advice on this and much more.

SOURCE: Austin, A. (29 April 2019) "Who Can I Name as a Beneficiary on My Life Insurance Policy?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://lifehappens.org/blog/who-can-i-name-as-a-beneficiary-on-my-life-insurance-policy/


Insuring the Times of Your Life

Do you have life insurance? According to the 2019 Insurance Barometer Study, by Life Happens and LIMRA, 43 percent of adult Americans do not have life insurance. Read this blog post to learn more.


Preston Newby was a youth minister. He and his wife, Tara, were driving with their son to visit family—excited to announce a new baby on the way. In the keeping with the kind of person Preston was, he stopped to help at the scene of an accident. That’s when he was struck by another car and killed. He was only 24.

Fortunately, this young couple had done their planning and had bought life insurance. So despite the emotional upheaval that Preston’s death caused, Tara, a stay-at-home mom, and her two sons were able to carry on financially as they had before. You can watch their story here.

How many other people have prepared like this for the unexpected? Unfortunately, not enough: 43% of adult Americans don’t have life insurance, according to the 2019 Insurance Barometer Study, by Life Happens and LIMRA.

Many people think, “I’m young. That won’t happen to me.” Statistically, they may be right. However, they could be up being one of the statistics. You just don’t know—and that’s the problem. The solution is life insurance.

If you have people you love and who depend on you, or you have financial obligations to meet, you need life insurance to protect against the “what ifs”—at every stage in life. Here are just a few reasons you may need life insurance, or more of it, throughout your life.

Single with no children: You may think you don’t need life insurance since you have no dependents, but if you owe money, you need it. It ensures that your debts, including student loans and funeral expenses, won’t be passed on to your family. Additionally, if you are taking care of aging parents or a special-needs sibling, or know you will in the future, life insurance is a smart way to make sure that care can continue uninterrupted.

Married or partnered: As you begin your lives together, you’ll likely incur joint financial obligations like buying a home, in addition to monthly bills. It makes sense to protect your spouse or partner with adequate life insurance. It’s also a smart move to get coverage in place now if you plan on having a family in the future.

Parents with children: If you’re in the midst of this stage, financial obligations abound. Many couples rely on two incomes to make ends meet and single parents may be their children’s one-and-only. Life insurance is critical at this point. When figuring out how much you need, remember that the economic impact you have on your family can be measured not just by how much you earn now, but by how much you’ll earn over the course of your working life. Life Happens’ Human Life Value Calculator can help you figure out what that will be.

Empty-nesters/retirees: Your kids are on their own and your mortgage is paid off, so you may think you don’t need life insurance. However, if you are still building your retirement nest egg, life insurance ensures that if something happens to you that your spouse or partner can still live comfortably in retirement, despite any shortfalls.

Keep in mind, life insurance is a simple answer to an important question: Would anyone suffer financially if I were to die. If the answer is yes, it’s time to sit down with an insurance professional.

SOURCE: Leyes, M. (13 May 2019) "Insuring the Times of Your Life" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://lifehappens.org/blog/insuring-the-times-of-your-life/


Netflix exec: To boost diversity, employers must improve benefits

Are you implementing specific employee benefits in an effort to boost diversity and inclusion at work? According to Vice President of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix, Verna Myers, Implementing the right employee benefits could help employers boost workplace diversity and inclusion.


NEW YORK — Employers still have a long way to go when it comes to fostering diversity and inclusion at work — but implementing the right benefits could be a step in a positive direction.

That’s according to Vernā Myers, vice president of inclusion strategy at Netflix, who said companies should focus on rolling out new benefits that help employees at different life stages. While perks like free lunch are nice, they aren’t going to keep workers around long term, she said at a meeting with reporters Wednesday.

“It’s more about [having] a kind of system that acknowledges real life and what people’s needs are,” she said. “That builds a certain kind of loyalty and trust.”

So what should employers focus on? Myers said employees want holistic benefits that address life changes, including starting out careers and parenthood. Mental health and financial benefits also should be a priority.

So far, tech companies, startups and other progressive employers are doing this well. “Companies have realized they’re part of a life ecosystem, and that makes a big difference,” she added.

But employers may still have a long way to go. Myers, who is a Harvard trained lawyer, said she has heard of instances where male employees faced discrimination for taking advantage of benefits like paternity leave. Meanwhile, offerings like maternity leave have not always been industry standard, she said.

“People still don’t remember that we did not have maternity leave,” Myers said, recalling a conversation with a partner at a law firm who used three weeks of vacation time when she had her baby.

Myers said she has overwhelmingly found that while organizations are interested in bringing in more diverse workers, they often won’t make adjustments to benefits and culture in order to better accommodate these employees. Employers “were unwilling to do much of anything to adjust to the fact that they were inviting difference,” she said.

Survey data from PwC suggests that diversity and inclusion is a high priority for employers, but many can still do more to improve their programs. A full 74% of employers said diversity and inclusion is a priority at their company. But the consulting firm found that only 5% of the programs were reaching their full maturity when assessed against PwC’s model, which reviews factors including strategy and engagement.

But employers have shown interest in adding more inclusive benefits. Some — like Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Hilton — have invested in family-friendly offerings like expanded paid parental leave and breast milk shipping. Others are adding student loan repayment programs and coaching benefits.

Susan Eandi, the head of Baker McKenzie’s global employment and labor law practice in North America, said employers need to focus on employee engagement in benefits if they want to improve diversity and inclusion. As Generation Z enters the workforce, companies may see a shift toward stability. Unlike their millennial counterparts, who spearheaded flexible schedules and gig work, Gen Z workers are more cautious and want security in their jobs and benefits.

“They’re very cautious, concerned individuals who want financial security,” she said. “It will be a big shift for employers.”

Regardless, Myers said companies should continue to create safe spaces for all perspectives and backgrounds to influence decision making. “If employers allow for more opportunity and for people be treated more fairly, then everyone is going to benefit,” she said.

SOURCE: Hroncich, C. (15 May 2019) "Netflix exec: To boost diversity, employers must improve benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/netflix-to-boost-diversity-employers-must-improve-benefits


Taking the first steps to a long-term benefits strategy

A common struggle for many companies that are searching for a cost-effective, successful employee benefits strategy is that HR professionals and finance professionals have conflicting objectives. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


The quest for a cost-effective and successful employee benefits program can feel like a search for the Holy Grail. To most, it’s an elusive goal within the context of rising and unsustainable costs.

Unlike “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” in which a comedy of errors made for a hilarious movie, nonsensical benefits strategies can have serious consequences.

One major challenge is that many HR and finance professionals have conflicting objectives. HR’s mission is to design a program that is competitive in the marketplace for human capital needs while supporting the organization’s culture. Finance, on the other hand, is charged with managing to a budget by controlling expenses to mitigate year-over-year increases. The result, in spite of best intentions, leaves organizations unable to commit to a multi-year plan and opt in favor of living year-to-year.

So, how do you overcome this challenge?

Step 1Key HR and finance stakeholders need to align on goals and objectives. They also need to remain engaged in the process throughout the year (not just at renewal). Once you achieve alignment, these objectives should be memorialized into a benefits philosophy. Why? So the collective team has guiding principles for future decisions.

Step 2: Identify the cost drivers of the program. Many employers have little line of sight into how their plan is performing until it’s too late. Once you are staring down the barrel of a 25% increase, an organization may be forced to make swift changes to soften the blow to their bottom line rather than follow a strategic approach that comes with preparation. Unfortunately, this type of knee-jerk reaction only temporarily relieves the pressure and may create unintended consequences to the employee value proposition.

Step 3Understand where you were, where you are and where you want to be. After 25 years in the consulting industry, one thing I know for certain is there are only so many levers you can pull to rein in escalating benefit costs. Identify the levers and how far you want to pull them.

Step 4: Determine success metrics. I’ve seen many organizations implement new tactics, such as a health savings account. When I ask them if it was successful, they can’t answer because they didn’t set an internal bar for success. That barometer will help you gauge success and determine what changes need to be made to your approach to achieve your goal.

Step 5Commit the plan to writing and review it periodically. Just like your company’s overall business plan, you will need to make adjustments along the way as your business changes.

Regardless of strategy, I recommend employers take steps toward a self-funding benefits model. Historically, self-funding was for groups with 1,000 lives and above. But that’s no longer the case. Self-funding provides that all-important line of sight into cost drivers because of access to claims data. Having a deeper understanding of the “why” behind costs allows an organization to implement a data-driven approach to the overarching benefits strategy. Self-funding also provides more plan design flexibility and eliminates the internal costs that an insurance carrier builds into a plan for profit.

It’s more effective to create a benefits strategy that is sustainable over time, so when you inevitably endure a higher-than-normal renewal cycle, typically every three to five years, you are prepared to stay the course.

Consider timing. When you make changes to a benefit plan is just as important as what changes you make. Evaluate the timing of benefit changes, how they are implemented and how adjustments will impact your workforce now and in the future.

For example, if you plan to add new voluntary benefits, such as indemnity plans, it may make sense to run them “off cycle” from the core medical benefits open enrollment season. This gives employees more time to conduct research about the new product option and make an educated decision.

Strive for simplicity. I can’t stress this enough. The Affordable Care Act, an increase in voluntary benefit options, new funding models and benefit trends have created an enormous amount of noise in the insurance industry. Tune it out and simplify your process as much as you can. Your HR and Finance teams are overwhelmed and so are your employees. Instead of throwing new benefits at them each year, focus on educating them and making choices simple. In fact, any long-term benefits plan worth its weight always includes an education and communications component.

Benefit illiteracy is rampant, and confusion over options at open enrollment can have consequences for the employee throughout the plan year. If your employees choose their benefits online, spend the open enrollment meeting educating them on how to buy and consume insurance, rather than just what the benefit choices are for the plan year, or how to use the online enrollment tool. You should also communicate throughout the year, rather than just at open enrollment to support employees’ understanding of their benefits program.

Identify other areas where employees might struggle. One trend is to offer transparency tools to help them choose a doctor or specialist. But be aware that the sheer number of doctors in a given list can be overwhelming. Rather than offering employees a choice of 50 doctors, narrow it down to five providers with the best healthcare outcomes.

Making it simpler for employees to be better consumers of healthcare will help you cut costs and get on the right path to a long-term benefit strategy. Of course, you’ll have to check in each year and consider making small adjustments to the program, and data will help guide these changes. Adjustments should all be in service of a long-term plan. If you begin your long-term plan by asking the question, “Where were we, where are we now and where do we want to be in the future?” you’re halfway there. You may eventually find that your Holy Grail is within reach.

SOURCE: Bloom, A. (14 May 2019) "Taking the first steps to a long-term benefits strategy" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/taking-the-first-steps-to-a-long-term-benefits-strategy


Are you offering the right benefits? Look to benchmarking, surveys for answers

Are you offering the right employee benefits? With unemployment at historic lows, benefits have become a big differentiator for employers. Read this blog post for more on offering competitive benefits.


With unemployment at a 50-year low, benefits have become a big differentiator for employers, which means they need to be competitive to attract and retain employees. What are competitive benefits? Ask 100 employers and you’ll get 100 answers.

It’s no longer affordable to offer Cadillac plans with low employee contributions. How do employers offer attractive yet affordable benefits that will draw potential employees in? They turn to benchmarking and employee surveys to build and validate benefit plans.

“High cost” has become so synonymous with “healthcare benefits” that it’s hard to separate one from the other. As benefits become more costly, they also become more complicated to manage. Add today’s shift to the need for competitive programs and the whole thing begins to look like a slog through quicksand.

Here’s the thing: The employer must strike a balance between what employees want and what they’ll use. That means zeroing in on what they find valuable. While it may be tempting to follow benefit trends by offering pet insurance or creating in-office perks like beer and pizza, research suggests that most employees value more traditional coverages and benefits. What gets them in the door — and keeps them engaged — is likely going to be paid leave, flexible/remote work options and professional development.

To determine what your employees want and what peer employers are offering in your industry, look to benchmarking and employee surveys as two of the sharpest arrows in your plan design quiver.

Benchmarking tells you what you’re competing against. While certain employee benefits are more popular in some industries than others, it’s vital to know who you’re competing against to attract and retain employees. For example, nonprofit organizations historically provide modest employee salaries but rich benefits. While that benefits model may work for most of your workforce, it’s important not to overlook other industry standards. A large nonprofit hiring employees for its IT department is not only competing against other nonprofits for talent, but they’re also competing against tech-industry talent, which may put more of a focus on salary and bonuses than rich benefits.

The best way to identify who you’re competing against and what types of benefits they’re offering is to undertake a benchmarking study. Benchmarking your benefits package can provide insight into what your competition offers across industries, regions and company size so you can ensure your plan design stands up against the competition. Benchmarking studies yield details like:

  • Medical plan type
  • Employee premium cost
  • Employee premium contribution
  • Medical copay
  • Prescription drug copay
  • Office visit copay
  • Emergency room copay
  • Voluntary benefits offerings
  • Salary ranges
  • Paid sick leave

Armed with that data, you can decide where you should aim your focus and whether you’re offering a competitive benefits package.

Surveys tell you what employees value. The best way to understand what your employees value is to ask them. Employee surveys can help you find out which benefits your employees love, which ones they don’t like and where you can make improvements.

When developing an employee benefits survey, pay close attention to how questions are written in order to elicit the best responses from employees. It might make sense to reach out to a survey organization to ensure it’s done right. Benefit brokers often have experience with surveys, too.

When the survey is complete, put together a communications plan so you can get the highest number of responses about what your employees love and what needs improvement. It’s a best practice to survey employees every plan year to stay on top of changes across the workforce. (Just not at open enrollment time).

It’s an inexpensive undertaking that could lead to serious cost savings from changes to the plan and increased employee retention. So basically, a survey is worth the time and effort.

Benchmarking and surveys are important components of a benefits strategy. They can put you on a more direct path to a plan design with options that are right for your culture and workforce.

SOURCE: Newman, H. (17 May 2019) "Are you offering the right benefits? Look to benchmarking, surveys for answers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/hr-review-surveys-for-employee-benefits-trends


What to consider before adding a genetic testing benefit

According to recent statistics from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), 18 percent of employers provide health-related genetic testing benefits. Read this blog post for what employers should consider before adding a genetic testing benefit to their benefits package.


As employers look for new voluntary benefits to help attract and retain employees, a growing number are turning to direct-to-consumer genetic testing for all employees to their benefits plans. According to the latest statistics from the Society for Human Resource Management, 18% of employers provide a health-related genetic testing benefit, an increase of 6% over the previous year.

For the most part, it can be a smart move: Not only can the benefit differentiate one employer from others vying to hire from the same employee pool, genetic testing providers market the benefit as a way to potentially lower healthcare costs and increase employee wellness.

This type of testing can be valuable for employees at an increased risk for certain types of cancer, such as breast and ovarian cancer related to mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, those considering having a child who have risk factors for genetic conditions such as cystic fibrosis and Tay Sachs disease, those who have a family history of conditions like high cholesterol, and those who take medications such as blood thinners and anti-depressants. There also are tests that look for genes associated with conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and celiac disease.

But employers also have to realize that genetic testing for all employees, regardless of family history and risk factors, comes with potential downsides. In fact, some physicians believe that widespread genetic testing of this type may even present a risk of harm. There’s also the issue of regulation and oversight of direct-to-consumer genetic testing. The industry is not currently regulated, which, some researchers have found, can lead to inaccurate or varying results. One study found that when the same genetic variant was provided to nine different labs for analysis, the answers provided were different 22% of the time, highlighting the risk of false positive and false negative results.

So for employers who offer — or are considering adding — a genetic benefit, make sure to think about the potential outcomes that can occur by doing so.

The potential for lower costs as well as unnecessary healthcare spending

If an employee’s genetic test is positive for a mutation that’s associated with cancer or another disease, he or she may be more proactive about screening for the disease and may make lifestyle changes that may lower the risk of developing the disease. There are potential healthcare cost savings to early detection of some conditions. For example, by some estimates, the cost for treating early-stage breast cancer is more than 50% less than the cost to treat the same cancer at an advanced stage.

For employees who undergo testing related to how effective a blood thinner or antidepressant will be, there can be better health outcomes as well as cost savings. One study found that when physicians prescribed the blood thinner Warfarin based on pharmacogenomic testing, adverse events decreased by 27%. Avoiding adverse events and making sure employees are taking the medications that can most effectively treat their conditions can help keep them healthy, out of the hospital and productively on the job, all of which has a positive financial impact.

But when you’re screening people who don’t have risk factors or a family history of these conditions, a positive test result can lead to unnecessary testing and medical procedures, potential complications from those procedures and the costs associated with that testing and care.

Before and after testing, education

Employers who offer genetic testing without a physician referral need to take steps to ensure that employees understand the risks and benefits of these tests upfront and that they know what a genetic test can and cannot tell them about their health now and in the future. The first step is for any employer offering genetic testing to provide education for employees.

Many employees don’t realize that having a gene mutation that’s associated with a disease does not mean that he or she will ever develop that disease. The risk associated with most genetic variations is, in fact, relatively small. Because of that misunderstanding, employees may experience needless worry or, if the test is negative for mutations related to a disease, may forgo screenings like mammograms, colonoscopies and cholesterol tests that can help detect health problems earlier when they are often more treatable. In the case of genetic testing for mutations associated with cancer, employees may not be aware that most cancers are not caused by a mutation in the single gene that the test screens for.

For some of the conditions that genetic tests screen for, like Alzheimer’s disease, there are currently no treatments. This can again cause anxiety for employees and their families. Genetic tests also have implications that reach beyond the specific employee who is tested. A positive test can affect siblings and children as well, opening the question of whether the employee wants or feels compelled to share the results with other family members who may also be at risk.

Employers who offer employees genetic testing should ensure that all employees who choose to undergo testing are guided by experienced genetic counselors who can help them interpret and understand the results of their test and can connect them with other healthcare providers for additional testing or treatment as needed.

SOURCE: Varn, M. (3 May 2019) "What to consider before adding a genetic testing benefit" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/what-to-consider-before-adding-a-genetic-testing-benefit


4 benefits messages to send employees in May

Tax season has come and gone, and summer is right around the corner, making it a great time of year for employers to beef up communications about certain employee benefits. Read this blog post for four benefits messages employers should send their employees this May.


With tax season behind us, summer right around the corner and the second half of the year coming up, now is a great time of year for employers to beef up communications about certain benefits.

That’s because there are a number of important messages that are specific to this time of year, including saving money for summer vacations and putting more money into a health savings account so employees can plan for healthcare expenses for the remainder of the year.

Here are four messages employers should share with their employers this month.

1. Think about putting more money in your HSA.

May is a great time for your employees to take stock of their healthcare costs from January to April, and plan ahead for the second half of the year. Here’s a breakdown you can send to help them save money and have more cash available through December to pay their bills.

  1. Add up this year’s out-of-pocket health care costs thus far.
  2. Make a new estimate of your upcoming expenses (padding that estimate for unexpected expenses that may pop up.).
  3. Add your estimated costs to what you’ve already spent.
  4. Compare that total with how much you’ll have in your HSA account at the end of the year as it is now.
  5. If there’s a gap, you can increase your contribution rate now to make up the difference.

2. Adjust your W-4s.

Tax season has passed, which means it’s an excellent time to…think a little more about taxes.

The tax law changes that went into effect at the start of 2018 might have made your employees’ existing W-4s less accurate. If they didn’t update their withholding amount last year, they might have been surprised by a smaller refund, a balance due, or even by a penalty owed — and chances are, they don’t feel too happy about it.

Let your employees know that they can prevent unexpected surprises like this next tax season with a visit to this IRS tax withholding calculator. There, they can estimate their 2019 taxes and get instructions on how to update their W-4 withholdings to try and avoid any surprises next year. If they can update their W-4 online, send them the link along with clear step-by-step instructions. And if they need to fill out a paper form, explain where to find it and how to submit it.

3. Revisit your budgeting tools.

Summer is almost here, and your employees are likely starting to think about hitting the beach, road-tripping across the country or eating their weight in ice cream. Since having fun costs money, May is a good time to serve up some ideas on how to squirrel away a little extra cash in the next few months.

Employers should share tips for saving money on benefits-related expenses, like encouraging high-deductible health plan employees to use sites like GoodRx.com for cheaper prescription costs, or visiting urgent care instead of the emergency room for non-life-threatening issues. Also, consider making employees aware of apps like Acorns, Robinhood, Stash, Digits and Tally, which round up credit or bank card expenses to the next dollar, and automatically deposit the extra money into different types of savings accounts.

4. Double-check out-of-network coverage.

While you’re on the subject of summer fun, remind your employees to take a quick peek at their health plan’s out-of-network care policies before they head out of town. If they need a doctor (or ice cream headache cure) while they’re away, they’ll know where to go, how to pay, and how to get reimbursed.

Employers should remind employees that their HSA funds never expire, and they’re theirs for life. So if they put in more than they need this year, it will be there for them next year.

SOURCE: Calvin, H. (1 May 2019) "4 benefits messages to send employees in May" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/4-benefits-messages-to-send-employees-in-may


Changes are coming to paid leave. Here’s what employers should know

Many states and local governments are enacting their own paid leave policies, making it difficult for employers to navigate employee paid leave. Read this blog post for what employers should know about the coming changes for paid leave.


A growing number of states and local governments are enacting their own paid leave policies. These new changes can be difficult for employers to navigate if they don’t understand the changes that are happening.

Adding to the confusion among employers, paid sick leave and paid family leave are often used interchangeably, when in fact there are some important distinctions. Paid sick leave is for a shorter time frame than paid family leave and allows eligible employees to care for their own or a family member’s health or preventative care. Paid family leave is more extensive and allows eligible employees to care for their own or a family member’s serious health condition, bond with a new child or to relieve family pressures when someone is called to military service.

The best-known type of employee leave is job-protected leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, where employees can request to take family medical leave for their own or a loved one’s illness, or for military caregiver leave. However, leave under FMLA is unpaid, and in most cases, employees may use available PTO or paid leave time in conjunction with family medical leave.

Rules vary by state, which makes it more difficult for multi-state employers to comply. The following is an overview of some new and changing state and local paid leave laws.

Paid sick leave

The states that currently have paid sick leave laws in place are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. There are also numerous local and city laws coming into effect across the country.

In New Jersey, the Paid Sick Leave Act was enacted late last year. It applies to all New Jersey businesses regardless of size; however, public employees, per diem healthcare employees and construction workers employed pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement are exempt. As of February 26, New Jersey employees could begin using accrued leave time, and employees who started after the law was enacted are eligible to begin using accrued leave 120 days after their hire dates.

Michigan’s Paid Medical Leave Act requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide paid leave for personal or family needs as of March.

Under Vermont’s paid sick leave law, this January, the number of paid sick leave hours employees may accrue rose from 24 to 40 hours per year.

In San Antonio, a local paid sick leave ordinance passed last year, but it may not take effect this August. The ordinance mirrors one passed in Austin that has been derailed by legal challenges from the state. Employers in these cities should watch these, closely.

Paid family leave

The five states that currently have paid family leave policies are California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Washington and the District of Columbia.

New York, Washington and D.C. all have updates coming to their existing legislation, and Massachusetts will launch a new paid family program for employers in that state. In New York, the state’s paid family leave program went into effect in 2018 and included up to eight weeks of paid family leave for covered employees. This year, the paid leave time jumps to 10 weeks. Payroll deductions to fund the program also increased.

Washington’s paid family leave program will begin on January 1, 2020, but withholding for the program started on January 1 of this year. The program will include 12 weeks of paid family leave, 12 weeks of paid medical leave. If employees face multiple events in a year, they may be receive up to 16 weeks, and up to 18 weeks if they experience complications during pregnancy.

The paid family leave program in Massachusetts launches on January 1, 2021, with up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a family member or new child, 20 weeks of paid leave for personal medical issues and 26 weeks of leave for an emergency related to a family member’s military deployment. Payroll deductions for the program start on July 1.

The Paid Leave Act of Washington, D.C. will launch next year with eight weeks of parental leave to bond with a new child, six weeks of leave to care for an ill family member with a serious health condition and two weeks of medical leave to care for one’s own serious health condition. On July 1, the district will begin collecting taxes from employers, and paid leave benefits will be administered as of July 1, 2020.

Challenging times ahead

An employer must comply with all state and local sick and family leave laws, and ignorance of a law is not a defense. Employers must navigate different state guidelines and requirements for eligibility no matter how complex, including multi-state employers and companies with employees working remotely in different jurisdictions.

These state paid leave programs are funded by taxes, but employers must cover the costs of managing the work of employees who are out on leave. While generous paid leave policies can help employers attract talent, they simply don’t make sense for all companies. For example, it can be difficult for low-margin businesses to manage their workforces effectively when employees can take an extended paid leave.

Not only must employers ensure compliance with state and local rules, but they also must make sure that their sick time, family and parental leave policies are non-discriminatory and consistent with federal laws and regulations. That’s a lot to administer.

Employers should expect to see the changes in paid sick leave and family leave laws to continue. In the meantime, companies should make sure they have the people and internal processes in place right now to track these changes and ensure compliance across the board.

SOURCE: Starkman, J.; Johnson, D. (2 May 2019) "Changes are coming to paid leave. Here’s what employers should know" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/what-employers-need-to-know-about-changing-paid-leave-laws?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000