The top tool for retaining your working parent population

When Allison Whalen returned to her job following her first maternity leave in 2017, she felt “completely overwhelmed” by the lack of supportive resources available to guide her through the leave and return-to-work process.

“I ended up getting through that first three months back at work and I realized there were about 50 things that I wish someone had told me before I'd even been on leave,” says Whalen.

Whalen says she felt lost in understanding how much child care she would need before and after returning to the office, and felt left behind on her professional development.

After returning to work for a previous employer, Whalen knew something needed to change for working parents going out and coming back from leave. She started Parentaly a parental leave benefits company, in order to help employers streamline the process of getting new parents back to work.

Parentaly provides companies and workers with tools, coaching and resources that help working parents navigate the before and after of parental leave, without sacrificing their career and helping the organization retain its talent.

These benefits became even more critical during the pandemic. Whalen herself experienced her second maternity leave this summer, and having a plan for how she would navigate this time helped her stay productive. Remote work due to COVID was an added bonus for both her and her spouse, she says.

“My second maternity leave was a way better experience because I had made a plan that around six weeks postpartum, I wanted to start spending about two to four hours a week doing work,” Whalen says. “That was possible because [my husband] wasn’t commuting and he had breaks in between meetings where he could take a walk [with the baby]. We could plan because he was there.”

While the pandemic has been a huge challenge for working parents, more flexible work arrangements have actually been beneficial to their overall productivity. Thirty percent of the working parents reported an increase in productivity during the pandemic, according to research from Rutgers University. Overall, 94% of employers say that even with employees working remotely, productivity was the same as or higher than it was before the pandemic, according to Mercer, an HR and workplace benefits consulting firm.

But flexible scheduling is just one part of the puzzle for employers wanting to support working parents. Companies that invest in employees and their families with benefits prioritizing their unique challenges see 5.5 times more revenue growth thanks to greater innovation, higher talent retention and increased productivity, according to research by Great Places to Work and Maven Clinic, a health services provider that supports women and families with their fertility, maternity, and pediatrics needs.

“So much of this comes down to productivity,” Whalen says. “[It’s about] how parents teach themselves to improve their productivity and then how the culture of the organization supports that productivity.”

To keep employees engaged and committed to work while juggling their home responsibilities, paid parental leave is a key place to start when employers look to boost their benefits for working parents. Microsoft offered employee parents 12 weeks of paid time off in order to help them deal with COVID-related school closures. PwC also updated its child care benefits to help parents deal with working from home and virtual school.

While workplaces often focus on maternity leave benefits, it’s critical they provide holistic support for parents at every stage of life, says Kate Ryder, founder and CEO of Maven Clinic.

“The best companies really look at parenthood as a journey. It’s not just about the nine months of pregnancy,” she says. “It’s not just maternity, but it’s fertility, return to work coaching [and] finding backup child care.”

As employers look ahead toward 2021, it’s critical they continue leading with empathy and understanding for working parents.

“The experience of being a working parent during COVID has been intensely difficult and stressful,” Whalen says. “I am hopeful that this experience will result in some major improvements in the longer term for me, namely a reduction in volume and duration of work travel, increased flexibility to work from home, and improved child care benefits.”

Whalen plans to encourage every employer she works with to provide more paid leave and greater flexibility and support when it comes to re-onboarding working parents coming back from leave. These actions now will benefit companies in the long-run.

“COVID has highlighted the importance of focusing on productivity over activity and so we are doing a lot of work focusing on how to work smarter, not harder,” Whalen says. “The companies that will come out on top over the next one to two years are the ones that will continue to invest in developing and retaining top talent during and through this pandemic.”

SOURCE: Schiavo, A. (22 December 2020) "The top tool for retaining your working parent population" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/parental-leave-and-other-family-planning-benefits-will-be-a-key-investment-in-2021


3 alternative ways clients can use an HSA

HSAs get hailed as a boon to retirement savers, offering rare triple-tax advantage status to dollars deposited within. But these accounts, offered in tandem with high-deductible health insurance coverage, are far more versatile than they get credit for.

Typically thought of and discussed primarily as a way to help clients meet medical bills today or in their future retirement, HSAs can provide assistance beyond this narrow scope, with funds eligible for use to pay Medicare or COBRA premiums, long-term care, and non-medical expenses — all without jeopardizing that special tax treatment.

Medicare and COBRA premiums

Once clients enroll in Medicare they can no longer contribute to their HSA, but they can do something they could never do on a high-deductible plan: use the money they’ve already stashed in it to cover their premiums.

HSA funds can pay for Medicare Parts A, B and D as well as copays for Part D. Medicare HMO, Medicare Advantage, and MAPD plan premiums are also eligible expenses for reimbursement. However, HSAs cannot help with Medicare Supplement Plan or Medigap premiums, says Paul Fronstin, director of the Employee Benefit Research Institute's health research and education program.

Married couples may run into trouble when they go to reimburse themselves for such premium expenses if the account owner isn’t also the spouse who is going onto Medicare or they are not yet 65, warns Roy Ramthun, founder and president of HSA Consulting Services and a former health care policy advisor for President George W. Bush. That’s because, while HSA’s can normally be used to pay expenses incurred by the account owner’s spouse or dependent, Medicare premiums aren’t considered an eligible expense unless the account holder is 65. This means couples with any age gap need to consider whose name the HSA should be under or each open their own HSA so that the older partner doesn’t have to wait until the younger turns 65 to take advantage of this rule. (Opening two separate HSAs will also allow clients age 55 or older to make duel $1,000 catch-up contributions on top of the usual annual limits.)

Clients who reach Medicare age but opt to delay enrolling because they’re still working can also use their HSA money to pay for their employer-sponsored health care as well as continue funding an HSA. They can do this even if their spouse is on Medicare, as long as they’re on a HDHP.

And finally, clients who lost their jobs this year will likely be relieved by another HSA premium exception. If a person has health care continuation coverage, such as with COBRA, or is collecting unemployment compensation under federal or state law then they can use their HSA to pay the premiums for their health insurance, says Fronstin.

“HSA funds will frequently be used by clients to pay premiums in situations where there are little or no alternatives,” says Justin Rucci, a financial planner at Tustin, California-based Warren Street Wealth Advisors. “In a situation where a client was laid off from work, has a hefty HSA balance, and has expensive COBRA premiums, this could be a prime candidate. Alternatively, a wealthy client with a large HSA balance beyond what they would use for out of pocket medical expenses can be a good candidate for this.”

Long-term care

Like with Medicare and COBRA, HSA funds can be used to cover premiums for purchasing long-term care insurance — if it’s the right policy.

To qualify, a policy must provide coverage for only long-term care services and kick in if you need assistance with at least two daily living activities or if you suffer cognitive impairment.

“Honestly, I don’t know how many policies do not meet these requirements,” says Ramthun. “But there may be some out there and clients will want to make sure it is the right kind or else they’re going to have a bad day when they find out it isn’t.”

If your client is unsure, have them verify with their insurer that their policy is tax-qualified before considering such a move or else they could be on the hook for income tax and a penalty.

The amount a client can take from the HSA to pay the premium depends on their age. For 2019, clients 40 or younger can withdraw $420 annually to pay this expense, but those between 41 and 50 can direct almost double, $790, to their long-term care insurance policy. Those between 51 and 60 can withdraw $1,580; 61 to 70 year-olds can take out $4,220 and people 71 and older can withdraw $5,270. (The IRS has not released the limits for 2020, but they usually rise slightly each year. Ramthun expects the new figures will be out in January.)

Alternatively, clients who do purchase long-term care insurance but pay premiums out of their own pocket each year can save those receipts and then withdraw a sum equal to that annual permitted outlay at any time in the future.

Those who would prefer to go without insurance and self-fund possible long-term care costs can tap HSA assets to pay for such expenses as they occur, allowing them to better take advantage of the potential tax-free growth that comes with saving in an HSA. However, not all long-term care costs are reimbursable, warns Ramthun.

Typically long-term services that are needed to handle daily functions if you’re chronically ill or disabled count, as do those required by a plan of care prescribed by a doctor. But those who require help with more maintenance tasks like laundry or cleaning to stay in their home can’t usually use HSA funds as they aren’t considered a medical service. Nursing home costs can also be tricky for this reason as certain medical care or assistance provided at the facility may be eligible for reimbursement but other associated expenses, like room and board or meals, often are not, even at the highest level of dependent care, says Ramthun.

Non-medical expenses

While clients may have the best intentions to save their HSA funds for future medical expenses in retirement, a year like 2020 can derail such plans. If someone needs additional funds, for, say, living expenses after a job loss or an unexpected car repair, they can withdraw funds from their HSA without triggering taxes or a penalty. The catch? They must have unreimbursed past healthcare expenses.

As long as the client had an open HSA when they incurred the medical expense and hasn’t yet tapped it to cover that cost, an amount equal to that bill can be withdrawn at any time and used for any purpose they want. Clients can claim back funds for expenses dating all the way back to 2004, when HSAs were first introduced, provided they had an account. Receipts should be on hand to prove their story in case the IRS comes checking.

One thing that can trip up clients planning to use this feature is a low or empty current HSA balance. That’s because if the account balance remains at zero for 18 months, the IRS considers the HSA closed and any medical expenses you incurred before that time will no longer be reimbursable, even if you open and fund a new HSA. “

“They essentially lose that original HSA establishment date,” says Ramthun.

Financial institutions may also act before the IRS rule kicks in, closing zero balance accounts after 15 months or earlier, again negating the ability to claim back any previous medical expenses.

Clients who move off high-deductible health plans or change employers and can no longer fund an HSA are most likely to fall victim, Ramthun adds, as a withdrawal for a medical cost or fees may empty the account without them being able to do anything to rectify it.

In desperation, clients may opt to pull more from their HSA than they have in past medical bills, but this move will cost them dearly, triggering income tax and a 20% penalty on the amount unmatched to those unreimbursed health care expenses.

Turning age 65, however, lessens this pain, as withdrawals no longer need to be paired with a medical expense to avoid that 20% tax penalty. Income tax, however, will still be owed on any funds removed for non-healthcare expenses, similar to how distributions from a traditional IRA or 401(k) are treated.

SOURCE: Renzulli, K. (04 December 2020) "3 alternative ways clients can use an HSA" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/3-alternative-uses-for-an-hsa-include-cobra-premiums-long-term-care-non-medical-expenses


Employers Consider Child Care Subsidies

Working parents have been put into situations that are causing them to almost choose between their careers and their children due to the coronavirus pandemic bringing families home and requiring work to be done virtually. Employers are now seeking ways to help employees with taking care of their children. Read this blog post to learn more.


Working parents have borne the brunt of the pandemic's impact on employees, as many must juggle their job responsibilities with overseeing their children's remote educations and overall well-being while quarantined. Some have had no choice but to quit their jobs or decided not to seek new employment when their jobs were eliminated due to the downturn, so that they could focus on caring for their kids.

In fact, an August survey by Care@Work of 1,000 working parents with children under the age of 15 showed that 73 percent were considering making major changes at work, such as revising their schedules (44 percent), looking for a different job (21 percent) or leaving the workforce entirely (15 percent).

One approach that is gaining steam among employers seeking to help employees with children is to provide child care subsidies. These typically are employer-provided spending accounts or bonuses designed to help cover the costs, in full or partially, of day care and pandemic-related educational expenses.

"Subsidizing professional child care arrangements for an organization's employees makes sound business sense because it potentially reduces the stress and anxiety that working parents might regularly experience while worrying about their children during their normal work hours," said Timothy Wiedman, a retired associate professor of management and human resources at Doane University in Crete, Neb. "And that stress and anxiety might well divert a parent's full attention from their assigned duties."

Making Sure It's Fair

To be sure, many companies have not considered offering any type of child care subsidy to working parents. A major reason often cited is that single employees, as well as those who are married without children or who have grown children, will feel slighted by an employer that offers a benefit they can't access.

"There is always that fairness doctrine that comes into play when you offer a subsidy to one employee because they have a special need that some other employee may not have or need," said Carol Kardas, SHRM-SCP, founding partner at KardasLarson, an HR consulting firm in Glastonbury, Conn. "Some may consider this a discriminatory practice, and [it] could be a cause for lower morale or productivity."

Some organizations overcome that issue by providing a different benefit instead to offset those perceptions. Wiedman suggested reviewing benefit allotments for such employer-paid offerings as elder care, the deductible required by the company-provided health care plan, the annual contribution to 401(k) retirement plans, health savings accounts, life insurance coverage (or additional disability insurance) and tuition reimbursement. The allotments can vary based on whether the employee also receives a child care subsidy.

Another option is to explain that by providing assistance to their colleagues, the workload will remain balanced and not fall more heavily on employees who don't have child care duties.

"Working parents who have to use paid time off to spend time with their children when no other arrangements can be made may also call out at the last minute, since arrangements can be canceled abruptly," Kardas said.

Alleviating Stress and Costs

Working parents who can't afford child care and don't receive a subsidy "are often interrupted by children wanting to share their toys or get a hug from dad," said Laura Handrick, an HR consultant in Phoenix. "I see the stress on parents' faces in Zoom meetings. It's too much to manage a full-time paid job and a full-time unpaid job [parenting] at the same time. The stress affects the worker's mental health, employee productivity and family relationships."

Offering child care subsidies can increase employee satisfaction and engagement, she said. "[Managers] earn employee loyalty and increased productivity from grateful employees who aren't ridiculously stressed by constant kid interruptions while working," Handrick said.

There is a financial benefit as well: Employers that supply child care subsidies can take advantage of an annual tax credit of up to $150,000 if they use it for qualified child care facilities and services. According to the IRS, "the credit is 25 percent of the qualified child-care facility expenditures, plus 10 percent of the qualified child-care resource and referral expenditures paid or incurred during the tax year." To receive the tax credit, employers must complete Form 8882.

Handrick said a company can start a child care subsidy program with flexible spending accounts (FSAs).

"The benefit of providing a child care subsidy to employees in the form of an FSA is that the employer contributes pretax dollars, reducing its payroll taxes," she said. "The employee can choose how much or how little to contribute. Those who prefer to send their children to a more expensive program can fund and pay for it through the FSA using pretax dollars."

Kardas said if workplaces hire essential workers, they could utilize government-run programs in their states, such as Connecticut's CTCARES for Child Care Program for first responders, grocery workers, state facility employees, and child care and group home workers. They could also tap into an employee assistance program (EAP) to help employees find or pay for child care, she said.

Another idea is to grant every employee a certain amount of personal time that can be used in special circumstances, such as when child care is closed or a child is sick or unable to attend a child care program on a given day.

"This type of personal time could also be given to and used by those who do not have children for attending appointments or other obligations that can't be done after work," Kardas said. "This time may not solve the issue of employees being absent, but the fact that all would share equally may help."

As workplaces reopen physical locations, HR can look for child care facilities in the immediate area and work with them to offer a discount to employees, Kardas recommended.

"Single moms and working parents rarely have an extra room at home to carve out a home office," Handrick said. "That means they're likely working from the kitchen or dining room with children at home demanding attention. Toddlers want to play, [and] school-age kids need help with online classes."

Larger employers and those with deeper resources may even consider establishing an onsite child care facility for employees and charging less than a typical child care facility, which experts agree would dramatically boost appreciation among working parents who could then visit their children during each workday.

SOURCE: Lobell, K. (22 September 2020) "Employers Consider Child Care Subsidies" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/many-workplaces-consider-child-care-subsidies.aspx


5 ways HR can help millennials be smarter than their parents about retirement

Getting younger employees to save for retirement is right up there with getting a finicky child to eat their vegetables. Sure, it's good for them, but it's not always what they want.

Participation rates and average deferral rates in voluntary enrollment plans for workers younger than 35 are well below those of other age groups, indicating that HR teams may need to take extra steps to reach this segment of their employee base, according to data from Vanguard, a leading 401(k) provider.

HR professionals are uniquely positioned to best assist younger workers. The best tack for HR experts to take with millennials in regard to retirement saving is to point out some of the mistakes their parents' generation has made in that area.

Help employees understand the destination
When it comes to saving for retirement, a lot of older workers are clearly lost. Younger workers have an opportunity to do a better job of staying on track.

Vanguard’s data show the average 401(k) participant within 10 years of retirement age (i.e., between ages 55 and 64) has a plan balance of just $69,097.

That may not provide much help over a retirement of 10 or 20 years.

Caution young staff members that one reason older workers are so badly behind in retirement saving is that they haven't checked first to see where they're going.

A MoneyRates retirement plan survey finds that 71% of workers within 20 years of retirement age still have not done a calculation of how well their savings will hold up over their retirement years.

Encourage your workforce to determine what enough savings is. Inform your staff that it only takes a few minutes to use a retirement calculator to see how much to put aside to meet savings goals. That way, your employees will know where their retirement plan is heading.

Educate employees on how to get debt under control
Saving for retirement is undermined when employees are also building up debt at the same time.

Stress that debt costs more than retirement investments are likely to earn, a dollar in debt can more than counteract the benefit of a dollar in savings.

According to the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances, the typical household still has $69,000 in debt by the time the head of that household is within 10 years of retirement.

Notice that this figure almost exactly matches the previously-mentioned amount that the average 401(k) participant in that age group has. In other words, debt can effectively wipe out a person's 401(k) savings.

So, your team’s first step toward educating workers about building a more secure retirement should be to do something many in their parents' generation failed to do: get debt under control.

Teach employees how to spread savings to make the burden lighter
Retirement saving is a big job, but younger workers have something very important on their side: time. Emphasize that spreading retirement savings out over 25 to 40 years makes the job much easier.

It gets tougher if young workers do what many of their parents' generation have done--wait and then try to catch up in the last ten years or so until retirement.

The golden rule: Don't leave free money on the table
When employers provide a 401(k) match, all staff should understand there's a direct financial incentive to start saving now. Every time employees put money into their 401(k) plan, the employer kicks in some on their behalf.

If employees don't contribute money into the plan, they don't get this money from the employer. There's no going back in future years and reclaiming that extra money the employer would have put in on the worker’s behalf.

The only way not to miss out on this free money is to contribute each and every year— and to contribute enough to get the maximum employer match available.

Show employees the benefits of saving
A dollar saved today can equal $10 at retirement age.

Saving money is hard work, but HR professionals can show their employees that it gets easier when they let their investments do the work for them.

The investment returns earned become much more powerful when compounded over a long period of time. Compounding means earning a return not just on the original money invested, but also on the returns earned in other years.

Younger workers must recognize that a dollar invested today could be worth much more than a dollar invested toward the end of their career.

There are many people of older generations who would be a lot better off today if they absorbed each of these five lessons when they were younger.

SOURCE: Barrington, R. (14 October 2020) "5 ways HR can help millennials be smarter than their parents about retirement" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/ways-hr-can-help-millennials-be-smarter-than-their-parents-about-retirement


New financial benefits give small business employees early wage access

 


Mandatory quarantines and business closures during the coronavirus pandemic have taken a particularly large financial toll on small businesses, forcing many employers to reduce wages and health coverage.

Sixty-five percent of small businesses said they were either extremely concerned or very concerned about how the coronavirus will affect their business, according to a survey by Freshbooks. In addition to financial pressure, small business employers are also tasked with providing benefits that will support struggling employees.

“COVID-19 just exacerbated what was going on in the market and put even more pressure on small companies and their employees,” says Emily Ritter, head of product marketing at Gusto, a payroll and employee benefits platform for small businesses. “Employees across America are living paycheck-to-paycheck and the stress of that can be expensive for households.”

Gusto has launched a new set of health and financial wellness benefits to provide employees with early access to earned wages, medical bill reimbursement and a savings account.

These financial tools are especially beneficial as healthcare costs drive many employees into debt, Ritter says. According to a Salary Finance survey, 32% of American workers have medical debt, and 28% of those who have an outstanding balance owe $10,000 or more on their bills.

“Financial health and health coverage is so inextricably linked, which has come into the limelight with COVID-19,” Ritter says. “We're seeing that small group health insurance is something that is really important, so if we can help small businesses help their employees with health bills, that's another component of financial health.”

Gusto’s new benefit offering allows employers to contribute to employees’ monthly health insurance costs. Contributions can vary from $100 to amounts that would cover an employee’s entire premium. The contributions are payroll-tax-free for the business and income-tax-free for employees, and employers also have the flexibility to adjust their contribution at any time.

“A large portion of American workers say that they wouldn't be able to handle the financial implications of a large injury or illness, and of course illness is top of mind in the midst of a global pandemic,” Ritter says. “So it was really important for us to show up with these solutions.”

Additionally, Gusto has launched Gusto Cashout, which gives workers early access to earned wages without any fees, helping them avoid having to turn to payday loans, overdraft fees or credit card debt between paychecks. With a new debit card function and cash accounts — which also provide interest — workers can put aside savings straight from their paychecks, helping them better navigate short-term emergencies and unexpected expenses.

Even before coronavirus, less than half of adults living in the U.S. had enough savings to pay for a $1,000 emergency expense, according to a Bankrate.com study, and 50% of employees said they live paycheck to paycheck, a CareerBuilder survey found.

“We're really trying to help people be prepared in those rainy day moments and avoid the debt cycle that happens,” Ritter says. “Because this product is free [for our clients’ employees] and the wages come out of their paycheck on payday, there is no continuous debt cycle that happens with a payday loan.”

Fifty-one percent of Americans feel at least somewhat anxious about their financial situation following the coronavirus outbreak, according to a recent survey from NextAdvisor, and nearly three in 10 Americans’ financial situation (29%) has been negatively impacted since the pandemic began.

Providing employees with financial wellness resources and other support can help small business owners build a more efficient and competitive business, despite the challenges faced during COVID, Ritter says.

“It's a win win for their employees and for their business,” Ritter says. “When employees are more financially stable, they're able to show up more effectively at work.”

SOURCE: Nedlund, E. (13 October 2020) "New financial benefits give small business employees early wage access"(Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/new-financial-benefits-give-small-business-employees-early-wage-access


Steer Clear of Misconceptions About FFCRA Tax Credits

As employers learn about the paid-leave requirements under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and corresponding tax credits, misconceptions have arisen related to such details as when to claim the credits and which employers are eligible to claim them.

The FFCRA requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide up to 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave and up to 12 weeks—10 of which are paid—of Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act time off to employees who can't work for specific reasons relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. "Under the FFCRA, the federal government will reimburse employers for the cost of this leave by way of refundable tax credits," said Jim Paretti, an attorney with Littler's Workplace Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

Eligible employers can claim refundable tax credits under the FFCRA for all or part of the cost of providing qualified paid-sick or family leave taken from April 1 through Dec. 31, noted Dasha Brockmeyer, an attorney with Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr in Pittsburgh.

When to File

Some employers believe they must wait until the end of the quarter or end of the year to claim the credits, said Asel Lindsey, an attorney with Dykema in San Antonio.

Eligible employers claim the FFCRA tax credit by retaining payroll taxes—federal income taxes and Social Security and Medicare taxes—that would otherwise be deposited with the IRS, she said. If the retained payroll taxes are insufficient to cover the full amount of the tax credit, employers can file a request with the IRS on Form 7200 for an accelerated payment. Form 7200 can be filed before the end of the month following the calendar quarter in which the qualified sick- or family-leave payments were made.

Nonetheless, the form may not be filed later than the date on which the employer files the Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2020, which generally is due Jan. 31, 2021, she said.

"If an eligible employer receives tax credits for qualified leave wages, those wages will not be eligible as payroll costs for purposes of receiving loan forgiveness under the CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act," said Carrie Hoffman, an attorney with Foley & Lardner in Dallas.

Additional common misconceptions concern the eligibility for or availability of the FFCRA paid-leave tax credits, according to Robert Delgado, KPMG's principal-in-charge of tax compensation and benefits in San Diego, and Katherine Breaks, KPMG's tax principal in Washington, D.C. They include these incorrect assumptions:

  • The group aggregation rules for determining whether an employer is eligible for the paid-leave tax credits under the FFCRA are the same for determining employer eligibility for other COVID-19-related relief, such as the employee retention credit under the CARES Act. While some employers assume that the group aggregation rules used to determine eligibility for the paid-leave tax credits are driven by tax rules, they actually are defined by the labor rules and outlined in U.S. Department of Labor guidance, as the tax credit is secondary to the requirement to provide paid leave. Under these rules, a corporation is typically considered to be a single employer but must be aggregated with another corporation if considered joint employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act rules with respect to certain employees or if they meet the integrated employer test under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
  • Employers must choose between claiming tax credits for paid leave under the FFCRA or for wages paid to employees under the employee retention credit, but they may not claim both. In fact, eligible employers may receive tax credits available under the FFCRA for required paid leave, as well as the employee retention credit, but not for the same wage payments. Similarly, employers can provide both qualified sick-leave wages and qualified family-leave wages and claim a tax credit for both, but not for the same hours. Employers may not receive a double benefit by claiming a tax credit under Section 45S taking into account the same qualified leave wages.

Other Myths

Delgado and Breaks stated that other misconceptions include the following:

  • The tax credit is limited to the qualified wages an employer must pay to an employee under the FFCRA for emergency paid sick leave and expanded FMLA. In fact, the tax credit is generally equal to 100 percent of the qualified wages an employer must pay under the FFCRA for emergency paid sick leave and expanded FMLA increased by the employer's share of Medicare owed on the wages, as well as any qualified health plan expenses.
  • An employer may not receive tax credits for FFCRA-required paid leave if it receives a Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program loan. Actually, an employer may receive tax credits for paid leave under the FFCRA, as well as a Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program loan, but the qualified wages are not eligible as payroll costs for the purposes of loan forgiveness.
  • Employers can exclude the amount of the paid-leave tax credit from gross income. In fact, employers must include the full amount of the credits in gross income—that is, qualified leave wages plus any allocable qualified health plan expenses and the employer's share of the Medicare tax on the qualified leave wages. But employers may deduct the amount paid for emergency paid sick leave and expanded FMLA as an ordinary and necessary business expense in the taxable year paid or incurred, including wages for which they expect to take a tax credit.

"If an employer fails to claim a paid-leave tax credit on their Form 941 for the applicable quarter in which the leave wages are paid, the employer can submit a Form 941-X to reflect the corrections, including eligibility for the credit," Delgado and Breaks also noted.

SOURCE: Smith, A. (13 November 2020) "Steer Clear of Misconceptions About FFCRA Tax Credits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/coronavirus-misconceptions-ffcra-tax-credits.aspx


How benefit advisers can hold healthcare plans accountable for their prices

Brokers and consultants already know that much of the growth in health benefit costs is not driven by insurer and TPA rate increases, but rather by the increase in the price and volume of healthcare services. While some of these costs are due to growing survivability rates for serious diseases and therapeutic improvements, much are avoidable, such as expenses associated with unnecessary care and unnecessarily expensive care. Evidence of variability of costs is found in the fact that unit cost and utilization can vary wildly from health system to health system, even within the same market.

Read more: 4 drivers of healthcare costs — and what advisers should do

Just because macro healthcare economics is the primary driver of overall health costs, doesn’t mean that health plans are powerless to control price increases. Even though health plans can and do negotiate rates directly with health systems in their networks, too often they don’t do everything they can to offer exceptional value to their customers. They don’t ask the right questions of health systems, they don’t practice thorough utilization management, and they don’t contract exclusively with providers who focus on high-value care. In other words, they don’t work hard enough to eliminate unnecessary costs or to bring prices down. Instead, they treat them as a given and pass those costs on to their customers.

Too often, benefit advisers take the whole healthcare market as a given, especially due to the popularity of broad preferred provider organization (PPO) networks, which include almost every system in an area. But the reality is that economics vary dramatically from system to system, so employee benefit advisors need to understand local economics in order to effectively evaluate network differences and find value. They can do this by:

  • Heavily and skeptically questioning carriers and TPAs to understand their networks and participating providers. Examples of questions to ask include: Tell me your opinion about different health systems in your network? How much do negotiated fees vary for outpatient services, professional services, etc.? Why is a specific expensive provider part of your narrow / high-performance network?

It’s also important to ask when a contract with a specific health system is up and if it will be renegotiated soon, since a new contract could include very different rates from the current one. Note that some of the time, carriers will discuss rates as a function of Medicare, but because Medicare DRG rates can vary dramatically from hospital to hospital, an adviser needs to understand Medicare base rates.

  • Analyzing claims. Every adviser has plenty of these available to them, and they should be analyzing those claims to determine which providers are lower cost and which are higher cost. In particular, it’s important to look at outpatient rates, facility rates, and professional rates, by specialty. It’s also important to compare the same diagnosis codes across providers. For example, claims could reveal that a hypothetical Dr. Jones operates on 100 patients out of 100, while a hypothetical Dr. Smith operates on only 50 patients out of 100 with the same condition. To figure out why this discrepancy exists, we would have to dig deeper since some doctors or practices may cater to only high-risk patients. Claim data can help shed light on health plan information that is not typically available to the public as health plan rates are often proprietary but appear on claims.

Taking all of these steps will help benefit advisers achieve something essential: holding health plans accountable for their prices. If a health plan doesn’t aggressively hunt for high value providers and reward them, you should ask why. And if you don’t like their answer, you probably identified a plan that isn’t a good fit for your clients because it doesn’t deliver on what matters most: quality care offered at an affordable price without compromising coverage.

SOURCE: Cohen, A. (04 November 2020) "How benefit advisers can hold healthcare plans accountable for their prices" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/how-benefit-advisers-can-hold-healthcare-plans-accountable-for-their-prices


4 key reasons employers must offer financial security benefits

During the continuous trials of the coronavirus pandemic, it's important for employers to contribute to their employee's financial wellness. Read this blog post to learn more.


A financial security benefit that helps employees pay for and manage their out of pocket healthcare expenses allows an employer to keep healthcare costs down, while providing a much-needed benefit to their employees, one that pays dividends for years to come.

With the uncertainty of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it is more vital than ever that employers contribute to employees’ overall financial wellness.

There are four key reasons why employers need to provide a financial security benefit to their employees.

First, restore the "benefit" in your health benefit offerings. The standard employer-sponsored health plan comes with nearly an $8,000 out-of-pocket expense.

Considering that the vast majority of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck and 40% struggle to cover a $400 emergency expense, it’s no wonder why so many individuals consider themselves functionally uninsured despite being covered by an employer’s health plan. When an employer’s price tag to purchase that insurance for a family now exceeds $20,000 a year, it is painful for employers to witness their employee benefit suddenly become an employee liability.

Providing employees with guaranteed access to credit for medical expenses on consumer-friendly terms that they may not have access to on their own is of tremendous benefit. A benefit like this gives employees something their health plan alone can’t – financial security.

Second, remove the barriers to care. More than ever, employees with high deductible health plans are skipping care, which has costly consequences. Employees who skip care stay sick for a longer period of time and as a result, employers lose worker productivity. When outcomes erode and care is delayed, employers will see an increase in health plan expenses. By providing a financial security benefit from the start, employees can seek care with confidence, and prevent this unhealthy ripple effect from happening.

Third, increase participation in Health Savings Accounts. HSAs are great additions to an employer’s benefit line-up. In some cases, they are also the only plan design that an employer can afford to offer. Employees who are presented the choice of an HSA often bemoan that while the program should work well for them, and that the price-tag for the premium is right, the specter of a one-time deductible exposure makes them hesitant to enroll.

While lower premiums paired with some employer HSA contributions can often cover that exposure, employees worry about the timing of these expenses, particularly if they arrive early in the plan year. Providing an affordable way for employees to pay for their healthcare expenses whenever they are incurred, removes a major barrier to HSA plan election. Further, adding a financial security benefit is much more cost effective for the employer than front-loading the HSA with hard dollars at the beginning of the plan year.

Finally, they are great recruitment and retention tools. According to a recent Gallup poll, the availability and affordability of healthcare tops the list of concerns in America. As employers grapple with objectives, such as attracting, and retaining talent and balancing costs, a financial security benefit not only addresses a major employee concern, but also can help organizations differentiate themselves from their competitors.

With COVID-19 changing the landscape of healthcare and open enrollment around the corner, employers need to rethink their benefit strategy while keeping costs down. Attracting and retaining employees remains a high priority for employers and providing a financial security benefit will not only attract top talent but will also save on an employer’s overall bottom line.

SOURCE: Chambers, O'Meara A. (03 November 2020) "4 key reasons employers must offer financial security benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/4-key-reasons-employers-must-offer-financial-security-benefits


How to bridge the health insurance knowledge gap for younger employees

More often times than not, when younger employees are searching for their own health insurance plans, they make common and costly mistakes due to the lack of education in regards to health care plans. Proper education could help the young generation of employees for their health, wellness, and future. Read this blog post to learn more.


With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, young adults were able to stay on their parents health insurance plans until the age of 26. But once they get their own health insurance, many young employees make common and costly mistakes because they don’t have the proper education when choosing their own programs.

This information gap could result in employees being hesitant to seek care, resulting in higher medical expenses for employees and reduced productivity from sick leave.

“It’s a challenge— there’s a fair number of employees that will come off of their parent's insurance at the age of 26,” says Amanda Baethke, director of corporate development at Aeroflow Healthcare. “There's not a lesson that you go through in order to understand insurance.”

How can employers help younger workers avoid health insurance mistakes?
It's beneficial for HR to do a training where they're going over what co-pays, premiums, deductibles and coinsurance are. When signing up for insurance, employees are trying to decide which insurance to pick and may not understand the full impact of that decision. Employees could pick the cheapest one because they want less out of their paycheck. There's just not a lot of discussions happening and employees are left blind.

What mistakes do young workers make when it comes to health insurance?
I’ll get a lot of questions from my team like ‘What’s an HSA and what’s the benefit?’ It's truly a lack of understanding, because nobody teaches it. A lot of mistakes will happen with out-of-network providers. They don't realize that there are insurance networks and then within those networks, there are more narrow networks underneath.

For example, an employee can call a doctor's office and ask if that office is in-network and the receptionist may respond that they are — especially for the national brands like UHC, Aetna, Cigna, Humana. However, many of those plans have narrow networks under them that allow them to better control cost. So the employee would want to ensure their particular group/plan is in-network.

Another thing is making sure employees know that even though they have a deductible, some preventative care is likely covered under their insurance. This will help them choose the right physician so if they do get sick later on, they can see that physician, rather than going to a hospital which would be more costly for them.

What specific role should HR take when it comes to educating younger employees about health insurance?
HR is responsible for making sure that employees understand the benefits that they're offering. HR works incredibly hard to deliver the best benefits possible and advocate for each and every employee. So why not just go the extra step and have a consultation with the insurance company to explain what the benefits mean, what is covered, what may not be covered, how to really navigate through the insurance company and work back with them.

SOURCE: Schiavo, A. (19 October 2020) "How to bridge the health insurance knowledge gap for younger employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/how-to-bridge-the-health-insurance-knowledge-gap-for-younger-employees


Here's your employee checklist for open enrollment

 


The COVID-19 pandemic has focused consumer attention on health care, germs and the impact a single illness can have on their lives, livelihoods and loved ones. With the fall open enrollment season almost here, you have the opportunity to think more critically about the specific plans you choose for yourself and your family, as well as any voluntary benefits that may be available to you, including childcare, elder care and critical illness. In a world where it feels like health is out of the individual’s control, we all want, at the very least, to feel control over our coverage.

As we know all too well, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to choosing and using health care benefits. The most important piece of becoming an informed health care consumer is ensuring you have access to — and understand — the benefits information you need to make smart health care choices.

While open enrollment may seem daunting, devoting an hour or two to reviewing your plan options, the programs available to support you and your family physically, mentally and financially, and how to get the most from the coverages you do elect, can go a long way towards providing peace of mind as we face the unknowns of 2021. Here are five tips to keep in mind as you prepare for and participate in open enrollment.

 Prepare for COVID-19 aftermath
As if dealing with the threat of the virus (or actually contracting it) wasn’t enough, consumers must consider the unexpected consequences. Quarantines, stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns have resulted in missed preventive care visits — including annual immunizations. For instance, many children will have missed their preschool vaccinations, which could result in an uptick in measles, mumps and rubella.

Don’t forget that preventive care is covered by most plans at 100% in-network regardless of where that care is received. Schedule your appointments as soon as possible (and permissible in their area), and research other venues for receiving care, such as pharmacies, retail clinics and urgent care facilities. Most are equipped to provide standard vaccinations and/or routine physicals.

Unfortunately, there are also the long-term implications of COVID-19 to consider. Research suggests that there are serious health impacts that emerge in survivors of COVID-19, such as the onset of diabetes and liver, heart and lung problems. And many who were able to ride out the virus at home are finding it’s taking months, not weeks, to fully recover. As a result, you should prepre for the possibility that you, or a loved one, may be ill and possibly out of work for an extended period of time. Be sure to evaluate all of the plans and programs your employer offers to ensure your family has the financial protections you need. For some, a richer health plan with a lower deductible, voluntary plans such as critical illness or hospital indemnity insurance, and buy-up life and disability insurance may be worth investigating for the first time.

 Re-evaluate postponed elective procedures
Many employees or their family members have postponed or skipped elective procedures — either from fear of exposure to COVID-19 at hospitals and outpatient facilities, or because their hospitals and providers cancelled such procedures to conserve resources to treat COVID-19 patients. As a result, an estimated 28.4 million elective surgeries worldwide could be canceled or postponed in 2020 due to the virus.

As hospitals reopen, it may be difficult to schedule a procedure due to scheduling requirements and pent up demand. A second opinion may be in order if your condition stabilized, improved or worsened during the delay; there may be other treatment options available.

A delay in scheduling also provides an opportunity to “shop around” for a facility that will provide needed care at an appropriate price — especially if you are choosing to go out-of-network or have a plan without a network. Researching cost is the best way to find the most affordable providers and facilities with the best quality, based on your specific needs.

Many medical plans offer second opinion and transparency services, and there are independent organizations who provide “white glove,” personalized support in these areas. Read over your enrollment materials carefully, or check your plan’s summary plan description, to see what your employer offers. If nothing is available, ask your employer to look into it, and don’t hesitate to do some research on your own. Doing so can often result in substantial cost savings, without compromising on quality of care.

 Confirm your caregivers
Because so few elective procedures were performed during the initial phases of the pandemic, many hospitals sustained huge financial losses. As a result, many small hospitals are closing, and large hospitals are using this opportunity to purchase smaller, independent medical practices that became more financially vulnerable during the pandemic. Further, many physicians have opted to retire or close their practices in light of the drastic reductions to their income during local shutdowns.

Be sure to check up on your preferred health care providers — especially those you might not see regularly — to confirm they are still in business and still in network (if applicable). If you live in a rural area, you may have to travel farther to reach in-network facilities. If you’re currently covered by an HMO or EPO, you may want to evaluate whether that option still makes sense, if your preferred in-network providers are no longer available.

 Look at all the options
Voluntary coverages — such as critical illness, hospital indemnity, buy-up disability, and supplemental life insurance — may help ease your concerns about how you will protect your and your family’s finances if you become ill. Pandemic aside, these benefits can provide a substantial safety net at a relatively low cost. Investigate your employer’s offerings — many employers are offering virtual benefit fairs where vendors can provide more information about these benefits while remaining safe from large social gatherings.

When was the last time you changed your medical plan? If you’ve been keeping the same coverage for years, it might be time to look at what else is available. Your employer may have introduced new plans, or you may find that a different plan makes more sense financially based on how often you need health care. Don’t forget — the cheapest plan isn’t always the one with the lowest premiums.

Besides your health coverage (medical, dental and vision), many employers offer other plans and programs to support your health. While you’re already focused on benefits, take the time to learn about what else is available to you. These offerings may range from the previously mentioned advocacy and transparency services and voluntary benefits, to personalized, one-on-one enrollment support, to telemedicine services and an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Also, many employers made temporary or permanent plan changes to address COVID-19 regulations and concerns. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these changes — and when they might expire.

You may also want to consider setting aside funds in a health savings account or health care flexible spending account (if available). If your employer offers a wellness program, this might be an opportunity to start adopting better health habits to ensure you’re better equipped physically and mentally to deal with whatever lies ahead.

SOURCE: Buckey, K. (21 October 2020) "Here's your employee checklist for open enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/list/heres-your-employee-checklist-for-open-enrollment