Employees say companies have yet to communicate benefit changes

Originally posted August 27, 2013 by Andrea Davis on  https://ebn.benefitnews.com

The October 1 deadline for employers to notify employees of their health coverage options is looming yet the majority of employees say their company has yet to communicate any changes, according to a survey released this morning by Aflac.

Sixty-nine percent of employees surveyed say their employer hasn’t communicated changes coming to their benefits package due to health care reform, despite the October 1 deadline.

In a separate Aflac survey, meanwhile, only 9% of companies indicate they are very prepared to implement required changes to their business based on the health care reform law at this time. Some employers (41%) believe more gaps in coverage will be created and 69% believe costs to employees will increase as a result of health care reform.

“At the heart of this issue is the fact that many workers will be blindsided this open enrollment season because we know they already struggle with understanding their insurance policies today, and in covering the high out-of-pocket costs from gaps in their current coverage,” says Michael Zuna, Aflac’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

Other statistics from the open enrollment survey of employees include:

  • 74% of workers sometimes or never understand everything that is covered by their insurance policy today.
  • 37% of workers think it will be more difficult to understand everything in their health care policy with the changes dictated by health care reform.
  • 28% of employees are confused, worried or simply unsure about the change their employer is making to their health care coverage or benefits options due to health care reform.
  • 60% of workers have not begun to educate themselves about coming changes to their benefits package due to health care reform.


Employers Gear Up For Health Care Changes

Original article from insurancenewsnet.com

By Cyril Tuohy

With the enrollment period for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) little more than four months away, employers are gearing up to inform their workers of the big changes ahead.

For employers who have not yet decided whether to continue offering health coverage or pay the fine for dropping coverage, “now is the time to think about that,” Andrew Molloy, assistant vice president of health management and insurance programs at Unum, said in an interview with InsuranceNewsNet.

So far, it appears the vast majority of employers will keep their coverage for full-time workers, according to a recent poll by the Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. The survey found that 69 percent of employers will “definitely” continue to provide employer-sponsored health care when the exchanges go live Jan. 1, 2014.

Proponents of health reform, including President Barack Obama, said workers who receive good coverage under their employer-sponsored plan are likely to maintain that coverage, either with existing plans or something very similar.

Employees have an advantage under employer-sponsored coverage models, thanks to the power of group health pricing. Employers benefit as well because of the tax advantages associated with offering workplace-based coverage.

Corporate human resources departments, therefore, are working overtime to inform employees of the big changes. Everyone from insurance carriers to benefits brokers to payroll administrators are racing to inform clients of the changes through brochures, podcasts, blog postings, webinars and dedicated webpages.

“We know that everybody needs to comply with the Affordable Care Act and they are going to try as hard as they can to reduce cost under their respective health care plan and certainly you need a health care compliance strategy to achieve that,” Dave Sanders, health and benefits legal practice with AonHewitt, said in a recent webcast.

For now, companies can focus on the compliance strategy. But, in the long term, they also will need a health care strategy, he said.

Government websites also are full of information about what employers and employees need to know before employees make an enrollment decision. Earlier this month, for instance, the Department of Labor issued guidance to companies on notification procedures of coverage options to employees under Section 18(B) of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Unum, which offers, life, disability and voluntary benefits coverage, believes a more informed employer makes life easier for employees and insurance carriers.

“It’s important in our role that we educate our clients, and we mean it so that requires us to help our clients, or in some cases brokers, to understand what their implications are on their total benefit of decision making,” Molloy said. “We recognize that medical is the biggest driver of the benefit decision.”

The majority of employer-sponsored health plans begin coverage Jan. 1, 2014, following the three-month enrollment period from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31.

“Some employees will qualify for subsidies and qualify for the exchanges, and employees will be asking questions,” he said. If employees are not asking lots and lots of questions they really should be, Molloy said.

Unum clients and brokers, who play a key role in advising clients, have snapped up the company’s 50-page pamphlet outlining key steps and strategies companies should think about for 2014 and beyond, Molloy also said.

Big-picture questions many employers will want answers to include:

- whether to “pay or play,” meaning to pay the fine or play in the employer-sponsored health benefits marketplace

- whether they meet the 50 full-time-equivalent threshold under which they don’t have to offer coverage

- which states have a state-run exchange or have elected to default to the federal exchange (Fewer than half the states are establishing an exchange.)

The finer points of the law -- such as compliance with deductible limits and out-of-pocket expenses, the contributions to the Transitional Reinsurance Program by sponsors of self-insured group health plans, new limitations on Flexible Spending Accounts, who qualifies for subsidies and levies on medical device manufacturers -- are better left to benefits brokers and advisors.

Still, employers need to be informed in upcoming discussions with their brokers, and with Memorial Day weekend around the corner, many advisors and corporate benefits experts can expect this to be, if not a hot summer, then at least a long one.

“If you are a company that’s going to play and you haven’t thought about it, it’s time,” Molloy said.

© Entire contents copyright 2013 by InsuranceNewsNet.com, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reprinted without the expressed written consent from InsuranceNewsNet.com.


Employers get sneak peek at health care exchanges

By Kathleen Koster

Source: https://ebn.benefitnews.com

Communicate early, say employers using retiree exchange

Before eligible individuals and small employers begin shopping in the public health care exchanges in 2014, private retiree Medicare exchanges provide a glimpse of what public and private health insurance exchanges could look like.

In two years, brokers and other benefit advisers will help people choose appropriate plans from an array of insurance carriers. In particular, platform providers of multi-carrier Medicare exchanges believe they are in a unique position to help employees navigate the public exchanges.

"We see our role as the air traffic controller helping to organize these exchanges and information, and on behalf of those organizations, helping enroll early retirees and part-time workers to the plan that's right for them," says Bryce A. Williams, president and CEO of Extend Health, Inc., which operates a large private exchange in the U.S.

Williams, who has been meeting with several states on health care exchange development, anticipates 15-to-20 states will have a fully functioning exchange ready to offer a broad diversity of plans starting Jan. 1, 2014. Those leading the pack are Maryland, Oregon and California. States not ready at that time will have access to the federal government exchange.

"There will be an array of new choices for employees, part-time workers and early retirees with some of America's biggest companies to access guaranteed-issue individual plans for the first time," explains Williams.

For many new entrants, the exchange will be new territory, so advisers like Extend Health hope to provide information and direction to help individuals find the right plan at the right price.

PPACA "allows for external agents and brokers to connect into the system ... and get ready to place individuals into the exchanges where it's the right fit," and alert them if they qualify for subsidies, Williams adds.

Each exchange must establish a navigator program to fund outreach and education efforts. Community-based organizations and professional associations will act as navigators to help consumers understand the new health insurance options available through the exchange. Navigators are also tasked with raising broad public awareness around the exchange and providing referrals to relevant consumer assistance programs. Agents and brokers may also serve as navigators, provided they meet required standards.


The Massachusetts experience

The Massachusetts exchange, enacted through state law in 2006 under former governor and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, will continue to play a central role in delivering health care to the uninsured. The state plans to improve the usability of its current website interface with federal support, as well as link seamlessly to federal databases.

"We will be building Web functionality that links to federal databases so that we can, in real time, evaluate people's eligibility for coverage in the exchange, including their eligibility for subsidies, and quickly route them through a crystal clear, cutting-edge, simple and comprehensible shopping experience," says Glen Shor, executive director of Massachusetts's Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority.

In addition to its website, the Massachusetts Exchange will continue to provide a call center with "top-notch customer assistance" for help with the benefit selection and billing process, as well as help picking the best value plan, says Shor.

"We're going to work extraordinarily closely with brokers ... We want to make it easier and more efficient for brokers to assess the landscape of health insurance options for the small businesses they serve," he adds. The state is also working with nonprofit organizations to help low-income people enroll for health care and receive any possible subsidies.

In addition, a new wellness track feature helps small business employees and individuals using the Health Connector tool make healthy behavior choices. By participating in the wellness program, a subset of small businesses can qualify for a 15% rebate on the employer share of a health insurance premium, which can then put toward covering their employees.

To qualify for a wellness rebate, employers need a certain percentage of employees to get an annual physical. Outreach to small employers has already begun, and public education will escalate as 2014 approaches. The state introduced the Health Connector through employer road shows.

"We've learned in Massachusetts that outreach and public education, including around opportunities to access affordable coverage through the Health Connector, is critical to bringing people into the ranks of the insured and keeping them [there]," says Shor, adding that "in general, the Affordable Care Act gives us an opportunity in Massachusetts to [expand] what has been a very successful model," he says.


Exchange transparency

When Extend Health first introduced retirees to its private Medicare exchange six years ago, many people simply chose the cheapest plan - no matter their health status and needs. Once they realized how high their out-of-pocket costs were in high-deductible health plans, they would call the support team asking to switch plans.

In order to prevent that buyers' remorse, Extend Health now has 1,000 benefit advisers in call centers ready to take retiree questions and advise them on plan choices based on their health needs and medications.

For the public exchanges, Extend Health believes that trained, licensed advisers who have access to federal databases can be helpful in determining eligibility for employees and early retirees.

Individuals will either shop in the public exchange or get coverage from one of the 80 carriers on Extend Health's exchange platform.

Bryce says the company will provide "private and public exchange products from one platform, one call, one place." In addition, employers will be able to monitor in real-time when their population makes an exchange election or connects with an adviser.


Expectation of paternalism

"People have an expectation if they've just come off of a group plan of open enrollment selection," Williams says. "Employers have an expectation of paternalism; they expect that everyone is going to get coverage."

Four employers have used the beta version of Extend Health's BenefitView tool, each successfully completing their pilot test. Extend Health is now rolling out the tool to all its employer-clients. The tool helps ensure that every retiree is contacted and advised on choosing the best plan that meets the individual's needs. BenefitView assures that the employer-client has full transparency on the status of the transition of its retirees' from group coverage to individual coverage.

Employers can monitor engagement of specific population segments and reach out more aggressively to groups not making appointments with advisers or benefit selections.

The Web platform also shows the HR department how many plans have been selected over how many carriers, and the average insurance premium. It can also give HR statistics about the anticipated or past wait times for the call center.

U.S. retirees and Medicare-eligibles at International Paper entered the Extend Health exchange in July 2012, and over 10,000 people have selected 806 different plans among 66 different carriers.

The company started communicating about the new process in February and has monitored retirees' progress.

"We wanted to make sure [participants] were getting the information they needed, because this is a very different animal for them as opposed to the one-size-fits-all methodology that we had in the past from our medical plan," explains Melissa (Missy) Hartfiel, benefits planner, International Paper.


Lessons learned

By watching what communication efforts retirees were responding to and what modes weren't engaging, the company was able to make adjustments and prod groups that weren't getting involved. The best part: HR could gather information itself and present it immediately to executives when needed.

"As an HR professional, it's nice when you can pull your own information. Through BenefitView, I could look at any population, day or night," says Hartfiel.

Reflecting on its marketing campaign, Hartfiel advises sponsors to start strategizing and communicating early about the public exchanges.

"Once you start parsing down [to communicate to different group populations], it takes time to really craft that message," she explains.

Another user of the exchange agrees: "You need to overcommunicate to make sure you reach the intended audience that you're trying to reach," says Scott McIntyre, manager of employee benefits, Oak Ridge National Labs.

McIntyre and the Extend Health advisers were able to contact 99% of the company's retirees, and 3,360 were enrolled in 68 different plans from 30 different carriers.

"If I'm an employer and I'm going to subsidize the health care cost [for employees or early retirees], I certainly would want a mechanism to ensure that employees enroll in plans that they are interested and comfortable in," McIntyre says.

Hartfiel explains that using Extend Health's model - even though it's a retiree Medicare exchange - has "given us an idea of how [the public and private] exchanges will work as we start planning our strategy for the 2014 exchanges."

International Paper plans to analyze its population health data later this year to decide whether it will engage any segment of employees in the future public or private exchanges.


Eight tips for employees during open enrollment


Source: https://www.benefitspro.com

It's open enrollment time again.

And with new regulations in place because of health reform, as well as ever increasing health costs, employees can use all the help they can get.

“Employers are making more changes than ever to their benefits plan designs and as a result employees need to take extra precautions to assure that they have the benefits coverage they expect, for a price they can afford, during this year’s open enrollment period,” says Cynthia Weidner, vice president H&W consulting, HighRoads.

HighRoads offers eight tips to employees so they can make the most of their benefits plans, while saving money.

Get your plan materials.

Pay attention to how your employer is making your SBCs and the traditional Summary Plan Descriptions available to you. Many are making them more accessible online, via mobile apps as well as on paper. It’s good to know how you can access this information during open enrollment and throughout the year, in case you want to review it again when you are in need of a particular medical service.

Do your homework.

Take the time during open enrollment to truly read through your plan materials, including the SBCs and SPDs, to make yourself familiar with each of your plan options. Reading each of these materials will give you the detailed plan descriptions you need to decide on the best plan for you and your family in the coming year.

Calculate your costs.

Many employers provide cost calculators to help project your total cost for the coming plan year. The total cost includes the premium you pay as well as your share of the deductible and coinsurance. Take the time during open enrollment to think through your potential medical needs and calculate your anticipated expenses before selecting a plan. It may save you hundreds in the long run.

Consider an account.

If your employer offers you the option of a health care account, whether it is a flexible spending account, a health reimbursement account or a health savings account, take a good look at it. These accounts can help you save money on qualified medical expenses that aren’t covered by your health care plan, such as deductibles and coinsurance. Each account has a different set of rules about how and when you can spend the money, but each are worth considering because the savings you’ll see can add up quickly.

Ask if you have a grandfathered plan.

One of the benefits of health care reform is an extended list of preventive care benefits that must be offered by new health care plans for free. Preventive services such as colonoscopy screenings for colon cancer, pap smears and mammograms for women, well-child visits and flu shots for all children and adults must be offered without out-of-pocket costs.

However, these benefits are only for new health plans and don’t apply to “grandfathered” plans that haven’t significantly changed in a few years. Find out if your plan is considered to be “grandfathered” and identify exactly what preventive services are covered for free.

Prepare for the unexpected.

Everyone needs to be prepared for the unexpected, including job loss, divorce or other life-changing events. Be sure you know what the benefits plan costs might be if you need to pay for it under COBRA.

COBRA requires that most employers with group health plans must offer employees the opportunity to continue temporarily their group health care coverage under their employer's plan if their coverage otherwise would cease due to termination, layoff, or other change in employment status (referred to as “qualifying events”). However, COBRA insurance must be paid entirely by the former employee. Be certain that if you need to continue your company’s health coverage that you are comfortable with the full premium cost should you need to pay for it on your own.

Use wellness incentives.

More employers than ever before are offering incentives to employees and their family members for health improvement. These incentives may come in the form of medical premium discounts, access to certain low deductible plans or even incentives and prizes. Some employers even offer to put money in an employee's medical account as an incentive. Take the time to learn everything your employer offers. You may find that you are already leaving money on the table because you have a gym membership or participate in a weight loss program that qualifies for an incentive from your employer.

Know your deadlines.

No matter what changes you may make, if any, during this year’s open enrollment period, don’t let your selection deadlines slip by without action. Doing nothing could end up costing you hundreds in 2013 in higher premium costs, lower coverage, or missed opportunities to optimize your health care dollars. Missing your open enrollment deadline will mean that you have to wait it out a full year before making changes that can help pad your bank account.


Unum: Higher Worker Satisfaction Linked to Effective Benefits Education

By Marli D. Riggs

August 20, 2012

Employee morale continues a slow but steady decline from 2008 levels, but the benefits enrollment season, vastly approaching, offers employers the chance to positively engage their employees, according to recent research from Unum.

The fourth annual survey of American workers, completed following the 2011 benefits enrollment period, finds that 28% say morale has declined since last year.

The survey, conducted online by Harris Interactive among more than 1,100 employed adults, also found that just 55% of workers would choose to stay with their employer if they were offered the same pay and benefits elsewhere – a 7-point drop since 2008.

More than 8 in 10 (82%) employees who rated their benefits education highly also rated the employer an excellent or very good place to work. Conversely, only 27% of employees who rated their benefits education as fair or poor also said their employer was an excellent or very good place to work.

“At the heart of the survey’s findings is a clear connection between effective benefits education and engaged employees,” says Nash. “When employers show their concern for their employees’ financial well-being, everyone benefits.”

And some 79% of those who rated their benefits education highly said they would choose to stay with their current employer even if they were offered the same pay and benefits elsewhere.

“In this climate, the need for effective benefits education is greater than ever,” says Barbara Nash, vice president of corporate research at Unum. “Our research shows that a good benefits education experience is a highly effective, low-cost way for employers to demonstrate their concern for employees and their well-being.”

The link between a positive benefit education experience and overall workplace satisfaction isn’t new, yet the research finds that employers continue to spend too little time and fewer resources on helping employees understand their benefits:

• 28% of employees who were asked to review their benefits in the past year said the benefits education provided by their employers is fair or poor.

• Half of those employees said they received printed information or brochures, down from 70% in 2008.

• More than a third of those employees were offered a chance to attend an information and question-and-answer session about benefits, down from 52% in 2008.

• The percentage of respondents who had access to a toll-free number to speak with a benefits adviser dropped sharply from 47% in 2008 to 29% in 2011.