DOL Updates the Employer CHIP Notice | Cupertino Employee Benefits

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has updated the model notice for employers to use to inform employees about the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). All employers with group health plans are required to distribute a CHIP notice at least once a year to employees living in certain states. There is no need to send another notice to workers who received the prior version in the past year, but employers should use the updated notice going forward. This also is a good time for employers to review their procedures for distributing CHIP notices.

The following are the most frequently asked questions we receive from employers about CHIP notices.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of the CHIP notice?
The CHIP notice informs benefits-eligible employees that their state’s CHIP or Medicaid program may offer premium assistance to help them pay for group health coverage at work. Many states offer some form of premium assistance to residents based on their family income. The updated notice includes contact information for each participating state (currently 37 states) and explains that persons approved for premium assistance have a special 60-day enrollment period to join their employer’s group plan without having to wait for the employer’s next annual enrollment period.

Does the CHIP notice requirement affect all employers?
All employers that offer a group health plan providing medical benefits, whether insured or self-funded, must consider the CHIP notice requirement. Each employer then will determine if it must distribute the notice depending on whether any of its employees live in one of the states listed in the notice.

Further, all group health (medical) plans must offer a special 60-day enrollment period when an employee becomes eligible for premium assistance (for the employee or a family member) from a state’s CHIP or Medicaid program.

Is the notice required for all employees or just for those enrolled in our group health plan?
The notice must be given to all employees living in any one of the listed states and eligible for the employer’s group health plan, whether or not currently enrolled. That is the minimum requirement. Many employers, however, choose to distribute the notice to all employees, regardless of benefits eligibility or location, to avoid the need for separate distributions when an employee’s status or location changes.

How do we prepare and distribute the notice? How often?
The DOL provides a model notice that employers can copy and distribute. Although employers have the option of creating their own notice to list only the states where their employees are located, most employers simply use the DOL model notice as it is. The model notice also is available in Spanish.

The notice must be distributed when employees initially become eligible for the employer’s health plan and then at least once a year thereafter. For convenience, most employers provide the notice at the same time as they distribute new hire materials and annual enrollment materials.

When combined with other materials, the CHIP notice must appear “separately and in a manner which ensures that an employee who may be eligible for premium assistance could reasonably be expected to appreciate its significance.” For instance, the notice may be a loose item in the same envelope with other material. If the notice is stapled inside other material, however, there should be a note on the top page or cover alerting the reader to the placement of the CHIP notice and its importance.

Do we have to mail out paper copies or can we distribute the notice electronically?
The notice may be sent by first-class mail. Alternatively, it can be distributed electronically if the employer follows the DOL’s guidelines for electronic delivery of group health plan materials. That means that the employer first must determine whether the intended recipient has regular access to the electronic media system (e.g., email) as an integral part of his or her job. If so, the notice can be sent electronically provided the employer takes steps to ensure actual receipt, along with notifying the employee of the material’s significance and that a paper copy is available at no cost.

For persons who do not have regular access to the electronic media system, the notice cannot be sent electronically unless the intended recipient provides affirmative consent in advance. The guidelines for obtaining advance consent are fairly cumbersome, so employers are advised to distribute paper copies in these cases.

Summary

Employers offering group health plans are encouraged to review their procedures for distributing CHIP notices. At a minimum, the notice must be given annually to all employees eligible for the employer’s health plan who live in any of the states listed in the notice. Many employers choose to distribute the notice to all workers in an abundance of caution. The DOL provides model notices in English and Spanish that do not need any customization, so employers can simply copy and distribute one or both versions as needed.

 

by Kathleen Berger
Originally posted on thinkhr.com

Trust Equation | California Benefits Partners

We are currently living in a low-trust society as a whole — we keep hearing that news is fake, science is fake, and so on. That makes it hard for us to trust anyone and is why we need to work on building trust in the workplace more than ever. Human resources professionals and business leaders have an imperative to instill a culture of trust — not just because it is key to employee engagement, satisfaction, and performance, but also because it’s just the most human thing to do.

When you look at the foundations of trust, they are simple: People want to trust that they are going to be treated with respect, that their leaders are credible, and what they do matters. They want to know that they are secure.

There are three building blocks of trust: protection, presence, and progress. I call them my “Three Ps.”

Protection

Feeling protected is a foundational need. To earn the trust of someone else, you need to provide this protection. Your employees want to feel that the organization and their bosses are looking out for them, and that they genuinely care. Underlying the protection we all need and desire are “BLT” (just like the comforting feeling of the classic BLT sandwich): balance, love, and truth. When people feel protected, they are going to demonstrate kindness, loyalty, courage, and generosity.

When you don’t instill a sense of protection, it will stifle innovation and slow down the organization.

Presence

Presence is simple. It’s literally being present in all your interactions — meetings, one-on-one discussions, and interviews. We talk a lot about mindfulness these days, but it extends beyond the personal to the relational. Today, it feels like no one is ever present — we are all tuned in to our devices all the time. So turn off your computer, phone, tablet, watch, etc. when someone comes into your office, stay focused in conversations, and don’t bring your devices to meetings. Put your attention into what you value. Enjoy the present moment and truly experience it.

Lack of presence sends a message of lack of trust.

Progress

As humans, we constantly make progress, minute by minute. We want to know that we are moving in the right direction. How are we helping our employees make progress? Are we focused on helping them move ahead? Supporting your employees’ efforts and making progress is vital to helping them feel that you care about them fundamentally.

I have a personal philosophy of growth and recommend setting weekly growth plans. I pick one personal topic, like last week was protein, and I investigate to understand it. I also pick one work topic, like running better meetings and investigate that for the week. It’s not complicated — just pick a topic and spend the week growing at it.

Ask the Right Questions

Communicating needs is important, but it takes trust to do that. One way to develop the three Ps of trust is by asking the right questions, then really listening to the answers and acting on them. It shows you care and that you want to help people not feel like they are stranded or drowning. It tells your staff it’s safe to say that they are overwhelmed or hung up somewhere, or they don’t have the answers.

Questions for one-on-ones can include:

Protection

  • How is life?
  • Do you have any decisions you are hung up on?
  • Am I giving you the resources or information you need to do your job?
  • Do you have too much on your plate?

Presence

  • What are you worried about right now?
  • What rumors are you hearing?
  • Would you like more or less direction from me?

Progress

  • If you could pick one accomplishment to be proud of between right now and next year, what would it be?
  • What are the biggest time-wasters you encounter?
  • What type and amount of feedback works best for you?

 

by Dan Riordan
Originally posted on thinkhr.com

Solving Problems - While Increasing Employee Satisfaction | Cupertino Benefits Consultants

“Design thinking” is a fairly common term. Even if the phrase is new to you, it’s reasonably easy to intuit how it works: design thinking is a process for creative problem solving, utilizing creative tools like empathy and experimentation, often with a strong visual component. The term dates from 1968 and was first used in The Sciences of The Artificial, a text written by Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon.

For Simon, design thinking involved seven components, but today it’s usually distilled to five: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test. In this way, creative tools are employed to serve individuals in a group, with a solution-driven focus. It’s important to note that these components are not necessarily sequential. Rather, they are specific modes, each with specific tools that contribute equally to solving an issue.

Most significantly, as Steve Boese of HR Executive noted in a recent column, design thinking is a rising trend in HR leadership. “Those using this strategy,” he says, “challenge existing assumptions and approaches to solving a problem, and ask questions to identify alternative solutions that might not be readily apparent.”Design thinking helps teams make decisions that include employees in meaningful ways, personalize target metrics, work outside the box, and produce concrete solutions. Even teams with established, productive structures use design thinking in the review process, or to test out expanded options.

Boese says that the key shift design thinking offers any team is the opportunity to troubleshoot solutions before they’re put into real-time practice. The main goal of design thinking is not process completion, low error rates, or output reports, as with other forms of HR technology, but employee satisfaction and engagement. More often than not, this leads to increased morale and even more opportunities for success.

 

by Bill Olson
Originally posted on ubabenefits.com

 

Ask the Experts: Marijuana and the ADA | Cupertino Benefits Firm

Question:
Is medical marijuana use protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? If so, what accommodations would be considered reasonable?

Answer:
You are not required to accommodate medical marijuana use under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Even though medical marijuana is legal in many states, under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), marijuana is still illegal. The ADA expressly excludes people who use illegal drugs from its definition of “qualified individual with a disability.”

However, as a best practice, you should still engage in the ADA interactive process if a request for a reasonable accommodation for medical marijuana use is made. Under the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities unless doing so would cause an undue hardship on the employer. Any request for a reasonable accommodation triggers an interactive process with the employee to determine:

  1. Whether the employee or applicant is a qualified individual with a disability, meaning they can perform the essential functions of the job with a reasonable accommodation; and
  2. What the employee’s needs are, and which appropriate accommodations could be made.

If the employee’s physician has determined that medical marijuana is the most effective treatment, a possible reasonable accommodation would be a waiver of your anti-drug policy. However, if the employee is in a safety-sensitive position, it may pose an undue hardship to make that accommodation and you should consider any other possible accommodations before denying the request.

There are no reasonable accommodations that would work in every circumstance. You will need to review the essential functions and safety requirements of the job with the employee to determine what types of reasonable accommodations may be acceptable while not imposing an undue hardship.

The Courts May Not Concur

While medical marijuana use is not protected by the ADA, this is being challenged at the state level. For example, in July 2017, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held in Barbuto v. Advantage Sales and Marketing that an employee who was fired after testing positive for marijuana could proceed with a “handicap discrimination” claim under the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act.

In allowing the employee’s discrimination claim to go forward, the Court expressly rejected the employer’s argument that, because marijuana is illegal under federal law, requiring an employer to accommodate medical marijuana use is per se unreasonable.

Instead, the Court held that, at a minimum, the employer was obligated to engage in an interactive dialogue concerning the employee’s ongoing medicinal marijuana use before terminating her employment. The Court did not rule out the possibility that accommodating medicinal marijuana use could pose an undue hardship, leaving that issue open for the employer to address at a later date.


Originally posted on thinkhr.com

Staffing for Scalability | California Benefits Firm

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Vince Murdica, chief revenue officer at ThinkHR, discusses what it takes to become scalable and sustainably staff companies through bursts of rapid growth.

I’ve seen it in my own career: When companies go through rapid growth — quickly moving from 50 to 100+ employees — things start to get shaky. This period of acceleration can be compared to when a jet breaks through the sound barrier. The flight is smooth until that moment, then the plane rattles violently and feels like it’s going to break apart. But when it gets through to the other side, it’s smooth skies again and you’re now flying even faster and higher.

There is a loss of control as a company gets bigger, and not all leaders can handle it. Some career entrepreneurs prefer to start companies, grow them to around 50 people, then sell them because they are uncomfortable with the growing pains that inevitably happen beyond this point. They will do it again and again.

Other leaders are better at growth and mastering scalability. They have what it takes to grow their companies over the 100-person mark. I believe these leaders consistently do three key things when growing their staff:

#1 Hire People You Trust

When you scale up, the ability of senior management to be involved in every detail — to be in all the meetings, involved with every decision, leading all the major initiatives — breaks down. There is a human limit to how many one-on-one relationships you can manage, so your ability to manage as you gain more direct reports goes down. When growing from 50 to 100 employees, new layers of management must get formed.

At this point, delegation becomes critical, or productivity will come to a screeching halt. That’s why it’s crucial to hire managers and other people you can trust. This takes time and effort, but I believe the key to establishing this environment of trust is “hiring slow and firing fast.”

#2 Delegate Responsibility and Authority

Once you’ve hired great, trustworthy people, don’t ever delegate responsibility without also delegating authority. Your staff needs to keep everything moving while you are doing other things for the organization. They can’t wait around for you to make decisions. Hand them the power to innovate, solve problems, and reach the goals you’ve set out for them.

A mantra I borrowed from a mentor is, “I don’t mind giving speeding tickets, but if I need to give too many parking tickets, we have a problem.”

I would rather an employee charge ahead and make an informed, strategic decision that turns out to be a mistake instead of hold back and move too cautiously. Everyone on my team feels empowered. We get it done and we don’t wait. (Wait is a four-letter word.) The burden on leadership is to be sure that goals and strategy are clear, so people can move quickly, with confidence and creativity.

#3 Learn from Mistakes

To me, business is like a sport. It’s a competition. There is a winner and a loser and it’s a real-world game. Approaching it that way enforces a specific mindset around it. To use football as an example: On Monday you review the film from Sunday’s game and see how you can improve. You practice all week to make tweaks, try new plays, and fix what’s broken. Then your next game is a fresh opportunity to be a new team with a new opponent.

In business, like in any sport, we are going to make mistakes. That’s how we learn, but what’s important is that we don’t make those same mistakes again. We get into the mindset of always improving. Failing isn’t necessarily bad — it means your people aren’t afraid to innovate and achieve.

Smooth Skies Ahead

Do these three things — trust, delegate, and learn — which are so core to building a scalable team, and soon your company will be breaking through the sound barrier and once again flying smooth skies.

In the end, growth can be fun, and winning is really fun. Your team will be fulfilled and feel like they are making an impact. So to mix metaphors: Go let your team get some speeding tickets!

 

by Vince Murdica
Originally posted on thinkhr.com

Getting Married? Two Questions You Need to Ask Your Partner (but Probably Haven’t) | California Employee Benefits

Getting married is a big leap. And you may be in the midst of a whole lot of planning—from when and where to have the wedding to whom to invite. But planning the wedding and honeymoon is just the start of your life together. As you start planning your future, don’t forget to put a solid financial base in place.

While you may have already talked about joint or separate bank accounts and what gets paid by whom and when, there is probably a piece you haven’t talked about: insurance. While it isn’t top of mind for most people, talking through your insurance coverages is actually an important step. As you combine households and finances, you want to make sure that you have protection in place. Here are two questions to think about and to talk through with your partner.

Do you have any life insurance? People may get a certain amount of life insurance coverage through work, often one or two times their salary. And while that sounds like a lot, you have to consider how long that money would need to last. For example, are you buying a home together? If so, would just one of you be able to continue with the mortgage if the other died unexpectedly, or would you be forced to sell it just so you could meet day-to-day living expenses?

Plus, you also have to consider that life insurance coverage through work typically ends when your job does. So if you change jobs, you may find yourself without coverage, and you new job may or may not offer life insurance as a benefit.

The easy solution is to get your own individual life insurance policy. And for most people, it can be quite affordable. Remember, the younger and healthier you are, the less expensive coverage is. For example, a healthy 30-year-old can get a 20-year, $250,000 term life insurance policy for about $13 a month. Most people can find that in their budgets.

Do you have disability insurance? If you are working and rely on your paycheck (and how many of us can say we don’t!), this is a key piece of coverage. Disability insurance pays you a portion of your salary if you were to become sick or disabled and unable to go to work and earn your paycheck.

An individual disability insurance policy has this key benefit: It will be with you as you move from job to job.

Many people think Workers’ Comp would take care of them if something happened, but you only get this coverage if the accident is work-related. Most disability claims—more than 90%—are due to illnesses, like cancer, for example. That means if you couldn’t work, you’d have no income. What is your plan to pay your monthly costs if something like this happened? That’s where disability insurance comes in. It would replace a portion of your salary so you could continue to pay your mortgage or rent and your monthly bills until you are able to return to work.

Your employer may offer this coverage through work, so be sure to talk to your HR rep or benefits administrator to see if you have disability insurance (short-term, long-term or both) and what it covers and for how long. You can also get an individual disability insurance policy, which has this key benefit: It will be with you as you move from job to job. In a tight economy, employers are always looking for ways to trim costs and unfortunately, insurance coverage is often first on the chopping block. When you have your own policy, you never have to worry about if your next job will have coverage.

Once you have talked with your partner, if you find either of you has gaps in coverage you’d like to fill, then it makes sense to sit down with an insurance agent. Remember, they will talk through your options at no cost to you—and no pressure to buy.

 

By Maggie Leyes
Originally posted on lifehappens.org

Wearable Technology | California Employee Benefits

Don’t lie--we ALL love gadgets. From the obscure (but hilariously reviewed on Amazon) Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer to the latest iteration of the Apple empire. Gadgets and technology can make our lives easier, make processes faster, and even help us get healthier. Businesses are now using the popularity of wearable technology to encourage employee wellness and increase productivity and morale.

According to a survey cited on Huffington Post, “82% of wearable technology users in American said it enhanced their lives in one way or another.” How so? Well, in the instance of health and wellness, tech wearers are much more aware of how much, or how little, they are moving throughout the day. We know that our sedentary lifestyles aren’t healthy and can lead to bigger health risks long term. Obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and Type 2 Diabetes are all side effects of this non-active lifestyle. But, these are all side effects that can be reversed with physically getting moving. Being aware of the cause of these problems helps us get motivated to work towards a solution.

Fitbit, Apple Watch, Pebble, and Jawbone UP all have activity tracking devices.  Many companies are offering incentives for employees who work on staying fit and healthy by using this wearable technology. For example, BP Oil gave employees a free Fitbit in exchange for them tracking their annual steps. Those BP employees who logged 1 million steps in a year were given lower insurance premiums. These benefits for the employee are monetary but there are other pros to consider as well. The data collected with wearable technology is very accurate and can help the user when she goes to her physician for an ailment. The doctor can look at this data and it can help connect the dots with symptoms and then assist the provider with a diagnosis.

So, what are the advantages to the company who creates wellness programs utilizing wearable technology?

·      Job seekers have said that employee wellness programs like this are very attractive to them when looking for a job.

·      Millennials are already wearing these devices and say that employers who invest in their well-being increases employee morale.

·      Employee healthcare costs are reduced.

·      Improved productivity including fewer disruptions from sick days.

The overall health and fitness of the company can be the driving force behind introducing wearable technology in a business but the benefits are so much more than that. Morale and productivity are intangible benefits but very important ones to consider. All in all, wearable technology is a great incentive for adopting healthy lifestyles and that benefits everyone—employee AND employer. 

 

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Benefits of an Annual Exam | California Benefit Advisors

Have you ever heard the proverb "Knowledge is power?" It means that knowledge is more powerful than just physical strength and with knowledge people can produce powerful results. This applies to you and your staff's annual medical physical as well! The #1 goal of the annual exam is to GAIN KNOWLEDGE. Annual exams offer you and your doctor a baseline for your health as well as being key to detecting early signs of diseases and conditions.

#1 GOAL

of your annual exam is

to GAIN KNOWLEDGE

According to Malcolm Thaler, MD, "A good general exam should include a comprehensive medical history, family history, lifestyle review, problem-focused physical exam, appropriate screening and diagnostic tests and vaccinations, with time for discussion, assessment and education. And a good health care provider will always focus first and foremost on your health goals."

Early detection can cut costs that result from chronic diseases. By encouraging your employees to schedule AND attend their annual physical, you will see that their productivity will not suffer because of an undiagnosed condition. Early detection reduces no-shows or call-outs; it reduces costs of training a temporary worker brought in to substitute for the employee while out on sick leave; early detection can also cut costs that result from chronic diseases. Employers spend on average $18,000 yearly per employee for costs related to illness and loss of productivity.

So how can you combat these rising costs? Your workplace can sponsor Wellness Programs such as a Nutrition Fair where your employees learn how to make healthy meals for their family, healthy snacks, and how to make wise food choices when going out to eat with co-workers.  Find an exercise program that can be employee led such as a running or walking club, group fitness programs that only require a TV and DVD player, or an employee run cross-fit style fitness program.

"By providing employee wellness programs that include event-specific physicals, many nationwide employers have decreased their employee health care burden by $1 - $3 for every $1 spent.  Other analyses show that wellness programs, including annual physical exams, have reduced employers' health costs by an average of 26.1%."

Here are some tips on fun and easy ways to promote overall health and wellness in your workplace:

1.    Stock the snack cabinets with healthy, pre-portioned snacks.

2.    Offer standing desks to allow workers options to get moving while working.

3.    Find a 5K in your community and put together a company team.

4.    Sponsor different "challenges" like "8 glasses of water a day" or "A mile a day" and the winner of these challenges receives a prize at the end of the month.

Through these easy changes, you will see your workforce gain confidence and better health while losing weight and bad habits! Win-Win!

 

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Disability Income Protection is an Employee Benefits Rising Star | California Employee Benefits

According to recent studies disability income is a rising star in the employee benefits market. This is due to a variety of factors. Most poignantly insurance company attempts to court and educate employee benefit advisers about the product, historically low national unemployment and financial impact of the recent tax reforms.

In discussions with successful financial and employee benefits professionals across the country, one of the common traits observed is their ability to adapt their business in the midst of market change.  To accomplish this, professionals must not only pay attention to industry trends, but also anticipate how to shift an organizational process to maximize positive outcomes.  Of equal importance is optimizing the client experience.  Executed successfully, this type of innovation will result in phenomenal business rewards.

Is this disability income protection trend an opportunity wave you should ride?

When reviewed more closely, Disability Income Protection placements within the context of employee benefits programs is a triple-win scenario for today’s economic environment.

The employer wins because it enhances the ability to attract, retain and recruit employees.

The employee wins as they are provided easy and efficient access to more adequately protect their most valuable asset, the ability to earn income.

The advisor wins because these new product placements drive new revenue and deepen the engagement with the customer. 

If your clients believe in providing traditional group long term disability coverage to their employees, they will likely engage in a discussion pertaining to enhanced disability income protection for executives and key contributors.

In an April 2018 article featured in Think Advisor titled, “Maybe Employers Are Ready to Be Aware of Disability Insurance”, Allison Bell cites comments on two major disability insurance companies’ recent earnings calls that securities analysts see increased employer interest in adding to disability benefits. This is thought to be attributed to the current state of the U.S. economy where near full employment levels have convinced employers that they have to do more to attract and retain good workers.

How can you position this opportunity?

  1. Focus On Incentive-Based Compensation - Most group long term disability insurance programs insure only base salary. However, most executives, sales professionals and other key contributors within an organization are compensated beyond base salary alone. Bonus, ownership distributions, stock bonus plans, and other fringe benefits add up to a significant portion of income uninsured by the group disability insurance program. When disability occurs without any other form of planning beyond a group program, these valuable employees are left in a devastating financial state, drastically disrupting their lifestyles.
  2. C-Suite Engagement. Although disability income programs are often implemented by an HR Team, they may not always have influence to make company decisions or recommendations for benefit programs. These programs are most successful when the executive team is engaged in the initial discussions for development. Focus on your clients where you have a strong relationship with the C-Suite to gauge their interest. After all, they are the most likely to benefit from this type of disability income protection program.

A Life Happens recent study called “What Do You Know About Disability Insurance?” concluded 7 in 10 employed Americans would have trouble in a month or less if they couldn’t earn a paycheck. This statistic emphasizes the importance of disability income protection insurance and why advisers need to be talking to clients about their options.

 

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Opioids in America | California Benefit Advisors

Lately, there’s been a big focus on America’s opioid addiction in the news. Whether it’s news on the abuse of the drug or it’s information sharing on how the drug works, Americans are talking about this subject regularly. We want to help educate you on this hot topic.

Check out this short video on Opioids to learn more!

Disability Insurance

“Your most valued asset isn’t your house, car, or retirement account. It’s the ability to make a living.”

No one foresees needing disability benefits.  But, should a problem arise, the educated and informed employee can plan for the future by purchasing disability insurance to help cover expenses when needed.

When you ask people what is the number one reason disability insurance is needed, most will answer that it is for workplace related injuries. However, the leading causes of long-term absences are back injuries, cancer, and heart disease and most of them are NOT work related.   In addition, the average duration of absences due to disability is 34 months.  So how do you prepare for an unplanned absence from work as a result of an injury or illness? Disability insurance is a great option.

Disability insurance is categorized into two main types.

·      Short Term Disability covers 40-60% of the employee’s base salary and can last for a few weeks to a few months to a year. There is typically a short waiting period before benefits begin after the report of disability.  This plan is generally sponsored by the employer.

·      Long Term Disability covers 50-70% of the employee’s base salary and the benefits end when the disability ends or after a pre-set length of time depending on the policy. The wait period for benefits is longer—typically 90 days from onset of disability.  This plan kicks in after the short-term coverage is exhausted. The individual purchases this plan to prevent a loss of coverage after short-term disability benefits are exhausted.

While the benefits of these disability plans are not a total replacement of salary, they are designed for the employee to maintain their current standard of living while recovering from the injury or illness. This also allows the individual to pay regular expenses during this time.

There are many ways to enroll in a disability insurance plan. Often times your employer will offer long-term and short-term coverage as part of a benefits package. Supplemental coverage can also be purchased.  Talk with your company’s HR department for more information on how to enroll in these plans.  Individuals who are interested in purchasing supplemental coverage can also contact outside insurance brokers or even check with any professional organizations to which they belong (such as the American Medical Association for medical professionals) as many times they offer insurance coverage to members.

As you begin planning for your future, make sure you research the types of coverage available and different avenues through which to purchase this coverage. For more information on disability and the workplace, check out:

·      Americans with Disabilities Act

·      The National Organization on Disability

·      Council for Disability Awareness

·      Social Security Administration

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The Future of the Office

By Bill Olson, VP Marketing & Communications, United Benefit Advisors

Earlier this spring, the quarterly Randstad Workmonitor survey revealed that while 82% of United States workers say the option to work remotely does help them maintain a healthy work-life balance, 62% of these same workers prefer to work in the office anyway. Perhaps most surprisingly, this preference is higher among millennial and Gen Z workers, despite the common perception that these groups prefer digital interactions over real-time ones.

What might be the reasoning behind these preferences? Some employees say their employers don’t support the technology needed to work remotely effectively. Other employees say they prefer face-to-face interaction for directness and efficiency, especially in offices that utilize open work plans and rotating seats. These options are widely understood to support dynamic, productive office cultures.

On the flip side, many employees can and do choose to work remotely, and feel that it increases their productivity, creativity, and job satisfaction. As a result, many employers are growing to embrace these preferences, and find that doing so has dramatically widened their talent pool. Remote work options allow employers not only to partner with the growing professional freelance workforce around the world, but to provide new opportunities for engagement and retention with local employees who benefit from open office flexibility.

While the option to work remotely doesn’t always increase employee productivity and satisfaction, when it does the payoff is substantial. One way to fine-tune remote connection is through increasingly effective learning and development programs, or L&D. In a recent article, HR Technologist investigated new and advanced solution-driven programs for increased connection and productivity. Techniques include microlearning, interactive training formats, and innovative delivery.

Read more:
“Given the choice, most workers prefer working at the office. But they still want a choice."
“The importance of real-time visibility in HR"

 

Can You Handle the Truth?

By Bill Olson, VP Marketing & Communications, United Benefit Advisors

Direct feedback culture, according to “Mastering the Art of Negative Feedback,” from Society for Human Resource Management means simultaneously challenging someone while also showing you care. Many employees skew toward caring over candor, and that can lead to dissatisfaction.

The feedback employees want can be very different from the feedback delivered. Direct, real time feedback is highly valued, and valuable, but HR professionals rank it lower compared to other managerial traits and are ill-equipped to deliver it.

Beyond offering a more traditional evaluation performance, the best feedback provides a developmental framework to improve performance.

When critique or hard conversations are needed, creating a script and keeping the conversation focused on specific behaviors rather than personality traits can be helpful for HR professionals and other managers.

Learning to be open to feedback is an essential tool as well. Modeling how to give—and receive—direct feedback is one of the best ways an HR practitioner can foster best practices work.

Read “Mastering the Art of Negative Feedback” here.

IRS Updates for Fringe Benefits

By Danielle Capilla, Senior VP of Compliance and Operations, United Benefit Advisors

Recently the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued its 2018 Publication 15-B, which informs employers about employment tax treatment of fringe benefits.  Updates include:

  • the suspension of qualified bicycle commuting reimbursements from an employee's income for any tax year after December 31, 2017 and before January 1, 2026;
  • the suspension of the exclusion for qualified moving expense reimbursements from an employee's income for tax years after December 1, 2017 and before January 1, 2026 (with exceptions for active duty U.S. Armed Forces members who move because of a permanent change of station);
  • limits on employers' deductions for certain fringe benefits including meals and transportation commuting; and
  • the definition of items that aren't tangible personal property for purposes of employee achievement awards.

Premiums to Rise 15%, says CBO

By Tami Luhby, CNN

Obamacare rates are going up next year.

The premium for the benchmark Obamacare silver plan is projected to jump an average of 15% next year, according to a Congressional Budget Office report released Wednesday.

The increase is being driven in large part because people will no longer be penalized for not having insurance, as of 2019. Congress eliminated the penalty associated with Obamacare's individual mandate as part of its tax reform package last year.

This change alone will cause premiums to be 10% higher because fewer healthy people will buy coverage, leaving insurers with a sicker and costlier group of policyholders, the CBO projected.

Going forward, the agency projects premiums will increase an average of 10% a year between 2019 and 2023 and then 5% annually between 2024 and 2028. Most of those who buy coverage on the Obamacare exchanges are shielded from these rate hikes because they receive federal subsidies.

Insurers in a handful of states, including Maryland and Virginia, have released their preliminary rate requests for 2019. Many are asking for double-digit premium increases.

The elimination of the penalty, as well as the jump in premiums, will also cause the number of uninsured to rise by 3 million next year, to a total of 32 million, CBO said. The uninsured rate of non-elderly Americans will rise to 13%.

By 2027, 35 million people will lack coverage, 5 million more than the agency projected in September. Some 8 million will have coverage through the Obamacare exchanges, 3 million fewer than last year's estimate.

IRS Changes HSA Limit for 2018--again

By Danielle Capilla, Senior VP of Compliance and Operations at United Benefit Advisors

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently released Revenue Procedure 2018-27 to modify the 2018 health savings account (HSA) family contribution limit back to $6,900. This is the second, and likely final, change in limit during 2018.

Background

In May 2017, the IRS released Revenue Procedure 2017-37 that set the 2018 HSA family contribution limit at $6,900.

However, in March 2018, the IRS released Revenue Procedure 2018-10 that adjusted the annual inflation factor for some tax-related formulas from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to a new factor called a “chained CPI.” As a result, the 2018 HSA family contribution limit was lowered to $6,850 from $6,900, retroactively effective to January 1, 2018.

Stakeholders informed the IRS that the lower HSA contribution limit would impose many unanticipated administrative and financial burdens. In response, and in the best interest of sound and efficient tax administration, the IRS will allow taxpayers to treat the originally published $6,900 limit as the 2018 HSA family contribution limit.

What if an individual received a distribution based on the earlier HSA limit?

Individuals who received a distribution from an HSA of an excess contribution (with earnings) based on the earlier $6,850 limit may repay the distribution and treat it as “the result of a mistake in fact due to reasonable cause.” Further, an individual’s repayment by April 15, 2019, will not be included in the individual’s gross income or subject to the 20 percent excess contributions excise tax. However, the IRS notes that a trustee or custodian is not required to allow individuals to repay mistaken distributions.

Individuals who received a distribution from an HSA of an excess contribution (with earnings) based on the earlier $6,850 limit and who choose not to repay the distribution may treat the distribution as an excess contribution returned before the individual’s tax return due date. This means that the excess contribution will not be included in the individual’s gross income or subject to the 20 percent excess contributions excise tax, as long as the distribution was received by the individual’s 2018 tax return filing date (including any extensions).

In the example directly above, if the HSA distributions are attributable to employer contributions and if the employer doesn’t include any portion of the contributions in the employee’s wages because the employer treats $6,900 as the limit, then the distribution is includible in the employee’s gross income and subject to the 20 percent excess contributions excise tax, unless the employee uses the distribution to pay for qualified medical expenses.

U.S. Department of Labor Updates CHIP Notice

By Bill Olson, VP, Marketing & Communications at United Benefit Advisors

In March, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) updated its model Premium Assistance Under Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program notice, otherwise known as the CHIP notice. (This update is standard process, and usually happens biannually.)

What is the CHIP notice? It provides information to employees applying for premium assistance, including how to contact their state Medicaid or CHIP office. Here is the most updated version. 

 

Eat to Live Well: Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

By Bill Olson, VP, Marketing & Communications at United Benefit Advisors

Promoting workforce wellness never tasted so good. For heart-healthy living, it turns out a great dietary option for many dates back centuries.

Based on the traditional cuisine of communities along the coasts of Italy and Greece, the Mediterranean diet is gaining increasing popularity among nutrition experts in this hemisphere.

In the ‘50s, researchers noticed the poor villagers along the Mediterranean coasts tended to live longer than the wealthiest New Yorkers. Further study revealed that, in addition to their vigorous lifestyle, a big contributor to their longevity was their cuisine of basic ingredients, rich in local produce, fish harvested daily from the bountiful ocean waters and a splash or two of red wine from neighboring vineyards.

According to the Mayo Clinic, research involving more than 1.5 million healthy adults following a Mediterranean diet showed a strong association with reduced risk of heart disease, far and away this country’s leading killer. It’s much lower in fat and complex carbohydrates than typical North American fare. As a result, this diet promotes lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, which can build up on artery walls and eventually cause total blockage.

The Mediterranean diet is also associated with reduced risk of a range of other afflictions, including cancer. Women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may reduce their risk of breast cancer. It also fights cognitive diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer’s. Some studies have shown that the diet even enhances one’s memory and ability to focus.

Key components:

  • Plant-based foods — fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes
  • Replaces butter and saturated fats with olive and canola oils
  • Uses herbs and spices instead of salt and artificial flavorings
  • Fish and poultry predominate over red meats
  • Red wine in moderation

For more information:
Mayo Clinic: Mediterranean Diet: A Heart-Healthy Eating Plan
HealthLine: Mediterranean Diet 101

Notifying Participants of a Plan Change

By Danielle Capilla, Senior VP of Compliance and Operations, United Benefit Advisors

Curious about when you should notify a participant about a change to their health care plan? 

The answer is that it depends! 

Notification must happen within one of three time frames: 60 days prior to the change, no later than 60 days after the change, or within 210 days after the end of the plan year.

For modifications to the summary plan description (SPD) that constitute a material reduction in covered services or benefits, notice is required within 60 days prior to or after the adoption of the material reduction in group health plan services or benefits. (For example, a decrease in employer contribution is a material reduction in covered services or benefits. So is a material modification in any plan terms affecting the content of the most recent summary of benefits and coverage (SBC).) While the rule here is flexible, the definite best practice is to give advance notice. For collective practical purposes, employees should be told prior to the first increased withholding.

However, if the change is part of open enrollment, and communicated during open enrollment, this is considered acceptable notice regardless of whether the SBC, SPD, or both are changing. Essentially, open enrollment is a safe harbor for all 60-day prior/60-day post notice requirements.

Finally, changes that do not affect the SBC and are not a material reduction in benefits must be communicated and summarized within 210 days after the end of the plan year.