Employee Benefits

Choosing the Right Flexible Benefit for Employees | Cupertino Benefits Agency

Trying to decide which of the many employer-sponsored benefits out there to offer employees can leave an employer feeling lost in a confusing bowl of alphabet soup—HSA? FSA? DCAP? HRA? What does it mean if a benefit is “limited” or “post-deductible”? Which one is use-it-or-lose-it? Which one has a rollover? What are the limits on each benefit?—and so on.

While there are many details to cover for each of these benefit options, perhaps the first and most important question to answer is: which of these benefits is going to best suit the needs of both my business and my employees? In this article, we will cover the basic pros and cons of Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSA), Health Savings Accounts (HSA), and Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRA) to help you better answer that question.

Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSA)

An FSA is an employer-sponsored and employer-owned benefit that allows employee participants to be reimbursed for certain expenses with amounts deducted from their salaries pre-tax. An FSA can include both the Health FSA that reimburses uncovered medical expenses and the Dependent Care FSA that reimburses for dependent expenses like day care and child care.

Pros:

  • Benefits can be funded entirely from employee salary reductions (ER contributions are an option)

  • Participants have access to full annual elections on day 1 of the benefit (Health FSA only)

  • Participants save on taxes by reducing their taxable income; employers save also by paying less in payroll taxes like FICA and FUTA

  • An FSA allows participants to “give themselves a raise” by reducing the taxes on healthcare expenses they would have had anyway

Cons:

  • Employers risk losing money should an employee quit or leave the program prior to fully funding their FSA election

  • Employees risk losing money should their healthcare expenses total less than their election (the infamous use-it-or-lose-it—though there are ways to mitigate this problem, such as the $500 rollover option)

  • FSA elections are irrevocable after open enrollment; only a qualifying change of status event permits a change of election mid-year

  • Only so much can be elected for an FSA. For 2018, Health FSAs are capped at $2,650, and Dependent Care Accounts are generally capped at $5,000

  • FSA plans are almost always offered under a cafeteria plan; as such, they are subject to several non-discrimination rules and tests

Health Savings Accounts (HSA)

An HSA is an employee-owned account that allows participants to set aside funds to pay for the same expenses that are eligible under a Health FSA. Also like an FSA, these accounts can be offered under a cafeteria plan so that participants may fund their accounts through pre-tax salary reductions.

Pros:

  • HSAs are “triple-tax advantaged”—the contributions are tax free, the funds are not taxed if paid for eligible expenses, and any gains on the funds (interest, dividends) are also tax-free

  • HSAs are portable, employee-owned, interest-bearing bank accounts; the account remains with the employees even if they leave the company

  • Certain HSAs allow participants to invest a portion of the balance into mutual funds; any earnings on these investments are non-taxable

  • Upon reaching retirement, participants can use any remaining HSA funds to pay for any expense without a tax penalty (though normal taxes are required for non-qualified expenses); also, retirees can use the funds tax-free to pay premiums on any supplemental Medicare coverage. This feature allows HSAs to operate as a secondary retirement fund

  • There is no use-it-or-lose-it with HSAs; all funds employees contribute stay in their accounts and remain theirs in perpetuity. Also, participants may alter their deduction amounts at any time

  • Like FSAs, employers can either allow the HSA to be entirely employee-funded, or they may choose to also make contributions to their employees’ HSA accounts

  • Even though they are often offered under a cafeteria plan, HSAs do not carry the same non-discrimination requirements as an FSA. Moreover, there is less administrative burden for the employer as the employees carry the liability for their own accounts

Cons:

  • To open and contribute to an HSA, an employee must be covered by a qualifying high deductible health plan; moreover, they cannot be covered by any other health coverage (a spouse’s health insurance, an FSA (unless limited), or otherwise)

  • Participants are limited to reimburse only what they have contributed—there is no “front-loading” like with an FSA

  • Participant contributions to an HSA also have an annual limit. For 2018, that limit is $3,450 for an employee with single coverage and $6,900 for an employee with family coverage (participants over 55 can add an additional $1,000; also, remember there is no total account limit)

  • Participation in an HSA precludes participation in any other benefit that provides health coverage. This means employees with an HSA cannot participate in either an FSA or an HRA. Employers can work around this by offering a special limited FSA or HRA that only reimburses dental and vision benefits, meets certain deductible requirements, or both

  • HSAs are treated as bank accounts for legal purposes, so they are subject to many of the same laws that govern bank accounts, like the Patriot Act. Participants are often required to verify their identity to open an HSA, an administrative burden that does not apply to either an FSA or an HRA

Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRA)

An HRA is an employer-owned and employer-sponsored account that, unlike FSAs and HSAs, is completely funded with employer monies. Employers can think of these accounts as their own supplemental health plans that they create for their employees

Pros:

  • HRAs are extremely flexible in terms of design and function; employers can essentially create the benefit to reimburse the specific expenses at the specific time and under the specific conditions that the employers want

  • HRAs can be an excellent way to “soften the blow” of an increase in major medical insurance costs—employers can use an HRA to mitigate an increase in premiums, deductibles, or other out-of-pocket expenses

  • HRAs can be simpler to administer than an FSA or even an HSA, provided that the plan design is simple and efficient: there are no payroll deductions to track, usually less reimbursements to process, and no individual participant elections to manage

  • Small employers may qualify for a special type of HRA, a Qualified Small Employer HRA (or QSEHRA), that even allows participants to be reimbursed for their insurance premiums (special regulations apply)

  • Funds can remain with the employer if someone terminates employment and have not submitted for reimbursement

Cons:

  • HRAs are entirely employer funded. No employee funds or salary reductions may be used to help pay for the benefit. Some employers may not have the funding to operate such a benefit

  • HRAs are subject to the Affordable Care Act. As such, they must be “integrated” with major medical coverage if they provide any sort of health expense reimbursement and are also subject to several regulations

  • HRAs are also subject to many of the same non-discrimination requirements as the Health FSA

  • HRAs often go under-utilized; employers may pay an amount of administrative costs that is disproportionate to how much employees actually use the benefit

  • Employers can often get “stuck in the weeds” with an overly complicated HRA plan design. Such designs create frustration on the part of the participants, the benefits administrator, and the employer

For help in determining which flexible benefit is right for your business, contact us!

by Blake London
Originally posted on ubabenefits.com

Wearable Technology in the Workplace | California Benefit Advisors

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.

Do You Have Mixed Emotions about Open Enrollment? | CA Benefits Agency

It’s typical to have mixed feelings about the annual benefits open enrollment period. Dread for the additional administrative workload and potential benefits cost increases… Anticipation of newer, more attractive, and easier to administer plans… It makes for a fall season that causes many HR professionals and benefits brokers to drown their misery in pumpkin spice lattes.

Better Benefits Attract and Retain Talent

A high-quality employee benefits package is one of the best tools in your arsenal to attract the right talent, enhance employee engagement, and retain your most valuable employees. According to a May 2018 Harris Poll/Glassdoor survey, nearly half (48 percent) of U.S. workers cited attractive company benefits and perks as key factors in their likelihood to apply for a job, and other surveys have found that excellent benefits play a role in retaining employees.

Employees today expect their employers to be creative, consider employee needs, make benefits easy to use, and offer them choices to help manage their lifestyles. Besides health insurance, benefits protecting their incomes, such as disability insurance, financial planning, and retirement plans are important. In addition, consider that employees are tech savvy and expect to have online tools and calculators, along with complete communications, to assist them in making decisions regarding their benefit options.

5 Steps for Success

To prepare for this year’s open enrollment, focus your efforts on designing the best benefits and communications program. Make the most of marketing your benefits programs to your employees by:

  1. Reviewing workforce demographics and benefits usage to get a better understanding of employees’ stages in the lifecycle. Knowing your audience and targeting benefits communications to meet those lifecycle needs makes the benefits more personal and relevant. Employees with young families, older workers preparing for retirement, empty nesters, and young singles all have distinctly different benefits needs and interests.

  2. Packaging benefits by target group with messaging that speaks to each group’s needs while consistently reinforcing the overall benefits strategy and company branding in the messaging. Different communications delivery systems may also be important to different employee groups.

  3. Starting the messaging with why the benefits are structured as they are and what the company’s overall benefits strategy is designed to accomplish. Don’t sugarcoat any bad news about changes in the benefits program. Employees will see through it and resent attempts to hide changes that may be perceived as negative. This is a good time to highlight the important value of their benefits programs, promote wellness, encourage retirement savings, and encourage cost-effective usage of benefits programs.

  4. Keeping the messaging straightforward. Provide clear information, checklists, and decision support tools that are easy to follow. Have the details available but keep the key messages and “what you need to do for enrollment” information central to the enrollment materials.

  5. Bringing company managers and supervisors into the discussions prior to launch. Give them a heads up regarding the upcoming benefits changes and enlist their help in the process.

4 More Things to Consider

The next step is to tackle the “how” of the benefits communications and enrollment program, including:

  1. Communications delivery methods. Electronic communications? Mobile apps? Webinars? In-person company meetings? Text messages? Packages mailed to home addresses to involve the family? Use of social media? Intranet messaging? Gaming techniques? Frequent emails or instant messaging? Live hotline for questions and concerns? Combination of all methods?

  2. Enrollment methods. Online? Manual? Mobile? Make it as administratively simple as possible for both employees and the benefits administration staff. Use electronic tools if the budget allows.

  3. Timing. Establish a timeline working backwards from the date that the information must be completed with the carriers and other benefits providers. Then work forward to deliver the communications program.

  4. Frequency. Employees need time to consider their options and allow the information to soak in. Consider sending employee prompts and reminders so that the enrollment process is completed in a timely manner.

The annual open enrollment communications opportunity is precious — you can influence how employees see benefits or cost changes, motivate employees to change their health or savings habits, and let employees know that management is listening, considering their feedback valuable, and responding to their needs.

by Laura Kerekes
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. 

 

Wearable Tech.png

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!

 

FINAL February infographic--Tips for successful annual exam.png

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.

 

UBA employee benefits shutterstock_703129576.jpg