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What people want in their benefits package is changing. Retirement and health care still rank high but soft perks and voluntary benefits factor into satisfaction more than any other benefits, so says “Employees Increasingly Excited About Soft Perks and Company-Culture Benefits,” in Employee Benefit News.

When considering a job offer, these types of benefits are top of mind for potential employees and should, therefore, be priorities for employers. Still, over 4 in 10 respondents said their company didn’t offer any perks, a sign that employers still value traditional benefits more.

With a tightening work force and historically low unemployment, employers may need to adjust their offerings to better align with the people they need and want to hire.

Sure, free snacks and coffee are always appreciated. With millennials and Gen Z entering the workforce, it’s clear a new generation of workers is looking for a new generation of benefits. At the same time, baby boomers are working longer than the generations prior. Companies, then, must develop not only perks but also voluntary solutions that meet a sprawling range of life experiences according to “9 voluntary solutions for today’s diverse workforce” and “10 perks that help attract and retain workers,” in BenefitsPRO.

More and more, flexible hours are a leading request in interviews. Likewise, the opportunity to work from home or a company keeping summer hours can boost satisfaction. Having control over when and where work happens is more and more important to employees.

Other perks seen as essential were professional development and fitness and health programs. Wellness programs might include discounts for fitness wearables. Professional development could include creating opportunities to learn about topics as diverse as coding to project management. Lunch-and-learn events are a small-scale way to invest in employee development, and it’s seen as even better if the employer provides the lunch.

Read “Employees Increasingly Excited About Soft Perks and Company-Culture Benefits” here.

Read “9 voluntary solutions for today’s diverse workforce” here.

Read “10 perks that help attract and retain workers” here.

By Bill Olson

Originally Published By United 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 your annual medical physical as well! The #1 goal of your 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.
View the video below for more information.

Did you know that you can save time and money on your prescription drugs by simply signing up for a discount card online? With savings as much as 80% off, these discount cards keep your health care costs down even when the prices of prescriptions are sharply rising.  At no cost to the patient, discount drug programs negotiate the price of medicines with pharmacies and then pass the savings on to the consumer.  These programs give subscribers a personalized discount card to be used at any pharmacy. While the discount card cannot be used in conjunction with health insurance, the consumer may see that the cost of their medicine is actually LESS with the card than it is with their insurance.

Another benefit to the consumer is that these programs will publish at which pharmacy you can find your medicine. This is especially helpful to the person who has specialty drug prescriptions. For example, Rebekah is prescribed a specialty drug for pain and neuropathy due to Multiple Sclerosis. This drug is not commonly stocked in pharmacies and so many times, she has had to wait for them to order it. By using the discount drug program, Rebekah is able to see which pharmacies have her medicine in stock and the estimated price.

So where do you start? Here are a few discount drug programs to investigate costs and providers for your prescriptions:

  • staterxplans.us
    • Provides free drug cards to reduce the out-of-pocket cost of prescription drugs.
    • Click on your state and the site will redirect you to your corresponding prescription assistance program.
  • goodrx.com
    • Compares prices and discounts at thousands of pharmacies.
    • Receive coupons via phone, email, or text to print or present for discounts.
  • refillwise.com
    • Free drug card to present at pharmacy for cost savings on prescriptions.
    • Earn rewards each time you use their card—similar to credit card rewards. Each fill is 500 points and when you reach 5,000 points, you earn a gift card to various retailers.

Being a savvy consumer can save you money! Shop around to find the best cost for your prescription drugs and save time by locating the pharmacy that has your meds in stock. Discount drug programs are a great resource so do your research and find one that fits your needs.

The Department of Labor’s new claim rules for disability benefits took effect April 2, 2018. The changes were announced over a year ago, but the effective date was delayed to give insurers, employers, and plan administrators adequate time for implementation. Although we’ve reported on the key issues in this blog previously, now seems like a good time for a refresher on how the new rules affect employer plans.

Affected Plans

The new claim rules apply to disability benefits provided under plans covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA); that is, plans sponsored by private-sector employers. Then the new rules apply if the ERISA plan must make a determination of disability in order for the claimant to obtain the benefit. Group short- and long-term disability plans are the most common examples, but pension, 401(k), and deferred compensation plans also may be affected.

Many plans do not make their own determination of disability, but instead condition the plan’s benefit on another party’s determination. For instance, employer plans that base the benefit on a disability determination made by the Social Security Administration (SSA) are not affected by the new rules.

New Rules

For ERISA plans affected by the new rules, the following additional requirements apply to disability claims filed on or after April 2, 2018:

  • Disclosure Requirements: Benefit denial notices must explain why the plan denied a claim and the standards used in making the decision. For example, the notices must explain the basis for disagreeing with a disability determination made by the SSA if presented by the claimant in support of his or her claim.
  • Claim Files and Internal Protocols: Benefit denial notices must include a statement that the claimant is entitled to request and receive the entire claim file and other relevant documents. (Previously this statement was required only in notices denying benefits on appeal, not on initial claim denials.) The notice also must include the internal rules, guidelines, protocols, standards or other similar criteria of the plan that were used in denying a claim or a statement that none were used. (Previously it was optional to include a statement that such rules and protocols were used in denying the claim and that the claimant could request a copy.)
  • Right to Review and Respond to New Information Before Final Decision: Plans are prohibited from denying benefits on appeal based on new or additional evidence or rationales that were not included when the benefit was denied at the claims stage, unless the claimant is given notice and a fair opportunity to respond.
  • Conflicts of Interest: Claims and appeals must be adjudicated in a manner designed to ensure the independence and impartiality of the persons involved in making the decision. For example, a claims adjudicator or medical or vocational expert could not be hired, promoted, terminated or compensated based on the likelihood of the person denying benefit claims.
  • Deemed Exhaustion of Claims and Appeal Processes: If plans do not adhere to all claims processing rules, the claimant is deemed to have exhausted the administrative remedies available under the plan (unless exceptions for minor errors or other conditions apply). In that case, the claimant may immediately pursue his or her claim in court. Plans also must treat a claim as re-filed on appeal upon the plan’s receipt of a court’s decision rejecting the claimant’s request for review.
  • Coverage Rescissions: Rescissions of coverage, including retroactive terminations due to alleged misrepresentations or errors in applying for coverage, must be treated as adverse benefit determinations that trigger the plan’s appeals procedures.
  • Notices Written in a Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Manner: Benefit denial notices must be provided in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner in certain situations. Specifically, if the claimant’s address is in a county where 10 percent or more of the population is literate only in the same non-English language, the notices must include a prominent statement in the relevant non-English language about the availability of language services. The plan would also be required to provide a verbal customer assistance process in the non-English language and provide written notices in the non-English language upon request.

Action Steps for Employers

Employers are reminded to work with their carriers, third-party administrators, and advisors to make sure their plans comply with the new requirements. Consider these steps:

  • Identify all plans that are subject to ERISA. (Plans sponsored by governmental employers, such as cities and public school districts, and certain church plans, are exempt from ERISA.)
  • Does the ERISA plan provide any benefit based on disability? If so, is the benefit conditioned on a determination of disability made by the plan or by another party, such as Social Security?
  • For insured plans, such as group STD and LTD insurance plans, the carrier generally is responsible for compliance with ERISA’s claim rules. The employer, however, does have a duty to make reasonable efforts to ensure the carrier is complying.
  • For self-funded plans, the employer is responsible for compliance. Although the employer may engage the services of a third-party claims administrator, the employer remains responsible for the plan’s compliance with all rules.

Originally Published By ThinkHR.com

As the costs of health care soar, many consumers are looking for ways to control their medical spending. Also, with the rise of enrollment in high deductible health plans, consumers are paying for more health care out-of-pocket. From medical savings accounts to discount plans for prescriptions, patients are growing increasingly conscious of prices for their healthcare needs. Price shopping procedures and providers allows you to compare prices so that you are getting the best value for your care.

Why do you need to look beyond your nearby and familiar providers and locations for healthcare? Here’s a hypothetical example: Chris is a 45-year old male in good physical health. During his last check-up he mentions to his doctor that he’s had some recent shortness of breath and has been more tired as of late. His doctor orders an EKG to rule out any problems. If Chris went to his local hospital for this procedure, it would cost $1150. He instead looks online and shops around to find other providers in his area and finds he can get the same procedure for $450 at a nearby imaging center. His potential savings is $700 simply by researching locations.

So where do you start when shopping around for your health care?  A good place to begin is by researching your health plan online. Insurance companies will post cost estimates based on facility, physician, and type of procedure. Keep in mind that these are just estimates and may vary based on what coverage you are enrolled in. Another way to shop is by checking out websites that have compiled thousands of claims information for various procedures and locations to give an estimate of costs. However, deciphering whether a site is reporting estimates based on the “medical sticker price” of charges or rates for private insurance plans or Medicare is difficult.  There are huge differences in prices at different providers for the exact same procedure. This is because contracts between insurance agencies and providers vary based on negotiated amounts. This makes it hard to get consistent pricing information.

Check out these sites that do a great job comparing apples to apples for providers:

  • Healthcare Blue Book
    • What Kelly Blue Book is to cars, Healthcare Blue Book is to medical pricing
  • New Choice Health
    • Reports on pricing of medical procedures, providers, quality of facilities, and customer feedback for healthcare in all 50 states
  • The Leapfrog Group
    • Publishes data on hospitals so patients can compare facilities and costs for treatments and procedures

After compiling all the information on prices and procedures, you can still call and negotiate costs with the location of your care. Fair Health Consumer has tips on how to negotiate with providers and plan for your healthcare needs.

Knowledge is POWER and when you spend time researching and comparing healthcare costs, you are empowering yourself!  Exercising due diligence to plan for you and your family’s medical needs will save you money and give you confidence in your decisions for care.

Taking control of health care expenses is on the top of most people’s to-do list for 2018.  The average premium increase for 2018 is 18% for Affordable Care Act (ACA) plans.  So, how do you save money on health care when the costs seems to keep increasing faster than wage increases?  One way is through medical savings accounts.

Medical savings accounts are used in conjunction with High Deductible Health Plans (HDHP) and allow savers to use their pre-tax dollars to pay for qualified health care expenses.  There are three major types of medical savings accounts as defined by the IRS.  The Health Savings Account (HSA) is funded through an employer and is usually part of a salary reduction agreement.  The employer establishes this account and contributes toward it through payroll deductions.  The employee uses the balance to pay for qualified health care costs.  Money in HSA is not forfeited at the end of the year if the employee does not use it. The Health Flexible Savings Account (FSA) can be funded by the employer, employee, or any other contributor.  These pre-tax dollars are not part of a salary reduction plan and can be used for approved health care expenses.  Money in this account can be rolled over by one of two ways: 1) balance used in first 2.5 months of new year or 2) up to $500 rolled over to new year.  The third type of savings account is the Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA).  This account may only be contributed to by the employer and is not included in the employee’s income.  The employee then uses these contributions to pay for qualified medical expenses and the unused funds can be rolled over year to year.

There are many benefits to participating in a medical savings account.  One major benefit is the control it gives to employee when paying for health care.  As we move to a more consumer driven health plan arrangement, the individual can make informed choices on their medical expenses.  They can “shop around” to get better pricing on everything from MRIs to prescription drugs.  By placing the control of the funds back in the employee’s hands, the employer also sees a cost savings.  Reduction in premiums as well as administrative costs are attractive to employers as they look to set up these accounts for their workforce.  The ability to set aside funds pre-tax is advantageous to the savings savvy individual.  The interest earned on these accounts is also tax-free.

The federal government made adjustments to contribution limits for medical savings accounts for 2018.  For an individual purchasing single medical coverage, the yearly limit increased $50 from 2017 to a new total $3450.  Family contribution limits also increased to $6850 for this year.  Those over the age of 55 with single medical plans are now allowed to contribute $4450 and for families with the insurance provider over 55 the new limit is $7900.

Health care consumers can find ways to save money even as the cost of medical care increases.  Contributing to health savings accounts benefits both the employee as well as the employer with cost savings on premiums and better informed choices on where to spend those medical dollars.  The savings gained on these accounts even end up rewarding the consumer for making healthier lifestyle choices with lower out-of-pocket expenses for medical care.  That’s a win-win for the healthy consumer!

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 your annual medical physical as well! The #1 goal of your 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.

According to Malcom Thalor, 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 of chronic diseases can save both your personal pocketbook as well as your life! By scheduling AND attending your annual physical, you are able to cut down on medical costs of undiagnosed conditions. Catching a disease early means you are able to attack it early. If you wait until you are exhibiting symptoms or have been symptomatic for a long while, then the disease may be to a stage that is costly to treat. Early detection gives you a jump start on treatments and can reduce your out of pocket expenses.

When you are prepared to speak with your Primary Care Physician (PCP), you can set the agenda for your appointment so that you get all your questions answered as well as your PCP’s questions. Here are some tips for a successful annual physical exam:

  • Bring a list of medications you are currently taking—You may even take pictures of the bottles so they can see the strength and how many.
  • Have a list of any symptoms you are having ready to discuss.
  • Bring the results of any relevant surgeries, tests, and medical procedures
  • Share a list of the names and numbers of your other doctors that you see on a regular basis.
  • If you have an implanted device (insulin pump, spinal cord stimulator, etc) bring the device card with you.
  • Bring a list of questions! Doctors want well informed patients leaving their office. Here are some sample questions you may want to ask:
    • What vaccines do I need?
    • What health screenings do I need?
    • What lifestyle changes do I need to make?
    • Am I on the right medications?

Becoming a well-informed patient who follows through on going to their annual exam as well as follows the advice given to them from their physician after asking good questions, will not only save your budget, but it can save your life!

I’m happy to report that this year’s UBA Health Plan survey achieved a milestone. For the first time, we surpassed 20,000 health plans entered—20,099 health plans to be exact, which were sponsored by 11,221 employers. What we were able to determine from all this data was that a tumultuous Presidential election likely encouraged many employers to stay the course and make only minor increases and decreases across the board while the future of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) became clearer.

There were, however, a few noteworthy changes in 2017. Premium renewal rates (the comparison of similar plan rates year over year) rose nearly 7%, representing a departure from the trend the last five years. To control these costs, employers shifted more premium to employees, offered more lower-cost CDHP and HMO plans, increased out-of-network deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums, and significantly reduced prescription drug coverage as six-tier prescription drug plans exploded on the marketplace. Self-funding, particularly among small groups, is also on the rise.

Percent Premium Increase Over Time

UBA has conducted its Health Plan Survey since 2005. This longevity, coupled with its size
 and scope, allows UBA to maintain its superior accuracy over any other benchmarking survey in the U.S. In fact, our unparalleled number of reported plans is nearly three times larger than the next two of the nation’s largest health plan benchmarking surveys combined. The resulting volume of data provides employers of all sizes more detailed—and therefore more meaningful—benchmarks and trends than any other source.

By Peter Weber
Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

Thank you for putting the Plan Document together for us!  It is a big accomplishment knowing that we are in compliance!   Once again we are grateful and thankful for your continuing support and enjoy the relationship that we share.

- Office Manager, Food Distribution Company

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