On the Horizon: Compliance Issues

The article below was published on June 2, 2017 by BenefitsPRO, written by Nathan Solheim.

In several “Star Trek” series, an alien villain known as the Borg travels the galaxy, assimilating creatures from all walks of life into its space-borne collective. Serious fans know that it’s almost impossible to escape the Borg and its nefarious designs. The Borg’s catchphrase, “resistance is futile,” has since been assimilated into the lexicon.

When it comes to the matter of compliance, benefits professionals across the nation must be feeling exactly like those brave men and women from Federation starships who had the misfortune of coming across the Borg. From the Affordable Care Act to ERISA to the EEOC to a number of other alphabet-soup agencies and regulatory bodies, 2017 is shaping up to be the year of compliance.

Brokers and agents simply need to accept it.

Immediate issues

For most benefits professionals, the ACA will dominate compliance issues that are top of mind. The ACA, at least for the time being, is still the law of the land. While House Republicans tried earlier this year to repeal and replace the ACA with the American Health Care Act (AHCA), they came up short thanks to internal disagreements. After the initial failure, they redoubled their efforts and passed the American Health Care Act. The AHCA will now head towards the Senate, where its future is impossible to predict.

While the political wrangling makes for an uncertain compliance environment, brokers and agents should keep their clients in compliance with the ACA.

“No matter what you predict, it will not happen that way,” says David Contorno of the Hilb Group’s Lake Norman Benefits in Mooresville, North Carolina. “We have a set of rules and we operate within those rules—that’s our obligation to clients. That’s our job. Our job is not to predict what will happen, it’s to help advise our clients on their options and what they should be doing at the end of the day.” Continue reading

Health care reform: Don’t wait for the politicians

The article below is from BenefitsPRO written by Dinesh Sheth on May 16, 2017.

dgb-sales

Let the politicians argue about who is going to pay for health care and who is not.
Photo: Getty Images

Business owners across all industries are facing uncertainty surrounding the status of current laws and regulations. A Republican majority in Congress and the new presidential administration have created a climate of de-regulation. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, depending on your view, U.S. employers of all sizes are currently facing a potentially major regulatory change with U.S. Republicans attempting to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with their own bill: the American Health Care Act (AHCA). Now, the big question is: “What will be next?”

Aside from the implications this holds for the health care industry, enacting the ACHA would have a tremendous impact on employers by repealing the mandate that requires certain businesses to offer health insurance to their employees. While most businesses would likely support fewer regulations, repealing this mandate would do little to help them encourage healthier behaviors amongst their employees; and at the end of the day, that is the only true way to lower health care costs. Rather, repealing the mandate simply means that fewer Americans will be insured and that the cost-burden will shift to employees and their families.

Whether or not the current administration or even the public at-large wants to admit it, someone is going to pay for the costs of health care. All current or proposed laws and regulations do is juggle who is going to pay and who is not. Behind all these changes, however, it’s necessary to understand that employers need healthy, productive employees in order for their business to function, In addition, they want them to be insured at a reasonable cost, while also staying healthy and avoiding getting sick or injured. If the goal really is to lower actual costs, then this is where the real debate must be focused. Since it’s impossible to predict exactly how legislative initiatives will play out, employers should double down on their approach to employee wellbeing and examine how a holistic approach to wellness will improve the health of their workforce and bottom line, independent of laws or mandates from Washington. Continue reading

Three Reasons You Should Consider One-On-One Benefits Communication

The article below was published on February 29, 2016 by the International Foundation of Employee Benefits, written by Brenda Hofmann.

In a new International Foundation Benefits Communication survey, only 19% of employers reported their employees have a high level understanding of their benefits. When asked why this is, employers overwhelmingly said their employees do not read the information they provide or they don’t understand it. If your organization has made benefits communication a priority, consider the advantages that one-on-one communication can provide.

2-26_3-reasons-consider-1-on-1-benefits-communication

Here are three reasons to consider one-on-one benefits communication:

  1. Break the Benefits Lingo 
No doubt you’re fluent in Employee Benefits-ese (a complex language with perhaps the most impressive array of acronyms I’ve ever seen), but your employees aren’t. Taking the time to sit down with them one-on-one allows you to answer their questions in plain English—not the legalese of your employee handbook.
  2. Improve Job Satisfaction
Employee benefits can play a huge rule in employee satisfaction. A MetLife survey found that employees who are very satisfied with their benefits are almost four times more likely to be very satisfied with their jobs! Educate your workers about the employee benefits available to them, and they’ll feel more confident in their selections and understand the valuable role they play in their total compensation package.
  3. Increase Health Literacy
When it comes to your health care plan and making wise health care decisions, your employees are sure to have questions. ACA has only added to the confusion, with half of employers reporting an increase in ACA questions. Remind your employees of the benefits you offer to help them live a healthier lifestyle, and take the time to answer their specific questions about your plan options.

If you’re considering one-on-one benefits communication at your organization, identify the specific benefits you’d like to increase awareness of and ensure your staff is prepared to answer questions.

Health care benefits can be especially confusing—More Americans are uncomfortable navigating their health care benefits than buying a home. Convenient training options like the new Certificate in Health Plan Navigation can provide comprehensive training for your benefits team and the information they need to support plan participants in making the best health care choices.

You work hard to offer your employees a comprehensive benefit package—Don’t let your benefits remain misunderstood!

Promoting Retirement Saving? Accentuate the Positive

This article is from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans on August 5, 2016 and was written by Pat Bonner, Ph.D., CEBS.

Rarely does a day pass when there isn’t a news headline decrying how few people are saving for retirement, and among those who are saving, most aren’t saving enough. With all the warnings of a retirement crisis and people facing poverty in what are supposed to be our “golden years,” you would think people would be stepping up their efforts to get ready for life after work. Why aren’t people making changes in how much they spend and save?

8-5_Promoting-Retirement-Saving-Accentuate-Positive_large

It turns out behavioral economists have an explanation—and a song from way back in the 1940s provides good advice on how to address the problem. I suspect that somewhere in the back of your brain is a fun little song from Johnny Mercer titled “Accentuate the Positive,” sung by Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters.
From behavioral economics we have learned that, contrary to what many people believe, facts and figures on bad behaviors are rarely helpful. Consider this headline:

“One in three workers has saved nothing for retirement.”

Persons who see this headline might think, “A lot of other people like me aren’t saving for retirement, so I don’t have to do anything either.” Or, perhaps, they conclude, “I’m just like everyone else and can’t afford to save money for my retirement.”When people are faced with a choice, they tend to do what most other people are doing. This is where the first three lines of the song provide such good advice for those of us in the benefits field:

You’ve got to accentuate the positive.
Eliminate the negative.
Latch on to the affirmative.

In other words, emphasize what co-workers are doing right:

“80% of ABC employees contributed to their retirement plan last year.”
“Nine of every ten new hires say ‘yes’ to saving 15% of their pay for retirement.”

The more similar the people described in a message are to those targeted (e.g., new hires, co-workers in the same building), the more likely those targeted will copy the positive behavior.While this example focuses on saving for retirement, emphasizing a desired behavior can work when trying to get people to take a variety of actions in the workplace—for example, taking advantage of a health reimbursement arrangement, participating in a fitness program or signing up for a new training program.

Dust off Your Running Shoes: Participate Virtually in the 2nd Annual Camphill Village 5K

camphillvillage5kDiversified Group is proud to sponsor the 2nd Annual Camphill Village 5K and we want YOU to participate!

Last year, runners joined in virtually from coast to coast, Maine to Nevada, on treadmills and pavement alike. Participants came to the Camphill Village 5k website and shared their own reasons for running and posted comments and photos on social media using #camphill5k.

This year, we would like to make virtual participation even larger – but we need your help! Join us virtually and run any place of your choosing by simply selecting the “Outside Camphill Village” race location option when registering. Registration is available at camphillvillage5k.org.

Where

Via Social Media – You can run anywhere!

What

A casual or competitive run/walk – this 5K can be completed as competitively or as leisurely as you would like!

Registration

Camphillvillage5k.org

When

Saturday, May 20th, 2017 – Virtual Start Times Vary

About Camphill Village

On 615 acres of wooded hills, gardens, and pastures in rural upstate New York, Camphill Village is a place where adults with special needs and long and short-term service volunteers live and work together as equals in extended family homes.

The founding of Camphill Village in 1961 was part of a transformative movement in the United States to reform how society treats those with special needs. This non-profit organization is dedicated to their mission of creating an integrated community where people with developmental differences are living a life of dignity, equality, and sense of purpose.

The purpose of the 5K event is to bring awareness of the village and the lives being shared here.

registernow

Benefit Communication: Losing Can Be a Winning Strategy

The below article was posted by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans on April 22, 2016 and was written by Pat Bonner, Ph.D., CEBS.

If you are a baseball fan, you are probably familiar with this quote often credited to legendary baseball coach Sparky Anderson—”Losing hurts twice as bad as winning feels good.” I’ve got to wonder whether Sparky knew how right he was. His words are a handy summary of one of the chief tenets of behavioral economics—loss aversion—and good advice for those of us in the benefits field who want to change behavior.

4-22_Benefit-Communication-Losing-Winning-Strategy_Large.jpg

Decades of research have confirmed that losing hurts more than winning feels good. In fact, most studies indicate losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains. People are highly motivated to avoid what they consider a loss.

Have you considered how you might take advantage of this phenomenon in benefits communication? When you want to change worker behavior, tell them what they might lose if they don’t take action. Want to get workers to save more for retirement? Consider these messages:

  • Just say NO! Stop missing out on your retirement plan match.
  • Would you rather pay yourself or Uncle Sam? Increase your retirement savings and cut your taxes.

Consider this health benefits story from Eric M. Parmenter, vice president, employer solutions, Evolent Health in Arlington, Virginia. Eric tells how two different large hospital/health clients budgeted $30 per month for each employee who completed a health risk assessment (HRA). While the cost was the same, one client used the $30 as a carrot (a gain) while the other used a $30 stick (a loss).

Client A told employees it would provide a $30 discount on health premiums to those who completed the HRA. The $30 became the carrot for taking action. In contrast, Client B told its workers they would have to contribute an extra $30 for their health benefits if they chose not to complete the HRA—This $30 penalty was the stick, or penalty, that employees would incur. Both clients were able to improve the number of workers completing the HRA, but Client B, who framed the message as a loss, had a 95% HRA completion rate, compared with 80% for Client A who communicated what employees would gain.

carrot v stick

Framing a benefits message as a gain or loss can be effective, but it appears human beings are wired more to avoid the loss than seek the gain.

Four Ways to Make Sure EOBs Do Explain

The below article was posted by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans on June 22, 2016 and was written by Chris Vogel, CEBS.

Have you ever tried to make sense of health care bills after a serious illness? Did you fantasize about marching into your insurance company president’s office, handing him or her a box full of EOBs and demanding a real explanation of your benefits?

6-22_Four-Ways-to-Make-Sure-EOBs-Do-Explain_Large

Jim Bracchitta, CEBS, leads off his communications article in the July issue of Benefits Magazine with a dreams-come-true anecdote involving award-winning journalist and author Stephen Brill. Brill had written extensively about the health care system for Time magazine, the New York Times and other publications. After having open-heart surgery, he figured he’d be able make sense of the EOBs that flooded in. But Brill was no more successful than most people in figuring out the bills and claims payments.

Unlike most people, he had access to high-power insurance executives and soon found himself interviewing the president and CEO of his own insurance company. At the end of the interview, Brill handed one of his EOBs to the executive and asked him what it meant. Of course, the executive couldn’t figure it out, either. And his excuse for the indecipherable EOB was the same excuse some benefits communicators might use: State regulations dictate what needed to be said.

But an EOB is a piece of benefit communication. And, as is true of all communication pieces sent out by a benefit fund office, if the person who receives it doesn’t understand it, it has failed to communicate. The fund office may have to make multiple attempts to try to get the information across.

Bracchitta, an actor and a labor trustee for the Screen Actors Guild‒Producers Pension and Health Plans, writes in “Getting It Right the First Time—4 Tools for Evaluating Benefit Communications” that all communications should strive for the following:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Credibility
  3. Transparency
  4. Relevance

That means avoiding legalese and “benefitese” most participants won’t get. Participants need to be able to trust what comes from the benefit office and believe they are hearing the whole truth, even if it’s hard to hear. Relevance can be challenging, Bracchitta points out, but finding creative ways to get the right information to people when they most need it is worth the effort.

Unfortunately, the most important communications are the ones, like EOBs, that are highly regulated. But being simple, honest, open and relevant in all communications will make it far more likely people will understand, pay attention—and appreciate their benefits.