Good Advice

Good Advice

  • HR Toolkit – Remote Employee Well-being

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    Remote work has become commonplace in many businesses across the country. While this solution accommodates for the health and safety of your workforce, it is not without its challenges. Remote employees need your support to maintain their physical, social, mental, and financial well-being when working from home. As the COVID-19 pandemic wages on and the release of a vaccine becomes closer to reality, hope for the future consumes us all. But even after the pandemics impacts reduce, more employers are considering remote working environments a new reality for their organizations.

    With an increasing number of employees working remote indefinitely, it will be important for businesses to take actions to support the well-being of their teams. There are many programs and initiatives you can implement to provide needed support, and the HR Toolkit – Remote Employee Well-being has detailed information on what you can do. From establishing a supportive remote work environment to well-being benefits that meet the needs of your employees, this resource has what you need.

    Creating an environment that effectively addresses and supports employee well-being is a challenge that requires many considerations, to empower employees to succeed in this environment. Not all employees will face the same challenges, and your leadership should be prepared to review the unique needs of the individuals on your team. As your organization strives to improve employee well-being, resources in this toolkit can help.

    Click Here to Download the HR Toolkit!
  • Methods for Supporting Working Parents

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    In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, working parents are now being forced to contend with their children’s new school routines. Unfortunately, these routines will be varied by school, with little universal guidance. The uncertainty surrounding these routines and their impact on working parents will undoubtedly have ripple effects in the workplace.

    Accommodation Methods

    Unfortunately, there is no universal answer for how to accommodate all working parents. The solutions will be unique to the circumstances, influenced by the schools that employees’ children attend.

    However, although the specifics will vary, there are a number of solutions that can help in a variety of circumstances. This article includes methods for accommodating working parents and pitfalls to avoid when doing so.

    Telework Arrangements

    Working remotely (telework) has boomed in popularity recently—obviously influenced by the coronavirus—but the trend began well in advance of the pandemic. This arrangement allows employees to work entirely remote. It can be a way for working parents to get kids to school without having to worry about an additional commute. It also allows parents more time to spend with their young children or kids who must be at home due to virtual learning. Granted, the latter scenario may be more distracting than beneficial, so additional guidelines should be put in place alongside the telework arrangement to ensure the employee remains productive.

    Flexible Scheduling

    Flexible scheduling is a step back from telework, focusing instead on when an employee works rather than where they do so. With this arrangement, employers set designated “core” hours that an employee must be working (location irrelevant) and otherwise let employees work whenever they like. For instance, an employer may set core hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., then allow employees to work their own schedule, so long as they total 40 hours at the end of the workweek. Alternatively, an employer may not have core hours and instead allow employees to work any combination of 40-hour workweeks. This can be a great way to accommodate working parents who must also act as stay-at-home teachers or day care instructors. It can also free up time for parents so they can work earlier and see their families more in the evening.

    Generous Time Off Policies

    Some employers have generous policies related to paid time off (PTO), which is different than extended leave. Expanding PTO can be an excellent way to attract and retain working parents. The easiest method for implementing this would be to adopt a PTO bank policy where employees can use their time off for any reason (as opposed to having set categories, such as sick days and vacation days). Going further, employers could allow employees to take as much PTO as they need for their unique circumstances. This would allow working parents more time to make appointments, run errands, see family and accomplish other family-related tasks as they come. Keep in mind, many parents may have already exhausted their time off due to COVID-19, so additional PTO would be welcomed. However, unlimited PTO banks require a high level of trust, so employers should consider setting a PTO limit first, then potentially expanding the policy later. Moreover, unlimited PTO may be a more tenable option after the COVID-19 pandemic, when production output isn’t as critical.

    Robust EAP Offerings

    The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on everyone. For employees fortunate enough to retain their jobs, the stress of the coronavirus can be compounded by the stress of daily work duties. In fact, 82% of employees said they feel overworked, according to an Asana study—and that was before the pandemic. Add parenting and household responsibilities on top of those stressors, and it’s obvious that some employees may be spread too thin. That’s where an employee assistance program (EAP) comes in. These programs can be tailored to a workforce to provide critical employee resources. Some EAP offerings may include mental health resources, therapist appointments, financial counseling and other well-being programs. Essentially, EAPs can help connect employees with the resources they need to improve a given situation, even if it’s their overall well-being. For working parents, this could be the lifeline they’ve been searching for.

    Transparent and Frequent Communication

    Sometimes the easiest accommodation for working parents is open communication. Depending on the team size, managers could have open discussions with working parents about needing to take time off or flexing their schedules. This wouldn’t necessarily require amendments to existing policies, provided the existing policies aren’t too restrictive. Open communication between managers and working parents would enable both parties to plan for upcoming changes to daily routines. Having an ongoing, transparent dialogue can help identify and address issues before they turn into real problems. Specifically, some parents are concerned about their co-workers’ perceptions during the school year—hypothesizing that they appear more focused on duties outside of work. While these perceptions may be unwarranted, it’s important for employees to feel comfortable bringing them up with managers. Such conversations also show employees that their well-being is just as important as their performance.

    Social Hangouts

    Working parents tend to burn the candle at both ends. Many parents work during the day, then run their households at night. Some parents are around their families 24/7, juggling all their responsibilities simultaneously. As anyone who spends the majority of their time around kids will tell you, sometimes a parent needs time alone with other adults. This is where social hangouts come in. Employers can help reduce the stress of working parents (and all employees) by hosting social events. These events might be in-person with social distancing measures in place or entirely virtual, using digital platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Whatever the logistics, social hangouts provide employees much-needed time to unwind and socialize about topics unrelated to the workplace. Some organizations use this time to play games or toast cocktails. Regardless of the setup, employers should consider scheduling periodic events to encourage a break from work. It’s important to note that these hangouts will likely be more successful if conducted during or toward the end of the workday.

    Accommodation Pitfalls to Avoid

    Employers should be careful when drafting and implementing new policies. Below are some pitfalls to watch out for.

    Targeted Policies

    Targeting specific groups of individuals when creating workplace policies is generally not a good decision. While it might seem obvious that a policy intended to accommodate working parents should only apply to them, that may not be beneficial to the organization on the whole. Not only is targeting specific employees illegal in many cases, but it can sow resentment among workers who do not qualify. Instead, employers should devise policies that help all employees. This might involve offering a flexible schedule to everyone, as opposed to just parents.

    Lax Enforcement

    Regardless of how employers choose to accommodate working parents, enforcement of those accommodations must be clear and consistent. This means holding individuals accountable for the arrangements they agree to. For instance, a manager may allow an employee to work remotely each Friday to accommodate their child’s class schedule. The manager should then ensure the employee is actually being productive on those days (using whatever method or standard the employer chooses). If employers start easing work responsibilities without following up on performance, it can quickly lead to apathetic attitudes toward the job itself. In other words, an employer should clearly set expectations for any ad hoc arrangement, then follow up regularly with the individual.

    Ill-conceived Policies

    As the old adage goes, “If you don’t know, ask.” Workplace policies are no exception. Before employers start drafting policies or begin devising worker accommodations, they should reach out to employees. Since the goal is to make life easier for working parents (and the rest of the workforce, to a lesser extent), employers should ensure the decisions are welcomed by employees. This can be done through surveys, one-on-one meetings or a variety of other methods. Spending the extra time soliciting employee opinions now can save countless hours in the future.

    Conclusion

    Schools are, inarguably, among the most critical organizations that must reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the lack of consistent, practical reopening and ongoing operational guidance makes every case unique. This makes it difficult for working parents to coordinate their schedules, especially when their own routines are up in the air.

    If employers can anticipate and prepare for some of these problems, their employees can have some peace of mind. Scrambling to draft policies later in the school year will only make them more challenging to implement. In fact, the absence of workplace guidance related to working parents’ circumstances may force some employees to resign or take extended leaves to accommodate their families. Plan for these situations now, and prevent turmoil later.

    Speak with The Unland Companies for more workplace guidance.

  • Post-coronavirus Return-to-Work Plans and EAPs

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    The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed employees’ daily lives and routines, and even as businesses reopen, many employees are feeling the effects of the pandemic. As businesses reopen, employers must consider how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected employees, which in turn will affect their post-coronavirus return to work.

    As employees return to work, many are experiencing financial hardship, balancing new caregiving responsibilities, managing concerns over their physical well-being, and maintaining their mental well-being and health. During these uncertain times, employees are understandably experiencing significant stress, which can lead to lower productivity and morale, and increase their risk for health conditions, absenteeism and higher health care costs.

    To help employees navigate these times and ease their return to work, employers should consider offering or revamping an existing employee assistance program (EAP) to address post-coronavirus return-to-work concerns. EAPs can help employees tend to their personal needs, leaving you with healthier, happier and more productive employees.

    What Is an EAP?

    An EAP is an employer-sponsored program that offers services or referrals to help employees deal with personal problems. In this case, an EAP should be focused on addressing employees’ concerns surrounding the pandemic, including, but not limited to, financial resources, mental health issues, alcohol or substance abuse, stress management, and child care or eldercare.

    Why Offer an EAP?

    When employees are distracted by stressful personal or life situations, they are unfocused at work and tend to be absent more often. Their health may suffer as a result, leading to higher medical costs. Obviously, these circumstances are undesirable for an employer, but it is costly to recruit and train a replacement for the struggling employee, especially if that individual was formerly, and has the potential to once again be, a valuable asset to the company.

    A better solution for many employers is to offer their employees assistance in handling their personal issues in order to improve their situations and regain their former productivity levels and value to the company. EAPs can provide that assistance. Once an EAP is implemented, it can help the employer attract and retain employees, lower health care and disability claims costs, increase productivity and morale, and lower absenteeism.

    Designing an EAP

    Employers should focus their post-coronavirus return-to-work EAPs on providing employees with the support they need to navigate these times. Employees will be going through vastly different experiences, so EAPs should be designed to address a wide variety of feelings and concerns, and also be flexible enough to be accessible to all employees. For example, some employees may be primarily focused on receiving financial resources or counsel while others may be concerned with receiving assistance with caregiving responsibilities. The most effective EAPs during these times will cover a wide variety of issues and be widely accessible in a myriad of formats.

    Additionally, EAPs should be designed to help assist HR and managers with providing any necessary reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

    While every organization’s EAP will vary in design and structure, each EAP should include the following elements:

    • Counseling—An effective EAP will offer counseling sessions with trained professionals to help employees address various issues. Given the times, an EAP should offer counseling sessions in a variety of formats, including text, phone, web and in-person (when appropriate and safe to do so). Counseling may be particularly effective to help employees cope with financial and mental health struggles.
    • Education—Employees are more likely to use an EAP if they know it exists and what it entails. To increase engagement and utilization, employers should promote the EAP and provide detailed information about each offering under the EAP to educate employees on its existence.
    • Practicality—It’s one thing to design an EAP that could be helpful, but it’s another to ensure that it will be useful and applicable to employees’ post-pandemic daily lives. To find out what employees really need help with, consider conducting an anonymous survey to crowdsource what elements should be covered in an EAP.
    • Resources—Employees may not want to reach out to counselors for help right off the bat. Consider offering educational resources from which employees can learn. Sometimes, employees may self-educate and realize they’d benefit from seeking additional help through an EAP.

    Additionally, an EAP should include a policy statement, which communicates to employees the services offered, how to obtain those services, an assurance that the program won’t jeopardize their jobs or reputations, a promise of confidentiality and any exceptions to the confidentiality agreement.

    Cost Vs. Return on Investment (ROI)

    The cost of an EAP can vary depending on which services are offered, whether it is administered in-house or outsourced, and the number of counselors employed. Also included in the cost is the time employees spend away from work while receiving EAP services. Start-up costs for an EAP program can be high because many employees might be referred for counseling or treatment all at once; however, the ROI can be well worth the initial costs.

    ERISA and COBRA Considerations

    If an EAP is considered a welfare benefit plan, it must comply with ERISA’s reporting and disclosure requirements. The key distinction, typically, is whether the EAP offers direct counseling or simply referrals. Because employee welfare plans are defined as providing medical benefits or benefits in the event of sickness, an EAP that provides counseling would generally fit that description and would be subject to ERISA standards (there is some uncertainty about these distinctions, however).

    Similarly, the COBRA implications are a bit unclear regarding EAPs. Generally, if an EAP is a welfare benefit plan and provides medical care, it is subject to COBRA. Medical care can include the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease; EAPs that offer those services in some form (even through counseling) are likely considered health care plans subject to COBRA. COBRA regulations do not address EAPs that offer both medical and nonmedical benefits. It would seem, though, that an employer is at least obligated to offer eligible beneficiaries the option to elect to continue the portion of their EAP that provides medical benefits.

    Legal Considerations and Confidentiality

    Offering an EAP could expose an employer to certain legal liability situations due to actions taken by EAP counselors or outside vendors. Employers should ensure that their liability insurance covers all aspects of the EAP program.

    In addition, confidentiality is essential for an EAP. Employees need to be certain that participating will not damage their career or reputation. EAP records and counseling sessions should be strictly confidential, including the fact that the employee contacted the EAP in the first place. Employers are entitled to employee surveys evaluating the EAP or statistical information as a whole, but employee names should not be revealed. If the release of information or records is necessary or advantageous in a certain situation, the employee must sign a written consent form. Exceptions include situations where disclosure is legally required, such as cases involving child abuse, or homicidal or suicidal intentions.

    More Information

    Offering an EAP is just one way employers can help employees adjust to their new normal of post-pandemic life. In addition to providing support for employees, employers can implement workplace policies and procedures designed to make the post-coronavirus return to work as seamless as possible. For additional resources, contact The Unland Companies.

  • Benefits Planning and COVID-19

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    As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wage on, its effects on benefits planning for next year are being felt—especially as open enrollment season approaches. According to Mercer’s Global Survey #5, 20% of employers surveyed said updating benefits programs to better meet employee needs was an HR area in which companies are seeing an increased need for support.

    In addition to considering plan design changes, employers are having to evaluate and adjust their benefits packages for 2021. Some of the most common changes being made for the 2021 enrollment season are outlined in this article.

    Potential Cost Increases and Plan Designs

    Employers and benefits experts are bracing for cost increases headed into 2021. Health care premium costs have increased at a steady rate over the past few years, with the most recent average increase being around 6%. Actuaries at Willis Towers Watson predict up to a 7% increase in health care premiums in 2021 for both self-funded and fully insured employers.

    Despite many health care providers waiving fees associated with COVID-19 testing right now, those costs will likely trickle down in the long run. While fully insured employers may not experience cost increases until the new plan year, self-insured employers may have already felt cost increases due to COVID-19. In addition, many patients are postponing elective surgeries and procedures this year due to COVID-19, but may opt to receive care in 2021, which would result in increased claims and costs.

    As such, organizations may need to evaluate plan design changes heading into the 2021 enrollment season. No plan design is guaranteed to shelter employers during the coronavirus pandemic—it comes down to unique circumstances.

    For instance, some self-funded employers may be covering significantly more costs now than what they’re used to. These organizations may consider going fully insured to make more predictable payments.
    On the other hand, some fully insured groups may feel restricted by their locked-in premiums or may predict much higher costs in 2021, so self-funding could appeal to them.

    Some organizations may wish to restructure even further, using reference-based pricing or other plan designs aimed at shifting costs away from the employer.

    There is no one-size-fits-all plan design when it comes to mitigating COVID-19-related costs. Employers will need to evaluate their unique circumstances and consider whether they need to shift some of their cost-sharing burden with a new plan design.

    Telehealth Benefits

    Telehealth is the practice of communicating electronically with a physician, typically via telephone or video chat. The medium has risen in popularity over the past few years, but the coronavirus pandemic has proven just how viable it can be. Many insurers are already covering telehealth under their plans, and it’s a safe bet that others will do the same.

    During the pandemic, telehealth services have seen a significant increase in utilization. According to a survey from FAIR Health, there was a 4,347% increase nationally in telehealth utilization from March 2019 to March 2020. As the pandemic has progressed, many providers and hospitals are encouraging patients to utilize telehealth services instead of coming to the office or hospital for non-life-threatening care.

    Heading into 2021, expanded access to and coverage for telehealth services will be a priority for employees. Employers should evaluate their current offerings and consider adding or expanding this benefit.

    Mental Health Benefits

    According to a survey from mental health provider Ginger, nearly 7 in 10 employees cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the most stressful time in their careers.

    As employees return to work, many are experiencing financial hardship, balancing new caregiving responsibilities, managing concerns over their physical well-being, and maintaining their mental well-being and health. During these uncertain times, employees are understandably experiencing significant stress, which can lead to lower productivity and morale, and increase their risk for health conditions, absenteeism and higher health care costs.

    To help employees navigate these times and ease their return to work, employers should consider offering or revamping an existing employee assistance program (EAP) and expanding mental health resources for the next benefits plan year.

    In addition to expanding EAPs, some other mental health resources to offer may include covering telemental health services and providing access to mental health professionals or apps.

    Flexible Workplace Benefits

    Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, employers were feeling the pressure to provide flexible workplace benefits. Employees are looking for flexible work hours, paid time off and the ability to telecommute.

    Since the onset of the coronavirus, the desire for these workplace benefits has only increased—in some cases, out of necessity. Balancing work and caregiving responsibilities can be difficult and can contribute to decreased productivity, poor mental health and increased stress among employees. As a potential second wave of COVID-19 cases looms in the future, schools and day cares may remain closed in the fall and beyond. Parents are faced with the decision about in-person education, virtual learning or home schooling. While much attention is given to parents trying to balance their professional responsibilities—likely at home—with home schooling and taking care of their children, there are also millions of people who are juggling remote work and elder care.

    In addition, some employees may not be caregivers but may have a condition that puts them at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness. Or, they may not be comfortable returning to the office full time.

    As such, employees are likely looking for expanded flexible work benefits, including:

    • Work-from-home arrangements—While this may not be feasible in every circumstance, employees who may already be working from home due to the pandemic or are equally as productive from home may expect to continue to receive such benefits in 2021.
    • Flexible work hours—Offering flexible work hours or alternative schedules during these uncertain times and moving forward may help employees balance their personal and caregiving responsibilities, and prioritize their health.

    These two benefits are examples of how other employers are addressing workplace flexibility in their benefits packages for 2021. Employees highly value flexibility, which means employers should evaluate how they can meet this demand.

    Virtual Open Enrollment

    Open enrollment is traditionally done in the office during a specific time frame. Many organizations hold town hall meetings and pepper employees with near-daily communications—mixing necessary administration with personal touches.

    However, with the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, employers should prepare to hold open enrollment virtually in some capacity. Instead of meetings, employees can receive video messages and instructions. For personal touches, HR may even send out individual reminder texts or emails about the enrollment period.

    For More Information

    For more information surrounding the employee benefits landscape post-coronavirus or how to prepare for the 2021 open enrollment season, contact The Unland Companies today.

  • OSHA Guidance for Reopening Nonessential Businesses

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    On June 18, 2020, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released guidance to help employers plan how to reopen nonessential businesses. The guidance also addresses issues employers should consider as they ask their employees return to work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    OSHA’s guidelines for reopening nonessential businesses provide general principles for updating restrictions that were originally put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

    OSHA’s publication includes charts, examples and illustrations of how safety principles can be implemented for reopening. Specifically, this new guidance covers:

    • How to plan a reopening
    • OSHA standards and required protections in the workplace
    • Available OSHA assistance programs
    • Answers to employer frequently asked questions.

    OSHA has stated that this new guidance is meant to supplement the White House’s Guidelines for Opening Up America Again and the Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 developed by the U.S. Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. A as a result, businesses should follow local timelines and phased reopening plans as they implement OSHA’s guidance.

    Employers should also continue to monitor federal, state and local updates about community disinfection, best practices and transmission mitigation measures. For example, employers can visit OSHA’s coronavirus webpage and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for updates.

  • Work Comp Insights – Why an Established Clinic Relationship is Essential

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    Chances are your organization has a process for making significant purchases. But does that process include medical care for injured employees? Probably not. Without any guidance, your injured employees may seek care from their family doctors or other general practitioners in your health care network. However, these care providers may not be optimally qualified to treat occupational injuries.

    By partnering with an appropriate medical provider you can improve injured employees’ access to occupational health care and enhance the effectiveness of their treatments. You can also reduce your workers’ compensation costs by returning employees to productive work as soon as possible.

    Choosing the Right Provider

    Relying on the credentialing process of your group health network may not be enough to assure your employees are receiving the best occupational medical care. Just because a provider is credentialed through a network doesn’t mean that they are best qualified to treat workplace injuries.

    Without a pre-arranged plan, your employee may end up with a medical provider who does not give adequate consideration to a work-

    focused physical examination. You want a provider who will establish causation for the injury and develop a treatment plan to achieve maximum medical improvement in the shortest period of time.

    The key is to recognize the important differences between the occupational health delivery system and the general medical community. Your company needs to find and partner with medical providers that share the following characteristics:

    • Occupational health delivery and injury management are among their core practice areas.
    • Their mission and vision support your goals of keeping your employees safe, healthy and on the job.
    • They use evidence-based protocols, such as those established by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), to find the optimal treatments and outcomes for your employees, and to benchmark and monitor treatment outcomes and utilization.

    Early Return to Work

    In recent years, the frequency of workers’ compensation claims has declined, yet workers’ compensation costs continue to climb. Medical, lost time and other claim costs continue to trend higher despite employer safety initiatives and persistent government efforts at policy reform.

    Partnering with the right medical provider is one way to combat this trend. Study after study has shown that workers who return to work within three or four days are much less likely to file lost time claims than those with longer absences. Providers who understand this important dynamic—and who make prompt recommendations for returning employees to work with any appropriate restrictions—are your primary allies in keeping claim costs down.

    Your relationship with medical providers will help you control costs in several specific ways—some of which may not be obvious:

    • Employees will return to work sooner, thus keeping the claim “medical-only” in many cases. Medical-only classification rules vary by state, but this has a significant impact on the workers’ compensation modification factor.
    • The medical-related costs of the claim will be reduced because the treatment plan is more effective.
    • The indemnity-related costs of the claim (the payments associated with lost time) will be reduced because the treatment plan results in the employee returning to work sooner, or on modified duty.
    • Your employees will be more likely to approach an approved occupational medical provider with a positive attitude and expectations. This decreases the potential for a “malingering” claim and potential litigation.

    Implementation

    Developing a relationship with the proper provider may seem daunting, but with a little forethought you will be able to build a successful relationship that will offer continued benefits:

    Develop a contact list of medical providers: Once you have your list, contact the providers by phone. Get the names of the medical director, clinic director, business manager or clinic marketing staff. Don’t be intimidated by communicating with medical professionals. Most clinics are eager for new business and will be more than willing to discuss options with you.

    Qualify Providers: The purpose of your visit to the provider is twofold: you want to share more information about your company, its operations and its Return to Work program goals, and you want to learn if this provider will meet those goals. It is a good business practice to qualify medical services vendors the same way you would qualify the vendors of any other important products or services your business needs. In your discussions with a clinic, be clear that your focus is not to negotiate a deeply discounted fee schedule. Instead, communicate that you are offering to provide regular business to the clinic in exchange for their commitment to certain requirements.

    Execute Performance Agreements Between Selected Providers and Your Organization: Once you have conducted your evaluation of the clinics and selected the one(s) that best suit your needs, it’s time to execute clinic and employer performance agreements to define your mutual expectations. These non-binding agreements are simply a reminder to all parties of the objectives of the relationship. You may need to negotiate the finer details, but the general purpose of the agreement should be acceptable to the majority of practices.

    Execute Return to Work Agreements with Employees: After clinic and employer performance agreements have been completed, you should execute a return to work agreement with your employees. State law will determine the level of autonomy your employees have when choosing a provider. However, this agreement helps ensure that your employees are informed of the relationship your company has in place with medical providers. It is important for employees to understand that these providers were selected because they are well qualified to serve injured workers and the return to work process. Even if you are in a state where employees can select any physician, this agreement will still alert them to the distinction between occupational health medicine and general internal medicine.

    Monitor Performance: With a strong clinic relationship, you can expect improvements in several measurable aspects of the return to work process. Look for the following:

    • A decrease in the various parameters measuring average time between events
    • A decrease in the percentage of off-duty workers
    • A decrease in the number of lost workdays
    • A decrease in the indemnity portion of losses
    • A decrease in the number of injuries exceeding expected disability duration

    If you are not observing improvements, discuss the data with the clinic to determine whether process changes can improve the analytical measures.

  • Cyber Liability – Coronavirus and Remote Work

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    Given the implications of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, countless employees across a variety of industries are working remotely. While this allows businesses to remain operational, it can create a number of risks, particularly for those who fail to take the proper precautions.

    Above all, information security is one the greatest challenges for companies allowing remote work during the COVID-19 outbreak. When an employee is at the office, their work is protected by safety standards that keep your company’s network and data secure. However, an employee working from home may not have the same safety measures in place to protect your organization’s devices and information.

    In order to safeguard your business and employees from data breaches, cyber scams and viruses, consider the following strategies:

    Train employees on how to detect and respond to phishing attacks.

    Criminals prey on unfortunate circumstances, seeking to capitalize on victims during times of panic and hardship. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Cyber criminals have been known to pose as charities and legitimate websites to lure victims into sending money and revealing personal information. Individuals should scrutinize any emails, texts and social media posts related to COVID-19 and be cautious when clicking any links and attachments. Specifically, employees should be instructed to:

    • Avoid clicking links from unsolicited emails, and be wary of email attachments.
    • Use trusted sources when looking for factual information on COVID-19, such as CDC.gov.
    • Never give out personal or financial information via email, even if the sender seems legitimate.
    • Never respond to emails soliciting personal or financial information.
    • Verify a charity’s authenticity before making any donations.

    Have a virtual private network (VPN) in place,

    and ensure employees are using it to access company systems and data when working remotely. VPNs encrypt internet traffic, which can be particularly useful when your employees are connected to a home or public network. Furthermore, it could be beneficial for your company to prohibit employees from accessing company information from public networks altogether.

    Mandate the use of security and anti-virus software.

    This software should be up to date and include the latest patches.

    Educate your employees on the kinds of sensitive data they are obligated to protect.

    This could include confidential business information, trade secrets, intellectual property and personal information. When working with sensitive data, employees should take to the same precautions
    they would if they were at the office. They should avoid using their personal email for company business and think critically about the documents they are printing at home. If they must print sensitive information, they should shred the document when it is no longer needed. Encrypting sensitive information can also help you protect any data that is stored or sent to remote devices.

    Prohibit employees from sharing their work devices with friends and family members.

    Doing so reduces risks associated with unauthorized or inadvertent access of company information.

    Have employees update their contact information.

    That way, if your systems are compromised, you can easily contact your staff and provide the appropriate updates and instructions.

    Create and communicate a system that employees can use to report lost or stolen equipment.

    This will help your IT department respond quickly and mitigate potential data loss threats.

    Require two-factor authentication for all company passwords.

    Two-factor authentication adds a layer of security that allows companies to protect against compromised credentials. Through this method, users must confirm their identity by providing extra information (e.g., a phone number or unique security code) when attempting to access corporate applications, networks and servers. This additional login hurdle means that would-be cyber criminals won’t easily unlock an account, even if they have the password in hand.

    Consider security precautions for mobile devices.

    Proper phone security is just as important as a well-protected computer network. A smartphone could grant access to any number of applications, emails and stored passwords. Depending on how your organization uses such devices, unauthorized access to the information on a smartphone or tablet could be just as damaging as a data breach involving more traditional computer systems.

    For additional protection, employers should consider backing up data and bolstering network protections as best as they can. For more cyber security guidance, contact The Unland Companies today.

  • Coronavirus and the Workplace – Compliance Issues for Employers

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    As the number of reported cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to rise, employers are increasingly confronted with the possibility of an outbreak in the workplace.

    Employers are obligated to maintain a safe and healthy work environment for their employees, but are also subject to a number of legal requirements protecting workers. For example, employers must comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in their approach to dealing with COVID-19.

    This Compliance Bulletin provides a summary of the compliance issues facing employers in this type of situation.

    Highlights

    COVID-19

    The illness caused by the coronavirus can cause symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Cases are expected to spread throughout the United States.

    Disease Prevention

    Employers must maintain a safe work environment for employees. They may require employees to stay home from work if they are at risk of spreading the disease.

    Legal Obligations

    Employers must also consider their obligations under workplace laws.

    Action Steps

    There are a number of steps that employers can take to address the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace. In addition to reviewing the compliance concerns outlined in this Compliance Bulletin, employers should:

    • Closely monitor the CDC, WHO and state and local public health department websites for information on the status of the coronavirus.
    • Proactively educate their employees on what is known about the virus, including its transmission and prevention.
    • Establish a written communicable illness policy and response plan that covers communicable diseases readily transmitted in the workplace.
    • Consider measures that can help prevent the spread of illness, such as allowing employees flexible work options like working from home.

    What is the Coronavirus?

    The 2019 novel coronavirus (“COVID-19” or “coronavirus”) is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that is a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, runny nose, cough and trouble breathing. Most people develop only mild symptoms. But some, usually people with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal. The incubation period for COVID-19 is from two to 14 days.

    Initially detected in Wuhan, China in late 2019, the first case of COVID-19 in the United States was reported on January 21, 2020. Since then, the disease has spread to more than 50 people within the continental United States, with CDC officials warning of further outbreaks.

    How is Coronavirus Spread?

    The available information about how the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads is largely based on what is known about similar coronaviruses. COVID-19 is a new disease and there is more to learn about its transmission, the severity of illness it causes, and to what extent it may spread in the United States.

    According to the CDC, the virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person, between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet) or through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

    It may also be possible for a person to contract COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has been contaminated with the virus and then touching his or her own mouth, nose, or eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

    People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic. Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms, and there have been reports of this occurring, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

    Disease Prevention in the Workplace

    Whenever a communicable disease outbreak is possible, employers may need to take precautions to keep the disease from spreading through the workplace. It is recommended that employers establish a written policy and response plan that covers communicable diseases readily transmitted in the workplace.

    Employers can require employees to stay home from work if they have signs or symptoms of a communicable disease that poses a credible threat of transmission in the workplace, or if they have traveled to high-risk geographic areas, such as those with widespread or sustained community transmission of the illness. When possible, employers can consider allowing employees to work remotely. Employers may require employees to provide medical documentation that they can return to work.

    Employers can consider canceling business travel to affected geographic areas and may request that employees notify them if they are traveling to these areas for personal reasons. Employees who travel to China should be informed that they may be quarantined or otherwise required to stay away from work until they can provide medical documentation that they are free of symptoms.

    There are several legal considerations that employers should keep in mind when implementing and administering a communicable illness policy. These considerations are addressed in the following sections.

    Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970

    Under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (the OSH Act), employers have a general duty to provide employees with safe workplace conditions that are “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” Workers also have the right to receive information and training about workplace hazards, and to exercise their rights as employees without retaliation.

    There is no specific Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard covering COVID-19. However, some OSHA requirements may apply to preventing occupational exposure to COVID-19. In addition to the General Duty clause, OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards and Bloodborne Pathogens standard may apply to certain workplaces, such as those in the healthcare industry.

    Employers should continue to monitor the development of COVID-19 and analyze whether employees could be at risk of exposure. It is also important for employers to consider what preventative measures they can take to maintain safety and protect their employees from potentially contracting COVID-19.

    Also, OSHA requires many employers to record certain work-related injuries and illnesses on their OSHA Form 300 (OSHA Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses). OSHA has determined that COVID-19 is a recordable illness when a worker is infected on the job. Establishments that are required to complete an OSHA 300 log should be sure to include all COVID-19 infections that are work related.

    The Americans with Disabilities Act­­­

    The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) protects applicants and employees from disability discrimination. It is relevant to COVID-19 because it prohibits employee disability-related inquiries or medical examinations unless:

    • They are job related and consistent with business necessity; or
    • The employer has a reasonable belief that the employee poses a direct threat to the health or safety of him-or herself or others (i.e., a significant risk of substantial harm even with reasonable accommodation).

    According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), whether a particular outbreak rises to the level of a “direct threat” depends on the severity of the illness. Employers are expected to make their best efforts to obtain public health advice that is contemporaneous and appropriate for their location, and to make reasonable assessments of conditions in their workplace based on this information.

    The EEOC has said that sending an employee home who displays symptoms of contagious illness would not violate the ADA’s restrictions on disability-related actions because advising such workers to go home is not a disability-related action if the illness ends up being mild, such as a seasonal influenza. On the other hand, if the illness were serious enough, the action would be permitted under the ADA as the illness would pose a “direct threat.” In either case, an employer may send employees home, or allow employees to work from home, if they are displaying symptoms of contagious illness.

    The ADA requires that information about the medical condition or history of an employee, obtained through disability-related inquiries or medical examination, be collected and maintained on separate forms and in separate medical files and treated as a confidential medical record. Employers should refrain from announcing to employees that a coworker is at risk of or actually has a disease. Instead, employers should focus on educating employees on best practices for illness prevention.

    Employee Leave Requirements

    If an employee, or an employee’s family member, contracts COVID-19, the employee may be entitled to time off from work under federal or state leave laws. For example, an employee who is experiencing a serious health condition or who requires time to care for a family member with such a condition may be entitled to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). An illness like COVID-19 may qualify as a serious health condition under the FMLA if it involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider. Employees may also be entitled to FMLA leave when taking time off for medical examinations to determine whether a serious health condition exists.

    Many states and localities also have employee leave laws that could apply in a situation where the employee or family member contracts COVID-19. Some of these laws require employees to be given paid time off, while other laws require unpaid leave. Employers should become familiar with the laws in their jurisdiction to ensure that they are compliant.

    Some employees may wish to stay home from work out of fear of becoming ill. Whether employers must accommodate these requests will depend on whether there is evidence that the employee may be at risk of contracting the disease. A refusal to work may violate an employer’s attendance policy, but employers should consult with legal counsel prior to disciplining such an employee. However, if there is no reasonable basis to believe that the employee will be exposed to the illness at work, the employee may not have to be paid for any time that is missed.

    Compensation and Benefits

    If employees miss work due to COVID-19, whether they are compensated for their time off will depend on the circumstances. As noted above, employees may be entitled to paid time off under certain state laws if they (or a family member) contract the illness. In other cases, non-exempt employees generally do not have to be paid for time they are not working. Exempt employees must be paid if they work for part of a workweek, but do not have to be paid if they are off work for the entire week. Note that special rules may apply to union employees, depending on the terms of their collective bargaining agreement.

    Employees may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they contract the disease during the course of their employment. For example, employees in the healthcare industry may contract the disease from a patient who is ill. Whether an employee is eligible for other benefits, such as short-term disability benefits, will depend on the terms of the policy and the severity of the employee’s illness.

    Communicating with Employees

    As part of their efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, employers should consider communicating information about the illness to employees. The CDC, WHO and OSHA have all created informational material on the virus and its symptoms, prevention and treatment that can be helpful for employees.

    Information Resources

    CDC: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary

    World Health Organization: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public

    OSHA: Safety and Health Topics: COVID-19

  • Zobrist-Scheirer Insurance in Metamora Now a Part of The Unland Companies

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    (Metamora, IL) – The Unland Companies has recently partnered with Zobrist-Scheirer Insurance in Metamora, IL. Unland is pleased to add the talent and knowledge of the Zobrist team as they expand their relationships with personal and business insurance customers in the Metamora and Central IL region.

    Dean Zobrist, a lifelong resident of Metamora, began his insurance career working at Prudential Insurance in Peoria, IL. In 1978, he purchased the John Reeb agency in Metamora, which then eventually formed Zobrist-Scheirer Insurance in 1993.

    “Through the years, serving the customer with a detailed approach on every person and every policy has always been my priority,” said Dean Zobrist. “Our partnership with The Unland Companies is an exciting new chapter giving our team the opportunity to join a larger, highly skilled team that offers insurance, employee benefits and HR solutions,” added Zobrist.

    “The Zobrist-Scheirer Agency has built a culture that is a great fit with Unland, including their community outreach in the Metamora area and professional dedication to their customers for many years. Unland has a reputation for always putting the customer at the center of decisions, as well as giving back to the communities we serve,” said Pat Taphorn, President of The Unland Companies.

  • President signs the “Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020”

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    On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed H.R. 1865, the “Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020” or the “Act”). The Act also includes a number of retirement and health and welfare provisions of interest to employers and service providers.

    The Act would permanently repeal three taxes imposed under the Affordable Care Act:

      • Cadillac Tax: The Cadillac tax on high-cost employer health plans, which is scheduled to take effect in 2022. The tax was originally set to take effect in 2018 and apply to employer-sponsored health plans that in that year cost more than $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families. The rate is set at 40% of coverage costs that exceed those thresholds, which will be adjusted annually for inflation.
      • Medical Device Tax: A 2.3% tax on medical devices, which is currently suspended through Dec. 31, 2019. The tax applies to devices such as hip implants and pacemakers sold by a manufacturer, producer, or importer.
      • Insurance Provider Fee: An annual fee imposed on health insurance providers.

    The Act contains other health and welfare provisions:

      • Smoking: The measure would increase the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 years of age, from 18.
      • Reduction in Medical Expense Deduction Floor: The Act extends until December 31, 2020, the lower threshold of 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income for medical expense deductions. The Act keeps the lower (7.5 percent) threshold in place for 2019 and 2020.
      • Above the Line Deduction for Qualified Tuition and Related Expenses: Individuals are allowed a deduction equal to their qualified tuition and related expenses, including amounts paid for tuition, fees and other related expense for an eligible student that are required for enrollment or attendance at an eligible educational institution. The deduction was scheduled to sunset at the end of 2017, but the Act retroactively extends the deduction until the end of 2020.
      • Employer Credit for Paid Family and Medical Leave: The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act established new Section 45S of the Code, which provides a business tax credit for certain employer-paid family and medical leave. The paid family and medical leave credit ranges from 12.5 percent to 25 percent of the amount of wages paid to qualifying employees for 2 to 12 weeks of family and medical leave annually, where such wage payments are at least 50 percent of the wages normally paid to an employee. The paid family and medical leave credit was originally available for wages paid in 2018 and 2019. The Act extends the credit through 2020.
      • PCORI: The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute would be extended through fiscal 2029. The measure would provide $275.5 million for it in fiscal 2020, increasing to $399 million for fiscal 2029. It also receives revenue from fees on health insurance and self-insured plans.
  • Private Insurance Costs Are Skyrocketing

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    Reprinted with permission from Drew Altman

    Cumulative growth in per-enrollee spending, 2008-18

    The cost of private health insurance is out of control, compared to Medicare and Medicaid. You see that clearly if you take a long-term view of recently released federal data on health spending.

    Why it matters: This is why the health care industry — not just insurers, but also hospitals and drug companies — is so opposed to proposals that would expand the government’s purchasing power. And it’s why some progressives are so determined to curb, or even eliminate, private coverage.

    By the numbers: Per capita spending for private insurance has grown by 52.6% over the last 10 years.

    • Per-capita spending for Medicare grew by 21.5% over the same period, and Medicaid 12.5%.

    Private insurance generally pays higher prices for care than Medicare, which generally pays more than Medicaid.

    • There’s a long-running debate about whether public programs deliver efficiency because of their purchasing power, or simply underpay.
    • Democrats have proposed a variety of steps to curb health care costs, including cutting payments for out-of-network care, competition from a public insurance plan, and steep payment cuts through Medicare for All.
    • Industry opposes most of them.

    The bottom line: The industry knows cutting government spending can only go so far. Any effort to rein in health care costs will have to confront the growth in the cost of private insurance.

  • Pet Friendly Employee Benefits Can Help with Recruitment and Retention

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    Dogs aren’t just photogenic fluffballs good for getting likes on social media. They are irreplaceable and important family members to many. Since pets are becoming more intertwined in the lives of people, employees have placed value on workplaces that accommodate their furry loved ones. Considering that roughly 87% of employers say that being pet friendly helps them attract and retain talent, it’s important to know that pet benefits are available for you to offer your employees.

    More workplaces are welcoming pets into the office as a way to reduce stress and encourage productivity. Therapy dog services have become increasingly popular as a way to help people dealing with anxiety, or who just need to take their mind off of everyday stressors. If it’s out of question to provide certified therapy dogs for your workplace, you can make sure to establish a welcoming environment for employees to bring their own dogs.

    As much as we love having the pups around, you have to be mindful of employees who might be allergic, the clients who wouldn’t include having pets around as part of their idea of professionalism, and the overall cleanliness of your workplace. Consider having specific days where employees can bring in their dogs, making sure to avoid inviting less-than-dog-friendly clients to the office on those days. Designate a “no dog zone” so employees with allergies have a place to escape. Some workplaces have opted for furniture fabrics and flooring better suitable for pet mess, but you should be able to balance pet-friendliness and cleanliness with a couple thoughtful policies.

    Offering pet insurance policies to your employees is another way to attract new recruits who are looking for pet-loving workplaces. Unland has partnered up with ASPCA to provide pet insurance to help with the cost of veterinary bills. Learn more!

  • ACA Health Insurance Providers Fee Will Increase in 2020

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    OVERVIEW

    The Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes an annual, non-deductible fee on the health insurance sector, allocated across the industry according to market share. On Sept. 4, 2019, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2019-50 to index the applicable fee amount for 2020. Under Notice 2019-50, the applicable amount for the 2020 fee year is $15,522,820,037.

    The health insurance providers fee is generally paid by health insurers and other providers of health coverage. However, insurers may pass the cost of the fee onto policyholders through premium increases.

    ACTION STEPS

    Employers are generally not responsible for paying the health insurance providers fee. However, health insurance carriers may shift the cost of the fee onto employers that sponsor an insured plan, either by a corresponding increase in premiums or by separately charging the entity for a portion of the fee.

    Background

    Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has imposed an annual, non-deductible fee on the health insurance sector, allocated across the industry according to market share. The fee, which is treated as an excise tax, is required to be paid by Sept. 30 of each calendar year.

    The health insurance providers fee applies to all “covered entities,” defined as any entity that has net premiums written for health insurance for any United States health risk during the year. The fee is assessed on health insurers’ premium revenue for health insurance above $25 million.

    Specifically, the fee applies to:
    • Health insurers;
    • Health maintenance organizations (HMOs);
    • Certain insurance companies;
    • Providers of Medicare Advantage, Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage or Medicaid coverage; and
    • Non-fully insured multiple employer welfare arrangements (MEWAs).

    The health insurance providers fee does not apply to companies whose net premiums written are $25 million or less. Additionally, the fee program specifically excludes all of the following entities:

    Self-insured employers

    Governmental entities

    Certain nonprofit entities

    Certain voluntary employees’ beneficiary associations (VEBAs)

    Keep in mind that these excluded entities are not subject to the health insurance providers fee directly. However, if any of these entities sponsor an insured plan, the insurance carrier providing the coverage may be subject to the fee. In this case, the carrier may shift the cost of the fee onto the excluded entity, either by a corresponding increase in premiums or by separately charging the entity for a portion of the fee.

    A federal budget bill for 2016 imposed a one-year moratorium on the collection of the health insurance providers fee for 2017. As a result, no health insurance issuers were required to pay this fee for 2017. Then, a continuing spending resolution in 2018 provided an additional one-year moratorium on the health insurance providers fee for the 2019 calendar year. However, the continuing resolution specifically declined to extend the moratorium through 2018. Therefore, the fee continued to apply for the 2018 calendar year. The health insurance providers fee will resume for the 2020 calendar year.

    Health Insurance Providers Fee Amount

    The health insurance providers fee is apportioned among the covered entities according to their respective market shares, as measured by net premiums written for health insurance. This means that the IRS will assess a portion of the applicable amount to each covered entity based on the ratio of:

    • The covered entity’s net premiums written for health insurance during the preceding calendar year; to
    • The aggregate net premiums for health insurance of all covered entities during the preceding calendar year.

    The aggregate fee amount each year for all covered entities is called the applicable amount. The applicable amount for each fee year is:

    • $8 billion for calendar year 2014;
    • $11.3 billion for calendar years 2015 and 2016;
    • $13.9 billion for calendar year 2017; and
    • $14.3 billion for calendar year 2018.

    Beginning in 2019, the applicable amount will increase based on the rate of premium growth.

    On Sept. 4, 2019, the IRS issued Notice 2019-50 to index the applicable amount for 2020. Under Notice 2019-50, the applicable amount for the 2020 fee year is $15,522,820,037.

    Employers are generally not responsible for paying the health insurance providers fee. However, health insurance carriers may shift the cost of the fee onto employers that sponsor an insured plan, either by a corresponding increase in premiums or by separately charging the entity for a portion of the fee. As a result, the increased health insurance providers fee amount will likely result in premium increases for 2020.

  • Benefits Bulletin

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    2020 Open Enrollment Checklist

    To prepare for open enrollment, group health plan sponsors should be aware of the legal changes affecting the design and administration of their plans for plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2020. Employers should review their plan documents to confirm that they include these required changes.

    In addition, any changes to a health plan’s benefits for the 2020 plan year should be communicated to plan participants through an updated summary plan description (SPD) or a summary of material modifications (SMM).

    Health plan sponsors should also confirm that their open enrollment materials contain certain required participant notices when applicable—for example, the summary of benefits and coverage (SBC). There are also some participant notices that must be provided annually or upon initial enrollment. To minimize costs and streamline administration, employers should consider including these notices in their open enrollment materials.

    Brief Overview of 2020 Changes

    This is an abridged list of 2020 plan design changes:

    • ACA Affordability Standard: For plan years that begin on or after Jan. 1, 2020, the affordability percentage is 9.78%.
    • Out-of-pocket Maximum: The annual limit on total enrollee cost sharing for essential health benefits for plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2020, is $8,150 for self-only coverage and $16,300 for family coverage.
    • Health FSA Contributions: The IRS has not yet announced the flexible spending account limit for 2020 plan years.
    • HDHP and HSA Limits for 2020: The IRS limits for health savings account contributions and high deductible health plan cost-sharing increase for 2020.
    • Wellness Plan Design – ADA Compliance: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has indicated that it may issue new proposed wellness rules by the end of 2019.

    For a comprehensive overview of changes to expect, or to discuss other annual enrollment obligations, speak with The Unland Companies today.

    2020 Benefits Notices

    Employers that sponsor group health plans should provide certain benefit notices in connection with their plans’ open enrollment periods. Some of these notices must be provided at open enrollment time, such as the SBC.

    Other notices, such as the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act (WHCRA) notice, must be distributed annually. Although these annual notices may be provided at different times throughout the year, employers often choose to include them in their open enrollment materials for administrative convenience.

    In addition, employers should review their open enrollment materials to confirm that they accurately reflect the terms and cost of coverage. In general, any plan design changes for 2020 should be communicated to plan participants either through an updated SPD or a SMM.

    This chart summarizes the applicability of the benefits notices employers should provide at open enrollment time. Note, the chart is not exhaustive and only includes the notice title and its applicability.

    Notice Applicability
    SBC Group health plans and health insurance issuers
    Medicare Part D notice of creditable or non-creditable coverage Employers with group health plans that provide prescription drug coverage
    WHCRA notice Group health plans that provide medical and surgical benefits for mastectomies
    Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) notice Group health plans that cover residents in a state that provides a premium assistance subsidy under a Medicaid plan or CHIP.
    SPD Group health plans subject to ERISA
    COBRA general notice Group health plans subject to COBRA
    Grandfathered plan notice Health plans that have grandfathered status under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
    Notice of patient protections Non-grandfathered group health plans that require designation of a participating primary care provider
    HIPAA privacy notice Self-insured group health plans
    HIPAA special enrollment notice All group health plans
    Wellness notice – HIPAA Group health plans with health-contingent wellness programs
    Wellness notice – ADA Wellness programs that collect health information or include medical exams
    Individual coverage HRA (ICHRA) Employers that sponsor ICHRAs for specific classes of employees (or all employees)

    For more details about a specific benefits notice or its requirements, speak with The Unland Companies right away.

    Maximizing Open Enrollment for Employees

    Open enrollment can be an overwhelming time for both employers and employees. Employees are given the opportunity to re-evaluate their current benefits and make changes for the coming year, while employers must weigh different benefits packages and facilitate the enrollment process.
    With all these moving parts, it’s important that employers educate and communicate with their employees effectively.
    Below is a typical open enrollment process timeline. Be sure to share this timeline with employees so they know what to expect.

    • Notification—Employers send out an organization-wide announcement alerting employees that open enrollment will begin shortly.
    • Receipt of information—Employers distribute information about benefit plans, selection information and the appropriate forms to their workers. Employees may also receive personal information based on their elections from the previous year.
    • Making decisions—Employees research their various benefits options and discuss with family to determine which benefits they will elect for the coming year.
    • Enrollment—Employees select their benefits.

    Beyond the enrollment period itself, there are a number of opportunities for employers to make the process smooth for everyone.

    Here are some strategies:

    • Establish solid communication between the HR department and employees. To do so effectively, conduct meetings and seminars, and offer calculators, intranet education information and benefit fairs. If your organization is smaller, conduct one-on-one meetings with employees to determine exactly the type of information they need.
    • Survey your employee population to determine their priorities (e.g., which products they use and preferred methods of communication). By doing so, employers can identify exactly what their employees want, and workers feel their needs have been heard by decision-makers.
    • Customize benefits and information resources to the life stages of your employees. For instance, if you have a large older population, feature more retiree benefits and long-term care insurance.
    • Consider offering new benefits, even if they are voluntary, such as dental insurance, vision insurance or benefits for prescription drugs. Employees tend to make more changes when they receive new options.
    • Provide easy-to-understand tools. This will lessen employee confusion and the feeling of being overwhelmed while trying to make tough decisions.
    • Offer a second, off-cycle enrollment period when new benefits are featured. This can be a time for employees to focus on voluntary benefits and other offerings that are not traditional. These benefits are typically overshadowed by health insurance and retirement options, so a second off-cycle enrollment is a great time for employees to focus on their other needs.
    • Make plan information as simple as possible, while also being interactive. Employees should be able to understand their offerings to make more knowledgeable decisions.
    • Maintain all SPDs on your website, rather than directing employees to the insurance carrier site for information. This provides easy access and makes the company appear more in control of the information.

    Overall, a successful and effective open enrollment process can have a dramatic impact on the relationship between employers and their employees. By catering to their needs and wants, employers will ultimately make the experience more enjoyable and worthwhile for their workers. As a result, they will feel more secure in their benefits decisions throughout the plan year.

    If you have questions, contact Betsy Yarcho.  byarcho@unland.com or call (800) 747-3241. 

  • Your Health Plan: Health Care Cost Drivers

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    Health care is one of the few things that people purchase and never know the real cost of. If most consumers paid for medical services and procedures just as they pay for other consumer goods—out of pocket—they might pay more attention to quality, cost and value.

    The Actual Cost of Medical Problems

    Many consumers would be surprised to learn what medical procedures really cost. Here are some typical prices for health care procedures in the United States:

    • Colonoscopy: $1,301
    • Maternity – Regular Delivery: $10,808
    • Maternity – C-Section: $16,106
    • CT Scan – Abdomen: $844
    • MRI: $1,119
    • Hospital Cost per Day: $5,220
    • Appendectomy: $15,930
    • Cataract Surgery: $3,530
    • Knee Replacement: $28,184
    • Hip Replacement: $29,067
    • Bypass Surgery: $78,318
    • Angioplasty: $31,620

    Source: International Federation of Health Plans, “2015 Comparative Price Report”

    It’s no secret that health care costs are rising. A number of factors contribute to these increasing costs—some of the biggest contributors are listed below.

    Increasing Pharmaceutical Costs and Use

    Health care costs are growing in part due to the increased use of prescription drugs, and an increase in the number of newer, more expensive drugs that are prescribed. Though prescription drug manufacturers have revolutionized modern medicine, these advances come at a cost.

    As pharmaceutical companies develop new drugs to treat serious medical conditions, the market for those drugs expands accordingly. The trend in the pharmaceutical industry is to maximize profits by developing drugs to treat conditions for which there were previously no drug treatments. These new “lifestyle” drugs treat or control conditions like nail fungus, impotence, obesity or hair loss. Manufacturers then use direct-to-consumer advertisements that encourage customers to ask their doctors for prescriptions for these medications.

    The increased use of lifestyle medications and direct-to-consumer advertising have raised serious questions about where America’s health care dollars are being spent and if consumers are getting the best value for their money.

    New, Expensive Medical Technology

    New medical devices, diagnostic tests and medical imaging tools are enabling doctors to deliver care that would have been impossible in years past. Medical technology, just like pharmaceuticals, has revolutionized medicine and improved the lives of many people—but those advances have also come with hefty price tags. As the number of older Americans increases, these new devices and treatments are being used even more.

    Chronic Care

    The health care system is primarily geared toward providing acute care and curing diseases. However, many people need care for chronic conditions. Chronic conditions are the major cause of illness, disability and death in the United States, and they account for a significant portion of health care spending.

    • According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), about 80% of older adults have one chronic condition, accounting for more than two-thirds of the nation’s total health care costs.
    • NCOA also cites that 95 cents of every dollar of Medicare and 83 cents for every dollar of Medicaid go toward treating chronic disease.
    • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States.

    Provider Consolidation

    Before managed care revolutionized the American health care system, individual medical providers determined the fees for their services. However, with the domination of managed care plans, most providers have been forced to negotiate their prices lower or risk losing patient volume from managed care plans willing to exclude non-compliant providers from their networks.

    In order to maintain or regain some negotiating power, providers in many communities have consolidated their medical practices, effectively monopolizing procedures within specific service areas. These large provider groups have a much greater ability to negotiate with managed care plans that wish to provide convenient care options for their members.

    Health care costs and, consequently, employee health benefits costs have been increasing at a very high rate for nearly a decade. Unfortunately, cost increases are still outpacing the rate of inflation, making health care a growing cost burden for consumers.

  • Four Components of Effective Risk Management

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    Risk management is the identification, assessment and prioritization of risks and the subsequent coordinated and economical application of resources to minimize, monitor and control the probability and impact of losses. Effective risk management activities create value and should be an integral part of the decision-making process. How does risk management impact your bottom line?

    • Opportunity for better pricing on insurance premiums
    • Saves out-of-pocket costs like deductibles
    • Ensures a safe and stable environment for employees, volunteers and customers
    • Helps you understand and be prepared for risks before losses occur

    Strategies for addressing an identified risk typically include two of the following:

    Risk Avoidance

    Can you eliminate a service or activity considered too risky?

    • Eliminate activities that involve risk
    • Avoid creating activities that involve risk
    • Relatively extreme approach

    Mitigation or Prevention

    What steps can be taken to reduce the likelihood of losses occurring or lessen the impact of losses should they occur?

    • Manage liability by structuring activities and programs in ways that reduce or limit institutional risk

    Risk Transfer

    Can we transfer either the risk or financial consequences of a loss to another party?

    • Insurance policies
    • Indemnification agreements
    • Releases and waivers

    Risk Retention

    Accept the risk as it is – some risk is inherent in the activities of operation.

    • Self-insurance
    • Deductibles
    • Deciding not to purchase an insurance policy for a specific exposure

     

    The insurance professionals at The Unland Companies have a variety of resources to help you build an effective risk management program.

  • Benefits Buzz

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    Open Enrollment: What’s Changing in 2020?

    To prepare for open enrollment, group health plan sponsors should be aware of the legal changes affecting the design and administration of their plans for plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2020. Employers should review their plan documents to confirm that they include these required changes.

    In addition, any changes to a health plan’s benefits for the 2020 plan year should be communicated to plan participants through an updated summary plan description (SPD) or a summary of material modifications (SMM).

    Health plan sponsors should also confirm that their open enrollment materials contain certain required participant notices, when applicable—for example, the summary of benefits and coverage (SBC). There are also some participant notices that must be provided annually or upon initial enrollment.

    Important Notices

    • Annual CHIP notice
    • Medicare Part D creditable coverage notice
    • Notice of grandfathered status (if applicable)
    • Annual notice regarding coverage requirements for mastectomy-related benefits (WHCRA notice)

    Don’t wait any longer to review your plans. Contact The Unland Companies for a full list of 2020 plan changes and requirements.

    Hospitals to Publish Retail Prices Under a New Proposed Rule

    In July, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) proposed rules that would require all Medicare-participating hospitals to post their negotiated prices for standard health care services.

    The proposed rule is intended to increase pricing transparency and help consumers understand the charges they may incur before receiving care.

    These are just proposed rules at the moment, which means no changes will be made effective until the rules are finalized. The agency is currently asking for comments on the proposed rule. The deadline for submitting comments is Sept. 27, 2019.

    We will continue to monitor and keep you updated on these developments.

  • Can Health Insurance Rebates Affect Workers’ Comp Premiums?

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    Since 2012, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has required insurers with a certain medical loss ratio (MLR) to issue a rebate to employers. Depending on the way the rebates are distributed, you may end up paying more for your workers’ compensation insurance.

    Medical Loss Ratio

    The MLR provision of the ACA states that insurers must spend a proportion of premium revenues on clinical services and improvements to the quality of care, or pay rebates to their customers. It is a basic financial measurement that the ACA uses to encourage health insurers to provide value to their customers.

    The rebates can be issued in a few ways, some of which include:

    • Passing along MLR rebates directly to employees
    • Applying the rebates to future premiums
    • Applying the rebates to benefit enhancements

    Impact on Your Payroll

    When employers pass any portion of the rebates along to employees, the rebates must be counted as payroll for the purposes of workers’ compensation. This rule only applies if the rebate is coming through the employer and not directly from the insurance provider. The rule also applies regardless of whether the rebate distribution is taxable or nontaxable.

    For many employers, the amount of money paid out in rebates will not significantly impact payroll due to rebates. Your workers’ compensation insurance premium is calculated based on your payroll, so if that increases, your premium likely will, too.

    Here are a few more points to remember when issuing the rebates:

    • High-dollar rebates may be rare, but you should still be aware of their increased impact on your premium if you receive them.
    • Ensure that any information that is pertinent to your insurance coverages is up-to-date and thorough. Per the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), “an employer is required to keep records of information needed to compute [its] premium. In addition, the employer must provide records to the carrier, when requested, for the purpose of auditing the employer’s workers’ compensation policy.”

    The relationship between the ACA and workers’ compensation is more complex than ever and still evolving. The Unland Companies can help you determine how to handle your health insurance rebates and keep you in the know with new information.

  • Best Practices for Conducting Workplace Investigations

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    Workplace investigations are crucial when it comes to establishing a safe and welcoming work environment. However, these investigations are often complex and can involve navigating sensitive topics and disputes. More than ever before, companies face irreversible reputational damage and negative publicity if they mishandle workplace investigations.

    There are many reasons HR professionals may have to conduct a workplace investigation, including, but not limited to, the following:

    • Employee behavior
    • Suspected substance use
    • Concerns of discrimination, harassment or threats
    • Violations of workplace rules
    • Workplace theft

    Employers are expected to take investigations and employee concerns seriously in order to foster a supportive workplace culture. In fact, organizations that fail to conduct proper investigations may face legal action if they mishandle a workplace investigation. In recent cases, companies that did not respond properly to investigation requests faced legal action and six-figure settlements.

    Accordingly, it’s important for mangers, HR professionals and business leaders to understand best practices for conducting workplace investigations.

    Establish Investigation Goals Early On and Assess Complaints with Discretion

    One of the best ways to ensure effective investigations is to establish a consistent framework. This framework should be repeatable for various incidents and account for the following:

    • Investigation objectives—In general, the goal of an investigation is to resolve workplace issues in fair and efficient manner. Both the organization itself and its HR representatives must be aware of investigation objectives from the beginning. Clear objectives can guide investigators and promote the timely resolution of workplace incidents.
    • Investigation scope—Determining the scope of an investigation early on can help focus investigative procedures. Specifically, formalizing the scope of an investigation can help investigators gather the appropriate information and carryout corrective action for various types of incidents.
    • Investigation timing— When it comes to workplace investigations, timeliness is key. Regardless of the perceived merit of the complaint, it’s in a company’s best interest to trigger investigations upon request. Failing to act quickly could be considered prejudicial to the employee and result in potential claims.

    When assessing employee concerns, it’s important to consider the nature of the issue, who’s involved and what, if any, company policies apply. Employers should determine whether employees involved in the incident should be separated or given paid leave until the situation is resolved.

    As a general rule, when assessing incidents, all concerns and complaints fielded from your employees must be taken seriously. While some investigations may not be carried out per the employer’s discretion, companies should educate themselves on relevant laws regarding incident investigations and when they are necessary.

    Carry Out Investigations in a Fair and Objective Manner

    Employers must demonstrate procedural fairness when conducting workplace investigations. These investigations should be thorough and well documented before an employer takes any action. Additionally, effective workplace investigations embrace the following three principles:

    • Neutrality—HR and other personnel involved in an investigation must be detached from an incident. Those involved should remain objective and have no personal stake in the outcome of an investigation. Employers have a duty to conduct workplace investigations in a fair and impartial manner. To remain neutral, it’s important to give all employees involved in an investigation the opportunity to provide their version of the incident.
    • Thoroughness—To ensure that the proper decision is made following an investigation, you must be thorough in uncovering all the necessary information. Ask detailed questions throughout the process.
    • Timeliness—Once an investigation is triggered, investigators must act promptly to avoid further acts of wrongdoing. Any disciplinary action should be administered in a timely manner to avoid potential legal issues.

    It’s important for organizations to decide whether they will utilize internal or external investigators. While internal investigations tend to be quicker and comply with organizational policies, external firms ensure neutrality throughout all investigations.

    Respect the Privacy of Those Involved in an Incident

    In some instances, employees may be reluctant to participate in an investigation due to privacy concerns. Because of this, employers walk a fine line and must balance the privacy interests of their employees with their own legitimate business and safety interests.

    All parties involved in an investigation have a right to privacy and confidentiality. These rights are especially important if an incident involves sensitive subject matter. Employers must be tactful and avoid oversharing details regarding the incident. Only those who need to know should be given the facts of the case.

    It’s better to be overly cautious when handling workplace investigations, limiting information as follows:

    • Respondents (i.e., the alleged harasser, subject of an incident or a bully) are entitled to know that a claim has been brought against them. They should also be informed on the details of the claim and what to expect during a formal interview.
    • Witnesses can provide your investigators with valuable information regarding workplace incidents. However, employers should still keep the details of the incident to a minimum when speaking with witnesses.

    Conducting Interviews

    Detailed interviews are the most important aspects of workplace investigations. Interviews can provide a clear understanding of an incident and help employers determine what, if any, disciplinary action should be taken.

    Employers will want to decide:

    • Who to interview—Interviews should be conducted with respondents, complainants and witnesses at a minimum. It’s a good idea to only interview those who have information relevant to the case. It may also be helpful to have more than one investigator present during the interview
    • What order to interview—Employers should be cognizant of the interview order. Generally, businesses should interview the complainant first, any witnesses second and the respondent third. Schedule follow-up interviews as needed. Each subject should be informed that the interview process is confidential.
    • What to ask during interviews—Questions should be written and prepared ahead of time. These questions should be a mix of open- and close-ended questions. Above all, interview questions should help investigators gather details related to times, dates, locations, individuals involved and other witnesses. Sample questions include:
      • What happened?
      • When/where did it happen?
      • Who was present?
      • Who did or said what?
      • Why did it happen?
      • Is there evidence?
      • Who else may have relevant information?

    Interview responses and other relevant details should be recorded throughout the investigative process. Investigators should take detailed notes, which will help during the review process.

    Taking Action

    If, after an investigation occurs, you find that the employee’s complaint is substantiated, the employer should take action to:

    • Prevent the harassment, fraud or misconduct from recurring. To accomplish this, issue training and educational resources as needed.
    • Make accommodations to ensure employees feel safe at work.
    • Discipline the subject of the complaint in a manner proportional to the severity of the misconduct, up to and including dismissal. Do not take action against an employee if you have no clear evidence of misconduct.

    If the complaint is not substantiated, the employer should notify the parties accordingly and explain how this conclusion was reached.

    After an investigation concludes, you should compile your findings in a final report. It’s also a good idea to assess the effectiveness of your investigation process and make any improvements.

    If you have questions, please contact Laura Maas, HR Solutions Manager:  lmaas@unland.com or call  (800) 747-3241.

  • Credential Stuffing

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    If and when you get hacked, it’s easy to think cyber criminals used some high-tech program or code to gain access to your accounts. The truth is, however, that data breaches aren’t always this sophisticated, and all malicious parties need is a little trial and error to steal your personally identifiable information. This tactic is known as credential stuffing, and it’s becoming a common tool for cyber criminals of all kinds.

    Simply put, credential stuffing attacks are when a malicious party takes a stolen username and password and tries it on a variety of different websites. For example, a hacker may have purchased your Google username and password from the dark web. Assuming that you use the same password for multiple accounts, the hacker would test these credentials on other platforms (e.g., banking or social media websites) using botnets (groups of computers tasked with various commands). Essentially, by using information from one account, criminals can potentially access data from a variety of platforms, draining bank accounts or gathering information they can sell to other malicious parties.

    Credential stuffing can affect everyone, from individual users to the biggest companies. In fact, a Yahoo breach that impacted approximately 500 million users was largely carried out using credential stuffing. Thankfully, because credential stuffing relies on victims having the same password for multiple accounts, there are some simple ways to protect yourself:

     

    • Avoid using the same password for multiple accounts—Credential stuffing works because many users use the same password for multiple accounts. To avoid becoming a victim, it’s important to change your passwords often and never use the same password.

     

    • Use two-factor authentication—While complex passwords can deter cyber criminals, they can still be cracked. To prevent cyber criminals from gaining access to your accounts, two-factor authentication is key. Through this method, users must confirm their identity by providing extra information (e.g., a phone number or unique security code) when attempting to access corporate or personal applications, networks and servers. This additional login hurdle means that would-be cyber criminals won’t easily unlock an account, even if they have the password in hand.

     

    • Create strong password policies—For employers, ongoing password management can help prevent attackers from compromising your organization’s password-protected information. You’ll want to create a password policy that requires employees to change their password on a regular basis, avoid using the same password for multiple accounts and use special characters. Long passphrases are becoming increasingly popular as well, and may be a good option for your organization.

     

    • Provide security training—Even the most robust and expensive data protection solutions can be compromised should an employee click a malicious link or download fraudulent software. As such, it’s critical for organizations to thoroughly train personnel on common cyber threats and how to respond. Your employees should also know your cyber security policies and know how to report suspicious activity.
  • Workplace Wellness Programs to Reduce Workers’ Compensation Costs

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    By implementing workplace health initiatives, many companies are taking proactive measures to help with decreasing health issues affecting their employees. This is particularly important because of the following:

    • The working population is aging, with the national average around 42 years old.
    • There is a decreasing number of skilled workers, increasing the number of on-the-job injuries.
    • Obesity rates are astronomical and continue to rise.
    • There is a steady increase of inactivity among Americans.
    • Medical care costs continue to rise.
    • There is an increase in stress-related illnesses.
    • Approximately 10 percent of Americans are living with major limitations from chronic conditions, such as diabetes, asthma or thyroid disorders.

    Most importantly for risk managers, non-work-related health issues directly increase the risk of work-related injuries.

    Getting Employees Healthy

    To assist your employees in getting healthy, staying healthy and consequently reduce their risk of a workplace injury or illness:

      • Create an employee safety education committee devoted strictly to health problems that correlate with injuries.
      • Teach employees how to properly investigate accidents and determine ways in which they could be prevented. This may include the following:
        • Ergonomics evaluations
        • Lift equipment evaluations
    • Offer personal health profile screenings for employees to identify their risk factors. This should include screenings for cholesterol, bone density, glucose, body mass index and other essential tests.
    • Provide personalized health coaching and self-help materials.
    • Offer quarterly corporate challenges to promote weight loss and activity.
    • Offer quarterly educational safety and health seminars.
    • Consider implementing a cross-promotional safety and health program with your health care provider.
    • Provide incentives to employees who fulfill health-related goals, or remain free from injuries for an established amount of time.
    • Refer all employees who suffer a work-related injury to the wellness program coordinator for a consultation.
    • Incorporate a safety presentation in your wellness seminars.
    • Workers’ compensation managers and risk managers should provide health and wellness referrals to injured employees.
    • Distribute monthly safety, health and nutrition tips to employees.

    For more information and resources on how you can create an effective safety and health program, contact The Unland Companies today at (309) 347-2177.

  • Distracted Driving Prevention for Commercial Fleets

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    For many commercial fleets, driver and public safety is a top priority, and organizations take great care to prevent costly and potentially deadly accidents. While a number of factors can lead to a crash (e.g., impaired driving, poor road conditions and adverse weather), distracted driving is a common, preventable cause of accidents. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that every year, up to 391,000 people are injured and 3,450 people are killed in crashes involving distracted drivers.

    The NHTSA defines distracted driving as any activity that diverts attention from driving.

    Distracted driving is an ongoing safety concern for commercial fleets. However, the widespread increase in cellphone use over the past decade has brought the issue to the forefront.

    Studies have shown that many collisions and near-collisions involve some form of driver inattention, often just three seconds prior to the event. These statistics are particularly noteworthy for fleets, as many commercial vehicles have poorer driver visibility than personal cars and are much more difficult to control or stop in the event of an emergency. For commercial fleets, distracted driving can lead to increased insurance premiums, costly repairs, decreased productivity, reputational damage, and driver injury or death.

    TYPES OF DISTRACTED DRIVING

    Any time a driver reaches for an object or gets distracted by outside stimuli, the chances of an accident drastically increase. In fact, studies show that simply by dialing a cellphone, the likelihood of a crash is six times greater.
    To remain safe on the roads, drivers need to be aware of common distractions that can put them and the public in danger:

    • Using electronic devices such as a GPS, MP3 player, radio, cellphone or laptop
    • Reading maps, books, texts or printed directions
    • Combing hair, putting on makeup, shaving, brushing teeth or performing similar grooming activities
    • Eating, drinking or smoking
    • Talking with passengers or tending to children or pets
    • Focusing attention on visual distractions outside the vehicle, such as collisions, police activity, street signs, pedestrians, construction or billboards
    • Multitasking
    • Daydreaming

    TIPS FOR EMPLOYERS

    RESPONDING TO DISTRACTED DRIVING

    In order to maintain safe driving practices, organizations must take a top-down approach to combating distracted driving. Only through effective policies and training can commercial fleets identify and respond to potentially harmful driving behaviors. Organizations and fleet managers can also help reduce the risk of distracted driving by doing the following:

    • Create a driver safety program and a distracted driving policy. Regularly communicate your policies using things like emails, blogs and posters.
    • Use applications to detect when your drivers are on the road. Many of these applications prevent individuals from contacting a driver while their vehicle is in motion.
    • Instruct drivers to pull off the road and park if they need to use their phone or an electronic device.
    • Equip vehicles with lockboxes that drivers can use to store potential distractions, like smartphones and tablets.
    • Educate your drivers on the risks of driving while distracted. Use real-life examples and stories to explain how dangerous distracted driving can be.
    • Update your organization’s handbook, noting any disciplinary actions you will take if you identify unsafe driving behavior.
    • Ask your employees to sign a pledge form indicating their willingness to drive in a safe and courteous manner.
    • Work with drivers to plan trips. This ensures that drivers have a clear understanding of their routes, which can reduce the need for GPS and other potentially distracting navigation devices.
    • Manage driver schedules to ensure employees are well-rested between trips.
    • Use telematics, driver monitoring programs and in-cabin camera systems to evaluate individual drivers. Whenever possible, reward positive driver behavior to encourage a culture of safety.
    • Perform a safety audit, which will give you a high-level overview of distracted driving risks and other concerns.

    CREATING A DISTRACTED DRIVING POLICY

    While the specifics of policies may differ from fleet to fleet, a good distracted driving policy should include the following:

    • A policy statement that clarifies your organization’s stance on distracted driving. This statement should specify the purpose and goals of the policy.
    • A definition of distracted driving. This definition should highlight the dangers of distracted driving and the ways it affects your organization.
    • A summary of whom the policy applies to. In general, your policy should account for all company employees, even if driving a vehicle isn’t a regular part of their daily duties.
    • A list of what constitutes as distracted driving and actions that are strictly prohibited to ensure driver safety.
    • A list of suggested practices to reduce the risk of distracted driving.
    • A list of potential consequences if the terms of the policy are breached.
    • A space for the employee’s and fleet manager’s signatures.

    INSURANCE TO PROTECT YOUR BOTTOM LINE

    Managing distracted driving will only become more difficult as technology advances and individuals become more reliant on personal devices like cellphones and tablets. Regardless, commercial fleets have a duty to ensure a safe workplace and combat all forms of distracted driving.

    Commercial fleet accidents caused by distracted drivers can damage reputations and claim lives. To protect your drivers and your organization, it’s important for fleets to work alongside a qualified insurance broker. Not only can they provide advice on your company’s risk management needs, but they can also recommend specific insurance policies to keep you protected on and off the road. To learn more, contact The Unland Companies today.

  • Workplace Wellness: County Benchmark Data For Wellness Initiatives

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    County Benchmark Data for Wellness Initiatives

    Benchmarking data can be a beneficial tool for gaining a better understanding of your employees’ risk factors and their health needs. This data is useful for designing a workplace wellness program that will better meet the needs of your employees and increase your return on investment.

    County Benchmark Data

    County benchmark data can be a valuable tool for learning about your employees’ health risks. If you assume that your employee population has the same general health risks, behaviors and habits as your county’s population, you can use benchmark data to shape your wellness initiatives.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers reliable health benchmark data broken down by county. The following are some of the health metrics provided for each county:

    • Adult smoking
    • Adult obesity
    • Physical inactivity
    • Excessive drinking
    • Alcohol-impaired driving deaths
    • Diabetes
    • Mammography screening
    • HIV prevalence
    • Uninsured rates
    • Access to exercise opportunities

    Put it into Practice

    Below is an example for applying these benchmarks to your own wellness initiatives. According to the CDC, 30 percent of adults in Madison County, Mississippi, are obese, which is higher than the national average.

    So if your business is based in Madison County, Mississippi, and assuming the individuals analyzed by the CDC are representative of your employee group, you might presume that your employees (and their spouses and dependents) have a higher than average rate of obesity. Since obesity is a risk factor for many significant health problems like heart disease and strokes, you may want to implement wellness initiatives that encourage employees to eat healthier and exercise more.

    To access the CDC county benchmarks, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org. Then, simply select your state and county to get started.

    Want more information or need help applying county benchmark data to your company’s workplace wellness initiatives? Contact The Unland Companies today.

  • 25 Most Commonly Stolen Passwords

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    How clever is your password? If it’s on the list below, your password is just as easily stolen as it is remembered. Protect yourself by making sure you’re not using one of the top 25 most commonly stolen passwords of 2018, as determined by IT security firm SplashData.

    To create a more secure password, make sure you are not relying only on numbers, and try to avoid simple keyboard patterns. You may also want to avoid easy-to-find information such as birthdays, favorite sports teams and addresses. Attempt to create a password that is eight or more characters long, and avoid using the same password for multiple access points.

    1. 123456
    2. password
    3. 123456789
    4. 12345678
    5. 12345
    6. 111111
    7. 1234567
    8. sunshine
    9. qwerty
    10. iloveyou
    11. princess
    12. admin
    13. welcome
    14. 666666
    15. abc123
    16. football
    17. 123123
    18. monkey
    19. 654321
    20. !@#$%^&*
    21. charlie
    22. aa123456
    23. donald
    24. password1
    25. qwerty123
  • Cyber Risks & Liabilities – Top Cyber Predictions for 2019

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    The average global cost of a data breach has risen to $3.86 million, magnifying the need for companies to be aware of all potential threats. Here are just a few of the threats that cyber security experts have forecast for 2019.

    Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a Weapon

    With AI being so young, it is still vulnerable to attacks that can affect its operations. However, AI could also be used defensively to identify new threats and better protect systems from attacks.

    A Lack of Security in the Cloud

    As organizations are adding more data to the cloud, they’re not practicing good enough housekeeping to secure that data, making them a top target for cyber criminals.  

    5G Network Vulnerability

    As 5G takes the place of 4G, the market for 5G infrastructure is expected to grow by 118 percent annually through 2022. Although that rate of growth may be profitable for cellular networks and providers, it creates new vulnerabilities as well. Instead of connecting to a Wi-Fi router, 5G devices are expected to connect directly to a 5G network, making those networks more appealing targets to hackers while also making it more difficult for home and office users to monitor their devices.

    Biometric Hacking

    Despite being the most secure method of authentication, biometric data can be stolen and altered. And sensors on smart devices can deteriorate with excessive usage, making them less reliable and easier to hack.

    Skimming Magnified

    Criminals are targeting bank networks with malware, similar to the way they use credit and debit card skimmers to steal banking information and passcodes from unsuspecting customers. The result can be millions of dollars in losses and a lack of trust in major financial institutions. 

    Online Gaming 

    The online gaming industry has seen massive growth and is expected to hit $2.2 trillion by 2021. This is an attractive target for cyber criminals who can easily pose as gamers and gain access to their credit card information. 

    More Targeted Spear Phishing 

    Devious cyber criminals are using tactics that involve breaking into an email system and learning as much as they can about their targeted victims. They use that information to take advantage of the trust built with another person and scam them out of money. 

    New Sanction Retaliations from Iran Worry U.S. Banks

    After the Trump administration reimposed the sanctions lifted as part of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, U.S. banks are expecting retaliation in the form of cyber attacks.

    The Treasury Department added 700 entities to the list of reinstated sanctions, including Iranian banks, aircraft, vessels, individuals and the country’s energy sector.

    According to recent reports, a major U.S. bank, which chose not to be identified, listed Iranian hackers as the top trending cyber threat, even ahead of North Korea. 

    The entire banking industry is on alert after the Iranian government issued public statements intending to defy the sanctions. When asked about the threat, the CEO of the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center—the privately run group that coordinates defenses against cyber attacks—stated that he was more confident in the organization’s ability to ward off Iranian cyber attacks than when Iran targeted U.S. banks in 2011.

    From 2011-2013, Iran launched a series of cyber attacks, jamming the internet services of major U.S. banks with garbage computer traffic. Instigated by seven Iranians on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the cyber attacks were unprecedented in size.

    Experts at cyber security firm CrowdStrike worry that the Iranian hackers’ skills have grown since the 2011-2013 attacks. Although banks are at the top of the radar, every type of business is vulnerable to cyber attacks, magnifying the need for adequate cyber security. 

    How to Secure Office IoT Devices

    An internet of things (IoT) device is any smart device that is connected to the internet. Many of these devices are everyday objects—like watches or thermostats—that connect via Wi-Fi, allowing users to control them remotely or even collect data.

    Employers pride themselves on using IoT technology to make their workplaces more modern and help them stand out from their competitors. Things like smart desks, video conferencing systems, security systems, smart TVs and intelligent HVAC systems are becoming more commonplace. Unfortunately, these same gadgets, as well as other IoT devices, can create a growing security threat for businesses who aren’t prepared. 

    There is a lack of consistency between manufacturing companies who make the IoT devices. They have different operating systems and different security measures, and some aren’t even capable of software updates. This makes it difficult for IT departments to prevent hackers from accessing IoT devices and gaining access to company networks. 

    That’s not to say that your organization shouldn’t use IoT devices altogether. You just need to take extra precautions. Here are a few ways to protect your valuable data while reaping the benefits of IoT devices:

    • Consider multi-factor authentication or use certificates.Both are able to stall hackers who’ve managed to crack your password. 
    • Create a separate Wi-Fi network specifically for all IoT devices.If hackers access the IoT network, your separate business network should still be safe.  
    • Limit access to sensitive data.For example, IoT security cameras can expose sensitive information to hackers. Therefore, it is important to consider what the device has access to before setting it up. Be sure to also clear its storage on a regular basis. In addition, it’s important to never store critical business or personal data on these devices.
    • In the event of a hack, be prepared to disable your devices and reset the factory settings at any time.If you regularly back up your devices, it should be easy enough to restore them and reconnect.
    • Avoid installing third-party software. It’s easy to add functionality to IoT devices simply by installing additional applications. However, you should never install software from an untrusted source. Doing so can open the door to hackers.
    • Turn off IoT devices when they aren’t in use.This may seem like a simple solution, but active devices are vulnerable to attacks. Just by switching off unused devices, you can improve network security overall.

    Although IoT technology is likely here to stay, it is important to remember that it is still in its infancy. By taking proper precautions, you can enjoy its conveniences instead of letting it threaten your business operations.  

    This Compliance Bulletin is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice. © 2018 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.

  • Advantages of Benchmarking Your Benefits Program

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    An attractive benefits program is vital for your recruiting and retention efforts, but it is also a significant expense. To ensure you are providing a package that is both competitive and economical, you need to know how your offerings compare to others in your industry. Benchmark data can provide valuable insight for evaluating your benefits package, something that is more important than ever in light of health care reform.

    Employer interest in benchmark data has grown over the past decade, as the cost of providing health care benefits continues to skyrocket and companies look for new ways to manage costs. Analyzing how other companies are structuring their plans and the strategies they are using to cut costs may make your own benefit plan decisions a bit easier.

    What Data Can You Benchmark?

    There is information available for almost any aspect of a benefits program, including total costs, cost-sharing measures, plan design, voluntary offerings, workers’ compensation and paid leave.

    Whether you are curious to know how your voluntary disability benefits stack up or are wondering if your paid leave program is comparable to competitors, there is likely benchmark data available. We at The Unland Companies would be happy to provide you with a variety of benchmark data—simply let us know what you are interested in learning.

    Health Care Reform Implications

    Interest in benefits benchmark data has grown since the introduction and ongoing implementation of health care reform. The regulations and provisions of health care reform require significant changes to benefit plans, and, in many cases, tough decisions for employers.

    Knowing how other employers are approaching these issues could be beneficial in helping you reshape your benefit program for this new health care insurance landscape.

    Employers are responsible for implementing many new rules and absorbing their costs, which will likely mean cutting or shifting costs elsewhere. These decisions can make the difference between maintaining a competitive benefits package and seeing a decline in recruiting and retention of quality employees.

    Knowing how other employers plan to address these benefits decisions can be incredibly advantageous for your company. Contact The Unland Companies for more information on benefit plan benchmark data.

  • The ACA Remains in Place After Being Struck Down by a Federal Court

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    OVERVIEW

    On Dec. 14, 2018, a federal judge ruled in Texas v. United States that the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) is invalid due to the elimination of the individual mandate penalty in 2019. The decision was not stayed, but the WhiteHouse announced that the ACA will remain in place pending appeal.

    This lawsuit was filed by 20 states as a result of the 2017 tax reform law that eliminates the individual mandate penalty. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ACA on the basis that the individual mandate is a valid tax. With the penalty’s elimination, the court in this case ruled that the ACA is no longer valid under the U.S. Constitution.

    ACTION STEPS

    This ruling is expected to be appealed and will likely be taken up by the Supreme Court. As a result, a final decision is not expected to be made until that time. The federal judge’s ruling left many questions as to the current state of the ACA; however, the White House announced that the ACA will remain in place pending appeal.

    Background

    The ACA imposes an “individual mandate” beginning in 2014, which requires most individuals to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage for themselves and their family members or pay a penalty. In 2011, a number of lawsuits were filed challenging the constitutionality of this individual mandate provision.

    In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the ACA in its entirety, ruling that Congress acted within its constitutional authority when enacting the individual mandate. The Court agreed that, while Congress could not use its power to regulate commerce between states to require individuals to buy health insurance, it could impose a tax penalty using its tax power for individuals who refuse to buy health insurance.

    However, a 2017 tax reform bill, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, reduced the ACA’s individual mandate penalty to zero, effective beginning in 2019. As a result, beginning in 2019, individuals will no longer be penalized for failing to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage.

    Texas v. United States

    Following the tax reform law’s enactment, 20 Republican-controlled states filed a lawsuit again challenging the ACA’s constitutionality. The plaintiffs, first, argued that the individual mandate can no longer be considered a valid tax, since there will no longer be any revenue generated by the provision.

    In addition, in its 2012 ruling, the Supreme Court indicated(and both parties agreed) that the individual mandate is an essential element of the ACA, and that the remainder of the law could not stand without it. As a result, the plaintiffs argued that the elimination of the individual mandate penalty rendered the remainder of the ACA unconstitutional.

    The U.S. Justice Department chose not to fully defend the ACA in court and, instead, 16 Democratic-controlled states intervened to defend the law.

    Federal Court Ruling

    In his ruling, Judge Reed O’Connor ultimately agreed with the plaintiffs, determining that the individual mandate can no longer be considered a valid exercise of Congressional tax power. According to the court,“[u]nder the law as it now stands, the individual mandate no longer ‘triggers a tax’ beginning in 2019.” As a result, the court ruled that “the individual mandate, unmoored from a tax, is unconstitutional.”

    Because the court determined that the individual mandate is no longer valid, it now had to determine whether the provision is “severable” from the remainder of the law (meaning whether other portions of the ACA can remain in place or whether the entire law is invalid without the individual mandate).

    In determining whether the remainder of the law could stand without the individual mandate, the court pointed out that “Congress stated three separate times that the individual mandate is essential to the ACA … [and that] the absence of the individual mandate would ‘undercut’ its’ regulation of the health insurance market.’ Thirteen different times, Congress explained how the individual mandate stood as the keystone of the ACA … [and,] ‘together with the other provisions’ [the individual mandate] allowed the ACA to function as Congress intended.” As a result, the court determined that the individual mandate could not be severed, making the ACA invalid in its entirety.

    Impact of the Federal Court Ruling

    Judge O’Conner’s ruling left many questions as to the current state of the ACA, because it did not order for anything to be done or stay the ruling pending appeal. However, this ruling is expected to be appealed, and the White House announced that the ACA will remain in place until a final decision is made. Many industry experts anticipate that the Supreme Court will likely take up the case, which means that a final decision will not be made until that time.

    While these appeals are pending, all existing ACA provisionswill continue to be applicable and enforced. Although the individual mandatepenalty will be reduced to zero beginning in 2019, employers and individualsmust continue to comply with all other applicable ACA requirements. This rulingdoes not impact the 2019 Exchange enrollment, the ACA’s employer shared responsibility(pay or play) penalties and related reporting requirements, or any otherapplicable ACA requirement.

    © 2018 Zywave, Inc.

  • Maximizing Open Enrollment for Employees

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    Open enrollment can be an overwhelming time for both employers and employees. Employees are given the opportunity to re-evaluate their current benefits and make changes for the coming year, while employers must choose a benefits package that balances cost and value and facilitate the enrollment process. Due to a variety of factors, benefit offerings are changing, placing new demands on employees and employers during open enrollment. To make the enrollment process as smooth as possible, it is important that employers educate and communicate with their employees effectively.

    The Open Enrollment Process

    As employer-sponsored benefits transition to more voluntary, employee-paid or employee-subsidized offerings, employees must assume more control in making smart decisions. Accordingly, employers should provide benefit information in an easy-to-understand format that provides employees with essential information, along with additional resources to help them make decisions.

    Here is a typical open enrollment process:

    • Notification – Employers send out an organization-wide announcement alerting employees that open enrollment will begin shortly. 
    • Receipt of Information – Employers distribute information about benefit plans, selection information and the appropriate forms to their workers. Employees may also receive personal information based on their elections from the previous year.
    • Employers may direct their employees to the company website, invite them to attend HR seminars, offer a benefit fair with the insurance company or offer access to interactive decision-making tools. 
    • Making Decisions – Employees research their various benefits options and discuss with family to determine which benefits they will elect for the coming year.
    • Enrollment – Employees select their benefits.

    Open Enrollment Strategies

    The following suggestions, based partially on an employee survey conducted by MetLife®, can improve the open enrollment process for both employers and their employees:

    • Establish solid communication between the HR department and employees. To do so effectively, conduct meetings and seminars and offer calculators, intranet education information and benefit fairs. If your organization is smaller, conduct one-on-one meetings with employees to determine exactly the type of information they need.
    • Survey your employee population to determine their priorities—product importance, preferred method of communication, etc. By doing so, employers can identify exactly what their employees want, and workers feel their needs have been heard by decision-makers.
    • Customize benefits and information resources to the life stages of your employees. For instance, if you have a large older population, feature more retiree benefits and long-term care insurance.

    Communication

    It is also wise to communicate with your employees in the same way that they communicate on a regular basis. For example, if messages are received via postings in a common area, consider placing benefit information in that area as well.

    • By customizing your benefits to your population, you can increase employee satisfaction without increasing your spending.
    • Employees have an easier time selecting the benefits that are best suited for them and their families.
    • Provide easy-to-understand tools. This will lessen employee confusion and the feeling of being overwhelmed while trying to make tough decisions.
    • Consider offering new benefits, even if they are voluntary, such as dental insurance, vision insurance or benefits for prescription drugs. Employees tend to make more changes when they receive new options.
    • Even if employees must pay 100 percent for such voluntary options, they can still be attractive offerings. Since the benefits are negotiated by the employer, employees typically receive a group rate, which is significantly lower than purchasing them individually.
    • Offer a second, off-cycle enrollment period when new benefits are featured. This can be a time for employees to focus on voluntary benefits and other offerings that are not traditional. These benefits are typically overshadowed by health insurance and retirement options, so a second off-cycle enrollment is a great time for employees to focus on their other needs. 
    • Make plan information as simple as possible, while also being interactive. Employees should be able to understand their offerings to make more knowledgeable decisions.
    • Maintain all Summary Plan Descriptions on your website, rather than directing employees to the insurance carrier site for information. This provides easy access to information and makes the company appear more in control of the information.

    Overall, a successful and effective open enrollment process can have a dramatic impact on the relationship between employers and their employees. By catering to their needs and wants, employers will ultimately make the experience more enjoyable and worthwhile for their workers. As a result, they will feel more secure in their benefits decisions throughout the plan year.

  • Switching Health Plans

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    The thought of changing your health insurance plan may be daunting. But when you learn your employer is making changes, it provides you with the opportunity to review your health care needs and possibly select a better-suited plan.

    The first thing that many people think about when picking an employer-sponsored health care plan is price. What are the plan’s premiums and out-of-pocket expenses (e.g., deductible, copayment and coinsurance)? While price is undeniably an important factor when choosing a new plan, there are several other criteria that should be examined before electing new coverage.

    Reviewing Provider Networks
    When weighing your new plan options, it is important to check out each insurer’s website to determine if your current physician is within the plan’s network. Knowing which physicians are in-network can help reduce costs, since receiving out-of-network care typically will result in higher out-of-pocket expenses.

    Prescription Drug Coverage
    Some insurance plans have certain drug formularies, or a preferred list of medications, and step therapy requirements, which require individuals to try more cost-effective treatments before “stepping up” to more costly drugs.

    If step therapy requirements are not followed or if your medication is not on the carrier’s formulary, your prescription could cost more, or it may not be covered at all. If you regularly take a certain medication, you will want to visit your new carrier’s website to view the plan’s drug list. A drug requiring step therapy, for example, may be marked with an “ST.” If a medication you take is on this list, contact your physician to determine the best course of action. Reviewing prescription drug coverage before selecting a plan helps ensure you are financially prepared for any adjustments to prescription drug coverage and can reduce confusion at the time of pharmacy pick-up.

    Mental Health and Substance Abuse Coverage

    Although mental and behavioral health treatments are one of the 10 essential benefits required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), individual insurance policies may vary on the extent to which these services are covered. For instance, some plans may cap reimbursement at 20 therapy visits while others may not have an annual limit. Being aware that limits for these services may change between your old and new plan is essential when planning for and managing your health care expenses.

    Upcoming Scheduled Medical Procedures

    If you have already scheduled a medical procedure for the new plan year, it is important to contact your physician’s office to ensure you are still covered under your new plan. For example, a pre-authorization for surgery may be required by your new insurer, so by communicating insurance changes with your physician’s office prior to receiving services, you can avoid any billing surprises after the procedure.

    Tax-advantaged Options

    Lastly, some plans may feature tax-advantaged options like a health reimbursement account (HRA) or health savings account (HSA). While these programs vary in requirements and structure (for example, HSAs must be tied to a high deductible health plan), their end goal is to help minimize health care expenses. Reviewing new plans to see if an HRA or HSA is offered may be one way to potentially reduce your financial responsibilities.

    Call 800-747-3241 or email us directly if you have any questions.

  • Choosing a Stop-Loss Partner

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    Thinking about self-funding? Better think about stop-loss insurance.

    If you want to save money by self-funding your employee benefit plans without the danger of unexpected, catastrophic losses, you’re not alone. Even many smaller companies are exploring this option nowadays. The Unland Companies and Sun Life know that today, many employers and brokers are exploring the self-funding option:

     

    66% of employers with 100-499 lives are interested in self-funding. 64% of brokers believe that their fully insured clients are becoming more interested in self-funding.

    Risks and rewards

    As always, this insurance comes with a lot of options that can be complicated. How to make the right choice that saves money without undue risk? That’s where a good broker like the Unland Companies comes in, with the right tools and information to help you make the right choices.

     

    Benefits Top 5 Concerns

    Choosing the right stop-loss partner

    The Unland Companies partners with Sun Life, a leading independent U.S. stop-loss carrier that has more than 35 years in the stop-loss business, strong financial ratings and the ability to reimburse even the largest high-cost claims quickly.

     

    Education

    Learning

    In addition, Sun Life offers educational modules for brokers and employers, a Stop-Loss Benchmark Report for all clients that provides unbiased, rich data across case sizes, industries and claim administrators, and thought leadership, including insights on high-cost claims, injectable drugs and the value of a group captive solution. A new program that will help employers monitor and manage costs associated with their self-funded medical plan is Sun Life’s Stop-Loss Clinical 360 program. This program pairs clinical experts with programs and tools to proactively identify savings opportunities, and it is available to all Sun Life stop-loss clients.

     

    Stop-loss captives

    Why Sun Life?

    Sun Life has the expertise you’re looking for, including 4.2 million covered lives, 2,100 policy holders and $1.4 billion in premiums. (Source: Sun Life Financial book of business data, 2017.) You can trust Sun Life to put its expertise to work for you.

    What’s the next step?

    Contact the Unland Companies today and start learning about your options for self-funding.

     

    1. Sun Life Broker and Employer Voices Online Community surveys. This is a research tool that gains insights from a group of over 300 brokers and 200 employers. Brokers and employers are asked to provide feedback on topics pertaining to their experience in the insurance industry and with Sun Life products and services.

    2. 2016 Employer Insights research study sponsored by Sun Life and conducted by Chadwick Martin Bailey. The blind study included decision-makers for companies that had from 50 to 999 employees and offered medical benefits to all their full-time employees.

    3. 2018 Self-funded Employer Journey research sponsored by Sun Life and conducted by Conifer Research.

    Group stop-loss insurance policies are underwritten by Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada (Wellesley Hills, MA) in all states, except New York, under Policy Form Series 07-SL REV 7-12. In New York, group stop-loss insurance policies are underwritten by Sun Life and Health Insurance Company (U.S.) (Lansing, MI) under Policy Form Series 07-NYSL REV 7-12. Product offerings may not be available in all states and may vary depending on state laws and regulations.

    © 2018 Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada, Wellesley Hills, MA 02481. All rights reserved. Sun Life Financial and the globe symbol are registered trademarks of Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada. Visit Sun Life at www.sunlife.com/us.

  • Interviewing Toolkit

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    This interactive PDF features helpful resources from HR Toolkit – Interviewing. The interactive format lets you click through the document to quickly find the information you need. Download for FREE: Interviewing Toolkit

  • Safety First Newsletter – September 2018

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    September is National Preparedness Month. Take this opportunity to educate your employees with these and many more employee communication safety resources.

    More than 40 percent of businesses never reopen after a disaster, according to FEMA. Making sure your employees are prepared for emergencies not only ensures their safety, but also safeguards your business. September is National Preparedness Month. Take this opportunity to educate your employees with these and many more employee communication safety resources available from The Unland Companies:

    Unland - September Newsletter

    • Emergency Contacts and Emergency Response Training Questionnaire
    • Safety Spotlight – Preparing for Emergency Evacuations
    • Be Prepared: Fire Emergency
    • Employee Emergency Preparedness Survey
    • Quiz: Emergency Action Plan
    • Playing it Safe: Medical Emergencies on the Job
  • Employee Shape Up Program

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    Shape Up is a program designed to encourage healthy, fit and active lifestyles through an increased focus on aerobic exercise, strength training and stretching. Physical activity can lead to many benefits:

    • Weight maintenance
    • Lower blood pressure
    • Improved glucose (blood sugar) regulation
    • Stronger bone density

    As a participant in the Shape Up Program, you will be encouraging yourself and your co-workers to incorporate aerobic, strength training and flexibility exercises into your daily routine. This guide will provide informational and introductory guidance for each of the three exercise program components.

     

    Get the details and encourage your employees to start the Shape Up Program here.

  • Benefits of a Mentoring Program

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    A mentor is an individual in the workplace who shares his or her knowledge and expertise to help another employee grow professionally. Mentoring programs can benefit not only the mentees, but also the mentors and the company as whole. The following are some of the benefits of a mentoring program.

    Benefits for the Mentee

    Mentees can achieve the following benefits through a mentoring program:

    • Skill development—Mentors teach mentees the skills and qualities they will need to succeed, along with familiarizing them with the company’s protocol and procedures. This, in turn, can teach mentees how to do their jobs more efficiently.
    • Continual growth—Mentors provide ongoing feedback to their mentees and teach them how to take constructive criticism and apply it to their jobs. This type of feedback can feel less intrusive than regular performance reviews and employees may respond better to it as a result.
    • Networking—Mentoring allows employees to build a professional relationship over a period of time and teaches them about the value of networking.
    • Talent development—By providing mentees with the skills and support they need to succeed, mentees will be more prepared to advance to new positions within the company and to take on leadership roles.

    Benefits for the Mentor

    Mentoring programs can also reap significant benefits for the mentors themselves, including the following:

    • It gives mentors the opportunity to help someone else out, which may increase mentors’ self-worth.
    • It helps mentors re-energize their careers, which may increase their commitment to your company.
    • It allows mentors to fine-tune their communication and leadership skills, which can be valuable as they continue to grow in their own careers.

    Benefits for the Company

    In addition, there are significant benefits that can be realized by your company:

    • Retention—Mentoring helps employees feel more engaged in their work and more in control of their careers. Employees will feel like the company cares about them and may be more loyal as a result—in turn, reducing turnover-related costs.
    • Recruitment—Advertising a mentoring program can help recruit qualified candidates and establish yourself as an employer of choice within your industry.
    • Productivity—Because employees have the skills they need to do their jobs effectively, this can increase productivity and reduce the number of errors made on the job. Employees may also feel more confident in their work and spend less time second-guessing themselves.
    • Company Culture—By encouraging employees to build positive relationships with one another, you can promote a sense of cooperation and teamwork at your company.

    Mentoring programs can be a low-cost way to increase retention, attract new talent and improve employee morale—all of which can help protect your bottom line for years to come.

    For more information on recruitment and retention strategies, contact The Unland Companies today.

  • Why You Should Consider Self-Funding

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    Self-funding has always been a potential cost-saving option for larger employers, particularly as health care costs have risen and the employee benefits system has gotten more complex with the introduction of ACA. Self-funding offers many potential benefits for employers:

    • More cost flexibility and often lower costs, as employers simply pay for medical expenses as they come rather than paying a premium to a health insurance carrier, in addition to lower administrative costs
    • More flexibility in plan design, rather than having to find a plan through an insurance carrier that fits the needs of their employee group and budget
    • Less regulation, because self-funded health plans are regulated differently than fully insured plans

    Traditionally, self-funding was thought to be most feasible for larger employer groups, as they could assume the risk necessary with managing their own health care claims. However, today self-funding is moving down market as costs rise and regulations increase for small groups. Self-funding has become more of an attractive option for groups of all sizes, and the protection of stop-loss insurance helps mitigate the financial risk.

    But due to the common perception that self-funding is for large groups only, many small groups don’t realize it’s even an option for them. Even many larger groups have never considered self-funding simply because they are familiar with traditional fully insured plans.

    If you’ve never considered self-funding, or simply thought it wasn’t a good fit for a group of your size, this ebook is for you. Read on to learn more about self-funding and how it may be able to benefit you in this time of rising health care costs and increased regulations.


    More Plan Design & Cost Flexibility

    Self-funding has become an attractive option for employers of all sizes, as it offers more flexibility with plan design and can be an opportunity to manage soaring costs.

    Self-Funding Isn’t Just for Large Employers Anymore

    Employers of all sizes are starting to explore self-funding as a cost saving option—even smaller groups who traditionally never considered self-funding in the past. Why this move toward self-funding? It’s no secret that health care costs have continued to rise, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has only added costs for many groups of late, especially for smaller groups. Self-funding offers a way to avoid many of the costs associated with ACA, while designing a plan that prevents some of the extreme cost increases that groups are facing today.

    Plus, ACA actually makes self-funding a less risky option for small groups than in the past, due to the guaranteed issue provision. In the past, smaller groups may have worried about choosing self-funding, in case they couldn’t get a reasonable quote if they chose to go back to a fully insured plan at some point. With the guaranteed issue provision, groups need not worry about that risk, as insurers cannot deny individuals or groups coverage under ACA.


    Self-Funding Allows Flexibility Not Found with Fully Insured Plans

    One of the central benefits of self-funding is that employer groups have more options in terms of plan design, because they are not limited by the plans the health insurance carriers offer in the area. This allows more plan design and cost flexibility than shopping on the fully insured market. Self-insuring allows employers to get creative with their plan design to choose one or more plans that fit their budget as well as their employee needs.

    This creativity in plan design is an important tool for employers looking to manage increasing costs while still providing a competitive plan to their employees. In the fully insured market, employers are limited by plan designs offered by health insurers, but can be much more flexible and creative when designing their own self-insured plan. Though self-funding is not for every group, many small companies are finding this option a good alternative as it allows them to tailor a plan that fits the unique needs of their small employer group.

    In addition, rather than paying a premium each month, self-funded groups only pay medical claims as they come in—which can be a significant benefit for groups with healthier employee populations and active wellness programs. Plus, there are generally fewer administrative costs, which make self-funding more cost effective in many situations.


    Fewer Regulations to Comply With

    Not only has ACA increased costs, as mentioned in Chapter 1, but it has also introduced many new regulations with which to comply. In addition to increasing costs, these provisions add complexity and extra work to managing employee benefits. However, many of these provisions apply only to fully insured plans, which is another reason that self-funding has become more appealing for employer groups of all sizes. In this chapter, we’ll discuss some of the more prominent ACA provisions that have negatively impacted employer groups.

    Community Rating

    Adjusted Community Rating caused costs to increase for many small groups, in some cases significantly. In addition, quotes for smaller groups are now much longer and more complicated due to the Community Rating changes, making benefits planning more of a headache each year.

    For this reason, small groups who many never have considered self-funding before are exploring that option to avoid the complexity of Community Rating.


    Wellness

    Another part of the Community Rating provision addresses wellness, and applies to employers of all sizes. It specifies that employers with wellness programs no longer get lower premiums for their healthier employee populations. Previously, investing in a wellness program and achieving a healthier employee population would pay off in the form of a lower premium in the fully-insured marketplace. Now that Adjusted Community Rating is in play, the employer no longer gets benefits for their wellness accomplishments and pays the same as any other company, negating the efforts of their wellness program.

    Self-funding offers these companies the opportunity to take full advantage of the improved health of their employee population and design their health plan how they chose, without needing to comply with the Adjusted Community Rating provision—for example, they can offer lower premiums as incentives based on their wellness program.

    Community Rating

    The Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) provision states that insurers can only spend a certain percentage of their profits on “administrative” costs. For that reason, insurers have streamlined their operations in a variety of ways, with many insurers offering fewer plan options to small groups to keep operations lean and costs down. The result for small employer groups is that it is tougher to find a more tailored health plan to meet the unique needs a small group has, which makes self-funding an attractive alternative.

    Employers who choose to self-fund are not limited by the plan design options provided by health insurers, and can design a creative plan that fits both their budget and employee needs.


    What You Need to Know About Self-Funding

    Self-funding is an attractive option to many employers because it offers more flexibility than traditional fully insured plans. However, there are other important factors to consider when self-funding.

    • ERISA: Self-funding frees you from some regulations, such as ACA, but is governed by ERISA, which is a federal law. This means that employers who self-fund have certain documentation and reporting requirements under ERISA.
    • Stop-loss insurance: Stop-loss insurance is a vital part of self-funding, particularly for a smaller group who cannot afford to take on too much risk. This helps the employer manage costs and offers a safety net for large claims.
    • Wellness: Self-funded plans can benefit significantly from an effective wellness program; the healthier an employee population is, the fewer claims there are likely to be. For employers who already have a wellness program, this is a benefit of self-funding. Otherwise, employers want to considering implementing a wellness program if they explore self-funding.
    • Administration: Administration is different for self-funding, so this needs to be a consideration. Many employers choose to work with a third-party administrator (TPA) to administer their plan.
    • Financial impact: Moving to a self-funded plan requires a much different budgeting and forecasting model, as claims must be paid when they occur, as opposed to paying a monthly premium. So while self-funding can certainly save money, it can also have a significant financial impact on an employer’s budget. It’s important to plan ahead for this change in budgeting and forecasting of costs.
    • Discrimination testing: Another important regulation on self-funded plans is that they are not discriminatory, so discrimination testing is a must.


    Conclusion

    Self-funding isn’t for everyone, but it isn’t just for large employer groups anymore. With the implementation of ACA and perpetually rising health care costs, self-funding is becoming another cost-saving option for many employer groups searching for the ideal benefit plan solution.

  • Benefits of Bundling Commercial Policies

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    Insurance carriers realize that offering additional lines of coverage to an existing customer is less expensive than trying to attract new customers. They also know that the more lines a given customer has, the longer they’re likely to stay with them.

    While bundling policies is beneficial to insurance carriers, it is also highly beneficial to their customers. Similar to how bundling your personal home and auto policies may give you a discount, bundling your business policies can provide benefits way beyond cost savings.

    Simplified Bookkeeping

    Most businesses require a number of insurance policies in order to properly insure their operations, including:

    • Workers’ compensation
    • General liability
    • Commercial property
    • Professional liability
    • Commercial auto
    • Business interruption
    • Cyber liability
    • Directors and officers

    Keeping up with that many policies isn’t an easy task for business owners. Therefore, bundling multiple policies with the same carrier simplifies things for bookkeeping purposes. Besides having fewer bills to keep track of every month, it also makes it easier come renewal time if the bundled policies renew at the same time each year.

    Your HR department will also appreciate having one number to call when you’re hiring a new employee, have claims questions, are adding a location or making any other business decisions that impact your insurance.

    Fewer Agents to Educate

    Properly insuring your business requires explaining to your insurance agent exactly what your business does and the exposures that come with it. But without bundling your policies, you have more agents to educate, which takes time. The fewer agents you have to work with, the better equipped they’ll be to help identify and address your exposures.

    Assurance That Your Policies Work Together

    There may be circumstances when two of your business insurance policies have to work together. For example, you may assume that something not covered by your commercial auto policy would be covered by your commercial umbrella policy. However, many umbrella policies will only extend above an auto policy if the insurance company offering it has a specified financial strength rating. If your carrier’s rating falls below a certain grade, your umbrella policy may not cover an auto loss. That’s just one type of problem that could arise if you keep your policies under separate roofs, with separate agents.

    Less Security Risk

    When obtaining insurance, business owners are required to divulge sensitive personal information about their

    employees, as well as financial information about the business itself. When dividing your policies among multiple agents, you’re basically providing all that information to more people than you would have to if you’d bundled your policies with one agent. And in doing so, you’re increasing the risk of highly sensitive information ending up in the wrong hands.

    Better Pricing

    Bundling your business’s insurance policies allows your insurance professional to give you access to multiline discounts that help boost your bottom line. Contact The Unland Companies to see if any of your insurers offer multiline discounts. We can give you estimates for bundling your policies with each carrier.

  • The Cost of Fatigue in the Workplace

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    Your business depends on the productivity of your employees, and one way to maximize your employees’ potential is to acknowledge and address problems that cause decreased productivity. You may not realize it, but fatigue in the workplace is a serious issue in America today—one that is costing employers big in lost productivity.

     

    The Facts

    According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 38 percent of American workers surveyed experienced “low levels of energy, poor sleep or a feeling of fatigue” during their past two weeks at work. Workers who are fatigued in the workplace are less productive, less focused, experience more health problems and are more likely to be involved in a job-related safety incident. In addition, fatigue causes more absences from work, both from the tiredness itself and also from accompanying medical problems.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 25 percent of Americans report not getting enough sleep, and 10 percent suffer from chronic insomnia.

    Many people beyond those with a medical condition regularly struggle with lack of sleep, trouble sleeping and/or fatigue. The study estimated that lost productivity due to fatigue is costing American businesses about $136 million annually.

     

    The Effects of Fatigue

    Obvious signs of fatigue in an individual include drowsiness, moodiness, loss of energy, loss of appetite, and a lack of motivation, concentration and alertness. Often, men tend to become angry when experiencing fatigue, whereas women may be more sad and moody. In addition, fatigue can cause or be a result of other medical conditions, such as depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and diabetes.

     

    What Can You Do?

    Any problem that causes decreased productivity and increased absenteeism is one that you want to address in your workforce. There are several ways that you can tackle the issue of fatigue within your company:

    • Educate employees. Many people who struggle with getting adequate or quality sleep could improve their situation by making a few habit and lifestyle changes. Offer them information about the importance of getting enough sleep each night, the safety concerns of coming to work tired and tips for getting better sleep. Also remind employees that a healthy diet and regular exercise can contribute to better quality sleep.
    • Include fatigue in your wellness program. Include questions about sleep and tiredness on your health risk appraisals, and incorporate fatigue management into your wellness initiatives. Once you identify how many employees experience fatigue and/or have sleep disorders, you can offer further education, programs or referral services to address the specific problems among your employees.
    • Change company culture. Ask employees when they are most tired during the day, and consider offering extra break time to alleviate those fatigued times. This is particularly important for workers in safety-sensitive or decision-making positions. Try to make your workplace more amenable to alertness, with proper lighting, quiet break areas for employees to rest or re-charge, adequate break time and healthy food options.
  • Understanding Your Workers’ Compensation Experience Modification Factor

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    A key to understanding your workers’ compensation premium is the experience modification factor, also known as your mod. Understanding your company’s mod and the data used to obtain it helps you identify ways to minimize your workers’ compensation premium.

    Who calculates the mod factor?

    Most states use the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) to collect data and calculate the experience modification factor. The NCCI is a private corporation funded by member insurance companies. The remaining states either operate an independent workers’ compensation bureau or have set aside a state fund for workers’ compensation. These states may or may not use the NCCI’s classification system to determine experience modification factors.

     How is a mod calculated?

    The process of calculating the experience modification factor is complex, but the underlying theory and purpose of the formula is straightforward. Your company’s actual losses are compared to its expected losses by industry type. The formula incorporates factors that account for company size, unexpectedly large losses, and the incidence of loss frequency and loss severity to achieve a balance between fairness and accountability.

    How does my mod affect my premiums?

    The mod factor represents either a credit or debit that is applied to your workers’ compensation premium. A mod factor greater than 1.0 is a debit mod, which means that your losses are worse than expected and a surcharge will be added to your premium. A mod factor less than 1.0 is a credit mod, which means losses are better than expected, resulting in a discounted premium.

    What is the experience rating period?

    The mod is calculated using loss and payroll data for an experience rating period. The experience rating period typically includes data for three policy years, excluding the most recently completed year. For example, if your anniversary rating date is Jan. 1, 2017, the experience period is 2012 to 2015. 2016 would be excluded.

    Three years of data is used to provide a more accurate reflection of the losses, smoothing out the impact of an exceptionally bad or good year for losses.

    Both actual and expected losses are divided into a primary and an excess portion in what is called a split rating method. Primary losses are designed to be an indicator of loss frequency (the number of losses) and are used at their full value in the mod formula. Excess losses are an indicator of loss severity (the amount of each loss) and are weighted in the formula so that they are less important. The emphasis of loss frequency over loss severity in the formula reflects the fact that loss frequency is a more significant indicator of risk and can be improved through proactive loss control programs.

    In July 2011, the NCCI announced a proposal to raise the split point from $5,000 to $15,000 over a three-year period to better correlate with claims inflation. The process of transitioning to the new split point began in

    2013, with an increase in the split point from $5,000 to $10,000. In 2015, the split point included an additional increase as a result of claims inflation, and the NCCI now makes annual adjustments to the split point based on inflation.

    In 2017, the NCCI’s rating system will use a split point of $16,500. This means that the first $16,500 of every loss is considered a primary loss, and any amount over this point is considered an excess loss. For example, a $9,000 loss would have no excess losses, as it falls below the current split point of $16,500. However, a loss of $25,000 would have $16,500 in primary losses and $8,500 in excess losses. Additionally, medical-only claims figures may be reduced by 70 percent in approved states.

    Expected losses are calculated using your payroll data by state and class code and applying the expected loss rate (ELR). The ELR is provided by each state’s rating bureau. These figures are also broken down into expected primary losses and expected excess losses.

    How do your losses compare?

    The final mod calculation compares your actual primary and excess loss figures to those expected for a company of the same size and industry type. To understand how workers’ compensation losses at your business compare to state industry averages, contact The Unland Companies to review your experience modification worksheet.

    How can you control your mod?

    Your mod factor has a direct impact on your workers’ compensation premium. The key to controlling your insurance costs is accident prevention.

    • The mod is calculated based on data reported to the rating bureau by past insurers. Incorrect or incomplete data can cause incorrect mod factors. Review loss and payroll data to ensure the calculation is complete and accurate.
    • Losses remain in the experience rating formula for three years. The experience modification factor is influenced more by small, frequent losses than by large, infrequent ones.
    • Safety programs, return to work programs and appropriate prevention procedures can help to reduce loss frequency.
    • An effective self-inspection and accident investigation program are critical to managing claim frequency.
    • Claims management programs can help your business manage outstanding reserves and focus on efficiently resolving open claims.
    • Any claims should be reported to your carrier immediately.
    • All injured employees should be provided with light duty upon their release from treatment so you can close claims and ensure the health of your employees.
    • Supervisory roles should have set safety performance goals. Success in achieving safety goals should be used as one measure during performance appraisals.
    • Employees should be trained on their responsibilities for safety, and should know to enforce violations.
    • You should frequently communicate with employees on a formal and informal basis regarding the importance of safety.

    How can your experience rating save you money?Establishing a proactive safety program is an effective way to reduce losses, positively impacting your mod and workers’ compensation premium. Contact us today at (309) 347-2177. We have the loss control experience to help you promote safety and control your workers’ compensation premium.

  • Safety Matters: It’s No Accident

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    Accidents can happen at any time in the workplace, often when you least expect them. However, many on-the-job accidents can be avoided by focusing on safe practices and taking necessary safety precautions.

    Know the Hazards

    The cause of accidents can almost always be traced to a dangerous act, an unsafe condition or a combination of the two. In most instances, an accident could have been avoided by following proper safety precautions.

    In order to avoid accidents, it’s important to understand what can cause them. There are countless unsafe acts and conditions that can lead to accidents, but some common hazards include:

    • Using defective or broken equipment
    • Performing tasks without training
    • Failing to wear proper PPE
    • Unsafe handling, storage or disposal of materials
    • Injuries due to poor housekeeping
    • Horseplay

    Safe Steps to Avoid Accidents

    The first step to keeping yourself and co-workers safe is to stay alert on the job and not let routine or familiarity lure you into carelessness. Always observe safety precautions before and during a task, even if those precautions make the task more inconvenient or take longer to complete. Cutting corners may not seem like a big deal, but doing so is a primary cause of accidents.

    Next, know your job. The more you know about your job, the safer you’ll be. Know the proper procedures and safety precautions for any task you do, and if any questions arise during your work day, be sure to talk to your supervisor.

    And finally, make a personal contribution. A good way to start this is to follow safety rules. Certain rules in the workplace are made for your protection, so follow them. Just because an unsafe act is not specifically listed as being prohibited, it doesn’t mean you should do it. Use your common sense when evaluating if an act is safe or not – there may be a very easy way to make it safer if you stop to think it through.

    Focus on Good Habits

    It’s human nature to work yourself into habits, and when you break a safety rule, you’ve taken the first and most influential step in forming a bad habit — a habit that can lead to an injury. Good habits, such as following safety precautions and noticing unsafe conditions, are just as easy to form.

    Develop a safe attitude. This is probably one of the most difficult things to recognize because most of us have the mistaken notion that it’s always someone else who gets hurt, never us. If we all do our share in observing safety rules and staying alert for unsafe conditions, everyone will benefit.

  • 2 people walking on a path in the middle of a forest

    FITNESS FIRST: WALKING

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    If you are looking for an easy and inexpensive way to stay healthy or lose weight, you need nothing more than your own two feet. Walking is an ideal form of exercise—it’s free, and you can do it almost anytime and anywhere. Walking is also a great way to maintain a healthy weight or to shed those extra pounds.

    The First Step: Good Shoes

    Whether you walk outdoors, on a treadmill or at the local mall, you will want to invest in a good pair of walking shoes. Walking shoes are designed to give you the flexibility, support and proper push off needed for walking. Everyone’s feet are different, but look for shoes that are light, flexible and immediately feel comfortable. Walking shoes should not require a “breaking in” period.

    Setting the Pace

    You can walk to maintain your health or as part of a weight-loss program. To get moving, experts advise beginners to start with a 15- or 30-minute walk daily, adding five or 10 minutes to the walking session time per week. More specifically:

    1.) To maintain your health, walk 30 minutes a day most days of the week at a “talking” pace, which means you are able to carry on a conversation comfortably while walking.

    2.) If you are walking for weight loss, walk 45 to 60 minutes a day at a medium to fast pace. In addition, do not skip more than two days per week.

    3.) For aerobic and cardiovascular fitness, walk 20 minutes at a very fast pace (you should be breathing hard), three to four days a week.

    After walking, gentle stretching can help keep your muscles from being sore. It is also wise to warm up before walking fast or going a long distance.

    Cautions

    Make sure to be safe while walking outside:

    1.) Always walk on sidewalks (or on the left side of the street facing traffic if there are no sidewalks).

    2.) Be aware of traffic.

    3.) Carry identification and your cellphone in case of emergencies.

    4.) In the evening hours, wear reflective gear and/or carry a flashlight in front of you.

    Going the Distance

    Once you get started, you will want to stay motivated. Consider finding a walking friend, joining a walking club or registering for a challenging walking event. Remember that you will not notice immediate physical changes to your body, but by adding walking and a healthy diet to your daily routine, it won’t be long before you look and feel better.

    Note: Before beginning any walking program, consider discussing your exercise plans with your doctor, particularly if you have health issues such as diabetes.

  • bowl shaped like a heart, filled with blueberries and strawberries

    Understanding Health Insurance Terminology Infographic

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    This infographic explains some of the most common health insurance terminology, so employees can better understand their coverage.

     

  • black and white image of a set of hands holding a set of a baby'd hands

    Workplace Wellness: Low-cost Wellness Strategies

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    Low-cost Wellness Strategies

    Workplace wellness programs may not only increase employee morale, but also reap a positive return on investment for employers. Although Work Wellness programs are often expensive, there are ways employers can make positive changes for little or no cost.

    Nutrition

    Fruit and Vegetable Consumption

    The following are low-cost strategies that encourage healthy eating:

    • Provide healthy eating reminders to employees using posters, emails and intranet posts.
    • Offer healthier food options in the vending machines and in the cafeteria, as well as at meetings, conferences and catered events.
    • Ensure that on-site cafeterias follow healthy cooking practices and set nutritional standards that align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
    • Provide cookbooks and cooking classes for employees and their families.
    • Offer locally grown fruits and vegetables at the workplace (this could be a workplace farmer’s market or a community-supported agriculture drop-off point).
    • Price non-nutritious foods in vending machines and cafeterias at higher prices than healthy options.
    • Provide an opportunity for on-site gardening, if possible.

    Portion Control

    Below are tips for encouraging employees to practice portion control:

    • Label foods to show serving size and nutritional content.
    • Provide food models or food scales for weighing and pictures to help employees assess portion size.
    • Offer appropriate portion sizes at meetings, workplace events and in the cafeteria.

    Breast-feeding

    Consider the following tips to support nursing mothers in workplace:

    • Provide rooms for expressing milk in a secure and relaxed environment and a refrigerator for the storage of breast milk.
    • Create policies that support breast-feeding and lactation education programs.
    • Offer flexible scheduling and on-site or near-site childcare to allow for milk expression during the workday.
    • Adopt alternative work options (for example, telecommuting, part-time or extended maternity) for breast-feeding mothers returning to work.
    • Educate employees on the importance of supporting breast-feeding co-workers.

    Physical Activity and Weight Management

    The following are low-cost wellness activities that promote physical activity:

    • Allow access to on- and off-site gyms and recreational activities before, during and after work. Encourage and support participation in after-work recreational leagues.
    • Provide incentives or reduced insurance costs for participation in physical activity or weight management or maintenance activities.
    • Provide showers and changing facilities at the workplace.
    • Map out on-site trails or nearby walking routes and destinations. Host walk-and-talk meetings when it is nice outside.
    • Provide bicycle racks in safe, convenient and accessible locations. Sponsor a “bike to work” day and reward employees who participate.
    • Create activities that have strong social support systems like buddy or team physical activity goals or programs that involve co-workers and their families.
    • Set up programs to encourage physical activity, such as pedometer walking challenges.
    • Offer flexible work hours and breaks to allow for physical activity during the day.
    • Post motivational signs at elevators and escalators to encourage stair usage.
    • Encourage employees to map out their own biking or walking route to and from work.
    • Provide or support physical activity events on-site or in the community.

    General Health Education

    The following tips can help improve overall employee well-being:

    • Have a wellness plan in place that addresses the purpose, nature, duration, resources required and expected results of a workplace wellness program.
    • Promote and encourage employee participation in the physical activity, nutrition and weight management programs.
    • Provide health education articles, handouts or fliers to employees.
    • Create a committee that meets at least once a month to oversee your wellness program.
    • Offer regular health education presentations on various physical activity, nutrition and wellness-related topics.
    • Ask health associations, health care providers or public health agencies to offer free on-site education classes.
    • Host a health fair as a kick-off event or as a celebration for completion of a wellness campaign.
    • Conduct preventive wellness screenings for blood pressure, body mass index, blood cholesterol and blood sugar.
    • Provide confidential health risk assessments.
    • Offer on-site weight management or maintenance programs for employees.
    • Add counseling for weight management or maintenance, nutrition, and physical activity as a benefit in health insurance contracts.

    Tobacco Cessation

    Consider the following tactics to curb smoking at your workplace:

    • Establish a company policy prohibiting tobacco use anywhere on company property.
    • Provide posters to support your tobacco-free policy.
    • Establish a policy supporting participation in smoking cessation activities.
    • Provide tobacco cessation counseling through an individual, group or telephone counseling program.
    • Make sure your health plan covers a variety of tobacco cessation medications.

     

    By considering the strategies above, you can implement low-cost wellness activities at your workplace. For help setting up one of these initiatives, contact The Unland Companies.

  • annual checkup concept. stethoscope on the calendar with soft-focus and over light in the background

    3 Benefits Employees are Missing out on by Skipping Their Annual Checkup

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    Forty-five percent of Americans don’t have a primary care doctor, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Considering how important an annual doctor visit is to an employee’s health, this statistic is alarming. Remind employees of the benefits they can reap from scheduling one today.

  • person reaching into open car window and stealing laptop

    Analyzing the Identity Crime Climate

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    New research reveals the current consumer sentiment surrounding identity crime threats. We Divide Identity Crimes into three distinct areas:

    • The theft or misplacement of information that can be used to identify you as an individual.
    • The theft and misuse of a victim’s existing accounts, primarily financial accounts.
    • The theft of an individual’s Personally Identifiable Information (PII) to create new accounts under the victim’s name.

    Lost/Stolen PII Identity Fraud Identity Theft

    As a leader in identity protection partnerships, we break down these findings to uncover the best practices for implementing your own value-add identity protection program.

    History of Identity Crimes

    It was a record year for fraud in 2016. According to Javelin Strategy & Research, 35.2 million Americans fell victim to an identity crime. That’s a new identity crime victim every second. Of particular importance was the peak in overall fraud incidence rates, which affected 15.4 million consumers. While progress has been made in the fight against identity crimes; including the introduction of EMV technology – these efforts have simply redirected criminals to other fraud methods.

    Rise of Identity Crimes

    The rise of identity crimes can be attributed to three primary drivers:

    • Rising data breach incidents
    • A thriving black market for PII
    • Shifting fraud patterns

    In 2016, 76% of Americans had been the victim of a data breach.

    Protective Fraud Prevention

    In recent years, proactive fraud prevention measures have taken the spotlight, with EMV being the poster child of these efforts. While EMV aims to keep payment cards safe from skimming and cloning (the theft and fraudulent use of card data), this nation-wide effort only diverted criminals to other methods. Soon after the U.S. rollout of EMV, new account fraud (identity theft) and account takeover rates began to rise. In 2016, new account fraud losses topped $3.6 billion. Both crimes take far longer and are far costlier to repair than credit or checking account fraud.

    Americans earn an A+ in Awareness but Lack Appropriate Protection

    Almost a quarter of our respondents have had their phone, wallet or laptop stolen and 17.7% of them were unable to recover their stolen device. And it’s no surprise, that 27% of consumers have already been the victim of identity theft. Data shows 74% worry their personal information will be compromised. The truth of the matter is that once information is out of their control, it’s gone forever. A single year of post breach identity protection does little to safeguard consumers. 46% of all identity theft victims were victimized multiple times – 15% experienced it three or more times. These individuals needed comprehensive, long-term protection.

    The DIY Approach

    Independent identity theft resolution, without the help of an identity protection service provider, requires numerous parties to be involved in clearing the victim’s name. On average victims dedicate 18 hours resolving the crime.

    Hours to Resolve

    Javelin Strategy & Research, 2017

    Market Opportunities

    Trusted providers must step in where breach solutions fall short. While consumer preferences say “protect me,” their actions often fall short due to a lack of viable sources. Many of these users receive complimentary post-breach services. These services can often be riddled with problems and lackluster customer service, as breached companies have little time or capital to invest into superior protection products.

    Still, consumers want identity protection – just the right kind. More than half of consumers believe identity protection is important, but want to receive it as a benefit from a trusted provider. The need for superior protection presents a major opportunity for companies with existing relationships. Promoting an identity protection program can ignite engagement, loyalty and satisfaction

    Program Best Practices

    Seven Best Practices for Launching an Effective Identity Theft Protection Program

    1. Know Your Culture
      What makes sense for your organization? Look to your own strengths to understand how an identity protection program can cohesively fit into your existing offerings and image.
    2. Align Your Organizational Goals
      What’s driving the demand for identity protection? Whether you hope to engage, retain or even incentivize action with identity protection – your goals should always lead the way.
    3. Assess Consumer Demographics
      Consumer tastes are never cut and dry. Investigate the preferences of your desired demographic to implement a truly action-worthy protection program.
    4. Find a Trusted Partner in Protection
      With expert guidance, world-class support and a focus on your goals – an identity protection partnership acts as an extension of your brand and brings more than just a new product to the table.
    5. Pair the Right Products and Processes
      Choose products from an industry leader that follows the latest compliance and security protocols. Back these with proven processes such as secure data transfer and streamlined implementation.
    6. Practice Clear Communication
      Back your program with effective communication tools. These can include ads, fliers, educational handouts, a dedicated website, emails and training to help spread the word.
    7. Always Analyze
      Review program results and compare it to your initial goals. Revisit your analytics often and make changes as needed.

    Results Happen When You Protect What’s Really Important

    As criminals evolve, with the rise in technology and the birth of the connected consumer, identity theft protection must evolve as well.

    The consumer data in the EZShield 2017 Identity Crime Report is based on information collected in a random sample of 1,203 individuals. This research consisted of an online quantitative survey conducted on August 22, 2016. Respondents were over the age of 18 with varying household income levels and resided in the United States.

    At EZShield, we have a multitude of products to protect against identity crimes. We’re proud to exemplify the program best practices as the leader in identity protection partnerships. Our award-winning products are trusted by more than 15 million consumers and small businesses through a network of over 2,000 trusted partners. Our success lies in the comprehensive, partner-focused approach we take. From our always serving, never selling customer service appeal to our expert strategy insights and analysis – EZShield can help propel your organization’s identity protection program to new heights.

    EZ Shield - Secure Your Identity

    SCHEDULE A DEMO TODAY! Click here!

    To experience the partner difference for yourself, speak to a representative today.

    Talk to your The Unland Companies representative to learn how to better manage workers compensation costs.

  • Young people working in trendy friendly office

    Employee Retention

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    It costs nearly 20 percent of an employee’s annual salary to replace a current employee. If you are experiencing high turnover, chances are you are experiencing high losses as well. The costs of reviewing applications, processing candidates, conducting interviews, training and purchasing equipment for new hires aren’t only monetary—they also cost time and lost productivity.

    Given the high cost of losing an employee, retention should be a top priority for every organization. If you do not already have a retention strategy, now is the time to make one. The first step in curbing turnover is figuring out why employees are leaving.

    Why Employees Leave

    Employees leave organizations for a variety of reasons, depending on their unique circumstances. However, there are some common reasons that may help determine the best retention strategy for your organization. Below are some of the most common reasons employees leave:

    • Stagnation—Employees are often looking for career and personal growth. If they have no upward mobility at your company, they may look for it elsewhere.
    • Pay—Compensation needs to be competitive to attract the best talent. Likewise, good pay is needed to retain top talent.
    • Workplace culture—Expectedly, co-workers matter to employees. If they feel ostracized or marginalized by co-workers (or management), they will want to leave that environment.
    • Better opportunities—Like with stagnation, employees leave when they believe they have better prospects elsewhere. This could be due to a higher-paying position or simply a job more aligned with their interests.

    How to Retain Employees

    Retention strategies are not universal. It is possible that techniques and strategies that work for some organizations will not work for yours. This means you need to analyze why your employees are leaving and strategize how to combat those reasons.

    Exit interviews are a great way to analyze why employees are leaving. During exit interviews, managers ask questions to employees who are on their way out of the company. Questions should be related to the employees’ time with the company, such as what they enjoyed, what they disliked and what prompted their resignation. Exit interviews will only be useful with employees who resign or leave voluntarily, not those who have been terminated.

    Depending on the responses from the exit interviews, you can begin crafting a retention strategy. For instance, if a main catalyst for employee turnover is a lack of upward mobility, think about how to change that. It could mean creating new roles or, if roles already exist, making a clear guide for career pathing at the organization.

    Creating a retention strategy does not need to be solely reactive. Consider creating a survey to gauge employee satisfaction with the company. Include questions about what people like and what they do not like about their job.

    Summary

    There is no hard and fast rule for successful employee retention. Creating a retention strategy for your organization requires you to analyze both your company and its industry. Contact The Unland Companies for more information on retention and for materials to help you craft your strategy.

  • Get a handle on workers’ compensation costs

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    For the unprepared, workers’ compensation (WC) issues can be both confusing and costly. Fortunately for employers, there are ways to actively engage WC issues to influence their outcomes.

    Through management controls and active involvement in the WC process, your organization can effectively influence related costs. To do so you will have to establish a number of your own processes that guide decision making throughout your organization.

    Through management controls and active involvement in the WC process, your organization can effectively influence-related costs. To do so you will have to establish a number of your own processes that guide decision making throughout your organization.

    Areas requiring WC management can be divided into three main categories. These categories include facets that may range from the simple to the complex, but as a whole, address vital issues that can negatively influence WC costs in your company.

    Workplace Safety Means Fewer Claims

    Simply put, reducing claims reduces costs. Establishing a safety-minded culture throughout every level of your company is essential to keeping workers injury-free. However, establishing such a culture isn’t an overnight solution. To be successful, an ongoing commitment to safety must be made. Such a commitment must be supported by management and given the necessary resources to succeed.

    Developing comprehensive safety policies for employees builds a firm foundation for your safety culture to grow. Such policies also encourage OSHA compliance, further improving your safety efforts while helping you avoid costly fines.

    Mitigate Loss after an Injury

    Unfortunately, even with all the right programs in place, it is still possible for accidents to happen. When a workplace incident occurs, how you respond can greatly influence the outcome of the claim. Prompt claim reporting is essential to keeping costs down. It is also important to have a designated injury management coordinator, someone who can supervise open claims and work with both employees and medical personnel to facilitate the timely recovery.

    The longer an employee is out of work the more expensive his or her claim will be. Return-to-work programs that allow injured employees to come back to work at a limited capacity during the recovery process are one of the most effective tools business owners have to reduce the severity of a claim.

    Managing Your Mod

    Insurers use what is known as an experience modification factor, or mod, to calculate the premiums you pay for workers’ compensation coverage. By managing your exposures and promoting safety it is possible to manage your mod and decrease your premium rates.

    Like a good safety program, controlling your mod is an ongoing process. To reap the benefits of lower premiums you will have to keep in regular contact with your insurance provider to ensure they have the most accurate data to use in their calculations.

    Talk to your The Unland Companies representative to learn how to better manage workers compensation costs.

     

  • Cyber Risks & Liabilities Newsletter

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    When a data breach or other cyber event occurs, the damages can be significant, often resulting in lawsuits, fines and serious financial losses. In order for organizations to truly protect themselves from cyber risks, corporate boards must play an active role and ask 5 main questions.

    Learn about the 5 cyber risk questions every board should ask and how cyber insurance may benefit your organization.

     

    Download the newsletter: Cyber Risks & Liabilities Newsletter

  • Be Prepared: Severe Weather

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    In a severe weather emergency, all employees should be aware of their responsibilities and the actions they should take to protect themselves and others.

    Learn about general safety practices and ways to make you and your loved ones safe this winter by using our comprehensive guide.

     

    Download Here: Be Prepared: Severe Weather Guide

  • Employee Work from Home Guide

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    Use this comprehensive guide to outline your company’s telecommuting, or work from home, policy and expectations, and educate your employees on best practices for working from home.

     

    *Please note that this guide requires extensive customization to reflect your organization’s policies on telecommuting.

     

    Download here: Employee Work From Home Guide

  • HR Toolkit

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    This toolkit explores successful recruiting techniques and suggests best practices for your organization. Included within are walk-through guides, potential interview questions, sample forms and much more. Download here: HR Toolkit

     

  • Worried about the Equifax breach?

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    You and/or your employees may be worried about the latest high-profile breach to hit the news. But remember, if you’re a Deluxe Provent® partner, you already have the protection tools needed: award-winning ID theft and fraud protection services.

     

    Security incidents like Equifax’s recent data breach remind us that protecting sensitive information is more important than ever. Deluxe works with EZShield® to bring award-winning services* to help secure and monitor your employees’ personal and financial information. If employees are victimized by an identity theft crime or other breach event, our service works to restore their identity. This is a good time to remind your employees of Unland’s identity theft protection program you offer as part of your employee benefits package.

     

    Of course, if you haven’t already signed up with Unland to provide Deluxe Provent services to the people at your business or organization, there is no time like the present. Identify theft and fraud protection services are occupying an ever more important space in the benefits world.

     

    Learn how to navigate the breach

    We’ve created a tool for you to share within your organization to help customers navigate this most recent breach and show them the value of identity protection.

     

    Download tool

    For additional information about your Provent program, email deluxefinancialservices@deluxe.com and type “Provent” in the subject line.

     

    *2013, 2015, 2016 Best Overall Identity Protection Services Leader award by JAVELIN https://www.ezshield.com/javelin-awards/

     

  • Benefits Buzz: Senate Rejects ACA Repeal Efforts

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    In the early morning hours of July 28, 2017, members of the U.S. Senate voted 49-51 to reject a “skinny” version of a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), called the Health Care Freedom Act (HCFA).

    This was the final vote of the Senate’s 20-hour debate period, and effectively ended the Republicans’ current efforts to repeal and replace the ACA. However, the skinny repeal bill may be reintroduced at some point in the future.

    What did the HCFA propose?

    Similar to the American Health Care Act and the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the HCFA would repeal the ACA’s individual and employer mandate penalties, effective Dec. 31, 2015. However, the employer mandate repeal would only be effective through 2024.

    In addition, the ACA’s reporting requirements under Sections 6055 and 6056 would remain intact.

    The HCFA would have also:

    • Extended the moratorium on the medical devices excise tax.
    • Increased the contribution limit for health savings accounts up to the maximum out-of-pocket limits allowed by law for high deductible health plans.
    • Amended the ACA’s existing Section 1332 State Innovation Waivers, added stricter requirements for the Department of Health and Human Services in approving waivers, and extended waivers to eight years (instead of five), with unlimited renewals.

    What are the next steps for employers?

    Because the Senate was unable to pass any ACA repeal or replacement bill, the ACA remains current law, and employers must continue to comply with all applicable ACA provisions.

    Following the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that Republicans now intend to focus on other legislative issues, although they remain committed to repealing the ACA.

    Updated Form I-9 Required Beginning Sept. 18

    On July 17, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, issued an updated version of Form I-9: Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9). Under federal law, every employer that recruits, refers for a fee or hires an individual for employment in the United States must complete a Form I-9.

    The updated form replaces a version that was issued in 2016. Employers may continue using the 2016 form until Sept. 17, 2017. Exclusive use of the updated form is expected by Sept. 18, 2017. The new form expires on Aug. 31, 2019.

    The updated Form I-9 includes revisions to the instructions and to the list of acceptable documents, but does not include substantive revisions for completing the Form I-9. Visit the USCIS website for more information regarding USCIS or the new Form I-9.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    On July 28, 2017, the Department of Treasury announced that it will be shutting down the my Retirement Account (myRA) program. The program was put in place by former President Barack Obama as a means to help those who did not have access to a retirement account at work to save for retirement.

    Jovita Carranza, the United States Treasurer, explained that the program is being discontinued because it cost too much compared to the demand for the accounts.

    For more information, please see the Department of Treasury’s myRA press release announcement.

     

     

     

  • Workers’ Compensation Audit Checklist

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    This document provides a list of important items that business owners should do before, during and after a workers’ compensation audit. Download Here. 

  • Educating Employees on Voluntary Benefits

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    Offering voluntary benefits is a great way to enhance your benefits package, differentiate from competitors and increase employee satisfaction—all with little impact on your budget. But while employers may choose to offer numerous types of voluntary benefits that can deliver convenience and value for employees, many employees do not understand the advantages of these voluntary benefit options or are unclear how they work. Educate your employees on the advantages of these voluntary benefits so that you both reap the rewards.

    Demonstrate the Value

    When compared to employer-sponsored benefits, many employees may fail to see the value of voluntary benefits that they must personally finance. For example, one perk to voluntary benefits is that purchasing insurance through an employer group is often cheaper than buying individually, yet research shows that few employees are aware of this. When promoting your voluntary benefit options, discuss the benefits of having coverage, the risks of going without, and emphasize the convenience and value of purchasing through the company and paying through payroll deductions.

    Coverage Education

    It is important that employees fully understand their policy so that a misunderstanding does not lead to resentment toward the employer. For instance, if a consumer does not completely understand the nuances of property-casualty insurance and believes herself to be covered, it will come as a shock and possibly with misdirected frustration in the event of a major loss.

    When offering any benefit option, employer-paid or voluntary, you should be sure your employees understand exactly how the coverage works. Here are a few ways to make sure your employees are sufficiently educated about their benefits:

    • Invite current employees to the monthly or quarterly benefits meetings provided for newly hired individuals.
    • Many voluntary benefits providers are willing to send a representative to discuss their coverage with employees.
    • While most benefits administrators don’t have time to meet individually with employees, consider scheduling small-group meetings with a few employees who have questions.
    • Enhance your existing benefits communication program with social media. Social media provides a convenient and effective way to reach out to your employees with educational information, tips and reminders.

    Employer Advantage

    In addition to boosting participation in your voluntary benefits programs, providing this meaningful education can position you as a valuable source of knowledge and strengthen employee satisfaction and loyalty to your company.

    Talk to your The Unland Companies representative to learn more about available social media and employee benefit communication resources.      

  • 2017 Cyber Risk Survey

    By in Blog on

    Cyber attacks are becoming more common and more sophisticated, making cyber insurance a necessity. The 2017 Cyber Risk Survey provides a look at the current state of cyber coverage as well as the common exposures that businesses face. Click here to download.

  • 8 Ways to Improve Your Culture

    By in Blog on

    1. Recognize and reward valuable employee contributions.

    According to Deloitte, the top 20 percent of companies with a recognition-based culture have a 31 percent lower turnover rate. Fifty percent of workers surveyed by CareerBuilder believe that recognition is a factor that drives retention. To effectively implement a rewards-rich work environment, be sure to do the following:

    • Identify specific behaviors and/or results aligned with your company’s values. Recognize those behaviors as frequently as possible.
    • Make it easy for everyone at your company to recognize and reward co-workers’ behaviors. Often, peer-to-peer recognition is the most effective way to infuse recognition into your culture.

    2. Encourage employee autonomy.

    It’s no secret that micromanaging your employees rarely produces favorable outcomes. Trusting your employees to manage their responsibilities on their own is not as simple as it sounds, though. Some simple, yet effective ways to inspire employee autonomy include the following:

    • Establishing autonomous work groups
    • Reining in bosses or co-workers who tend to hover over others
    • Creating decision-making opportunities

    3. Incorporate flexibility into your organization.

    Workplace flexibility can improve morale and reduce turnover. In fact, 51 percent of workers surveyed by CareerBuilder believe that a flexible schedule is a factor that significantly drives retention. Workplace flexibility programs are up to the organization’s discretion, but common ways flexibility is demonstrated include the following:

    • Telecommuting (work from home) opportunities
    • Flexible scheduling opportunities
    • Paid time off (PTO) policies

    4. Provide regular and timely feedback.

    Once-a-year feedback is a thing of the past. Younger generations thrive in environments where they know exactly how they are doing. Continuous, meaningful feedback provides employees with the tools they need to improve and grow. Opportunities to provide feedback outside of performance reviews could include the following:

    • Monthly or semi-monthly check-ins between a supervisor and employee
    • Peer-to-peer weekly check-ins
    • Mentoring programs

    5. Embrace workplace transparency.

    Trust is the foundation of a great company culture. Transparency can improve employees’ trust of upper management, give employees insight into a company’s operations and future, and improve cross-departmental collaboration. One way to improve your organization’s transparency is to share both the successes and challenges your organization and its employees face with everyone.

    Another way to improve the transparency in your organization is to implement modern communication and collaboration tools. These tools make it easy for your employees to connect with one another and share crucial information. Listed below are popular tools used by other companies for chat and collaboration, video conferencing and project management purposes.

    • Chat and collaboration
      • Yammer
      • HipChat
      • Google Apps for Business
    • Video conferencing
      • Skype
      • Google Hangout
    • Project management
      • Jira
      • Trello

    6. Promote strong professional co-worker relationships.

    According to the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, when individuals identify with and are invested in professional relationships with their colleagues, workplace productivity increases, employee morale increases and burnout levels decrease. However, building strong relationships takes time and effort. To help your employees, consider the following suggestions:

    • Encourage collaboration and peer-to-peer work.
    • Create “collision points” in your office. Collision points include areas like a communal coffee station or cafeteria.
    • Host events. No matter how small (think: team happy hour) or large (think: corporate outing), employer-sponsored events are a great way for employees to interact with peers that they normally would not on an average day.

    7. Create a mentoring program.

    Providing employees with professional development opportunities is a low-cost retention tool and a simple way to improve employee engagement and your company culture. A mentor is an individual in the workplace who shares his or her knowledge and expertise to help another employee grow professionally. Some companies use group mentoring, third-party mentoring or reverse mentoring, while others use peer mentoring, flash mentoring or one-to-one pair mentoring.

    Mentoring programs provide benefits to all parties involved. Benefits include the following:

    • Skill development. Mentors teach mentees the skills and qualities necessary for success. Mentoring provides mentors with the opportunity to develop their communication and leadership skills.
    • Improved networking and teamwork. Mentoring allows employees to build a professional relationship over a period of time and teaches them about the value of networking. This also instills a sense of cooperation and teamwork at your company.

    8. Improve your “soft” benefits offerings.

    There are a variety of employer-sponsored programs that encourage employee engagement, increase employee morale and attract new talent. Workplace flexibility is a highly effective benefits offering. Other top benefits to offer are listed below.

    • Wellness incentives
      • Subsidize gym memberships.
      • Provide healthier food and beverage choices.
      • Sponsor company sports teams.
    • Trendy, new voluntary benefits
      • Identity theft protection
      • Student loan repayment programs
      • Financial counseling services
      • Pet insurance
      • Discount programs
    • Child care benefits
      • On-site child care
    • Fringe benefits
      • Company-provided beverages and food

    A great company culture attracts the best workers, increases retention and improves employee performance. These eight suggestions can positively impact your existing or new company culture.

  • House Republicans Release Details of their ACA Replacement

    By in Blog on

    The Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land…
    BUT here are the changes that the House of Representatives just passed. Now it is up to the Senate …
    Keeping you informed is an important part of what we do.

    From the Desk of Larry Grudzien, Attorney at Law

    House Republicans Release Details of their ACA Replacement

    MAY 5, 2017 – Yesterday, the House Republicans released a summary of their replacement to the Affordable Care Act. It is called the American Health Care Act (the “Act”).

    Please find below a link to this section-by- section summary of the Act This official summary incorporates changes to an earlier version of the bill (the changes being popularly known as the MacArthur Amendment and the Upton Amendment).

    https://benefitslink.com/src/legislation/AHCA-Section-by-Section-Summary.pdf

    If you have any comments or questions regarding any of the above information, please do not hesitate to call me at (708) 717-9638 or e-mail me at larry@larrygrudzien.com.

    Thank-You,

    Larry Grudzien
    Attorney-At-Law

  • Healthcare and the Small Business Owner

    By in Blog on

    Healthcare and the Small Business Owner:  Two Keys

    Coffee shopSince Jan. 1, 2014, Americans have been required under federal law to purchase health insurance. Every employee of a small business in 2014 had to either maintain health insurance or pay a fine equivalent to 1 percent of his or her income, above the tax-filing threshold. In 2015 that penalty will jump to 2 percent of adjusted gross income. Open enrollment runs from Nov. 15 through Feb. 15 and is the time during which health insurance companies and HMOs are required by law to accept applicants without regard to health history. So how does this new healthcare landscape affect small business owners? There are two main things small business owners should know.

    1. Businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees are not required to offer health insurance.

    However, any small business with 50 to 99 full-time employees will have until 2016 to begin offering health insurance to 95 percent of their full-time employees or pay a fine. These businesses must still carefully track employee’s hours and report information to the IRS beginning in 2015. The timeline is accelerated for business with 100 or more full-time equivalent employees. These businesses must offer affordable health insurance to at least 70 percent of their full-time employees beginning in 2015 or pay a fine. That number increases to 95 percent in 2016.

    2. There is no one size fits all for offering health insurance to employees.

    Because each employer’s circumstances are different, owners should explore all options available—from providing group health plans to contributing defined dollar amounts to their employees monthly.

    For small business not offering group health plans, Unland Insurance has developed the Smart Choices™ Marketplace. The Smart Choices™ Marketplace is a health insurance exchange where individuals can compare plans, select and apply for health insurance in a simple, stress free and intuitive online hub. This new health insurance exchange offers plenty of choices without overwhelming shoppers, and can help your employees find the right health insurance in as little as 12 minutes. Furthermore, because it’s not affiliated with any specific carrier, employees will be able to choose between well-known national and regional health insurance companies, as well as insurance plans on the public exchange.

    Time is running out for employees to select their 2015 health insurance plan. Contact us today, or visit the Smart Choices Marketplace.

  • Are you fully prepared for new ACA form requirements?

    By in Blog on

    There’s a big new change this year that may take many people by surprise.

    Changes associated with the Affordable Care Act mean that most taxpayers will receive unfamiliar tax forms this year: either form 1095-A, 1095-B or 1095-C.

    Confused by the difference?

    • Form 1095-A is a form sent by the Health Insurance Marketplace to individuals who enrolled in coverage there. The deadline for the Marketplace to complete that form is Feb. 1, and anyone who expecting to receive this form should wait to file their 2015 income taxes until they receive this form from the Marketplace.
    • Form 1095-B is a form sent by health insurance providers to the individuals they cover. The deadline to provide this form has been extended to March 31. Individual taxpayers will generally be able to file their returns as they normally would.
    • Form 1095-C is a form sent by certain employers, especially employers that offer “self-insured coverage.” The deadline to provide this form has been extended to March 31. Individual taxpayers will generally be able to file their returns as they normally would.

    Do you need further information about the ACA and the new 1095 forms, or do you need help providing the 1095 to your employees?

    Contact your Unland agent or account manager  for assistance.

    Do you need help explaining the 1095 to your employees?

    Because this form is new, many employees will not be expecting to receive it and may not understand its importance. Unland has a sample letter you can customize for your employees.

  • Featured Communications Digest for the Week

    By in Blog on

    Workers’ Compensation Audit Checklist

    This document provides a list of important items that business owners should do before, during and after a workers’ compensation audit. Download Here. 


    Educating Employees on Voluntary Benefits

    Offering voluntary benefits is a great way to enhance your benefits package, differentiate from competitors and increase employee satisfaction—all with little impact on your budget. But while employers may choose to offer numerous types of voluntary benefits that can deliver convenience and value for employees, many employees do not understand the advantages of these voluntary benefit options or are unclear how they work. Educate your employees on the advantages of these voluntary benefits so that you both reap the rewards.

    Demonstrate the Value

    When compared to employer-sponsored benefits, many employees may fail to see the value of voluntary benefits that they must personally finance. For example, one perk to voluntary benefits is that purchasing insurance through an employer group is often cheaper than buying individually, yet research shows that few employees are aware of this. When promoting your voluntary benefit options, discuss the benefits of having coverage, the risks of going without, and emphasize the convenience and value of purchasing through the company and paying through payroll deductions.

    Coverage Education

    It is important that employees fully understand their policy so that a misunderstanding does not lead to resentment toward the employer. For instance, if a consumer does not completely understand the nuances of property-casualty insurance and believes herself to be covered, it will come as a shock and possibly with misdirected frustration in the event of a major loss.

    When offering any benefit option, employer-paid or voluntary, you should be sure your employees understand exactly how the coverage works. Here are a few ways to make sure your employees are sufficiently educated about their benefits:

    • Invite current employees to the monthly or quarterly benefits meetings provided for newly hired individuals.
    • Many voluntary benefits providers are willing to send a representative to discuss their coverage with employees.
    • While most benefits administrators don’t have time to meet individually with employees, consider scheduling small-group meetings with a few employees who have questions.
    • Enhance your existing benefits communication program with social media. Social media provides a convenient and effective way to reach out to your employees with educational information, tips and reminders.

    Employer Advantage

    In addition to boosting participation in your voluntary benefits programs, providing this meaningful education can position you as a valuable source of knowledge and strengthen employee satisfaction and loyalty to your company.

    Talk to your The Unland Companies representative to learn more about available social media and employee benefit communication resources.      


    2017 Cyber Risk Survey

    Cyber attacks are becoming more common and more sophisticated, making cyber insurance a necessity. The 2017 Cyber Risk Survey provides a look at the current state of cyber coverage as well as the common exposures that businesses face. Click here to download.


    8 Ways to Improve Your Culture

    1.     Recognize and reward valuable employee contributions. According to Deloitte, the top 20 percent of companies with a recognition-based culture have a 31 percent lower turnover rate. Fifty percent of workers surveyed by CareerBuilder believe that recognition is a factor that drives retention. To effectively implement a rewards-rich work environment, be sure to do the following:

    • Identify specific behaviors and/or results aligned with your company’s values. Recognize those behaviors as frequently as possible.
    • Make it easy for everyone at your company to recognize and reward co-workers’ behaviors. Often, peer-to-peer recognition is the most effective way to infuse recognition into your culture.

    2.     Encourage employee autonomy. It’s no secret that micromanaging your employees rarely produces favorable outcomes. Trusting your employees to manage their responsibilities on their own is not as simple as it sounds, though. Some simple, yet effective ways to inspire employee autonomy include the following:

    •  Establishing autonomous work groups
    •  Reining in bosses or co-workers who tend to hover over others
    •  Creating decision-making opportunities

    3.     Incorporate flexibility into your organization. Workplace flexibility can improve morale and reduce turnover. In fact, 51 percent of workers surveyed by CareerBuilder believe that a flexible schedule is a factor that significantly drives retention. Workplace flexibility programs are up to the organization’s discretion, but common ways flexibility is demonstrated include the following:

    • Telecommuting (work from home) opportunities
    • Flexible scheduling opportunities
    • Paid time off (PTO) policies

    4.     Provide regular and timely feedback. Once-a-year feedback is a thing of the past. Younger generations thrive in environments where they know exactly how they are doing. Continuous, meaningful feedback provides employees with the tools they need to improve and grow. Opportunities to provide feedback outside of performance reviews could include the following:

    • Monthly or semi-monthly check-ins between a supervisor and employee
    • Peer-to-peer weekly check-ins
    • Mentoring programs

    5.     Embrace workplace transparency. Trust is the foundation of a great company culture. Transparency can improve employees’ trust of upper management, give employees insight into a company’s operations and future, and improve cross-departmental collaboration. One way to improve your organization’s transparency is to share both the successes and challenges your organization and its employees face with everyone.

    Another way to improve the transparency in your organization is to implement modern communication and collaboration tools. These tools make it easy for your employees to connect with one another and share crucial information. Listed below are popular tools used by other companies for chat and collaboration, video conferencing and project management purposes.

    ·        Chat and collaboration

    o   Yammer

    o   HipChat

    o   Google Apps for Business

    ·       Video conferencing

    o   Skype

    o   Google Hangout

    ·       Project management

    o   Jira

    o   Trello

    6.     Promote strong professional co-worker relationships. According to the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, when individuals identify with and are invested in professional relationships with their colleagues, workplace productivity increases, employee morale increases and burnout levels decrease. However, building strong relationships takes time and effort. To help your employees, consider the following suggestions:

    • Encourage collaboration and peer-to-peer work.
    • Create “collision points” in your office. Collision points include areas like a communal coffee station or cafeteria.
    • Host events. No matter how small (think: team happy hour) or large (think: corporate outing), employer-sponsored events are a great way for employees to interact with peers that they normally would not on an average day.

    7.     Create a mentoring program. Providing employees with professional development opportunities is a low-cost retention tool and a simple way to improve employee engagement and your company culture. A mentor is an individual in the workplace who shares his or her knowledge and expertise to help another employee grow professionally. Some companies use group mentoring, third-party mentoring or reverse mentoring, while others use peer mentoring, flash mentoring or one-to-one pair mentoring.

    Mentoring programs provide benefits to all parties involved. Benefits include the following:

    • Skill development. Mentors teach mentees the skills and qualities necessary for success. Mentoring provides mentors with the opportunity to develop their communication and leadership skills.
    • Improved networking and teamwork. Mentoring allows employees to build a professional relationship over a period of time and teaches them about the value of networking. This also instills a sense of cooperation and teamwork at your company.

    8.     Improve your “soft” benefits offerings. There are a variety of employer-sponsored programs that encourage employee engagement, increase employee morale and attract new talent. Workplace flexibility is a highly effective benefits offering. Other top benefits to offer are listed below.

    ·       Wellness incentives

    o   Subsidize gym memberships.

    o   Provide healthier food and beverage choices.

    o   Sponsor company sports teams.

    ·       Trendy, new voluntary benefits

    o   Identity theft protection

    o   Student loan repayment programs

    o   Financial counseling services

    o   Pet insurance

    o   Discount programs

    ·       Child care benefits

    o   On-site child care

    ·       Fringe benefits

    o   Company-provided beverages and food

    A great company culture attracts the best workers, increases retention and improves employee performance. These eight suggestions can positively impact your existing or new company culture.


  • Strong Leadership, Changing Roles

    By in Blog on

    Strong Leadership, Changing Roles

    Effective January 1, 2016, The Unland Companies continues to build upon its strong leadership, with some of the senior management changing roles.  Although duties may have expanded or changed slightly with some variation in titles, the shifts will be seamless for both customers and employees.

    Afton Booth, CIC, CSRM, has become Chairman of the Board. The former President, Afton has been with The Unland Companies for over 35 years in various capacities, including sales, sales management, Vice President and President. Afton is continuing his long-term client relationships, while developing new business opportunities, mentoring existing agents and reaching out to the marketplace for acquisition possibilities that will assist with our non-organic growth plans. Afton is accessible in both the Pekin and East Peoria offices.

    Patrick Taphorn, CIC, CSRM, has become President.  A 25-year employee and the former Vice President, Pat has excelled in insurance sales and management. His experience and proven accomplishments with the Unland sales force and other senior management equips him for this leadership position. Pat continues to oversee the growth and success that The Unland Companies has experienced over the last 75 years, while taking on some of the administrative tasks previously handled by Afton Booth.

    Bill Shock, CBC, continues as Executive Vice President, but takes on more administrative duties while helping to ensure Pat’s shift is a smooth one. Bill joined forces with The Unland Companies in July of 1989, but also owned and operated The Shock Agency prior to that time. Bill continues his oversight of the Personal Lines Division and Benefits Division for the agency, including assisting and guiding current and future clients toward Affordable Health Insurance products during this challenging era of Healthcare Reform.

    Nate Rugaard, CIC, has become Vice President.  Nate has been with the agency since 2013 and has demonstrated a very high level of success in enhancing his technical knowledge of industry policies and risk management while developing a solid client base in which to impart that expertise.  Nate will take over Pat’s responsibilities, wherein he will oversee the existing sales force and develop new talent, while monitoring the overall production for the agency.

    “The Unland Companies has been a long-time insurance partner in Central Illinois over the last 75 years. Our employees are exceptional in what they do for our clients, and this service will not change. The shifts in titles and subsequent duties assigned those individuals will position the company very well for further growth, enhancing both our commercial and personal product expertise while expanding our geographic reach. This natural succession will assure that The Unland Companies remains a leader in the insurance industry here in Central Illinois,” Pat shared. “It’s an honor to continue the great work Afton has already begun, and I look forward to working even more closely with Bill, who continues to play a key role in the company’s growth. We are fortunate to have such respected leaders who have selflessly contributed to the company’s vision, along with dedicated, professional employees who have helped to create the superior service The Unland Companies provides to our many clients.”

    An employee-owned company, The Unland Companies is a full-service, independent insurance agency providing broad personal and commercial insurance coverage, human resource services and financial services at an affordable cost, backed by superior service. For additional information, contact us to speak to a representative.

  • Affordable Care Act

    By in Blog on

    Healthcare has seen many changes over the decades – none more significant than the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Unfortunately, the ACA hasn’t gone off without a hitch, least of all for small business owners.

    How is the Affordable Care Act affecting small business owners?

    Since its creation, new tax penalties have been brought into action by the ACA in an effort to enforce compliance. However, these penalties are still largely unknown and greatly misunderstood, even by small business tax advisors. This poses a serious problem for small business owners seeking to be compliant with new laws when they file their 2014/2015 federal income tax returns. Even more unfortunately, several insurance firms are even taking advantage of the situation, marketing non-compliant solutions and products through online media, resulting in more unnecessary penalties for small business owners.

    Why are there so many penalties during this transition?

    While it’s a safe conclusion that the Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service have failed to effectively communicate the details of new ACA laws, the IRS believes that enforcing tax penalties is the best way to increase communication and compliance.

    What happens if I unknowingly fail to comply?

    While the tax penalties are generally severe for compliance failure, the law contains provisions for small businesses that do so unintentionally. The first tax penalties will be addressed in spring 2015 as business owners begin to file their 2014 returns.

    What are the most common ACA compliance failures?

    Among the most common compliance errors are:

    1. Reimbursing expenses paid out-of-pocket when the employee is not on employer group health insurance – this is an error rumored to affect more than a million small businesses.
    2. Using non-qualifying “skinny insurance” or “mini-med” insurance – This type of insurance will eliminate one excise tax penalty but not the other. This point only applies to businesses with over 50 employees. This type of insurance eliminates one type of excise tax penalty but not the other type of penalty.
    3. Expecting repeal of ACA or significant future changes – small businesses can’t rely on the news and opinions to run a business.
    4. Paying employees for or reimbursing individual health insurance – rarely should an employer have connection to individual insurance purchased through an exchange or direct from an insurance company.
    5. Not maintaining written documentation of health plans – employees are required to provide some health plan documents and notifications in writing for employees, and employers should maintain of their delivery.

    Are there any resources to assist in compliance?

    Fortunately, small business compliance is as simple as following a checklist. Download the ACA Compliance Checklist and use it as you file your return. As long as you can check off each item, you should be penalty free in 2015.

    More questions about ACA compliance? Contact Bill Schock at bshock@unland.com, and find out how your small business can be compliant in 2015.

    Sections 6055 and 6056 Forms Matrix

  • New Local Health Plan for Small Businesses

    By in Blog on

    New Local Health Plan for Small Businesses

     

     

     

    On January 1, 2015, Pekin Hospital and Pekin Insurance® formed a partnership to create a local health plan to serve the health care needs of their employees. This plan is now available to all local businesses with less than 100 employees!

    Why a local health plan?

    Pekin Hospital and Progressive Health Network have over 300 credentialed physicians and specialists and can provide more than 80% of all necessary health care services.

    Pekin Hospital is an award-winning community hospital.

    Pekin Insurance is a highly rated health insurance provider ranking in the top 15% of Life and Health insurance companies nationwide based on premiums written and rated at A- (Excellent) by A.M. Best.

    The goal—create a health plan that: 

    Delivers excellent value to employees by reducing out-of-pocket expenses through lower deductibles and copays (and meets all Affordable Care Act requirements).

    Provides greater access to both primary care providers as well as specialists.

    Offers the combined management expertise of medical professionals through Pekin Hospital and insurance professionals through Pekin Insurance.

    How does the plan work?

    The plan offers access to providers based upon a three (3) tiered platform:

    Tier 1 – Pekin Hospital and Progressive Health Network—This tier offers the lowest deductibles, copays, and overall out-of-pocket.

    Tier 2 – Unity Point Health Methodist—Services provided at this level are still paid using the lowest deductibles and copays as long as the service is NOT available from a tier 1 provider.

    Tier 3 – Out-of-Network—Services provided via this tier will receive the highest deductibles, copays, and overall out-of-pocket expenses.

    For more information on the plan or to inquire about an insurance quote, please contact Jennifer Gray, Network Coordinator at Pekin Hospital, at 309-353-0444 or jgray@pekinhospital.com. Jennifer will be happy to answer any questions you may have and to put you in touch with a local Pekin Insurance agency.

    This plan is a win—for your business, your employees, your budget, and your community!

  • Affordable Care Act – What’s Next?

    By in Blog on

    If you missed our E2E seminar – “Affordable Care Act – What’s Next?” – be sure to watch the videos of our speakers:

    Erik Christian, Principal Consultant, HR Fit

    HR Best Practice and Compliance Changes
    How to Manage and Implement Changes for Your Workplace

    Erik Christian, Principal Consultant, HR Fit, has a wealth of experience working with private, public and non-profit employers on improving their core HR functions.

    James Slotnick, JD, AVP, Advanced Markets and Broker Education, Sun Life Financial

    What changes are likely?
    How might it affect employers?
    When might we expect the changes to be announced?

    Other thoughts pursuant to national health care and employer sponsored benefits James Slotnick, JD, AVP, Advanced Markets and Broker Education, Sun Life Financial, has been helping employee benefit brokers, financial advisors, and the end consumer understand the ever-changing insurance industry for more than a decade.

    Mike Reier, CEO, Benovate Holdings

    Mike Reier, CEO, Benovate Holdings, brought his 25 years of experience as an entrepreneurial, sales, and technology sector leader to us over a working lunch. Mike works with more than 130 Reier Group clients as a change agent, helping organizations effectively develop, assess and deploy marketing and sales solutions to help drive revenue growth.

    Larry Grudzien, JD, LLM, Benefit Attorney

    PPACA’s current and future points of guidance and compliance
    Reporting and planning opportunities
    Wellness and self-funding planning opportunities
    State Insurance Exchanges – Future?
    Private Insurance Exchanges – Future?
    Community Based Rating – Will it go away?

    Larry Grudzien, JD, LLM, Benefit Attorney, is an attorney practicing exclusively in the field of employee benefits. He has experience in dealing with qualified plans, health and welfare, fringe benefits and executive compensation areas.

    Bob Thomas, Vice President, Resourcing Edge

    The PEO Solution

    Bob Thomas has been with Resourcing Edge for three years and serves as the Vice President of Resourcing Edge and in that capacity has oversight of the Benefits Department and Strategic Partnerships with Agencies and Brokers. Resourcing Edge is a full service provider of Payroll, Employee Benefits, and HR solutions.

  • Employer Reporting of Health Coverage

    By in Blog on

    Employer Reporting of Health Coverage—Code Sections 6055 & 6056

    The Affordable Care Act (ACA) created new reporting requirements under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Sections 6055 and 6056. Under these new reporting rules, certain employers must provide information to the IRS about the health plan coverage they offer (or do not offer) to their employees. The additional reporting is intended to promote transparency with respect to health plan coverage and costs. It will also provide the government with information to administer other ACA mandates, such as the large employer shared responsibility penalty and the individual mandate.

    Overview

    Type of Reporting

    Affected Employers

    Required Information

    Effective Date

    Code §6055—Reporting of health coverage by health insurance issuers and sponsors of self-insured plans Employers with self-insured health plans Information on each individual provided with coverage (helps the IRS administer the ACA’s individual mandate)

    Delayed until 2015

    The first returns will be due in 2016 for coverage provided in 2015

    Code §6056—Applicable large employer (ALE) health coverage reporting Applicable large employers (those with at least 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalents) Terms and conditions of health plan coverage offered to full-time employees (helps the IRS administer the ACA’s employer shared responsibility penalty)

     

    Guidance

    On March 5, 2014, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released two final rules on these reporting requirements, which apply for calendar years beginning after Dec. 31, 2014. This date reflects a one-year delay provided in IRS Notice 2013-45. However, the IRS is encouraging voluntary compliance for 2014. The IRS also released Q&As on Section 6055 and Q&As on Section 6056, which were updated in May 2015. In addition, the IRS released a separate set of Q&As on Employer Reporting using Form 1094-C and Form 1095-C, on May 28, 2015.

    On Feb. 8, 2015, the IRS released final versions of forms and instructions that employers will use to report under Sections 6055 and 6056 for 2014. These forms are not required to be filed for 2014, but reporting entities may voluntarily file them in 2015 for 2014 coverage.

    On Sept. 17, 2015, the IRS released the following final 2015 versions of the forms and instructions that employers will use to report under Sections 6055 and 6056. On the same day, the IRS issued Notice 2015-68 to provide additional guidance for purposes of Section 6055 reporting.

    • Form 1094-B and Form 1095-B (and related instructions) will be used by entities reporting under Section 6055, including sponsors of self-insured group health plans that are not reporting as ALEs.
    • Form 1094-C and Form 1095-C (and related instructions) will be used by ALEs that are reporting under Section 6056, and for combined reporting by ALEs that sponsor self-insured plans required to report under both Sections 6055 and 6056.

    The 2015 final forms remained unchanged from the 2015 draft versions. The 2015 final instructions were also largely unchanged from the 2015 draft versions, but provide clarifications on some questions. The final instructions also contain the following key provisions:

    • Extensions of time to file returns with the IRS and furnish statements to individuals (finalized from draft versions);
    • A process to obtain waivers from the electronic filing requirement (finalized from draft versions); and
    • Relief from separate Section 6055 reporting for many health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) (clarified from prior guidance and draft versions).

    Also, on June 29, 2015, President Obama signed the Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015 into law, which increases the penalties for failure to file correct information returns or provide individual statements under either Section 6055 or Section 6056. These changes are effective for information returns and individual statements required to be filed or provided after Dec. 31, 2015.

    Filing Requirements

    Under both Sections 6055 and 6056, each reporting entity will be required to file all of the following with the IRS:

    • A separate statement for each individual who is provided minimum essential coverage (MEC) (for ALEs, this includes only full-time employees); and
    • A single transmittal form for all of the returns filed for a given calendar year.

    Under Code Section 6055, reporting entities will generally file Forms 1094-B (a transmittal) and 1095-B (an information return). Under Code Section 6056, entities will file Forms 1094-C (a transmittal) and 1095-C (an information return) for each full-time employee for any month. Entities that are reporting under both Sections 6055 and 6056 will file using a combined reporting method, using Form 1094-C and Form 1095-C.

    ALEs that sponsor self-insured plans

    ALEs that sponsor insured plans

    Non-ALEs that sponsor self-insured plans

    Non-ALEs that sponsor insured plans

    Complete:

    Form 1094-C

    Both sections of Form 1095-C

    Complete:

    Form 1094-C

    The section of Form 1095-C addressing the information under Section 6056

    File:

    Form 1094-B

    Form 1095-B

    These employers are not required to report under either Section 6055 or Section 6056.

    To report:

    (1)  Information under Section 6055 about health coverage provided; and

    (2)  Information under Section 6056 about offers of health coverage.

    To satisfy the Section 6056 reporting requirements. These employers are not required to report under Section 6055. To satisfy the Section 6055 reporting requirements. These employers are not required to report under Section 6056.

     

    Deadlines for Filing with the IRS and Furnishing Statements to Individuals

    The Code Sections 6055 and 6056 reporting requirements were set to take effect in 2014. However, on July 2, 2013, the Treasury announced that employers will have an additional year to comply with these health plan reporting requirements. Thus, the Code Sections 6055 and 6056 reporting requirements become effective in 2015. The first returns will be due in 2016 for coverage provided in 2015.

    On July 9, 2013, the IRS issued Notice 2013-45 to provide transition relief for 2014 for Code Sections 6055 and 6056. Under the transition relief, employers are encouraged to voluntarily comply with the reporting requirements for 2014 (that is, by filing and furnishing Section 6056 returns and statements in early 2015). However, compliance is optional for 2014 and no penalties will be applied for failing to comply.

    Deadlines for Filing with the IRS

    Forms must be filed with the IRS annually, no later than Feb. 28 (March 31, if filed electronically) of the year following the calendar year to which the return relates. Due to the one-year delay, the first returns required to be filed are for the 2015 calendar year, and must be filed no later than Feb. 29, 2016 (Feb. 28, 2016, being a Sunday), or March 31, 2016, if filed electronically.

    Reporting entities may receive an automatic 30-day extension of time to file with the IRS by completing and filing Form 8809, Application for Extension of Time To File Information Returns, by the due date of the returns. The form may be submitted on paper, or through the FIRE System either as a fill-in form or an electronic file. No signature or explanation is required for the extension.

    Under certain hardship conditions, employers may also apply for an additional 30-day extension. See the instructions for Form 8809 for more information.

    Deadlines for Furnishing to Individuals

    Each reporting entity will also be required to furnish statements annually to individuals who are provided MEC (for ALEs, this includes only full-time employees) on or before Jan. 31 of the year immediately following the calendar year to which the statements relate. This means that the first statements (the statements for 2015) must be furnished no later than Feb. 1, 2016 (Jan. 31, 2016, being a Sunday). Extensions may be available in certain circumstances.

    The final rules do not allow an alternate filing date for employers with non-calendar year plans. Although employers may collect information on a plan year basis, employees will need to receive their individual statements early in the year in order to have the requisite information to correctly and completely file their income tax returns for that year.

    However, reporting entities may request an extension of time to furnish the statements to recipients by sending a letter to Internal Revenue Service, Information Returns Branch, Attn: Extension of Time Coordinator, 240 Murall Drive, Mail Stop 4360, Kearneysville, WV 25430. The letter must include:

    • The filer’s name, TIN and address;
    • The type of return;
    • A statement that extension request is for providing statements to recipients;
    • A reason for delay; and
    • The signature of the filer or authorized agent.

    A request must be postmarked by the date on which the statements are due to the recipients. If the request for an extension is approved, providers will generally be granted a maximum of 30 extra days to furnish the recipient statements.

    Manner of Filing and Furnishing

    Any reporting entity that is required to file at least 250 returns under Section 6055 or Section 6056 must file electronically. The 250-or-more requirement applies separately to each type of return and separately to each type of corrected return. Entities filing fewer than 250 returns during the calendar year may choose to file in paper form, but are permitted (and encouraged) to file electronically.

    Individual statements may also be furnished electronically if certain notice, consent and hardware and software requirements are met (similar to the process currently in place for the electronic furnishing of employee Forms W-2). The consent must specifically identify each form; an employee’s consent to receive a Form W-2 electronically may not be considered a consent to also receive the employee statement under Sections 6056 or 6056 electronically. It is not sufficient for an entity to simply post the information on a website accessible to the individual (similar to the current process for furnishing SBCs), or to provide the information only upon request.

    Electronic filing will be done using the ACA Information Returns (AIR) Program. Pub. 5165, Guide for Electronically Filing ACA Information Returns for Software Developers and Transmitters (Processing Year 2015) provides very detailed technical information regarding standards for software developers and transmitters that plan to facilitate this electronic reporting for calendar year 2015 through the AIR System. To develop software for use with the AIR system, software developers, transmitters and issuers (providers filing their own Forms 1094-B and 1095-B) should use the guidelines provided in Pub. 5165 along with the Extensible Markup Language (XML) Schemas published on IRS.gov.

    More information on the AIR Program is available on the IRS website. The AIR System is expected to be available for production in the fall of 2015.

    Waiver of the Electronic Reporting Requirement

    The 2015 instructions include a waiver from the requirement to file returns electronically. To receive a waiver, reporting entities must submit Form 8508, Request for Waiver From Filing Information Returns Electronically, at least 45 days before the due date of the returns. Reporting entities cannot apply for a waiver for more than one tax year at a time, and must reapply at the appropriate time for each year in which a waiver is required. Any approved waivers should be kept for the reporting entity’s records only. A copy of an approved waiver should not be sent to the service center where paper returns are filed.

    If a waiver for original returns is approved, any corrections for the same types of returns will be covered under the waiver. However, if original returns are submitted electronically, but the reporting entity wants to submit corrections on paper, a waiver must be approved for the corrections if the reporting entity must file 250 or more corrections.

    Without an approved waiver, a reporting entity that is required to file electronically but fails to do so may be subject to a penalty of up to $250 per return, unless it can establish reasonable cause. However, reporting entities can file up to 250 returns on paper; those returns will not be subject to a penalty for failure to file electronically.

    Applicable Large Employer Health Coverage Reporting (Code § 6056)

    Code Section 6056 requires applicable large employers (ALEs) subject to the ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules to file information returns with the IRS and provide statements to their full-time employees about the health insurance coverage the employer offered. The IRS will use the information provided on the information return to administer the ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules, which impose penalties on ALEs that do not offer affordable, minimum value coverage to their full-time employees and dependents.

    The ACA’s employer penalties were set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2014, but they have been delayed until 2015. The IRS and the ALE’s employees will use the information provided as part of the determination of whether an employee is eligible for a premium tax credit for coverage purchased through an Exchange under the ACA. On March 5, 2014, the IRS released a final rule on the Section 6056 reporting requirements, which finalizes proposed regulations issued on Sept. 5, 2013. Q&As on Section 6056 were also released in August 2014, and were updated in May 2015. A separate set of Q&As on using Form 1094-C and Form 1095-C were issued on May 28, 2015.

    The IRS released final 2014 versions of the following forms, along with related instructions, that employers will use to report under Section 6056, as well as for combined reporting by ALEs who report under both Sections 6055 and 6056:

    • Form 1094-C, Transmittal of Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage Information Return; and
    • Form 1095-C, Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage.

    These forms and instructions are 2014 versions only. These forms are not required to be filed for 2014, but reporting entities may voluntarily file them in 2015 for 2014 coverage.

    On Sept. 17, 2015, the IRS released final 2015 versions of Forms 1094-C and 1095-C, along with related instructions. The 2015 final forms remained unchanged from the 2015 draft versions. The 2015 final instructions were also largely unchanged from the 2015 draft versions, but provide clarifications on some questions. The following minor changes were included in the 2015 draft (and subsequent final) versions of the Forms:

    • Form 1095-C includes an additional field, titled “Plan Start Month.” This new field is optional for 2015, but will be required for 2016 and beyond. For 2015, ALEs can choose to: (1) Add this field and provide plan year information; (2) Add this field and enter “00”; or (3) Leave this new field out (thus using the 2014 format).
    • Form 1095-C includes a “Continuation Sheet” that filers will use if they need to report coverage information for more than six individuals.
    • Form 1094-C moved Line 19 (regarding the authoritative transmittal) to be included in Part I. Line 19 was previously included as the first line of Part II.
    • Form 1094-C allows information to be entered in the “All 12 months” box in Part III, column (b): Full-Time Employee Count for ALE Member (this box is no longer grayed).

    In addition, the IRS indicated that they intend to include two additional “Offer of Coverage” codes for 2016 and beyond. Although the “Offer of Coverage” codes will remain unchanged for 2015, the IRS plans to include these additional codes in 2016 and beyond that an employer would use, if applicable, to indicate that the employer’s offer of coverage to the spouse is a conditional offer.

    Affected Employers

    The Section 6056 reporting requirements apply to “applicable large employers” (ALEs) subject to the ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules. An ALE is an employer that employed an average of at least 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalents (FTEs), on business days during the preceding calendar year. Full-time employees are those employed, on average, at least 30 hours of service per week. Whether an employee qualifies as a full-time employee is determined under either the look-back measurement method or the monthly measurement method, as described in the employer shared responsibility final regulations.

    Section 6056 applies to all employers that are ALEs, regardless of whether coverage is offered to full-time employees, and regardless of the employer is a tax-exempt or government entity (including federal, state, local and Indian tribal governments). However, only ALEs with full-time employees are subject to the Section 6056 requirements (and only with respect to their full-time employees). Thus, ALEs without any full-time employees are not subject to the Section 6056 reporting requirements.

    Controlled Group Rules

    For purposes of the Section 6056 reporting requirements, related employers are treated as a single employer for determining employer size if they meet certain IRS criteria. Thus, all persons treated as a single employer under Code Sections 414(b), (c), (m) or (o) are combined and treated as a single employer for purposes of determining whether or not the employer has at least 50 full-time employees (including FTEs) and together will be an ALE (called an Aggregated ALE Group). When the combined total of full-time employees (including FTEs) meets the threshold, each separate company (or ALE member) is subject to the Section 6056 reporting requirements, even if any particular company individually does not employ enough employees to meet the 50-full-time-employee threshold.

    However, each ALE (and each member of a group of related companies that constitute an ALE) is responsible for its own reporting obligations. For purposes of the information reporting requirements under Section 6056, each ALE member must file an information return with the IRS and furnish a statement to its full-time employees, using its own employer identification number (EIN).

    Reporting for Medium-sized ALEs

    The employer shared responsibility final regulations included transition relief delaying compliance for medium-sized ALEs for one year, until 2016. Medium-sized ALEs are those with at least 50 full-time employees (including full-time equivalents), but fewer than 100 full-time employees (including full-time equivalents).

    ALEs eligible for this transition relief will still report under Section 6056 for 2015.

    As part of the transition relief from the employer shared responsibility rules for medium-sized ALEs, the ALE must certify by checking a box on its Section 6056 transmittal form (Form 1094-C) for calendar year 2015 (that is, for the Section 6056 transmittal form that will be filed in 2016) that it meets the following eligibility conditions:

    • The ALE employs a limited workforce of at least 50 full-time employees (including full-time equivalents), but fewer than 100 full-time employees (including full-time equivalents) on business days during 2014;
    • Between Feb. 9, 2014, and Dec. 31, 2014, the ALE does not reduce the size of its workforce or the overall hours of service of its employees in order to satisfy the workforce size condition; and
    • During the coverage maintenance period (that is, the period ending Dec. 31, 2015, or the last day of the plan year that begins in 2015), the ALE does not eliminate or materially reduce the health coverage, if any, it offered as of Feb. 9, 2014.

    ALEs with non-calendar year plans will also certify with regard to their 2015 plan year, including:

    • The months of their 2015 plan year that fall in calendar year 2015, on the Section 6056 transmittal form for 2015 (that is, the form that will be filed in 2016); and
    • The months of their 2015 plan year that fall in calendar year 2016, on the Section 6056 transmittal form for 2016 (that is, the form that will be filed in 2017).

    The IRS noted that the delay for medium-sized ALEs is solely for the employer for purposes of the employer shared responsibility rules, and does not affect the employee’s potential eligibility for the premium tax credit. Accordingly, regardless of whether the employer is eligible for this delay, the Form 1095-C for each full-time employee must accurately reflect the health coverage offered to that employee (if any) during that period, including, if applicable, the required employee contribution.

    Thus, reporting for medium-sized ALEs is not a simplified method of reporting.

    ALEs That Sponsor Self-Insured Plans

    ALEs that sponsor self-insured group health plans also are required to report information under Section 6055 about the health coverage they provide. The IRS and individuals will use the information provided under Section 6055 to administer the ACA’s individual mandate.

    These ALEs file with the IRS and furnish to employees the information required under both Sections 6055 and 6056 on a single form, using a combined reporting method. This combined reporting method is described in more detail below.

    Excluded Employers

    Employers that are not subject to the ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules are not required to report under Section 6056. Thus, employers that employed fewer than 50 full-time employees (including FTEs) during the prior year are not subject to the reporting requirements. However, any employer that sponsors a self-insured health plan is required to report under Section 6055, even if the employer has fewer than 50 full-time employees.

    Reporting Required for All Full-time Employees

    Under Section 6056, each ALE is required to report information about the health coverage, if any, offered to its full-time employees (and their dependents), including whether an offer of health coverage was (or was not) made. This requirement applies to all ALEs, regardless of whether they offered health coverage to all, none or some of their full-time employees. For each full-time employee, regardless of whether health coverage was offered to the employee, the ALE is required to file a return with the IRS and furnish a statement to the employee reporting:

    • Whether an offer of health coverage was or was not made to the employee; and
    •  If an offer was made, the required information about the offer.

    Therefore, even if an ALE does not offer coverage to any full-time employees, it must file returns with the IRS and furnish statements to each of its full-time employees to report information specifying that coverage was not offered.

    An ALE is not required to file a Form 1095-C for an individual who, for all months of a calendar year, is either not an employee of the ALE or is in a limited non-assessment period (for example, an employee who was hired mid-year and then was in an initial measurement period that continued into the following year). However, for the months in which the employee was an employee of the ALE, he or she would be included in the total employee count reported on Form 1094-C. Also, if the employee enrolled in self-insured employer-sponsored coverage during the limited non-assessment period, the ALE must file a Form 1095-C for the employee to report coverage information for the year.

    Information Required to Be Reported on the IRS Return

    The ALE’s return filed with the IRS must include the following information:

    • The ALE’s name, address and employer identification number (EIN);
    • The name and telephone number of the ALE’s contact person;
    • A certification of whether the ALE offered to its full-time employees (and their dependents) the opportunity to enroll in minimum essential coverage (MEC) under an eligible employer-sponsored plan, by calendar month;
    • The months during the calendar year for which MEC under the plan was available;
    • Each full-time employee’s share of the lowest cost monthly premium for self-only coverage providing minimum value offered to that employee under an eligible employer-sponsored plan, by calendar month;
    • The number of full-time employees for each month during the calendar year;The name, address (including country code) and Social Security number (SSN) or other taxpayer identification number (TIN) of each full-time employee during the calendar year and the months (if any) during which the employee was covered under the eligible employer-sponsored plan during the calendar year; and
    • Any other information required by the IRS.

    Most employer-sponsored health plans will qualify as MEC. The ACA broadly defines MEC to include both insured and self-insured group health plans, as well as plans with grandfathered status under the ACA. However, MEC does not include specialized coverage, such as coverage only for vision care or dental care, workers’ compensation, disability policies or coverage only for a specific disease or condition.

    Each ALE will also have to report the name, address and EIN of any third party reporting on behalf of the ALE and whether the ALE is a member of an Aggregated ALE Group. The final regulations do not require employers to report whether they expect to be an ALE the following year. Some of the information will be provided through the use of indicator codes, rather than detailed explanations or summaries. If multiple codes apply with respect to a full-time employee for a particular calendar month, the reporting format will accommodate the necessary codes.

    Information Required to Be Reported on the Employee Statement

    An ALE generally must furnish to each full-time employee a written statement showing the ALE’s name, address and EIN, and the information required to be shown on the Section 6056 return with respect to the full-time employee (and his or her spouse and dependents).

    Employers may truncate the TIN or SSN of an employee (or any family member of the employee receiving coverage) on any Form 1095-C statements furnished to employees, by showing only the last four digits of the TIN or SSN and replacing the first five digits with asterisks or Xs. Truncation is not allowed on forms filed with the IRS. In addition, an employer’s EIN may not be truncated on any forms filed with the IRS or provided to individuals.

    Methods of Reporting

    The final rule provides:

    • A general method that all ALEs may use for filing forms with the IRS and furnishing statements to full-time employees; and
    • Two alternative reporting methods for eligible ALEs.

    If an ALE cannot use an alternative reporting method for certain employees, the ALE must use the general method for those employees. In any case, the alternative reporting methods are optional, so that an employer may choose to report for all of its full-time employees using the general method even if an alternative reporting method is available.

    General Reporting Method

    As a general method, each ALE may satisfy the requirement to file a Section 6056 return with the IRS by filing:

    • A transmittal on Form 1094-C for all of the returns filed for a given calendar year; and
    • A separate employee statement on Form 1095-C for each full-time employee.

    Substitute forms may be used, as long as they include all of the required information and comply with IRS procedures or other applicable guidance. Entities using substitute forms instead of the official IRS versions may develop substitute forms themselves or buy them from a private printer. Publication 5223, General Rules & Specifications for Substitute ACA Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and 1095-C and Certain Other Information, explains the requirements for the format and content of substitute statements to recipients. Only forms that conform to the official form and the specifications in Publication 5223 are acceptable for filing with the IRS. Employers may not request special consideration.

    An ALE that maintains a self-insured plan also uses Form 1095-C to satisfy the reporting requirements under Section 6055. The Form 1095-C has separate sections to allow ALEs that sponsor self-insured plans to combine reporting to satisfy both the Section 6055 and 6056 reporting requirements, as applicable, on a single return. More information on combined reporting is available in the “Combined Reporting” section below.

    The Section 6056 employee statement may be made by furnishing a copy of Form 1095-C for that full-time employee (or another form the IRS designates) or a substitute employee statement for that full-time employee (as long as it includes all of the required information and complies with IRS procedures or other applicable guidance). The employee statement is not required to include a copy of the transmittal form (Form 1094-C).

    Alternative Methods

    The final rule provides two alternative methods of reporting under Section 6056 that are intended to minimize the cost and administrative tasks for employers. In certain situations, the alternative reporting methods may allow employers to provide less detailed information than under the general method. The two alternative reporting methods are:

    • Reporting Based on Certification of Qualifying Offers (the Qualifying Offer Method); and
    • Option to Report Without Separate Identification of Full-Time Employees if Certain Conditions Related to Offers of Coverage Are Satisfied (the 98 Percent Offer Method).

    In addition, transition relief is available under the Qualifying Offer Method for 2015.

    According to the IRS, in some circumstances, only some of the information required under the general method is necessary. Accordingly, the alternative reporting methods identify specific groups of employees for whom simplified alternative reporting would provide sufficient information. If an ALE is not eligible to use an alternative method of reporting with respect to one or more full-time employees, the ALE must use the general method of reporting for those employees. In addition, the alternative methods of reporting are all optional. An employer is not required to use any alternative reporting method, even if it is eligible, and may instead report the more detailed information under the general method of reporting.

    Combined Reporting

    The final rules under Sections 6055 and 6056 provide for combined reporting for employers that are subject to both reporting provisions (generally, ALEs that sponsor self-insured group health plans). To allow these ALEs to satisfy both reporting requirements on a single return, Form 1095-C has separate sections for reporting under Section 6055 and for reporting under Section 6056. More information on combined reporting is available in the “Combined Reporting” section below.

    Reporting of Health Coverage for Issuers and Self-insured Plans (Code § 6055)

    The ACA requires every health insurance issuer, sponsor of a self-insured health plan, government agency that administers government-sponsored health insurance programs and any other entity that provides minimum essential coverage (MEC) to file an annual return with the IRS reporting information for each individual who is provided with this coverage. Related statements must also be provided to individuals.

    The IRS will use the information from the returns to implement the ACA’s individual mandate (that is, the requirement that individuals obtain acceptable health insurance coverage for themselves and their family members or pay a penalty). The ACA’s individual mandate became effective in 2014.

    On March 5, 2014, the IRS released a final rule on the Section 6055 reporting requirements. This rule finalizes proposed regulations issued on Sept. 5, 2013. Q&As on Section 6055 were also released in August 2014, and were updated in May 2015.

    The IRS released final 2014 versions of the following forms, along with related instructions, that employers will use to report under Section 6055:

    These forms and instructions are 2014 versions only. These forms are not required to be filed for 2014, but reporting entities may voluntarily file them in 2015 for 2014 coverage.

    On Sept. 17, 2015, the IRS released final 2015 versions of Forms 1094-B and 1095-B, along with related instructions. The 2015 final forms remained unchanged from the 2015 draft versions. The 2015 final instructions were also largely unchanged from the 2015 draft versions, but provide clarifications on some questions. The 2015 draft and final Form 1095-B also include a “Continuation Sheet” that filers will use if they need to report coverage information for more than six individuals.

    Minimum Essential Coverage

    Under the Section 6055 reporting requirements, every person that provides MEC to an individual during a calendar year must report on the health coverage provided. MEC includes the following:

    • Eligible employer-sponsored coverage, including self-insured plans, COBRA coverage and retiree coverage;
    • Coverage purchased in the individual market (including a qualified health plan offered by an Exchange);
    • Medicare Part A coverage and Medicare Advantage plans;
    • Most Medicaid coverage;
    • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage;
    • Certain types of veterans health coverage administered by the Veterans Administration;
    • Most types of TRICARE coverage;
    • Coverage provided to Peace Corps volunteers;
    • Coverage under the Nonappropriated Fund Health Benefit Program;
    • Refugee Medical Assistance supported by the Administration for Children and Families;
    • Self-funded health coverage offered to students by universities for plan or policy years that begin on or before Dec. 31, 2014 (for later years, sponsors of these programs may apply to HHS to be recognized as MEC);
    • State high-risk pools for plan or policy years that begin on or before Dec. 31, 2014 (for later years, sponsors of these program may apply to HHS to be recognized as MEC); and
    • Other coverage recognized by HHS as MEC.

    Section 6055 reporting is not required for coverage that is not MEC. This includes coverage that qualifies as “excepted benefits,” such as stand-alone vision care or dental care, workers’ compensation and accident or disability policies. Thus, no reporting is required for health savings accounts (HSAs), coverage at on-site medical clinics or for Medicare Part B. However, Medicare Part A qualifies as MEC and is subject to reporting. Note that health flexible spending accounts (health FSAs) must satisfy certain requirements to qualify as excepted benefits. Beginning in 2014, health FSAs that do not qualify as excepted benefits will generally be prohibited under the ACA.

    In addition, Section 6055 reporting is not required for arrangements that provide benefits in addition or as a supplement to MEC. The final regulations clarify that MEC is considered “supplemental coverage” not subject to reporting if it supplements a primary plan of the same plan sponsor or government-sponsored coverage (such as Medicare). Thus, providers are not required to report the following MEC that is supplemental to other MEC:

    • Coverage that supplements a government-sponsored program, such as Medicare or TRICARE supplemental coverage; or
    • Coverage of an individual in more than one plan or program provided by the same plan sponsor (the plan sponsor is required to report only one type of minimum essential coverage).

    According to regulations, examples of supplemental coverage to which this rule may apply (and therefore do not require separate Section 6055 reporting) include health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) and wellness programs that are an element of other MEC (such as wellness programs offering reduced premiums or cost-sharing under a group health plan).

    Although the 2015 draft instructions indicated that separate Section 6055 reporting may be required for some HRAs, the 2015 final instructions include important clarifications on this issue, resolving the question in favor of employers in many cases:

    • An employer with a self-insured major medical plan and an HRA is required to report coverage under only one of the arrangements.
    • An employer with an insured major medical plan and an HRA is not required to report HRA coverage if the individual is eligible for the HRA because he or she enrolled in the insured major medical plan.

    However, an employer with an HRA must report the HRA coverage for any individual who is not enrolled in the employer’s major medical plan (for example, if the individual is enrolled in a group health plan of another employer, such as spousal coverage).

    Entities Subject to Section 6055 Reporting

    Under the Section 6055 reporting requirements, every person that provides MEC to an individual during a calendar year must report on the health coverage provided. Reporting entities include:

    Health insurance issuers

    Self-insured plan sponsors

    Government-sponsored programs

    Other entities that provide MEC

     

    To ensure complete and accurate reporting, Section 6055 reporting is required for all covered individuals. Reporting entities may use third parties to facilitate filing returns and furnishing statements to comply with Section 6055 reporting requirements. However, these arrangements do not transfer the potential liability for failure to report. In contrast, a government employer that maintains a self-insured group health plan or arrangement may designate (in writing) another related governmental unit, agency or instrumentality as the person responsible for Section 6055 reporting, called a designated government entity (DGE).

    Health Insurance Issuers

    Health insurance issuers are responsible for Section 6055 reporting for all insured coverage except:

    • Coverage under certain government-sponsored programs (such as Medicaid and Medicare) that provide coverage through a health insurance issuer; and
    • Coverage under QHPs through the individual market Exchange.

    To avoid collecting duplicate or unnecessary information, issuers are not required to submit Section 6055 information returns for QHP coverage through an individual Exchange. The Exchange will provide the necessary information to the IRS and the individual. However, issuers must report on QHPs in the small group market enrolled in through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), because Exchanges will not be reporting information on these plans.

    The IRS also issued Notice 2015-68 on Sept. 17, 2015, to indicate that it plans to issue proposed regulations related to Section 6055 reporting. These proposed regulations are expected to require health insurance issuers to report coverage in catastrophic health insurance plans that were enrolled in through an Exchange. Thus, beginning with coverage in 2016 (filing in 2017), health insurance issuers and carriers will report coverage in catastrophic health plans enrolled in through the Marketplace. For coverage in 2015 (filing in 2016), health insurance issuers and carriers are encouraged to report on coverage in catastrophic health plans.

    Self-insured Plan Sponsors

    The plan sponsor is responsible for Section 6055 reporting for a self-insured group health plan. In general, the plan sponsor is the entity that establishes or maintains the plan.

    • The employer is the plan sponsor for a plan established or maintained by a single employer.
    • Each participating employer is the plan sponsor for a plan established or maintained by more than one employer (other than a multiple employer welfare arrangement).
    • For a multiemployer plan, the plan sponsor is the association, committee, joint board of trustees or other group of representatives who establish or maintain the plan.

    Type of Coverage

    Plan Sponsor

    A self-insured group health plan maintained by a single employer

    The employer

    A plan maintained by more than one employer that is not a multiemployer plan (as defined in ERISA)

    Each participating employer

    A multiemployer plan (as defined in ERISA)

    The association, committee, joint board of trustees or other group of representatives of the parties who establish or maintain the plan

    A plan maintained solely by an employee organization

    The employee organization

    Any plan for which a plan sponsor is not identified above

    The person designated by plan terms or, if no person is designated, each entity that maintains the plan

     

    For purposes of identifying the employer, the Code Section 414 employer aggregation rules do not apply. Thus:

    • A self-insured group health plan or arrangement covering employees of related companies is treated as sponsored by more than one employer; and
    • Each employer is required to report for its employees.

    However, one member of the group may assist the other members by filing returns and furnishing statements on behalf of all members.

    Most employers that sponsor self-insured group health plans are ALEs required to report under both Section 6056 and Section 6055. ALEs apply the rules under Section 6056 for identifying the reporting entities in a controlled group. Employers in controlled groups that are not ALEs, and reporting entities (such as issuers) that are not reporting as employers may:

    • Report under Section 6055 as separate entities; or
    • Choose one entity that may report for the group.

    Government-sponsored Programs

    Governmental units that provide coverage under a government-sponsored program must also report under Section 6055. For a government-sponsored program, the entity responsible for reporting under Section 6055 is as follows:

    Type of Coverage

    Who Must Report

    Medicaid and CHIP coverage

    The state agency that administers the program

    Medicare, TRICARE, benefits administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs and benefits for Peace Corps volunteers

    The executive department or agency of the governmental unit that provides the coverage

    Health insurance coverage under a government-sponsored program (such as Medicaid, CHIP or Medicare) obtained through an issuer

    The executive department or agency of the governmental unit that provides the coverage (and not the issuer)

    The Nonappropriated Fund Health Benefits Program

    The Secretary of Defense may designate the Department of Defense components that must report

     

    Required Filings

    In general, a reporting entity that is reporting under Section 6055 as health insurance issuers or carriers, sponsors of self-insured group health plans that are not reporting as ALEs, sponsors of multiemployer plans and providers of government-sponsored coverage will report using Form 1094-B and Form 1095-B.

    However, a reporting entity that is reporting under Section 6055 as an ALE will file under a combined reporting method, using Form 1094-C and Form 1095-C. As part of this combined reporting method, Form 1095-C will be used by ALEs to satisfy the Section 6055 and 6056 reporting requirements, as applicable.

     

    Substitute statements that comply with applicable requirements may be used, as long as the required information is included. Entities using substitute forms instead of the official IRS versions may develop substitute forms themselves or buy them from a private printer. Currently in draft form, Publication 5223, General Rules & Specifications for Substitute ACA Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and 1095-C and Certain Other Information, explains the requirements for the format and content of substitute statements to recipients.

    Only forms that conform to the official form and the specifications in Publication 5223 are acceptable for filing with the IRS. Reporting entities may not request special consideration

    Written statements must also be provided to each responsible individual identified on the IRS return. A “responsible individual” is the person who (based on a relationship to the covered individuals, the primary name on the coverage or some other circumstances) should receive the statement. Generally, the statement recipient should be the taxpayer (tax filer) who would be liable for the individual mandate penalty for the covered individuals, if that person is known. A statement recipient may be:

    • A parent, if only minor children are covered individuals
    • A primary subscriber, for insured coverage;
    • An employee or former employee, in the case of employer-sponsored coverage;
    • A uniformed services sponsor, for TRICARE; or
    • Another individual who should receive the statement.

    Statements may, but are not required to, be provided to any other individual who is not the responsible individual. Individual statements may be made by furnishing to the responsible individual a copy of the IRS return (or a substitute statement that includes the required information).

    Information Required to Be Reported

    Section 6055 requires the reporting of several data elements that are not required by taxpayers for preparing their tax returns or by the IRS for tax administration. The return must include the following information:

    • The name, address and EIN of the reporting entity;
    • The name, address and TIN of the primary insured and each other individual covered under the policy or plan;
    • For each covered individual, the months for which, for at least one day, the individual was enrolled in coverage and entitled to receive benefits; and
    • Any other information required by the IRS.

    In addition, if coverage is through an employer’s group health plan, the return must contain the following information:

    • The name, address and EIN of the employer sponsoring the plan;
    • Whether the coverage is a QHP enrolled in through the SHOP, and the SHOP’s unique identifier; and
    • Any other information the IRS may require.

    The individual statement must show:

    • The phone number for the reporting entity’s designated contact person and policy number, if any; and
    • The information required to be shown on the Section 6055 return for the responsible individual and each covered individual listed on the return.

    Requirement to Report the SSN or TIN

    Under Section 6055, reporting entities are required to report the SSN or other TIN for each covered individual. According to the IRS, reporting of TINs for all covered individuals is necessary to verify an individual’s coverage without the need to contact the individual.

    However, if reporting entities are unable to obtain an SSN or TIN after making a reasonable effort to do so, the covered individual’s date of birth may be reported in lieu of an SSN or TIN. In this case, a reporting entity will not be subject to a penalty if it demonstrates that it properly solicits the SSN or TIN, but does not receive it. Under these rules, the reporting entity must make:

    • An initial solicitation at the time the relationship with the payee is established. However, the reporting entity is not required to make this initial solicitation if it already has the payee’s SSN and uses that SSN for all relationships with the payee.
    • If the reporting entity does not receive the SSN, the first annual solicitation is generally required by Dec. 31 of the year in which the relationship with the payee begins (Jan. 31 of the following year, if the relationship begins in December).
    • Generally, if the SSN is still not provided, a second solicitation is required by Dec. 31 of the following year.

    If an SSN or TIN is still not provided, the reporting entity need not continue to solicit it. In addition, if the responsible individual is not enrolled in the coverage, reporting entities may, but are not required to, report the responsible individual’s SSN or TIN.

    Reporting entities may truncate the covered individual’s SSN or TIN on any statements furnished to individuals, by showing only the last four digits of the SSN or TIN, and replacing the first five digits with asterisks (*) or X’s. However, truncation of the employer’s EIN is not allowed on any forms filed with the IRS or provided to individuals.

    Combined Reporting

    In an effort to minimize burden and streamline the reporting process, while minimizing the need for employers and the IRS to build multiple systems to accommodate multiple forms, the final regulations allow all ALEs to use a single combined form for reporting the information required under both Section 6055 and Section 6056.

    Under this combined reporting method, Form 1095-C will be used by ALEs to satisfy the Section 6055 and 6056 reporting requirements, as applicable.

    • An ALE that sponsors a self-insured plan will complete both Sections of the combined Form 1095-C to report the information required under both Sections 6055 and 6056. Therefore, these ALEs will be able to use a single form to report information regarding whether an employee was covered.
    • An ALE that provides insured coverage will also report on Form 1095-C, but will complete only the Section of Form 1095-C related to Section 6056.

    Section 6055 reporting entities that are not ALEs or are not reporting in their capacity as employers (such as health insurance issuers, self-insured multiemployer plans and providers of government-sponsored coverage) will report under Section 6055 on Form 1095-B.

    ALEs will also be providing only a single employee statement (with the Section 6056 information and, with respect to employers with a self-insured group health plan, Section 6055 information). Employers are permitted to mail to an employee in the same mailing one or more of the required information returns, such as the combined Section 6055 and Section 6056 employee statement and the Form W-2.

    Reporting for Nonemployees Enrolled in Self-insured Coverage

    The final instructions for Forms 1094-C and 1095-C include a new option for ALEs reporting information for nonemployees (such as nonemployee directors, retirees or nonemployee COBRA beneficiaries). This new option allows employers to report employer-sponsored self-insured health coverage for nonemployees (and their family members) using either:

    • Forms 1094-B and 1095-B; or
    • Form 1095-C, Part III (note, though, that the Form 1095-C may only be used if the individual identified on Line 1 has a SSN).

    This option applies only for ALEs offering self-insured health coverage for any individual who enrolled in the coverage for one or more calendar months of the year, but was not an employee for any calendar month of the year, such as:

    • A nonemployee director;
    • A retired employee who retired in a previous year;
    • A terminated employee receiving COBRA coverage who terminated employment during a previous year; and
    • A nonemployee COBRA beneficiary.

    A nonemployee does not include an individual who obtained coverage through the employee’s enrollment, such as a spouse or dependent obtaining coverage when an employee elects family coverage. Under this new option, ALEs may report enrollment for these individuals using either:

    • Forms 1094-B and 1095-B; or
    • Form 1095-C, Part III (note, though, that the Form 1095-C may only be used if the individual identified on Line 1 has a SSN).

    If the Form 1095-C is used with respect to an individual who was not an employee for any month of the calendar year, Part II must also be completed by using Code 1G on Line 14 in the “All 12 Months” box (or the box for each month of the calendar year).

    In the case of a nonemployee who enrolls in the coverage under a self-insured health plan, all family members who are covered individuals due to the individual’s enrollment must be included on the same Form 1095-B or Form 1095-C as the individual who is offered, and enrolls in, the coverage.

    Penalties

    A reporting entity that fails to comply with the Section 6055 or Section 6056 reporting requirements may be subject to the general reporting penalties for:

    • Failure to file correct information returns (under Code Section 6721); and
    • Failure to furnish correct payee statements (under Code Section 6722).

    However, penalties may be waived if the failure is due to reasonable cause and not to willful neglect. Penalties may be reduced if the reporting entity corrects the failure within a certain period of time. Also, lower annual maximums apply for entities that have average annual gross receipts of up to $5 million for the three most recent taxable years.

    On June 29, 2015, President Obama signed the Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015 into law, which increased the penalties for failure to file correct information returns or provide individual statements under either Section 6055 or Section 6056. These changes are effective for information returns and individual statements required to be filed or provided after Dec. 31, 2015.

    The increased penalty amounts are as follows:

    Penalty Type

    Per Violation

    Annual Maximum

    Annual Maximum for Employers with ≤$5 Million in Gross Receipts

    Old Amount

    New Amount

    Old Amount

    New Amount

    Old Amount

    New Amount

    General

    $100

    $250

    $1.5 million

    $3 million

    $500,000

    $1 million

    Corrected within 30 days

    $30

    $50

    $250,000

    $500,000

    $75,000

    $175,000

    Corrected after 30 days, but before August 1

    $60

    $100

    $500,000

    $1.5 million

    $200,000

    $500,000

    Intentional disregard

    $250*

    $500*

    None

    N/A

    *For failures due to intentional disregard of the filing requirement, the penalty will be equal to the greater of either the listed penalty amount or 10 percent of the aggregate amount of the items required to be reported correctly.

    Short-term Relief from Penalties

    The final regulations also include short term relief from penalties to allow additional time to develop appropriate procedures for data collection and compliance with these new reporting requirements. For returns and statements filed and furnished in 2016 to report offers of coverage in 2015, the IRS will not impose penalties on reporting entities that can show they made good faith efforts to comply with the information reporting requirements.

    This relief is provided only for incorrect or incomplete information reported on the return or statement, including SSNs, TINs or dates of birth. No relief is provided for reporting entities that do not make good faith efforts to comply with these regulations or that fail to timely file an information return or statement.

    More Information

    Please contact The Unland Companies for more information on the Section 6055 and Section 6056 reporting requirements.