Tag Archives: Employee Benefits

Wellness Efforts Need to Address Five Important Risk Factors

Employer-sponsored health plans cover more than half of the country’s nonelderly population, which is approximately 147 million people. Half to 70 percent of employers now offer high-deductible health plans, which encourage employees to take an active role in deciding the type of care they need. This requires employers to educate employees to become smarter healthcare consumers and to become motivated to take action.

Workplace wellness programs have the ability to help employees take action in the right direction toward healthy living. They have the potential to keep employees healthy and productive, avoid illness and absenteeism, and save them money by consuming fewer healthcare resources. Workplace health promotion programs that can do all that will provide value to employees and now just need to be cost-effective at the same time.

Many small and mid-size companies are unsure if they have resources to support a comprehensive program. However, more and more experts suggest looking to scientific evidence to gain a best practices approach to developing company-wide wellness initiatives. By focusing on five major risk factors, it is believed that employers of all sizes can positively impact overall health and productivity at work.

Five Wellness Initiatives to Target in 2017

According to the 2015 From Evidence to Practice: Workplace Wellness that Works Study an effective wellness program needs to address the following five basic health concerns through creative and empowering strategies: exercise, nutrition, tobacco cessation, stress management and sleep.

To read the full story, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

 

The High Costs of Not Offering Paid Sick Leave

Maybe the person working near you, the one who dragged himself to work and is now coughing and sneezing, couldn’t afford to stay home.

Each week about 1.5 million Americans without paid sick leave go to work despite feeling ill. At least half of employees of restaurants and hospitals — two settings where disease is easily spread — go to work when they have a cold or the flu, according to a recent poll.

To address that issue, Chipotle began offering paid sick leave to all its employees in the United States this year. The restaurant chain is hoping to reduce the spread of infectious disease — like the norovirus outbreaks traced to its restaurants last year and earlier this year. Though many other industrialized countries already require employers to offer paid sick leave to all employees, the United States does not.

Paid sick leave is not free, of course. Economic theory suggests that its cost would be passed from employers to their employees in the form of lower wages or reductions in other benefits like vacation time. Yet employees and their co-workers may be better off with an incentive to take time off when sick.

A number of recent studies point to the benefits. A study by Philip Susser, now a medical student, and Nicolas Ziebarth, a Cornell economist, backs up Chipotle’s theory that paid sick leave could reduce the spread of contagion. Their study, published in the journal Health Services Research, estimated that 45 percent of the American work force does not have paid sick leave; that’s about 50 million workers.

To read the full story, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

Obamacare’s impact on employment: An early look

Before the Affordable Care Act went into effect last year, critics claimed it would lead to job losses and cuts in employee hours. But how is it really playing out?

The dire predictions have so far proved to be unfounded, according to a new research paper from Federal Reserve Bank of New York economist Maxim Pinkovskiy. The fear was that employers who were newly required to provide health insurance to their workers would opt instead to cut hours or fire employees. But early numbers show that locations with a high percentage of uninsured Americans, such as Texas, ended up experiencing a rise in employment, salaries and output in comparison to areas with less exposure to the health care law, Pinkovskiy noted.

To read the full story, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

Poll finds growing GOP support for paid family leave

Paid family leave is well known to be a popular idea among New York City Democrats, but an increasing number of Republicans here also support it, with a significant number “strongly” in favor of such a policy, according to a new poll.

Democrats saying they “strongly support” paid family leave increased to 81% in 2015 from 74% in 2014, according to the Community Service Society‘s annual “Unheard Third” survey. But the gain was far greater among Republicans, with the portion who “strongly” support it rising to 58% in 2015 from 45% in 2014. Folding in less enthusiastic backers, support among Republicans went from 65% to 74%.

To be sure, the number of Republicans surveyed this year was minuscule, just 229, indicative of New York’s small number of GOP members, so random fluctuation could account for some of the increase. But the rise in support among non-GOP voters shows it probably was not a fluke. The survey of 1,705 city residents was conducted July 19 through Aug. 17 and has a margin of error of +/-2.75%. The policy would require employers to allow their workers time off to care for a newborn or sick loved one.

To read the full story, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

 

Cigna Rejects an Overture From Anthem

The world of American health insurance may soon become even smaller, with the biggest companies seeking to become even bigger.

A scramble has broken out within the industry as various providers jockey for position and make overtures to rivals. Anthem made the first public move, unveiling a $47 billion takeover bid for Cigna on Saturday after months of negotiations had stalled. On Sunday, Cigna fired back, rejecting the bid as “inadequate and not in the best interest of Cigna’s shareholders.”

But others have been quietly maneuvering as well. UnitedHealth Group, the biggest American health insurer by revenue, recently made a preliminary approach to Aetna, a person briefed on the matter said.

And a number of companies have indicated their interest in buying Humana, one of the smaller major insurers but one with a valuable Medicare franchise. Among those companies that had expressed interest is Anthem, though the bigger insurance provider is currently focused on combining with Cigna, people briefed on the company’s plans said. Another is Cigna.

To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

Health Care Spending Down, Cost Sharing Up

The growth in health care spending is slowing down, and one reason might be that cost sharing is rising.

The proportion of insured workers with at least a $1,000 deductible was 41 percent in 2014, quadruple that in 2006. Hidden in the numbers is the fact that increasing cost sharing for patients with chronic illnesses can backfire, causing their health care spending to go up, not down.

When patients face higher cost sharing for prescription drugs, they tend to cut back on them. That’s a finding from a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research by Peter Huckfeldt and colleagues, who examined employer-based health plan enrollees who use drugs to treat high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes. They even found that patients cut their drug use when drugs were exempt from the deductible. Perhaps they did so because they did not understand the drugs had no deductible. They may also have cut back on visiting the doctor to get a prescription because the visits were subject to the deductible.

These kinds of cuts in care can be especially problematic for patients with more severe illnesses. A number of studies document the adverse effects of cost sharing on sicker patients. When applied indiscriminately, cost sharing can hurt the sicker patients by prompting them to delay or avoid the preventive care they need. A 2012 study showed that higher cost sharing reduces spending on physician visits and drugs, but can increase hospital spending. When Medicare beneficiaries face higher cost sharing, hospitalizations go up, not down, especially for those with chronic illnesses.

To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

The ACA Incentives People to Attain Health Insurance

Obamacare’s big stick doesn’t seem to be scaring many people into buying health insurance.

The health law includes many inducements for people to obtain health insurance — including free Medicaid coverage for many low-income Americans and subsidies for those with moderate incomes. But it also includes the notorious “individual mandate,” a fine for those who can afford insurance but don’t buy it.

Because the law, and the fine, are new, many policy experts expected that some people would decline to sign up for insurance until they were hit with a penalty at tax time. Forecasters have estimated a big bump in marketplace enrollment next year, the first sign-up period after people have been fined. The Congressional Budget Office, for example, estimates 10 million more people will have Obamacare plans next year. The law’s structure relies on even healthy and otherwise disinclined consumers to enter insurance markets to help stabilize prices.

Certainly, some people who might otherwise go uninsured have been persuaded by the penalty. Polls have shown that it is a well-known provision of the law. And studies of the uninsured have shown that mentioning the penalty changes some people’s thinking about health insurance. At the end of the normal enrollment period in February, about 11.7 million people had selected marketplace health plans or renewed their plans from 2014, according to the federal government.

But the Obama administration just conducted a small experiment into how much the penalty would affect the behavior of the remaining uninsured. And the results leave some experts concerned that next year’s sign-ups will come in below expectations.

To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

OSHA Releases New ‘It’s The Law’ Poster

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has released a new version of its “Job Safety and Health – It’s The Law!” poster.

Background
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), employers have certain responsibilities, including the obligation to:

  • Provide their employees with a safe workplace;
  • Follow all relevant safety and health standards;
  • Find and correct safety and health problems in the workplace; and
  • Inform employees about workplace hazards.

Content of New Poster
The newly designed poster informs employers of their legal obligation to provide a safe workplace. It also informs workers of their right to request an OSHA inspection of their workplaces, receive information and training on job hazards, report a work-related injury or illness, and raise safety and health concerns with their employer or OSHA without being retaliated against.

Additionally, the poster has been updated to include the new reporting obligations for employers, who must now report every fatality and every hospitalization, amputation and loss of an eye. It also informs employers of their responsibilities to train all workers in a language and vocabulary they can understand, comply with OSHA standards, and post citations at or near the place of an alleged violation.

Posting and Size Requirements
Employers must display the poster in a conspicuous place where workers can see it. Reproductions or facsimiles of the poster must be at least 8 1/2 by 14 inches with 10 point type. According to OSHA,previous versions of the poster do not need to be replaced.

Note: Employers in states operating OSHA-approved state plans should obtain and post the state’s equivalent poster.

The poster is available by clicking here. Multiple languages and resolutions are available for download.

To learn about other federal notices required to be displayed in the workplace, please visit our section on Federal Poster Requirements.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

IRS Releases 2016 Health Savings Account Limits

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced the 2016 inflation-adjusted amounts for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) as determined under the Internal Revenue Code.

Annual Contribution Limitation
For calendar year 2016, the annual limitation on deductions for an individual with self-only coverage under a high deductible health plan is $3,350. The annual limitation on HSA deductions for an individual with family coverage under a high deductible health plan is $6,750.

High Deductible Health Plan
For calendar year 2016, a “high deductible health plan” is defined as a health plan with an annual deductible that is not less than $1,300 for self-only coverage or $2,600 for family coverage, and the annual out-of-pocket expenses (deductibles, co-payments, and other amounts, but not premiums) do not exceed $6,550 for self-only coverage or $13,100 for family coverage.

You may view the IRS Revenue Procedure announcing the 2016 amounts by clicking here.

Be sure to check out our section on Health Savings Accounts for more on HSAs.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

IRS Fact Sheet: Determining Large Employer Status

Fact Sheet Includes Examples and Additional Resources

A fact sheet from the IRS helps employers determine, based on their size, whether the ACA’s employer shared responsibility (“pay or play”) and information reporting provisions apply to their company.

The fact sheet includes basic information on determining large employer status, along with information on:

  • Determining the number of full-time and full-time equivalent employees
  • Large employer determination examples
  • Employer aggregation rules
  • The exception for seasonal workers
  • New employers
  • 2015 transition relief for determining workforce size

More information about determining large employer status can be found here.

Visit our Pay or Play section for additional details.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary