Tag Archives: employee benefits

The Perk of Pets
15th October 2017 by Site Admin in News, General

Companies on the leading edge of employee benefits, especially those that want to stand out within an industry, will offer such pet-friendly perks in order to attract top talent. But what exactly are these benefits?

According to an article titled, “Pet-Friendly Perks” in Human Resource Executive Online, employers are offering benefits such as pet insurance, paid pet bereavement leave, pet parental leave, paid leave to take care of a new pet, an on-site dog park, and the ever-popular bring your pet to work day. Most of these would have been unheard of even a few years ago.

On the website of Workforce, their infographic titled, “By The Numbers: Pet-friendly Workplaces,” shows how the popularity of these benefits has skyrocketed, as evidenced by the fact that one in three Fortune 500 companies offer pet insurance. So, why are pet-related perks so popular now?

As mentioned in the Human Resource Executive Online article, the bond between pets and humans appears to be stronger these days. Individuals are placing a greater amount of importance on their pets and spending a significant amount of their disposable income on them. Employers have taken notice of this and even acknowledged that pets can have a positive impact in the workplace.

The Workforce infographic shows that seven out of 10 people say that pets make a positive impact on office dynamics and morale, and bringing a dog to work is preferred three to one over table tennis and foosball tables. Yet, even with those strong statistics, only seven percent of employers allow pets in the workplace.

Obviously, while some job candidates are thrilled with pet-related benefits, others may cringe at the thought of working side-by-side with someone’s dog or cat. They may have allergies, a fear of animals, or some other issue that makes them pet averse.

Employers need to find a balance if they decide to implement a pet-friendly work policy that takes into account everyone’s opinions. Details need to be set in clear language and managers should be made aware of what is and is not allowed. If this trend continues, you may be lucky enough to have a furry, four-legged co-worker sitting next to you.

©Copyright 2017 by Geoff Mukhtar, Communications Manager at United Benefit Advisors. Reproduction permitted with attribution to the author.

Are you addressing your employee’s financial health?
11th October 2017 by Site Admin in News, General

The importance of health and wellness in the workplace is more apparent than ever. It’s obvious why healthy individuals make better employees and the positive impact this has on your bottom line. When thinking about building a program to improve the well-being of your employees, don’t forget about the importance of their financial health.

In recent years, studies show that employees have a wide range of financial concerns that affect their work. Some financial issues are widespread, impacting a large number of employees, while others may be more unique based on an employee’s specific circumstances.

Financial stress in the workplace influences productivity, absenteeism, physical health, emotional well-being, and the overall happiness of employees. Nearly 25 percent of employees confirm personal finance issues are a distraction at work and 39 percent say they spend three hours or more each week at work dealing with personal financial issues.1

Some of the biggest financial stressors impacting employees today include:

  • Student loan debt – 2 million Americans collectively owe $1.3 trillion in student loans – that’s more than credit card and auto loan debt, and second only to mortgage debt 2
  • Retirement savings – 56 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 in retirement savings 3
  • Emergency funds – 46 percent are unable to cover a $400 emergency 4
  • Other debt – 48 percent of Americans have more credit card debt than savings 5

Unfortunately, financial stress can go unnoticed because it is usually not as openly discussed or addressed. Discussing personal finance with co-workers and even family members is still considered difficult for many. This makes it even more important to have a program in place to educate and empower your employees to make positive financial decisions.
There are a wide variety of financial wellness programs and services available. When developing a program, be sure that you include both educational resources and tools that support behavioral change.

  • Educational resources – Education is the backbone to any financial wellness program. Remember, financial issues can impact anyone in your company and not everyone learns the same way. Offer a variety of resources including workshops, seminars, books, online courses and access to financial consultations. It’s important to assure employees that they are in a safe environment where they can learn and feel comfortable asking questions and seeking more information.
  • Empowering behavioral change – Financial wellness doesn’t stop with education. Worksheets, budgeting tools, financial consultants, loan repayment plans and retirement savings plans are all tools that aid employees in making long-term behavioral changes that improve their financial health. Celebrating the small successes early on will help employees commit to making more long-term changes. Be sure to have programs in place that offer the tools and resources needed for employees to set goals, change their behavior and celebrate their success.

Consult with your Employee Assistance Program about resources they may have to help you develop a financial wellness program and empower your employees to get on the path to financial health.

1 PricewaterhouseCoopers, “Employee Financial Wellness Survey,” 2014, page 11

2 Friedman, Zack, “Student Loan Debt in 2017: A $1.3 Trillion Crisis,” Forbes.com, February, 21, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackfriedman/2017/02/21/student-loan-debt-statistics-2017/#6d7983a05dab

3 GOBankingRates, “How Much Americans Have Saved for Retirement Survey,” 2016

4 Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, “Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2015,” May 2016, p. 22.

5 Bankrate, “Bankrate Financial Security Index,” 2017

©Copyright 2017 by Nancy Cannon of Workplace Solutions Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company, a UBA Strategic Partner. Reproduction permitted with attribution to the author.

New Benefits Target Employee Debt
1st August 2017 by Site Admin in General

Today, most new full-time hires expect a company to offer certain standard benefits – health, dental, vision, and life insurance, paid vacation and sick days, and a 401(k) or pension. Some companies go beyond this and provide other benefits such as profit sharing, parking reimbursement, mobile phone reimbursement, wellness programs, and even on-site daycare. So what does the future hold for employees when it comes to their expectations of a traditional benefits package?

In an article titled, “Student Loan Repayment Programs Are ‘The Next 401(k)’” on the website Employee Benefit News, it claims that the next big thing in employee benefits is student loan repayment. In fact, they view this as not just a fad, but something that will stick given the high cost of tuition and its appeal to everyone in the workforce. Yes, you read that last part correctly. You may think that tuition reimbursement would only be an attractive benefit to those who are just entering the workforce, but people older than 39 currently have 35% of all student debt. Plus, graduate programs may be covered and so might be loans taken by parents to help pay for their kid’s education.

As of 2015, based on data from the Society for Human Resource Management, only about 3% of employers currently offer the benefit, but that’s expected to increase sharply. According to the article, the reason is that tuition reimbursement is a concept you don’t have to “sell” to decision makers like you would a complicated health plan. They already know today’s graduates are struggling to repay their student debt.

A side advantage of adding tuition reimbursement to a company’s benefits package is that, by removing the stress of repaying a student loan, employees will be more apt to contribute to their 401(k) or other corporate retirement plan. As companies look for ways to differentiate themselves when recruiting new employees, this benefit appears to have significant traction.

©Copyright 2017 by Geoff Mukhtar at United Benefit Advisors. Reproduction permitted with attribution to the author.

The Pitfalls of Online Enrollment Systems
19th June 2017 by Site Admin in Healthcare Reform, General

Online enrollment platforms are great, but communication and understanding are terribly important for the end-user.

I always say, “technology is great, when it works.” Online enrollment platforms have been around for years, and the technology that powers them has grown and advanced at an exponential rate. Who would have guessed that we would be enrolling in our employee benefits directly from our own phones and tablets, without being given the huge enrollment packets from HR?
In this virtual communication age, you can’t take the “human” out of Human Resources, and you can’t take the confusion out of insurance benefits just because you wrap it in a nice, pretty website with fancy graphics and videos.

An employee’s health concerns and needs are as diverse and different as hair colors are at Comic Con, so while a brief overview of plan details is fine for one person, someone else wants to know how many physical therapy visits they can have in a year, or if their child’s insulin pump will be covered on their plan.

A simple online enrollment platform does not always meet the needs of all employees, and not all platforms will offer the level of detail some will require. Aside from posting the evidence of coverage, or insurance contract, at a place that is easily found on the portal, there may not be a way to achieve that level of detail. However, even for those that don’t need that level of detail, critical information must be communicated easily and effectively.

Costly mistakes can be made when benefits are not communicated effectively, or when important information is simply omitted. For example, since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was implemented, some employers have opted to offer minimum value plans (MVPs), or plans that cover very few procedures such as office visits, preventive care, and hospital room and board, but they do not cover a wide range of other services such as ambulance, surgery, medical devices, physical or occupational therapy, etc.

When an employee sees a number of choices or plans from which to choose, they will likely compare the various plan options by looking at the carrier, if the plans are HMOs or PPOs, and the cost. From there, an employee may look at the office copays, deductibles, prescription drug costs, and coinsurance.

If the comparison shows MVP plans as well as traditional health plans, but does not call out in big, bold letters, all of the items the MVP plan does not cover, one could come away with the understanding that if they choose the MVP plan, they are selecting a plan that is a comprehensive insurance plan just like the other plans shown, or like they have had in the past.

Most of us don’t read our car insurance policy in detail until we get in an accident and the insurance adjustor says, “sorry, your policy does not cover that.” The same is usually true for our health insurance plans.

You could argue that it is the responsibility of the employee to verify that the plan they are choosing meets all of their needs, certainly. But if that information is not easy to locate, you could find fault with the employer, or insurance carrier, if there were to be a problem. Furthermore, an employer would want to show their employees that they want to take care of them, and not set them up for failure in the event of a crisis.

Let’s walk through a scenario. An employee named “Joe” is 28, and is enrolling in his company’s health plans during open enrollment. His company recently merged with another larger company, and so the benefits being offered are slightly different, but look pretty close to what they had been last year. There are four plans offered, two that are HMO plans with Kaiser and two that are PPO plans, one is labeled Silver, the other Gold.

Joe is young and single, and when he was living at home with his parents, he had never had Kaiser and always traditionally had PPO coverage. Last year, Joe enrolled in the Silver PPO plan so he could continue to see the doctors that had been managing his care for all of his adult life, so he elects the same plan this year. The online system shows a $250 deductible, $40 office visit copay, and 30% coinsurance. In addition, the Kaiser premiums have gone up considerably from what he remembered them to be last year, and are higher than the PPO plan options, so he feels comfortable that he has made the choice that is best for him.

Later in the year, he comes down with a bad cold. The pressure in his head that is caused by the cold is so severe that when he sneezed, he blew out his right ear drum. He goes to the doctor, and his doctor orders a CT scan of his ear. The CT scan shows he has perforated his ear drum and will need surgery to repair it. The surgery is scheduled for two weeks after that. He contacts the hospital and surgeon to confirm they are contracted, in-network providers under his health plan, and asks them to do a pre-determination of benefits so he will know up front how much he should expect to pay as his 30% of the cost of the procedure.

While waiting for the surgeon and hospital to get back to him regarding the out-of-pocket costs, he receives the bill for the CT scan and explanation of benefits from his doctor for the office visit and CT scan. They show his office copayment that he paid at the time of service, and his $250 deductible, plus 30% of the remaining cost of the CT scan, which came out to a total of $500. He pays the bills and continues to work even though he is in extreme discomfort from his right ear.

The surgeon and hospital both get back to him and let him know the surgery itself will cost approximately $20,000 because his plan does not cover surgery, period. Joe is not an executive in a large company; he does not have the money to pay for a $20,000 surgery and also afford to take three weeks off of work in order for him to recover. So, what is he to do?

He can’t enroll in another plan offered by his employer for another nine months when they go through open enrollment again. It is March, so he has missed the state Exchange open enrollment window, and he has not experienced an involuntary loss of coverage that would enable him to enroll in a state Exchange plan. If he were to purchase a short-term, comprehensive medical plan it won’t cover any pre-existing conditions, which his perforated ear drum would certainly be considered. So, unless he gets married and enrolls on his new spouse’s plan if they were offered one by their employer, he is out of options. He will simply have to wait until open enrollment next year.

How do you think Joe is feeling about his employer right now? Do you think he is counting his blessings that he only ruptured his ear drum and was not diagnosed with cancer that needed to be removed before it spread any further? Or is he going to be using a few choice words to describe an employer that offers a medical plan to its employees that has a longer list of services not covered than are covered? I can’t say that I know for sure, but I can guess.

Now, the question becomes how does an employer prevent their employees from running into these kinds of pitfalls? It comes down to clear communication—multiple forms of communication that are easily accessible to employees and their family members that may also play a role in making plan decisions. Having someone to partner with your company, such as a UBA Partner Firm that will not only help you develop long-term plan strategies for your employee benefits package, but can be an integral part of developing and implementing online systems, hard copy communications, and give you access to tools such as smartphone applications that not only give employees access to essential information, but also push out important communications that contain relevant information at the appropriate times like open enrollment. Making plan details easily accessible in the online platform, with clear and bold statements if there are essential benefits that are not covered on the plan such as a warning, should be clearly stated so that employees are well informed.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Insurance is a complicated business and you, as an employer, would not want to make decisions about the health care you offer your employees without someone to guide you through the various options and possibilities. As responsible employers, our employees should not have to either.

Are you curious to know more about communication options for your employees? Contact your local UBA Partner Firm!

©Copyright 2017 by Elizabeth Kay at AEIS Advisors, a UBA Certified Solution. Reproduction permitted with attribution to the author.