UBP blog

08/31/2009

If you get an email from the “IRS” on the Making Work Pay tax credit, do not reply!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ubpblogger @ 11:56 am
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Your identity might be compromised or even stolen. There are scam artists lurking out there in cyberspace posing as the IRS and sending emails explaining how you can get tax credit refunds directly deposited into your bank account. The fraudsters ask individuals to reply with their bank account numbers, which they then steal.

How do we know these emails are fraudulent? Well, the reason why is a simple fact. That is, the IRS never initiates conversations with taxpayers via email. Employers should keep this in mind and make absolute certain to tell employees this as well.

What the fraudsters are doing is called phishing.

Phishing emails tend to come from a well known entity (i.e. the IRS or a large bank that everyone has heard of). In almost all cases, the phishing emails will tell you to click on a link to a website. When you get to the website, it will ask for your personal information (i.e. credit card number, bank account number or SSN).

What should we do if we get one of these phishing emails?

 The IRS has asked us to forward any suspicious emails to the address phishing@irs.gov.

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08/26/2009

4 new mental health changes mean great news for Massachusetts HMO plan members

Health insurance plans cover your physical health as well as your mental health.  When an employee goes to see a doctor for a mental health condition, the condition is grouped into one of two categories.

It’s either biologically-based or non-biologically-based. Some people might ask “why do these categories matter to me?” The reason why they matter is fairly straightforward and simple.

If you have a mental health condition that’s biologically-based, you get an unlimited number of doctor visits covered by your health plan. If your condition is non-biologically-based, you get a limited number of covered visits.

The good news for Massachusetts Residents:

Starting July 1, 2009, all new Massachusetts HMO health plans moving forward will have changed the category of 4 different mental health conditions from non-biologically-based to biologically-based.

These 4 conditions are:

  1. Autism
  2. Eating disorders
  3. Substance abuse
  4. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

 What this means for employees:

Here is an example of what this will mean for your employees enrolled in a Massachusetts HMO. Let’s say you have an employee enrolled in your health plan with an autistic dependent child. Before July 1 of this year, his or her plan would only cover up to a pre-set maximum number of doctor visits (i.e. 24) for the child’s autism treatment. Now that autism is categorized as a biologically-based condition, there is no longer a maximum number.

The same is true for eating disorders, substance abuse and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

07/20/2009

Will preparation and health care proxy; two services employees need to know about

Everyone needs to know about wills and healthcare proxies. These documents are there to ensure that, in the event of an untimely severe illness, injury or death, all important decisions are taken care of for you in a way that you’d want them to be made.

Many carriers offer free will preparation services that help you create, execute and store your will.  A healthcare proxy is an important legal document that employees should know about and complete.

The following will tell you a little bit more about what will preparation and the healthcare proxy are and why they are important for your employees.

Will Preparation Services:

Will preparation services are there to help you create two important types of wills, your simple will and your living will. You create your simple will to designate and ensure who will get access to your property and all other financial assets, who will become the guardian of your children and who will manage your estate.

Your living will allows you to specify in advance your end-of-life decisions and name a health care surrogate to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event that you are unable to do so. This document will help you ensure that your wishes are being carried out, for instance, when deciding whether you will be on artificial life support should you become terminally ill, are in an irreversible coma or in a vegetative state.

Healthcare Proxy:

The healthcare proxy is a simple, yet important legal document that everyone should have even if they are perfectly healthy. Under Massachusetts healthcare proxy law (Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 201D), “any competent adult 18 years of age or over” may complete this document and appoint someone to be their Health Care Agent.

The Health Care Agent you appoint becomes authorized to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event that you’re unable to make them yourself. When this happens, your Agent’s decisions regarding your healthcare will have the same authority as yours would (if you were able to make them) and will be honored over those of any other person. If you give your Agent full authority to act for you, he or she may refuse or consent to any medical treatment for you, including treatment that would keep you alive.

Your Agent’s decisions will be on your explicit wishes or his/her assessment of your wishes, so it’s vital that you communicate with your Agent and inform them of decisions you’d want them to make for various situations.

Not sure if your providers offer will preparation services? Just give us a call at (617) 859-1777 for a list of providers that we know offer them.

07/15/2009

If the Healthy Families Act became a law, would you be concerned with potential benefit cuts?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ubpblogger @ 10:38 am
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The Healthy Families Act would mandate that employers with 15 or more employees provide up to 56 hours of paid sick leave each year to both full-time and part time employees. Under this bill, workers would accrue one paid sick leave hour for each 30 hours that they work and would become eligible to use these benefits after 60 days of employment. Employees would be able to roll over unused sick leave into subsequent calendar years.

Under this proposed law, covered paid leave would include any of the following:

• Recovery from a routine illness or care for a family member that is ill

• A doctor’s appointment and other preventative care

• For victims of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault, time spent seeking help and service

Problem this bill seeks to solve:

About 48% of private sector workers—roughly 60 million employees in the United States– do not have paid time off benefits in the workplace. According to a June 2009 report from Human Impact Partners, 79 percent of our nation’s lowest paid workers do not have paid time off benefits. Workers who are living paycheck to paycheck and simply cannot afford to miss a day’s work often have no other choice but to go to work sick.

Should the Healthy Families Act bill become a law, it could reduce the spread of both pandemic and seasonal influenza outbreaks, protect the general public from the spread of diseases from sick service industry workers that would otherwise not have time off to get well and enable workers to stay home when they have an ill dependent child in need of care.

Potential Impact on Small Employers:

Although the Healthy Families Act would help lower income Americans to better fight illness and care for sick dependents, its implementation may leave a disproportionate impact on small businesses. Unlike with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) exemption which Congress extended to employers with fewer than 50 employees, should the Healthy Families Act pass, only employers with fewer than 15 employees will be exempt from offering the mandated paid time off.

For small businesses with 15 or more employees, a paid sick leave mandate could limit employers’ ability to maximize flexibility in benefit plan design. Especially given the current economy, employers can only offer a limited total compensation package. In order to absorb the costs of federally mandated paid sick leave benefits, employers may need to make cuts in some of the benefits they already offer that are not required by federal law.

If the Healthy Families Act were to become a law, what impact would it have on your company? Would you be at all concerned with any potential benefit cuts?

Modernization techniques can save the healthcare industry $33.2 billion per-year, and UBP is ahead of the curve

Filed under: Uncategorized — ubpblogger @ 10:21 am
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Let’s face it, our nation is not getting the most out of the $2.6 trillion we spend on health care. As such, United Health Group’s Center for Reform and Modernization has looked in to ways the industry can achieve substantial cost savings via technology in a recent working paper.

United Health Group estimates that the healthcare industry’s administrative expenditures are about $290 billion per-year. If the industry puts their working paper’s suggestions into practice and leverages technology to its fullest, the Group estimates a total savings of $332 billion in national health expenditure over the next decade. That’s roughly 33.2 billion dollars per-year. Of the proposed savings, United Health Group estimates 30 percent will go to health plans.

United Health Group’s Executive Vice President Simon Stevens stated in a June 30th conference call that the healthcare industry’s manual administration processes cost doctors, hospitals and health plans alike considerable amounts of time and money. In order to illustrate how archaic the healthcare industry’s administrative practices are, he made a direct comparison to both the travel and banking industries. In administrative matters, if the processes used in banking and travel were as out of date as those in healthcare, everyone would do all of their banking face-to-face in brick and mortar establishments. Similarly, no one would be able to book travel or find the most economic travel deals online.

Among United Health Group’s recommended cost saving tactics was the elimination of the paper explanations of benefits issued with each claim. The Group suggested replacing these paper statements with electronic ones similar to the monthly statements you receive from your bank. They also recommended delivering the statements electronically and in a secure fashion instead of mailing them out.

All of this would reduce the cost of explaining benefits 68% per-claim and produce a $14 billion dollar cost savings over the next decade. The group also suggested utilizing technologies currently available to automate the entire claims payment process, which could save roughly $109 billion in a decade.

Universal Benefit Plans is ahead of the modernization curve:

At Universal Benefit Plans, we have already implemented several of United Health Group’s suggested modernization tactics. Our proprietary double-encrypted HRIS system, The HR in a Box™, not only streamlines all benefit administration processes but makes benefit communication much easier with employee self-service. The HR in a Box™ allows companies to maintain all vital plan documentation and information in a secure online database and facilitates the transition of any such documentation whenever necessary from employer to broker via a double-encrypted electronic mail mechanism.

To learn more about how you can leverage our HRIS technology to reap considerable cost savings, give us a call at (617) 859-1777 or visit our website at www.universalbenefitplans.com.

Newly-proposed Massachusetts Legislation seeks to level the playing field for small businesses when negotiating group health insurance rates

Representative Steven M. Walsh, a Lynn Democrat, recently filed legislation allowing businesses with 50 or fewer employees to form a nonprofit consortium similar to the state’s Group Insurance Commission. The goal for establishing this consortium is to give small businesses the same group negotiating power afforded to state employees and employees of several local municipalities. Small businesses represent the vast majority of the Massachusetts workforce—87 percent—which amounts to about 724,000 individuals.

Representative Walsh’s legislation is pending before the Massachusetts Legislature’s Financial Services Committee and has already gotten some tough criticism from both business and insurance groups. According to Representative Walsh, this legislation is proposed largely due to the fact that the chief concern of small business owners throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is “out-of-control health insurance costs”.

The Commonwealth’s 2006 Healthcare Reform Legislation, in an effort to extend health insurance coverage to every individual in the state and make it affordable, has in fact eased insurance rates for individual Massachusetts residents but has done so at the expense of small businesses.

By combining two unique insurance markets in the 2006 Reform Legislation—the market that served small business groups and the one that served individuals—insurance rates for individuals were eased by 15%, but those for small businesses went up 1.5%. Should this new legislation pass, the rates would go back up for individuals and also increase for the small businesses that opt not to join the pool of businesses that the legislation has proposed.

In a June 1, 2009 Boston Globe article on this proposed legislation, some industry experts weighed in on better ways for small businesses to access affordable medical insurance coverage for their employees. Dr. Marylou Buyse, President of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, in the article suggested that the state legislators stand behind a proposal that would make it easier for small business owners to obtain coverage for employees through the state-subsidized plan offered by the Insurance Partnership.

However, many small business owners are eager for quick relief from the escalating premium costs for their medical insurance plans, yet do not want to relinquish their plans’ comprehensive coverage levels. They believe that proposed legislation such as Walsh’s will level the playing field between small-to-mid-size and large Massachusetts employers in negotiating affordable rates for group medical insurance plans.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

Are your employees stocking up on healthcare?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ubpblogger @ 9:39 am

A recent survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans on employee usage of group medical benefits revealed a noticeable increase in utilization. The study was conducted between March 30th and April 6th of 2009. During this time period, one-third of companies surveyed claimed that they noticed an increase in the number of plan participants both filling prescriptions and having costly medical procedures performed.

Those who conducted the study speculated that with the fear of layoffs looming over your employees’ heads, they will strive to get the most out of their benefits before they are gone along with their jobs. Employees are scrambling to get medical procedures done while they are still covered under their employers’ medical insurance plans; they might have otherwise delayed these procedures under more favorable economic conditions. Except for Massachusetts residents, unemployed people may choose to forgo COBRA or other insurance coverage because of the high price. By getting medical tests and issues taken care of while they are employed with health insurance, employees in general hope to weather a period of time while they are job searching without insurance.

Have your employees started using their benefits more in light of this economy?

How has this impacted, or how do you anticipate this impacting the bottom line at your company?

May is mental health month, do you know fact versus fiction?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ubpblogger @ 9:30 am
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We all know that the current economic recession has taken a toll on employees’ financial health, but what about their mental health? The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which measures perceptions of both current and projected future well- being, revealed that by the end of 2008, 58% of Americans reported suffering in their lives; 22 million more Americans than when the study was conducted a year before. A 2008 survey from the American Psychological Association found that 80% of Americans say the current economy has caused them stress. Studies have shown a linkage between economic-related stress and prevalence of mental and behavioral health issues.

As far back as 1999, the U.S. Surgeon General reported that indirect costs alone from untreated mental health disorders cost American businesses $70 billion annually. These costs include costs of absenteeism and productivity as well as those associated with hiring and training workers to replace those who are out on disability.

With May being Mental Health Month, now is an opportune time to educate employees and yourselves on mental health, the facts versus fiction. When there is an overall lack of mental health literacy in the workplace, it can stand in the way of resolving your employees’ mental health issues.

Myth: Mental illness only affects a few people and will probably not impact anyone in my workplace.

Fact: Mental illness impacts both employee productivity and absenteeism. And, it’s the leading cause of disability in the workplace. According to a 2001 Wall Street Journal article, in a company of 20 employees, chances are that four of them will suffer from a mental illness..

Myth: People with mental illness are violent; having them in the workplace opens up the risk of them inflicting physical harm on co-workers.

Fact: The vast majority of individuals with mental illnesses are neither violent nor dangerous. This inaccurate stereotype of individuals with mental illnesses has been re-enforced time and time again by media portrayals. A team of researchers at Cornell University who conducted a comprehensive literature review of this phenomenon in real life found absolutely no evidence to support such portrayals.

Myth: Mental illnesses can be caused by stress.

Fact: Stress is not a direct cause of mental illness. However, if someone already has a mental illness, stress can aggravate symptoms or trigger an episode. The true underlying causes of mental illnesses are biological in nature. So, if your employees are stressed due to the fact that they are overworked and/or face economic pressures, it will not lead them to develop a mental illness.

Myth: If an employee has a mental health condition, you should encourage him or her to just take care of it on their own.

Fact: Some mild mental health conditions such as mild depression and mild anxiety can be taken care of by an employee on his or her own through self-help and support. However, if such conditions worsen or persist, then you should encourage the employee to see their doctor or seek the help of a qualified mental health practitioner.

Is manual benefit administration taking up HR’s time?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ubpblogger @ 9:20 am
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One of the quickest and most effective ways to reduce the time costs and complexities of administering your employees’ benefits is eliminating manual, paper-based administration entirely. Manual benefit administration is highly labor intensive, stressful and is an inefficient use of HR staff time. It also places HR Departments at risk for costly (and avoidable) errors and compliance-related penalties.

Our cutting-edge, digital HR management solution The HR in a Box™, helps small-to-mid size companies decrease operating costs and makes it easier for HR teams to avoid errors of interpretation through its clear, consistent message communication from a single source. The HR in a Box™ also creates more flexibility for both employers and employees through self-service.

The HR in a Box™ will greatly reduce the amount of time your company’s HR team spends administering and communicating benefits. This will allow your HR staff to focus on more essential roles such as recruiting and retaining top talent, coaching managers on how to manage more effectively, training employees and a wide variety of other tasks that will help your company grow.

In short, an employer will get more value from his or her HR staff when they are not mired in benefit administration. If the employer does not have a formal HR Department, and has instead parsed HR roles out to other employees (i.e. a Controller or Finance Director, even an Office Manager), they can still benefit immensely from The HR in a Box™. With The HR in a Box™, these companies will have streamlined benefit administration plus legal and compliance resources just a click away to inform even their toughest HR decisions.

Wouldn’t it be great to cut time costs by eliminating manual benefit administration via The HR in a Box™?

Visit our website, http://www.universalbenefitplans.com to learn more and schedule a free product demo.

Recession and layoffs lead to a greater risk of retaliation against employers

Filed under: Uncategorized — ubpblogger @ 9:11 am
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It’s no secret that our economy is in a recession and companies have either laid off or are continuing to lay off workers. A recent Fox TV Rasmussen Report showed that 77 percent of Americans know at least one person who has been laid off from their job and 12 percent of Americans know at least 10 people personally who have been laid off. Given all these layoffs, one thing that employers should keep in mind is the heightened risk of violent retaliations associated with a layoff and with involuntary terminations in general.

While there is no guarantee that a worker will retaliate violently against an employer after being terminated, there is always still a risk. There are several steps that employers and HR professionals can put in place at their companies to help mitigate these risks and help protect all other employees.

1. Give as much warning as possible of upcoming layoffs (that way they will be less of a shock if your employees know they are coming).

2. When your company has selected a particular employee for lay off, explain to them exactly why they are being selected and frame your explanation in as positive a manner as possible (i.e. You are an incredibly hard worker and a wonderful asset to this company, but we have discontinued the product that you work on and we need to let you go.)

3. Most importantly, have a plan for all the logistical aspects of a layoff, starting with deciding whether they will be done individually or as a group. Will terminated employees be allowed to go back to their desks and clean them out themselves or will someone gather their belongings and bring them to the termination site? Either way, make sure to have strong bags or boxes ready. How will you protect confidential information, contact lists and computer files?

4. Treat laid-off employees with dignity. If possible, help them to avoid the layoff “walk of shame”. For example, layoffs could be scheduled during the lunch hour so fewer employees see former co-workers leaving the building with their belongings.

5. While you are laying an employee off, verbally explain issues such as severance packages, unemployment benefits and continuation of insurance coverage under COBRA. You should also send them a letter about these issues. Most employees have a difficult time processing what they hear when they are very upset.

6. Last but not least, in anticipation of a worst-case scenario, have heightened security measures in place, especially during a big week of layoffs or when you are laying off someone you know has a short temper. When you are concerned about safety issues, plan to do the layoff in a room close to an exit door where the terminated employees do not have to walk through an area filled with co-workers on their way out. Finally, never let the employees being terminated sit between the HR Director and other “messengers” and the door, blocking your escape route!

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