UBP blog

01/13/2010

Recent anti-discrimination laws make rules on wellness program questionnaires a lot tougher

A new year is under way and companies everywhere are getting started with their 2010 resolutions. Given the rising health care costs that have plagued us all lately, it’s no surprise that improving employee wellness is a popular one.

Many employers are beginning to incorporate wellness programs and initiatives into their overall group health plan design. When implementing a wellness program, health risk assessments (HRAs) are a great tool employers can use to track employee progress and generate plan effectiveness metrics.

However, for employers that use HRAs in wellness programs, there are quite a few Federal rules to follow. Recent Federal laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment (ADAA) and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) have only made the rules tougher.

The new, tougher anti-discrimination rules as they stand:

ADA (and ADAA amendment):

Health risk assessments included in a group health plan’s wellness program (even if they are HIPAA compliant) still run the risk of being non-compliant with the ADA.

As amended by the ADAA, the ADA prohibits employers from requiring employees to undergo medical examinations or inquiries unless they are made on a post-job offer basis and they’re either job-related or designed to meet a specific business need. Also, medical examinations and questionnaires that are voluntary and part of a worksite wellness program do not violate the ADA.

So, essentially, if employees can opt-in to or opt-out of taking your wellness program’s HRA and their incentive/penalty does not violate HIPAA (i.e. the value of the incentive or penalty cannot exceed 20% of the cost of an employee’s coverage on the group health plan), then your group should be fine with ADA compliance.

GINA:

Effective the first of the plan year following December 7, 2009, employers must comply with the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). But, how does GINA affect wellness program HRAs?

The GINA Act’s interim final rule prohibits (in most cases) the use of an HRA in conjunction with a wellness program if “genetic information” (i.e. result’s of an employee’s genetic tests or information on family medical history) is collected for “underwriting purposes”.

In the context of GINA, collecting information for “underwriting purposes” does not just mean you’re collecting it for the purpose of setting rates, the definition is very broad.  The Act’s “underwriting” exclusion restricts employers from collecting, requesting and requiring genetic information in connection with an incentive (i.e. premium discount or rebate, reduction in co-pays or deductibles). So, if you have an incentive-based wellness program, it’s better to be safe than sorry and leave genetic information out of your questionnaires.

What employers need to do:

To avoid costly excise taxes and civil penalties, employers that have or are considering incentive based HRAs for HIPAA-compliant wellness programs should consider the following:

  1. Partner up with your legal counsel and perform an objective review of your current wellness program. From this review you should determine whether or not your plan complies with GINA and ADA as amended. Also, if your plan’s not compliant, know what steps you’ll need to take to bring it into compliance.
  2. Keep the lines of communication open with your legal counsel on new developments related to HRAs in incentive-based wellness programs.
  3. Involve your service providers in developing HRAs, employee communication and wellness plan features that will comply with GINA and the ADA.
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09/21/2009

When it comes to communicating employee benefits, no news is the worst news you can give

Filed under: employee benefit communication — ubpblogger @ 9:15 am
Tags: , ,

In spite of this, many employers are currently giving employees no news on their benefits. Data from the report Watson Wyatt 2009/2010 Communication ROI reveals that just 28% of companies plan to increase communication on employee benefits.

The report’s findings paint an even bleaker picture from the employee end of the spectrum. Case in point, 54% of employees nationwide (that’s more than half of all working Americans) have not received any communications this past year from their employers about their company’s current benefits or future plans regarding their benefit programs.

Two possible reasons for this are as follows:

  • Many company leaders feel it’s not their responsibility to communicate employee benefits
  • Many other leaders within companies are opting to simply communicate the negative effects of the current economic recession to employees, and nothing further.

What should be done?

As the economy remains weak, companies should reassure employees of the positive offerings still available to them. For example, if money at your company is tight yet you’re still able to offer employees a robust benefits package, why, then should you not communicate this to them?

Also, we all know that in difficult economic times, change (whether positive or negative) is inevitable and no company is completely immune to it.  Employers can reduce or possibly eliminate fear and confusion in the minds of employees caused by major changes if they do the following:

  • Sufficiently prepare employees for changes they’ve anticipated
  • Let employees know what will stay the same
  • Make sure employees know what is expected of them

Why is this employer-employee communication necessary? 

If employers fail to communicate vital benefits and company information to their employees, they risk losing their trust, making them feel undervalued or even leading them to search for other employment.

Providing employees with information about their benefits and keeping them in the loop regarding company developments, good or bad, gives them a sense of understanding and aids in their overall motivation. With no news at all, employers create a void between themselves and their employees that will ultimately hurt their organization.

So, when it comes to discussing employee benefits, it’s best for HR professionals to keep the lines of communication wide open.

01/05/2009

The HR in a Box™ HR Forums allow employers to tap into seasoned policy and compliance expertise.

No HR decisions concerning policy violations or job performance ever occur in a vacuum.  Wrongful terminations are often grounds for legal action, especially when injury, illness and disability are involved. HR Managers face complex scenarios every day, especially given the current economy where cost cuts and layoffs are occurring more frequently than ever. 

The HR in a Box™’s HR Forum allows experienced and novice HR professionals alike to make complicated judgment calls backed by the advice and support of HR experts. The Forum’s most vibrant participants make themselves available and accessible to answer your toughest questions based on prior knowledge and past experience.  Do you ever feel uncertain because the HR decisions you’re making for your company are based on zero precedent? With the HR Forum, this will no longer be the case. Many of our participants have been human resources professionals for more than a decade and can speak from multiple experiences with your most taxing situations.

HR Forum participants are employed in all 50 states so state-specific discipline, performance, termination and policy issues can be accurately addressed on a state-by-state basis. Do you know the subtleties of your state’s employment laws and regulations? If you’re unsure about these, let our Forum experts clarify the essential information for you. Think of the HR Forum like being back in school only now, when you have a question, thousands of “teachers” from across the nation will hear you ask it.

Universal Benefit Plans’ leading-edge employee benefits and HR management solution The HR in a Box™ not only strengthens your HR decision-making capabilities through expert opinion and accurate, up-to-the minute information delivery, it also eliminates manual benefits administration, empowers employees through 24/7 self-service access to clear and comprehensive benefits communication and serves as a mechanism for uniform delivery of HR communication.

 

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