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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01/07/2010

Identity theft in the workplace is more common than you think

And it can come from many different people, from a dishonest co-worker, to a temp working in HR, even a visitor to your office building.  If you’re not careful, any of these people can have access to your personal information—and who knows what they’ll do if they get their hands on it.

To keep sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands, here are 3 steps employers and employees both should take:

  1. Keep your personal property in a safe place: Don’t leave your personal belongings such as purses, wallets and laptops unattended. Either have them on your person at all times or keep them in a locked place to which  only you have the key. Also, make sure all documents you have containing personal  information are either on an encrypted computer or stored in a locked file cabinet. When you’re away from your desk, make sure you never leave one of these files open on your computer or one of these cabinet drawers open.
  2. Always assume your work computer is being monitored:  That’s because many employers will routinely scan the content of employees’ email and monitor their Internet use. Because of this, employees should never use their work computers to access password-protected personal accounts, do online banking, send non work-related emails containing personal information or store documents with personally identifying information.
  3. Maintain strict information security policies at your workplace: Among many other things, employers should restrict access of employee personnel data to authorized individuals only and make sure all files containing personal information are stored on encrypted computers, locked file cabinets or secure offsite facilities.

They should also educate employees on all information security measures they’re taking, train employees on their data security responsibilities and require them (as part of their jobs) to obey the data security policy.

12/30/2009

The top 4 policies employers should update for the New Year

Nearly all of us like to kick of the new year with a resolution; get in shape, eat healthier, break a bad habit, manage your money better, the list goes on. The new year gives us all a clean slate and our resolutions motivate us to start the year off right.

For HR professionals, one of the many ways to start the year off right is to make sure all policies in your employee handbooks are up-to-date and compliant with the latest regulations. This will help you strengthen your case in the event that an employee (or former employee) sues you for any type of bias.

When updating your handbook for the new year, employers and HR professionals should look at the following 4 policies first:

  1. FMLA: The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has revised FMLA Regulations several times this past year and requires employers to provide employees a notice of their updated FMLA rights in their handbook (or a handout for new hires). If employers fail to do this and an employee files an FMLA suit, failure to notify is the first area lawyers will attack.
  2. Genetic Discrimination: The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) went into effect late this year prohibiting employers from using genetic information in any employment-related decisions.  This means that employers will need to update their handbooks so that genetic information is listed as one of the “protected traits” with EEO status.
  3. Privacy and electronic devices: Many employees may have privacy expectations in their use of company computers. However, courts generally rule that employers can monitor computer and electronic device usage—since these devices are, in fact, company property. Employers may also limit or prohibit certain activities such as sending inappropriate emails or accessing “adult” materials.  The handbook is often a very effective way for employers to notify employees of their monitoring practices and prohibited activities.
  4. Social networking: New media such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs have become a part of so many of our lives –both personal and professional. Social networking websites are a great way for companies to get their names out there and solidify their brands in the minds of consumers. However, if any employee makes disparaging remarks about his or her employer on Facebook or blogs about trade secrets, new media can become your company’s worst nightmare.

To combat this, many employers have put social media policies in place. If you have one of these policies, the time is now to make sure it’s in your handbook and up to date.

12/03/2009

“Tis the season for giving”, just be careful who you give to and how

With the holidays just around the corner, just about everyone is in a giving mood. Now more than ever we find ourselves dropping our extra change in the Salvation Army bucket outside the grocery store or giving that extra dollar to St. Jude’s whenever we buy something at CVS. Unfortunately, identity thieves are out there taking advantage of all this goodwill.

Every year, natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and wildfires cause many people to lose their property, homes, loved ones or even lives. Thankfully, there are many compassionate people who donate a great deal of time and money to charities that help these victims. Several identity thieves are taking full advantage of this eagerness to help and are using it as an opportunity to capture personal information of unsuspecting individuals.

These scam artists pose as legitimate charitable organizations and send emails out with links to very legitimate looking websites. When individuals click on the sites, they’re asked to submit personal data such as credit card and social security numbers. On top of this, many of these emails contain attachments that when downloaded, install spyware and viruses that are designed to collect sensitive data from individuals’ computers.

To keep the holiday season merry and not fall victim to identity thieves’ charity scams, you and your employees both should take the following precautions:

  • Only make charitable donations to a known organization using a published phone number, address or website.  Also, always make donations directly to the organization, never through a third-party.
  • When you donate to a charity online, always go directly to the charity’s website by typing the URL in your browser or searching for the charity’s name on your search engine.
  • Use various Internet search tools such as Google and Yahoo to verify the legitimacy of the charitable organization before donating to them online.

10/21/2009

What keeps employees up at night more than their debt and retirement funds?

How about providing health insurance to both themselves and their families?

The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards’ 2009 National Consumer Survey on Personal Finance reveals that “generating current income” and “providing health insurance” are numbers 1 and 2 respectively on this year’s list of greatest consumer concerns.

Here’s their list of the top 5 concerns: 

  • Generating current income (59%)
  • Providing health insurance coverage (55%)
  • Managing or reducing debt (53%)
  • Building a retirement fund (51%)
  • Creating an emergency fund (47%)

What this means for employers:

Right now, employees’ greatest concerns are generating an income and insuring themselves and their loved ones. For employers, this means effective benefit and compensation communication is key.

1. Communicate total compensation:

One great way for employers to address the top two employee concerns is through online Total Compensation Statements. These statements show employees every dollar that you’re contributing towards their income generation and their insurance coverage. When employees see the big picture of these two figures put together, it will help them to appreciate everything you’re giving them that much more.

Through our proprietary online HR and benefits management platform, The HR in a Box™, Universal Benefit Plans gives our clients’ employees free access to online Total Compensation Statements 24/7/365. 

2. Offer helpful hints:

In addition to communicating employee total compensation in a streamlined, green and easily-accessible way, HR professionals can offer employees helpful tips for managing their incomes and debts. For example, there are numerous ways to pay down credit card debt faster, such as consolidating all of your credit card debt to a lower interest card and finding small amounts of everyday savings to apply to the principal.

There are many other helpful hints out there that employers can pass along to employees. To access these hints, HR professionals can subscribe to receive free daily or weekly tips from financial websites and select tips to pass along to their employees.

The Hr in a Box™ Employer platform is a great employee communication tool that HR professionals can use it to send financial tips (as well as other HR communications) to all employees.

To sum everything up, Total Compensation Statements highlight all you pay for your employees and the communication tool on The HR in a Box™ lets you help them manage their financial resources better. So now, you can show your employees you care about the things that are keeping them up at night without spending any additional money (which would probably keep your fiscal department up at night!).

10/13/2009

Three changes to Massachusetts Fair Share Contribution (FSC) law employers need to know effective 10/1/09

Effective October 1, 2009, the Massachusetts Division of Health Care Finance and Policy (DHCFP) has approved and adopted an amendment to the state’s Fair Share Contribution (FSC) regulations (114.5 CMR 16.00).

Among the amendments are several technical changes that clarify compliance requirements for businesses subject to the law (Massachusetts employers with 11 or more full-time equivalent employees). Although most of the amendments made are relatively minor, there are three notable revisions that employers should be aware of.

  1. Removal of the majority of time rule: The FSC regulations originally stated that, for the purpose of calculating the percentage of full-time employees enrolled in their health plan, employers would count an employee who worked both full-time and part-time hours during a given quarter as either full-time or part-time based on whether they were full-time or part-time for the majority of the quarter. The new FSC rules delete this confusing provision and now simply require employers to report both the number of full-time employees enrolled in their health plan and on their payroll as of the last day of the quarter under review.
  2. Group Health Plan Documentation Requirement: Under the FSC regulations, employers who offer and contribute to their employees’ group health plan must maintain documentation on it. This documentation must include a written plan description for each plan offered as well as copies of all written communication to employees about plan offerings. This documentation must contain information on benefits eligibility (including the minimum number of hours employees must work in order to be eligible for benefits) and information on premium contributions. Also, the written plan description must give evidence that the group health plan was in place during the quarter under review.
  3. Premium Reimbursement Arrangements are now recognized as group health plans: However, this is only true provided that employers have written documentation designating specific insurance plans for use by employers.

As mentioned earlier, these new FSC regulations are now in effect and employers will need to immediately take all necessary steps to ensure compliance with them.

Employers can find the full text of the newly revised FSC law on the Division of Health Care Finance and Policy (DHCFP) page of www.mass.gov.

10/07/2009

Quality Improvement and Market Reform top Employers’ health care wish list

In a recent survey done by HR consultancy firm Mercer, employers selected quality improvement and market reform as their top priorities for our nation’s health care overhaul.

First on the list of priorities was quality improvement. It was listed by 60 percent of respondents as a top priority and includes among other things:

  • Building more credible databases for evaluating provider performance and paying providers for outcomes
  • Adopting health information technology
  • Improving coordination of care for people with complex illnesses
  • Increasing primary care resources, especially in underserved locations

Linda Havlin, a Mercer worldwide partner stated that quality improvement is the number one option employers have for controlling rising health care costs. She suggested that the government can support this cost-control need “by aligning government-sponsored programs with private sector initiatives”.

The second item on employers’ wish list was the enactment of insurance market reforms. Fifty percent of employers cited market reforms such as elimination or pre-existing conditions exclusions and lifetime benefit caps as a high priority.

Two items that didn’t make the “wish list”

Within the healthcare reform proposals, two of the items employers oppose the most are:

  • Limits to the favorable tax-treatments of employer-sponsored health benefits (i.e. the proposed taxes on “Cadillac plans”)
  • Mandates for employers to offer coverage

Mercer’s survey results showed that 59 and 52% of employers respectively do not want these two items included in the final reform.

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who recently proposed a “play or pay” mandate for employers to offer health insurance coverage, recently stated his belief that more employers would terminate their offering of health care coverage if it wasn’t mandatory.

 As Massachusetts employers, has the statewide mandate for employers (with 11+ full-time equivalent employees) to offer (and pay at least 33% of) coverage or make a Fair Share Contribution to employees’ health insurance costs, affected your decision to offer insurance?

Also, how do you think lawmakers should define the so-called “Cadillac health plans”?

Should the upper limit for favorable tax treatment be the same in places with the highest costs of living as they are in places with the lowest or should there be no difference?

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).

07/15/2009

Encrypting employee information and identity theft

Filed under: Massachusetts encryption law — ubpblogger @ 8:30 am
Tags: , ,

Although 42 of our 50 states that have passed what are called, “data breach notification laws,” Massachusetts is definitely leading the charge on the issue of safekeeping critical information, and seemingly, for all benefits reform in the U.S. Massachusetts has legislated that encryption of all critical employee data be accomplished by 2010. This could save millions of dollars (and thousands of families) by virtually ending identity theft in the workplace. But is it worth the burden on corporations, both in time and financially? Are we asking too much? How are overtaxed, understaffed employee benefits teams to accomplish this?

Although one of the biggest issues for organizations and their employee benefits teams right now is that a critical data breach almost insures that you’ll be slapped with one (or more) class-action lawsuits – thus becoming a huge liability issue – the costs of preventing such a breach (i.e., identity theft) can be huge. With millions of records already lost and millions more at risk  there’s simply no way to get around the fact that encryption of records MUST be part of a comprehensive data security plan.

Why? Quite bluntly, anyone who’s been – or who knows someone who’s been — the victim of identity theft will tell you that it’s an awful, horrible crime – and trying regain their status and protect themselves in the future is like a never ending nightmare. The amount of personal data collected by employee benefits teams and human resources departments is, by necessity, enormous. Protecting those individuals MUST be a top priority, and if the nation follows the lead of Massachusetts any time soon, it will be.

If you’re fortunate enough, you may find that your insurance broker is actually able to maintain all of your employee data and handle the encryption issue themselves, thus protecting your employees AND your company from the nightmare of identity theft and the liability that goes along with it

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