Yearly Archives: 2015

  • HR/Benefits Group First to Launch Wellness Trainings Donated to Community

    March 11, 2015

    For Immediate Release
    Contact: Jenny Kaplan, JKC

    Partners with St. Joseph Health, Whole Foods Market and Petaluma Health Care District

    Petaluma, CA – Arrow Benefits Group, the 3rd largest HR/benefits Company in the North Bay, announces its Community Wellness Series. They are the first local business to partner with healthcare industry leaders to donate trainings and lectures on health and wellbeing. Their goal is to offer a variety of tools and techniques that will vastly improve the lives of the attendees. They’ve partnered with St. Joseph Health for one-of-a-kind Work@Health® lectures focused on teaching a variety of proven methods for vastly improving overall health at work. The event will be a fun and engaging evening including delicious wine and refreshments. The lively presentation will be led by Jeannie Calverley, Director of Employer and Community Relations and Teresa Scott, Population Health Specialist for St. Joseph Health on Tuesday March 24th, 2015 at 4:00 – 5:30 PM in the new Arrow Benefits training room. Space is limited and first come first serve – please contact Andrew McNeil at 707-992-3789 or ASAP for details and to reserve seats.

    The idea for the Wellness Series was sparked by inquiries from clients who were looking for support for health related issues. “Arrow Benefits Group is excited to launch this Wellness Series and we’re especially honored to have St. Joseph Health partner with us,” says Andrew McNeil, Principal at Arrow Benefits Group. “We started this program because we’re interested in supporting the community and we’ve planned numerous trainings throughout the year with both St. Joseph and several other industry experts.” In May, Arrow will welcome Whole Foods Market Healthy Eating Specialist, Sharon Bowen, who will discuss nutrition and the Four Pillars of Health. The entire series began with CPR training and certification with the Petaluma Health Care District which continues throughout 2015.

    About St. Joseph Health

    St. Joseph’s Work@Health® Program was developed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that provides employers with free access to professional-level training in worksite wellness. The training is comprehensive and science-based, designed to give employers the necessary knowledge and resources to customize a plan for worksite wellness that will be sustainable and achieve results. It isdesigned to train employers how to establish, expand and improve science- and practice-based health promotion strategies that will lead to specific, measureable means to reduce chronic disease rates in the workplace. It provides knowledge and tools to promote good health and prevent or reduce chronic illness and disability. This lecture is sponsored by Western Health Advantage in partnership with St. Joseph Health and Arrow Benefits Group.

    About Arrow Benefits Group

    Arrow Benefits Group, located north of San Francisco, is a proud partner of United Benefit Advisors (UBA), one of the largest benefits consulting and brokerage firms in the country. With more than 200 UBA offices throughout North America and the United Kingdom, we offer global reach with local support. Arrow Benefits Group is your single-source solution for managing the complexities of benefits with expert advice, customized programs, and personalized HR solutions.  Our innovative programs contribute true value to your company, helping you control costs and giving your employees a greater sense of financial and emotional security. We are more than benefits, we are The Human Resource. For straight answers to employee benefits or HR questions, call 707.992.3780 or visit


  • Think 2014 tax forms are bad? Here come the 1094 and 1095 for 2015! | California Employee Benefits

    March 11, 2015

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    By Bill Olson, Chief Marketing Officer at United Benefit Advisors

    Our recent blog reviewed the highlights of the new employer and insurer reporting requirements. UBA has created this quick reference chart to help you sort out who should use which form, and when:


    For comprehensive information on coverage requirements, due dates, special circumstances, controlled groups and how to complete the forms—including sample situations—request UBA’s PPACA Advisor, “IRS Issues Final Forms and Instructions for Employer and Individual Shared Responsibility Reporting Forms”.

    Read More …

  • IRS Provides 2015 Mileage Rates and Guidance on Retroactive Transit Benefit Increase| Petaluma Benefits Broker

    March 9, 2015

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    By Bill Olson, Chief Marketing Officer at United Benefit Advisors

    On December 10, 2014 the IRS released the optional standard mileage rates for 2015. Beginning on January 1, 2015, the standard rates for the use of a car, van, pickup or panel truck are: guage

    • 57.5 cents per mile for business miles, up from 56 cents in 2014
    • 23 cents per mile for medical or moving purposes, down half a cent from 2014

    Taxpayers may instead claim deductions based on the actual costs of using a vehicle rather than the standard mileage rates if they prefer.

    The Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014 (TIPA) retroactively increases the 2014 combined limit for transit passes and vanpooling benefits provided under a qualified transportation plan to equal the $250 per month limit for qualified parking benefits.  This increase only applies to 2014 – for 2015 the limits for transit passes and vanpooling benefits will again reduce to the pre-TIPA levels of $130 per month for transit passes and $25 per month for qualified parking unless Congress passes another extension bill.

    Because this increase occurred so late in the year, it is of limited value to most employers and employees. Employers able to take advantage of the increased limit have raised questions about how to handle and report it. On January 9, 2015 the IRS issued Notice 2015-2.  This notice provides a special process for employers that provide additional tax-exempt benefits to make corresponding adjustments to Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) withholding and reporting.  Any excess withholding of federal income tax will not be adjusted by the employer, but may be claimed by the employee when the Form 1040 is filed. The Notice states that employers may not simply contribute or allow employees to contribute amounts above the monthly limit to recoup the 2014 amounts. Employers may use the normal refund process that applies when FICA is withheld in error if they prefer.

    For more information on this Notice, download UBA’s PPACA Advisor, “IRS Provides Process to Address Retroactive Increase in Excludable Transit Benefits”.

    Read More …

  • Wellness Programs Feeling the Heat as the EEOC Increases Its Efforts – Part 2, Federal Regulations |California Benefits Broker

    March 3, 2015

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    As mentioned in the first posting, wellness programs must be analyzed under a myriad of laws and regulations. This post will discuss generally the wellness program landscape in light of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)/Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA), the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the Nondiscrimination Regulations. This is a 30,000-foot overview of laws and regulations that are in need of microscopic scrutiny when applying them to a wellness program.therm


    The ADA/ADAAA generally prohibits discrimination in employment against a qualified individual on the basis of a disability in regard to employee compensation and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. Further is a prohibition from requiring a medical examination and making inquiries of an employee as to whether he or she has a disability, or as to the nature or severity of a disability, unless such examination or inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.

    However, there is a statutory safe harbor that exempts certain insurance plans from the ADA’s general prohibitions. The “benefit plan exception” states that the ADA shall not be construed as prohibiting an employer from establishing, sponsoring, observing, or administering the terms of a bona fide benefit plan that are based on underwriting risks, classifying risks, or administering such risks that are based on, or not inconsistent with, state law or where the plan is not subject to state law (a self-funded benefit plan) so long as the exemption is not used as a subterfuge for discrimination. As such, voluntary medical examinations and/or histories, which are part of a group wellness program, are permissible so long as strict confidential processes are followed.

    What does it mean to be voluntary? There is no short answer, but the abbreviated answer is that a wellness program may be voluntary if the employer neither requires participation, nor penalizes employees who do not participate. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) once posited that a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) administered as part of a wellness program that meets the incentive limitations of HIPAA wellness regulations – no more than a (then) 20% reward – would be deemed voluntary and would not violate the ADA. Unfortunately, this portion of the opinion letter was withdrawn because it was outside the scope of the request. The position currently held by the EEOC is that an incentive is a veiled penalty, which, in essence, makes the program involuntary and, thus, violates the ADA. However, this is in conflict with the “benefit plan exception,” noted above.


    Generally, GINA prohibits both the acquisition of genetic information as well as the use of genetic information by employers in employment decisions. As it applies to group health plans, Title I prohibits discrimination in health insurance premiums based on genetic information and places limitations on genetic testing and the collection of genetic information. Title II prohibits the use of genetic information in the employment context, restricts employers from requesting, requiring, or purchasing genetic information, and strictly limits employers from disclosing genetic information.

    In general, Title II limits the conditions under which an employer might lawfully collect genetic information pursuant to an employer-sponsored wellness program and it requires those employers to follow strict privacy and confidentiality mandates. Under GINA, it is unlawful for an employer to request, require, or purchase genetic information with respect to an employee or an employee’s family member. There is an exception if the information is part of a wellness program, subject to strict adherence of the following three requirements:

    1. The employee provides prior, knowing, voluntary, and written authorization;
    2. Only the employee (or family member if the family member is receiving genetic services) and the licensed health care professional, or board certified genetic counselor involved in providing such services, receive individually identifiable information concerning the results of such services; and
    3. Any individually identifiable genetic information provided in connection with the services is only available for purposes of such services and shall not be disclosed to the employer except in aggregate terms that do not disclose the identity of specific employees.

    Again, what does it mean to be voluntary? In the preamble to the 2010 final regulations implementing Title II, the EEOC concluded that a wellness program is voluntary if the program neither requires participation, nor penalizes employees for non-participation. The EEOC concluded that it would not violate Title II for an employer to offer individuals an inducement for completing an HRA that includes questions about family medical history, or other genetic information, as long as the employer specifically identifies those questions and makes clear, in language reasonably likely to be understood by those completing the HRA, that the individual need not answer the questions that request genetic information in order to receive the inducement. The EEOC specifically declined to take the approach taken in HIPAA regulations – no more than a (then) 20% reward – and, instead, added that adherence to Title II of GINA does not guarantee adherence to Title I of GINA, ADA, or HIPAA.


    The general rule pursuant to HIPAA nondiscrimination provisions is that a plan or issuer is prohibited from charging similarly situated individuals different premiums or contributions on the basis of a “health factor.” However, there is an exception to the general rule if the reward, i.e., premium discount, is based on participation in a program reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease, i.e., a “wellness program.”

    When analyzing a wellness program under PPACA and HIPAA, the first step is to determine whether the wellness program – or, as it may be the case, which part of the wellness program – is “participatory” or “health-contingent.” Participatory wellness programs are not required to follow HIPAA nondiscrimination provisions, discussed below. However, and to the point of this blog series, participatory (and health-contingent) wellness programs should be reviewed and scrutinized against the provisions of GINA, ADA, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), Internal Revenue Code (IRC), and other federal and state laws.

    Participatory wellness programs are defined under HIPAA nondiscrimination final regulations as programs that either do not provide a reward, or do not include any conditions for obtaining a reward that are based on an individual satisfying a standard that is related to a health factor. Examples include a program that reimburses employees for all or part of the cost of membership in a fitness center, a diagnostic testing program that provides a reward for participation and does not base any part of the reward on outcomes, and a program that provides a reward to employees for attending a monthly, no-cost health education seminar.

    If the wellness program, or a piece of the wellness program, is participatory, it does not have to follow HIPAA nondiscrimination regulations. However, if the wellness program, or a portion thereof, is health-contingent, then the program must be analyzed pursuant to HIPAA nondiscrimination regulations.

    HIPAA Nondiscrimination Provisions and the Wellness Program Exception

    Health-contingent wellness programs, in contrast to participatory programs, require an individual to satisfy a standard related to a health factor to obtain a reward or require an individual to undertake more than a similarly situated individual based on a health factor in order to obtain the same reward. The standard may be performing or completing an activity relating to a health factor, or it may be attaining or maintaining a specific health outcome. The final regulations further subdivided health-contingent programs into (1) activity-only wellness programs, and (2) outcome-based wellness programs. While there are some differences, both types are permissible only if the program adheres to the five prongs:

    1. Be reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease (the same rules apply to activity-only and outcome-based programs);
    2. Give employees a chance to qualify for the incentive at least once a year (the same rules apply to activity-only and outcome-based programs);
    3. Cap the reward or penalty at 50% of the total cost of coverage for avoiding tobacco and at 30% for all other types of wellness incentives (the same rules apply to activity-only and outcome-based programs);
    4. Provide an alternative way to qualify for the incentive for those who have medical conditions (different rules apply to activity-only and outcome-based programs); and
    5. Describe the availability of the alternative method of qualifying for the incentive in written program materials (the same rules apply to activity-only and outcome-based programs).

    These rules set forth criteria for an affirmative defense that can be used by plans and issuers in response to a claim that the plan or issuer discriminated under HIPAA nondiscrimination provisions.

    This is not the end…

    The above is merely a general overview of the innate tension created by conflicting regulations, compounded by the lack of guidance from the commission, which is confronting concerned employers who have chosen to be proactive in combating the costs of health care and improving consumers’ lives. The next part of the series will discuss the movements in the courts, the backlash felt by the EEOC, and steps employers should take.

    For more data on wellness programs and other plan design trends, download the 2014 Health Plan Executive Summary. This survey – which has been conducted every year since 2005 – is the nation’s largest health plan survey and provides more accurate benchmarking data than any other source in the industry. You can contact a UBA Partner Firm for a customized benchmark report based on industry, region and business size.

    Read More …

  • Why Buy Group Health Insurance through a Broker? | Petaluma Benefits Broker

    February 26, 2015

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    By Terry Allard, CEBS, Sr. Benefits Advisor at The Wilson Agency

    Employers have a lot of choices when it comes to buying group health insurance, including going directly to a carrier (or one of its agents), buying online, or going through a broker. Direct-to-carrier paths make it more difficult to shop the market across product lines, and buying online can leave the employer responsible for navigating Pros and cons“representative” quotes, difficult terminology, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) compliance and ongoing service issues. Good brokers, on the other hand, have the market, compliance, and product knowledge to help employers save money and appropriately manage risk. They will typically offer hands-on experience, free top tools and resources, and a one-stop shop for programs and services. United Benefit Advisors (UBA) is a partnership of the country’s leading independent brokers, a unique model that offers the “Wall Street” savings, resources, and efficiencies of a large centralized company along with the “Main Street” personalized service and entrepreneurial spirit of a local business. In fact, that’s why we like to call UBA Partners “advisors,” not “brokers.” There are many questions you should ask before hiring an advisor, but first and foremost, benefit advisors should have the heart of a teacher in order to effectively guide you through the complex maze of regulations, legalities, coverages, plans, and options.

    A benefit advisor’s primary job is to orchestrate the competition of insurance carriers by compiling a complete and accurate submission of what your company is looking for, and making sure each carrier in the market receives the same information. Consider them to be like your own personal shopper. They present your business to insurers in the most effective fashion and use their marketplace knowledge and carrier relationships to negotiate the most favorable terms and conditions for your company. In addition, a good broker can provide additional insights to you on the carrier’s strengths, weaknesses, and past performance. But, wait! There’s more.

    An advisor’s service to the client should continue after the bid process. Depending on the broker and the relationship, brokers will assist their clients with claim difficulties, employee communications, notify and explain upcoming and current regulations, risk management and all other areas relating to benefits and compensation. In our business, we also provide many tools and resources to help your human resource department or tasks because benefits and HR go together. When one is functioning at a high level, it supports the efforts of the other.

    Even before the bidding process, your benefit advisor can help you decide what benefits are important to you, how you want to structure your total compensation, your budget, and your requirements. They in turn present all of this information to the most appropriate carriers and return to you with the best options for your business, saving you lots of time. This two-step approach allows independent evaluation of the most beneficial relationships for your company to pursue.

    Competition among brokerage firms and among insurance companies are essential tools in helping businesses learn what the marketplace has to offer. A structured advisor evaluation and selection process is the best way for employers to ensure they receive optimum value and gain the competitive advantage and long-term cost management they are striving to achieve. Advice and service are widely available, but the question is: Are you getting good advice and service? Make the right choice.

    To learn more about choosing the right benefit advisor, download the brochure “A benefit broker prepares cost estimates. Your benefit advisor performs cost management.”

    Read More …

  • 2015 Cost-of-Living Adjustments | California Employee Benefits

    February 23, 2015

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    By Linda Rowings

    Many employee benefit limits are automatically adjusted each year for inflation (this is often referred to as an “indexed” limit). The Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration have released a number of indexed figures for 2015.

    Limits of particular interest to employers include the following.Money

    For health and Section 125 plans:

    • The health flexible spending account (HFSA) maximum employee contribution is increasing to $2,550.
    • The maximum out-of-pocket limit that applies to non-grandfathered group health plans that are not coupled with a health savings account (HSA) will be $6,600 per individual and $13,200 per family.
    • The maximum out-of-pocket for a high deductible health plan coupled with an HSA will increase to $6,450 per individual and $12,900 per family.
    • The minimum deductible for a high deductible health plan coupled with a health savings account (HSA) will increase to $1,300 per individual and $2,600 per family.
    • The maximum HSA contribution will increase to $3,350 for individual coverage and $6,650 for family coverage. The catch-up contribution (available to those aged 55 and older) remains at $1,000.

     For qualified plans:

    • The annual deferral for 401(k), 403(b), and most 457(b) plans will increase to $18,000.
    • The catch-up contribution limits (available to those aged 50 and older) will increase to $6,000.
    • The threshold for “highly compensated employees” will increase to $120,000.
    • The threshold for an officer to have “key employee” status remains at $170,000
    • The annual compensation limit will increase to $265,000

     Social Security/Medicare Withholding:

    • The taxable wage base will increase to $118,500
    • The OASDI tax rate remains at 6.2%
    • The Medicare tax rate remains at 1.45%

    Read More …

  • Petaluma a healthy role model | Arrow Benefits Group

    February 19, 2015

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    Strategies in Petaluma draw attention of state health department
    By Jeff Quackenbush, Business Journal Staff Reporter

    The Petaluma Health Care District has drawn the attention and praise of a top California health official for its community programs.
    “This is a model for other communities,” said California Department of Health Care Services Chief Medical Officer Dr. Neal Kohatsu, who was impressed with what he saw during a daylong site visit to Petaluma. “They’ve done good work developing their health care system, with quality strategies fostering a healthy community. Great work all around.”

    DHCS was particularly impressed with that community’s health model, which includes services and funding administered outside of Petaluma Valley Hospital. They requested to visit Petaluma because they wanted to see the hands-on efforts that health care districts can play in communities, beyond acute care and hospitals.

    Dr. Kohatsu said his team will take what they learned from the day and work with other counties state-wide on issues of education and social services, making sure people can find healthcare services available to them.

    The visit took DHCS attendees to McDowell Elementary School, Petaluma Community Center, Petaluma Health Center, meeting with childcare specialists, the Petaluma Police Department, PHCD’s CEO Ramona Faith, community outreach representatives and the Heartsafe Community program.

    “The overall theme that jumped out at me throughout the day was how the PHCD is the “glue” that fosters business and nonprofit collaboration to tackle health issues in the community. It identifies community health needs through its assessments, feedback, etc. and then brings the right groups to the table to launch initiatives to address issues,” said Melinda Hepp, spokesperson for PHCD.

    One of those groups is the Healthy Community Consortium (HC2), which has been collaborating with the community for over 20 years. It has a history of dealing with youth issues and have developed strategies to reduce high rates of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use.

    The root of the problem, they found, was easy social and commercial access, low perception of risks and an over concentration of alcohol outlets. While the state average is one alcohol serving establishment for every 558 residents, Petaluma’s rate is 1 for every 279.

    Petaluma also historically had a high number of adults, hosting parties with underage drinking, the group found. HC2 worked to institute fines and possible arrest for anyone hosting such a party and since then police responses to such gatherings have been greatly reduced, said Diane Davis, HC2 program coordinator.

    “Change takes time. You have to change attitudes and behavior. It takes a while but we’re getting there,” she said.

    HC2 also worked to established a free “responsible beverage service” training which is now required every three years for establishments serving alcohol.

    The group has also handed out packets to students at the beginning of the school year including a pledge against drugs for them and their parents to sign.

    As a sign of their success in teen smoking, in 2008 Petaluma had one of the highest teen smoking rates in the state. In 2013, the number was down by 10 percent. HC2 has also proposed passing an ordinance banning smoking from multi-unit housing, hotels, outdoor dining and business entryways, and banning e-cigarettes in eating and drinking establishments.

    PHCD is a public agency committed to improving the health and well-being of Southern Sonoma County. It was formed in 1946. PHCD owns Petaluma Valley Hospital and leases its operation to St. Joseph Health.

    In other efforts PHCD is:

    • Working with partners to increase the number of 3 to 4-year olds who attend preschool by expanding facilities, leveraging funds and dedicating local funding.
    • Partnering with mental and behavioral health groups in Sober Circle linking the chronically inebriated homeless to sobriety services and social support programs.
    • Increasing consumption of locally produced fruits and vegetables among Calfresh recipients by providing a $10 matching incentive at Petaluma Farmers Markets.
    • Partnering with Heartsafe Community to increase survival rates from cardiac emergencies through training and AED installations.

    HeartSafe Community (HSC)’s goal is to increase survival rates from cardiac emergencies through CPR/AED training, and strategic AED installations in the workplace. The group partners with local police and other entities in the community.

    Most recently, Arrow Benefits has volunteered to conduct CPR classes and provide referrals for AED equipment. The first class was Feb. 11. Andrew McNeil, principal at Arrow, will be facilitating classes each quarter, and is spearheading other community health related trainings with St. Joseph’s and Whole Foods. Arrow is also in the process of booking other speakers to present on other health related topics such as eating healthy and cancer prevention.

    “The goal is making people more health conscious in general. We discovered the community as a whole is interested in looking at ways to do that,” Mr. McNeil said.

    Read More …

  • The President is in the Act – of Paid Leave Proposals

    February 17, 2015

    The states are moving ahead, so just in time to be behind President Obama announced in his State of the Union address and then proposed the Healthy Families Act which would allow working Americans to earn up to seven days per year of paid sick time.  Key elements:

    1)    Applies to groups of 15 or more employees
    2)    Provides accrual of one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked – up to 56 hours
    3)    Provide employees with the ability to use leave after 60 days of employment
    4)    Carry over leave from year to year
    5)    Allow the use of sick leave for employee illness as well as sick family member
    6)    Allow use to deal with domestic violence (e.g. medical treatment or going to court)
    7)    Require reinstatement of unused sick leave if the employee is rehired within a year

    Unfortunately, the final law will not pre empt state or local laws, so administration will be tricky.

  • How Businesses Can Apply for Tax Credits: GO-Biz California Competes Workshop in Petaluma | Arrow Benefits Group

    February 16, 2015

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    FREE Seminar!

    CA_TAXThe Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) is hosting a workshop on the California Competes Tax Credit.

    Small, medium and large businesses are encouraged to attend the workshop and receive instruction on how to apply for this tax credit program available from the State.

    Come and learn how your business can apply for millions in available tax credits.

    The workshop and the program are both free and available to businesses of all sizes.

    Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz)
    Meeting Room A-D

    Tuesday, February 24, 2015

    from 9:00 AM to 10:00 AM (PST

    Free surface lot adjacent to building

    Workshop Co-Hosts:
    Sonoma County Economic Development Board

    Petaluma Chamber of Commerce

    Read More …

  • Benefit Survey Results – How do you Compare?

    February 13, 2015

    The latest survey of the International Foundation of Employee Benefits has been published, the result of interviews with 571 organizations of all sizes.  For the plan year 2014, the results are:

    The average cost of benefits as a percentage of payroll costs is 32% — of those surveyed, 21 to 25% pay 13%, 26- 35% pay 19% and 36-40% pay 17%

    For health plans offered, 98% write medical, 92% dental, 73% vision, 84% life insurance, 61% long term disability, 98% paid holidays and paid vacation and 93% paid sick leave

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