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  • Exploring Heart Health

    July 12, 2021

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    Heartbreaks are painful, but did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 655,000 people dying from the condition each year. This equates to one in four deaths attributed to this awful disease. The most common form of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD), which is what can cause heart attacks.

    CAD is caused when a substance called plaque builds up in a person’s arteries. As the buildup grows, the opening of the arteries gradually closes until blood flow is blocked and the patient experiences a heart attack. While these statistics are sobering, there are several ways we can prevent heart disease. Knowing the “why” about this disease can aid in prevention. First, let’s learn about the big three risk factors of heart disease:

    High Blood Pressure

    High blood pressure (HBP) is the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls. This is what your nurse checks when she puts the blood pressure cuff on your arm and pumps air into it at your check-up. She is listening for the pressure when your heart beats and the pressure for when your heart is at rest between beats. High blood pressure usually has no signs or symptoms so it is very important to keep your annual physical appointments with your doctor and to follow her recommendations if she diagnoses you with HBP.

    High Cholesterol

    High cholesterol is when you develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels. These deposits can lead to narrow vessels and increase your chance of a heart attack. It is determined through blood tests. While high cholesterol can be inherited, it can also be prevented through medication, diet and exercise.

    Smoking

    Smokers are four times more likely to develop heart disease than non-smokers. The nicotine in smoke reduces your blood flow, raises your blood pressure, and speeds up your heart. Quitting smoking will not reverse the damage done to your heart, but it greatly reduces the damage going forward to your heart and arteries.

    In addition to the three key risk factors, it’s important to explore what we can do to prevent it. Prevention behaviors can take you from the danger zone of heart disease and put you on the path to a healthy heart.

    Heart Disease Prevention

    Healthy Diet

    According to the Mayo Clinic, simple tips to prevent heart disease by diet include tips like these:  controlling portion size, eating more vegetables and fruits, selecting whole grains, limiting unhealthy fats, choosing low-fat protein, reducing sodium intake, and limiting treats.

    Healthy Weight

    Being overweight increases your risk for heart disease. One measure used to determine if your weight is in a healthy range is body mass index (BMI). If you know your weight and height, you can calculate your BMI at CDC’s Assessing Your Weight website. When in doubt, consult a physician who can help in calculating whether your health is at risk due to weight.

    Physical Activity

    Among the many benefits to getting enough physical activity can, it can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels. From walking, to swimming, to cycling, adding even moderate activity to your routine can have a great impact on your heart health. Just remember, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen.

    Quit Smoking

    Smoking cigarettes greatly increases your risk for heart disease. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease. Your doctor can suggest ways to help you quit, and you can find many other helpful resources, including creating a tailored plan to help you quit at SmokeFree.gov.

    Limit Alcohol

    There’s a good reason your doctor asks about routine alcohol consumption at each check-up. Drinking too much alcohol can drastically raise blood pressure and binge drinking can increase heart rate. For heart health, the medical guidelines state that men should have no more than two drinks per day, and women only one. Talk to your doctor if you aren’t sure whether or not you should drink alcohol or how much you should drink for optimal heart health.

    Check out these great resources to better educate yourself and others on heart health:

    Understand Your Risks to Prevent a Heart Attack

    Heart Health Information

    Strategies to Prevent Heart Disease

    Heart Health Tips

  • IRS Provides Guidance on Premium Assistance and Tax Credit for Continuation Health Coverage

    July 7, 2021

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    WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today provided guidance on tax breaks under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 for continuation health coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA).

    Notice 2021-31 PDF provides guidance for employers, plan administrators, and health insurers regarding the new credit available to them for providing continuation health coverage to certain individuals under COBRA.

    The American Rescue Plan provides a temporary 100% reduction in the premium that individuals would have to pay when they elect COBRA continuation health coverage following a reduction in hours or an involuntary termination of employment. The new law provides a corresponding tax credit for the entities that maintain group health plans, such as employers, multiemployer plans, and insurers. The 100% reduction in the premium and the credit are also available with respect to continuation coverage provided for those events under comparable State laws, sometimes referred to as “mini-COBRA.”

    Notice 2021-31 provides information regarding the calculation of the credit, the eligibility of individuals, the premium assistance period, and other information vital to employers, plan administrators, and insurers to understand the credit.

    COBRA provides certain former employees, retirees, spouses, former spouses, and dependent children the right to temporary continuation of health coverage at group rates. COBRA generally covers health plans maintained by private-sector employers with 20 or more full and part-time employees. It also covers employee organizations or federal, state or local governments. State mini-COBRA laws often provide similar benefits for insured small employers not subject to Federal COBRA.

    The IRS will continue to update information related to health plans on IRS.gov.

    Originally posted on IRS.gov

     

  • Data Drop: D&I Appetite, Mental Health Struggles and the Expanding Gig Economy

    June 30, 2021

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    There are certain issues that have taken center stage in the collective conscious when talking about the workplace, the future of work and how the current workforce is faring under the current conditions. Naturally, as those things enter the collective conscious, researchers find themselves asking what exactly holds true and what can we learn from it?

    As usual, my inbox is full of the latest studies and surveys being conducted by HR vendors, researchers and employers of all sizes. In today’s data drop, we’re going to take a closer look at how employees view diversity and inclusion efforts, what challenges they’re facing when it comes to mental health and the impact the gig economy is having.

    The D&I Appetite

    At this point, there should be little doubt around the importance of D&I or DEI in your organization. It’s been well established the impact it has on the bottom line and employer brands, but if you needed more reassurance, the latest study from Boston Consulting Group should hammer it home.

    The study asked questions of more than 200,000 employees across 190 countries and the results shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been following sentiments around DEI over the last year. Results included the following:

    • More than half (51%) of U.S. respondents said they would exclude a company from their job search if its values and stance on diversity and inclusion (D&I) didn’t match their own beliefs. This number was even higher among respondents 30 years and younger (56%).
    • D&I became more important over the last year across all age groups globally. In the U.S., respondents 30 years and younger (72%) were most likely to agree with this statement compared to all U.S. respondents (63%) and all respondents globally (69%).

    It’s a notable sentiment following the release of research by diversity platform Headstart as part of its “Discrimination in American Hiring” report. The findings show that 54% of those seeking a new job in the last two years felt they were frequently discriminated against. That number rose to 66% for Black Americans and 83% for those who identify as gender-diverse. Interestingly, however, 30% of respondents who faced recruitment discrimination would consider reapplying for the same company.

    Mental Health Struggles

    In June of last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data which showed that 40% of Americans were struggling with mental health. That number hasn’t decreased as the pandemic has continued and the months that followed included a hectic election and numerous other crises.

    A more recent report from The Standard, an Oregon based insurance company, showed that 55% of workers surveyed said that a mental health issue had affected them more since the pandemic began. MetLife’s annual Employee Benefits Trends Study backs this up, with 54% saying mental health has been their biggest concern during the pandemic.

    This won’t come as a surprise to HR teams that have been working toward developing mental health support tools for their workforces, but it should also be extended to talent teams as they consider their hiring processes.

    Among the unemployed, one in five are or have been treated for depression in the last year. Many suffer from sleep loss and high levels of stress that can impact their ability to search and interview for a new job. Long term unemployment can lead to serious health issues such as obesity and other conditions related to stress and inactive lifestyle.

    Expanding Gig Economy

    Globally the gig economy has seen a boom as layoffs and needs for flexible scheduling have seen more people around the world adopt gig work than ever before. In the U.S., around 40% of Americans are currently working in gig or contract roles.

    Job boards are now seeing a stark rise in contract job postings, with Resume-Library noting a 58% increase in the demand for handyman roles month over month. While many think of rideshare drivers and freelancer graphic artists when they think of gig work, the top five gig postings on the site now include the following:

    • Handyman +58.3%
    • Market Researcher +50%
    • Packer +20.3%
    • Social Media +4.5%
    • Photographer +4.3%

    The U.S. is currently the fastest growing freelance market in the world, experiencing a 78% growth in gig positions over the last year, with the UK following behind at 59% and Brazil at 48%.

    By David Rice

    Originally posted on ThinkHR

  • Exploring In-Network and Out-of-Network Benefits

    June 16, 2021

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    You have surely heard the terms “in-network” and “out-of-network” when referring to doctors or care facilities and your insurance plan. It can be confusing and make you wonder why it matters to you, as the consumer. Let’s explore these terms and find out more!

    What are Health Insurance Plan Networks?

    Health insurance plans create networks of doctors and facilities with which they have contracted to accept negotiated rates for the services they provide.  When you subscribe to a specific insurance plan, you can look up the list of these contracted providers to see which ones are “in-network.” Most plans have helpful search tools online like “Find a Doctor” to save you time as you look for your specific doctor. You can also call the facility or healthcare provider and ask if they are considered “in-network” or “out-of-network” for your particular health insurance plan.

    Why Choose “In-network” Providers?

    When you make the choice to see an “in-network” healthcare provider or visit an “in-network” facility, you will typically pay less for the service (doctor visit, screening, hospital stay, etc.) than if you chose to use a provider outside of the plan’s network. Your insurance plan has negotiated a discounted cost for the service and passes that savings on to you, the subscriber. See the table below for an example.

    Additional Benefit to “In-Network” Care

    Some health insurance plans allow you to visit “out-of-network” doctors and facilities with the understanding that you will pay more for these services since they are not in an agreement with one another. However, you may not be able to apply these expenses towards your annual deductible.  This means it may take you longer in the year, with more out-of-pocket expenses, to reach your deductible. Staying “in-network” alleviates this delay and any added costs.

    Staying with “in-network” providers truly equals greater cost-savings to the consumer. By doing a little research upfront to find the doctors and facilities in your plan network, you will end up with less out-of-pocket expenses for your health care each year. While the choice is ultimately up to you on who you see for your care, looking within your plan network will reap you great benefits.

  • IRS Announces HSA Limits for 2022

    June 9, 2021

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    On May 10, 2021, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Revenue Procedure 2021-25 announcing the annual inflation-adjusted limits for health savings accounts (HSAs) for calendar year 2022. An HSA is a tax-exempt savings account that employees can use to pay for qualified health expenses.

    To be eligible for an HSA, an employee:

    • Must be covered by a qualified high deductible health plan (HDHP);
    • Must not have any disqualifying health coverage (called “impermissible non-HDHP coverage”);
    • Must not be enrolled in Medicare; and
    • May not be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.

    The limits vary based on whether an individual has self-only or family coverage under an HDHP. The limits are as follows:

    • 2022 HSA contribution limit:
    • Single: $3,650 (an increase of $50 from 2021)
    • Family: $7,300 (an increase of $100 from 2021)
    • Catch-up contributions for those age 55 and older remains at $1,000
    • 2022 HDHP minimum deductible*
    • Single: $1,400 (no change from 2021)
    • Family: $2,800 (no change from 2021)
    • 2022 HDHP maximum out-of-pocket limit:
    • Single: $7,050 (an increase of $50 from 2021)
    • Family: $14,100** (an increase of $100 from 2021)

    *   The deductible does not apply to preventive care services nor to services related to testing for COVID-19. An HDHP also may choose to waive the deductible for coverage of COVID-19 treatment, and/or telehealth and other remote care services.

    **   If the HDHP is a non-grandfathered plan, a per-person limit of $8,700 also will apply due to the Affordable Care Act’s cost-sharing provision for essential health benefits.

    By Kathy Berger

    Originally posted on Mineral.com

  • Important Tips for Men’s Health

    June 2, 2021

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    We have certainly been focused on improving our health this year. June is Men’s Health Month and provides a great opportunity to focus on some simple tips that men can follow to shore up their health. These five guidelines will not only assist with a man’s physical health, but also their mental health.

    Make Annual Appointments

    Men are notoriously the punchline for jokes about not going to the doctor until they are on their death bed. Let’s stop the joking! Annual check-ups ensure you and your doctor are both aware of your health issues. Annual exams and blood tests can look at blood pressure, warning signs of heart disease, obesity, and cholesterol. Staying on top of these health issues through regular doctor’s visits can extend your life and improve your overall health.

    Eat a Healthy Diet

    A healthy diet does not mean eating just salads. Look at MyPlate.gov to see what a healthy plate should look like for each meal. Cut down on sugar intake, make half your meal fruits and vegetables, and vary up your protein routine. Healthy food choices do more than assist with weight loss, they also decrease your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

    Know Your Family History

    Does your family have a history of cancer? What about heart disease? Men who know their family’s medical history can share this information with their doctor so that they can be better informed about possible issues in the future. Knowing that your family has certain proclivities to disease, allows you to go on the offensive with your health. Write down your medical history and that of your parents and close relatives.

    Get Your Sleep

    Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. According to the Sleep Foundation, “Sleep allows the brain and body to slow down and engage in processes of recovery, promoting better physical and mental performance the next day and over the long-term.” Men should make sure they get enough sleep each night because poor sleep is also closely related to increased chances of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and depression. Sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.

    Strengthen Your Relationship Bonds

    Connecting with others has been proven to improve your overall health and even extend your life. As we grow older, relationships are harder to build as families are built, jobs change, and interests evolve. We’ve all seen how isolation and social distancing negatively affect our mental health this year. Solid relationships allow you to have accountability with others about struggles you may have, give you a network of support in a health crisis, and even improve your self-esteem. When you have good mental health, your physical health will also be affected. Men must work to create and maintain relationship bonds for the sake of their mental and physical well-being.

    The mental and physical health of the men in our lives can easily be improved by following these simple tips. From getting enough sleep to eating a healthy diet, these guidelines are certainly a great way to kick-off a healthy routine in your life.

  • FAQs About Cobra Premium Assistance Under The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

    May 26, 2021

    April 07, 2021

    Set out below are Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding implementation of certain provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP), as it applies to the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, commonly called COBRA. These FAQs have been prepared by the Department of Labor (DOL). Like previously issued FAQs (available at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/about-ebsa/our-activities/resource-center/faqs), these FAQs answer questions from stakeholders to help individuals understand the law and benefit from it, as intended. The Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have reviewed these FAQs, and, concur in the application of the laws under their jurisdiction as set forth in these FAQs.

    COBRA Continuation Coverage

    COBRA continuation coverage provides certain group health plan continuation coverage rights for participants and beneficiaries covered by a group health plan. In general, under COBRA, an individual who was covered by a group health plan on the day before the occurrence of a qualifying event (such as a termination of employment or a reduction in hours that causes loss of coverage under the plan) may be able to elect COBRA continuation coverage upon that qualifying event. [1]  Individuals with such a right are referred to as qualified beneficiaries. Under COBRA, group health plans must provide covered employees and their families with certain notices explaining their COBRA rights.

    ARP COBRA Premium Assistance

    Section 9501 of the ARP provides for COBRA premium assistance to help Assistance Eligible Individuals (as defined below in Q3) continue their health benefits. The premium assistance is also available for continuation coverage under certain State laws. Assistance Eligible Individuals are not required to pay their COBRA continuation coverage premiums. The premium assistance applies to periods of health coverage on or after April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021. An employer or plan to whom COBRA premiums are payable is entitled to a tax credit for the amount of the premium assistance.

    General Information

    Q1: I have heard that the ARP included temporary COBRA premium assistance to pay for health coverage. I would like more information.

    The ARP provides temporary premium assistance for COBRA continuation coverage for Assistance Eligible Individuals (see Q3 to determine if you are eligible). COBRA allows certain people to extend employment-based group health plan coverage, if they would otherwise lose the coverage due to certain life events such as loss of a job.

    Individuals may be eligible for premium assistance if they are eligible for and elect COBRA continuation coverage because of their own or a family member’s reduction in hours or an involuntary termination from employment. This premium assistance is available for periods of coverage from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021. This premium assistance is generally available for continuation coverage under the Federal COBRA provisions, as well as for group health insurance coverage under comparable state continuation coverage (“mini-COBRA”) laws.

    If you were offered Federal COBRA continuation coverage as a result of a reduction in hours or an involuntary termination of employment, and you declined to take COBRA continuation coverage at that time, or you elected Federal COBRA continuation coverage and later discontinued it, you may have another opportunity to elect COBRA continuation coverage and receive the premium assistance, if the maximum period you would have been eligible for COBRA continuation coverage has not yet expired (if COBRA continuation coverage had been elected or not discontinued).

    Q2: Which plans does the premium assistance apply to?

    The COBRA premium assistance provisions apply to all group health plans sponsored by private-sector employers or employee organizations (unions) subject to the COBRA rules under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). They also apply to plans sponsored by State or local governments subject to the continuation provisions under the Public Health Service Act. The premium assistance is also available for group health insurance required under state mini-COBRA laws. Q3: How can I tell if I am eligible to receive the COBRA premium assistance? The ARP makes the premium assistance available for “Assistance Eligible Individuals.” An Assistance Eligible Individual is a COBRA qualified beneficiary who meets the following requirements during the period from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021:

    • Is eligible for COBRA continuation coverage by reason of a qualifying event that is a reduction in hours (such as reduced hours due to change in a business’s hours of operations, a change from full-time to part-time status, taking of a temporary leave of absence, or an individual’s participation in a lawful labor strike, as long as the individual remains an employee at the time that hours are reduced) or an involuntary termination of employment (not including a voluntary termination); and
    • Elects COBRA continuation coverage.

    However, you are not eligible for the premium assistance if you are eligible for other group health coverage, such as through a new employer’s plan or a spouse’s plan (not including excepted benefits, a qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement (QSEHRA), or a health flexible spending arrangement (FSA)), or if you are eligible for Medicare. Note that if you have individual health insurance coverage, like a plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace®[2]  , or if you have Medicaid, you may be eligible for ARP premium assistance. However, if you elect to enroll in COBRA continuation coverage with premium assistance, you will no longer be eligible for a premium tax credit, advance payments of the premium tax credit, or the health insurance tax credit for your health coverage during that period.

    Note: If the employee’s termination of employment was for gross misconduct, the employee and any dependents would not qualify for COBRA continuation coverage or the premium assistance.

    Q4: If I am eligible for the premium assistance, how long will it last?

    Your premium assistance can last from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021. However, it will end earlier if:

    • You become eligible for another group health plan, such as a plan sponsored by a new employer or a spouse’s employer (not including excepted benefits, a QSEHRA, or a health FSA), or you become eligible for Medicare**, or
    • You reach the end of your maximum COBRA continuation coverage period.

    If you continue your COBRA continuation coverage after the premium assistance period, you may have to pay the full amount of the premium otherwise due. Failure to do so may result in your loss of COBRA continuation coverage. Contact your plan administrator, employer sponsoring the plan, or health insurance issuer for more information.

    When your COBRA premium assistance ends, you may be eligible for Medicaid or a special enrollment period to enroll in coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace® or to enroll in individual market health insurance coverage outside of the Marketplace. A special enrollment period is also available when you reach the end of your maximum COBRA coverage period. You may apply for and, if eligible, enroll in Medicaid coverage at any time. For more information, go to: https://www.healthcare.gov/medicaid-chip/getting-medicaid-chip/.

    **Individuals receiving the COBRA premium assistance must notify their plans if they become eligible for coverage under another group health plan (not including excepted benefits, a QSEHRA, or a health FSA), or for Medicare. Failure to do so can result in a tax penalty.

    Q5: Who is eligible for an additional election opportunity for COBRA continuation coverage?

    A qualified beneficiary whose qualifying event was a reduction in hours or an involuntary termination of employment prior to April 1, 2021 and who did not elect COBRA continuation coverage when it was first offered prior to that date or who elected COBRA continuation coverage but is no longer enrolled (for example, an individual who dropped COBRA continuation coverage because he or she was unable to continue paying the premium) may have an additional election opportunity at this time. Individuals eligible for this additional COBRA election period must receive a notice of extended COBRA election period informing them of this opportunity. This notice must be provided within 60 days of the first day of the first month beginning after the date of the enactment of the ARP (so, by May 31, 2021) and individuals have 60 days after the notice is provided to elect COBRA. However, this additional election period does not extend the period of COBRA continuation coverage beyond the original maximum period (generally 18 months from the employee’s reduction in hours or involuntary termination). COBRA continuation coverage with premium assistance elected in this additional election period begins with the first period of coverage beginning on or after April 1, 2021. Individuals can begin their coverage prospectively from the date of their election, or, if an individual has a qualifying event on or before April 1st, choose to start their coverage as of April 1st, even if the individual receives an election notice and makes such election at a later date. In either case, please note that the premium assistance is only available for periods of coverage from April 1, 2021 through September 30,2021.

    Due to the COVID-19 National Emergency, the DOL, the Department of the Treasury, and the IRS issued a Notice of Extension of Certain Timeframes for Employee Benefit Plans, Participants, and Beneficiaries Affected by the COVID–19 Outbreak (“Joint Notice”).[3]  This notice provided relief for certain actions related to employee benefit plans required or permitted under Title I of ERISA and the Code, including the 60-day initial election period for COBRA continuation coverage. The DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) provided further guidance on this relief in EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01. [4]  This extended deadline relief provided in the Joint Notice and Notice 2021-01 does not apply, however, to the 60-day notice or election periods related to COBRA premium assistance under the ARP.

    Q6: Does the ARP change any State program requirements or time periods for election of continuation coverage?

    No. The ARP does not change any requirement of a State continuation coverage program. The ARP only allows Assistance Eligible Individuals who elect continuation coverage under State insurance law to receive premium assistance from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021. It also allows Assistance Eligible Individuals to switch to other coverage offered to similarly situated active employees if the plan allows it, provided that the new coverage is no more expensive than the prior coverage. See Q15 and Q17 for more information.

    Premiums

    Q7: How do I apply for the premium assistance?

    If you were covered by an employment-based group health plan on the last day of your employment or a family member’s employment (or the last day before your or your family member’s reduction in hours causing a loss of coverage), the plan or issuer should provide you and your beneficiaries with a notice of your eligibility to elect COBRA continuation coverage and to receive the premium assistance. The notice should include any forms necessary for enrollment, including forms to indicate that you are an Assistance Eligible Individual and that you are not eligible for another group health plan (this does not include excepted benefits, a QSEHRA, or a health FSA), or eligible for Medicare.

    If you believe you are (or may be, upon a COBRA election) an Assistance Eligible Individual and have not received a notice from your employer, you may notify your employer of your request for treatment as an Assistance Eligible Individual (for example, using the “Request for Treatment as an Assistance Eligible Individual Form” that is attached to the Summary of COBRA Premium Assistance Provisions under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021) for periods of coverage starting April 1, 2021. If you are an Assistance Eligible Individual, the ARP provides that you must be treated, for purposes of COBRA, as having paid in full the amount of such premium from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021. [5]  Accordingly, plans and issuers should not collect premium payments from Assistance Eligible Individuals and subsequently require them to seek reimbursement of the premiums for periods of coverage beginning on or after April 1, 2021, and preceding the date on which an employer sends an election notice, if an individual has made an appropriate request for such treatment. You should contact your plan or issuer directly to ask about taking advantage of the premium assistance.

    Q8: How will the premium assistance be provided to me?

    You will not receive a payment of the premium assistance. Instead, Assistance Eligible Individuals do not have to pay any of the COBRA premium for the period of coverage from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021. The premium is reimbursed directly to the employer, plan administrator, or insurance company through a COBRA premium assistance credit.

    Q9: Am I required to pay any administrative fees?

    If you are an Assistance Eligible Individual, you will not need to pay any part of what you would otherwise pay for your COBRA continuation coverage, including any administration fee that would otherwise be charged.

    Notices

    Q10: Does the ARP impose any new notice requirements?

    Yes, plans and issuers are required to notify qualified beneficiaries regarding the premium assistance and other information about their rights under the ARP, as follows:

    • A general notice to all qualified beneficiaries who have a qualifying event that is a reduction in hours or an involuntary termination of employment from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021. This notice may be provided separately or with the COBRA election notice following a COBRA qualifying event.
    • A notice of the extended COBRA election period to any Assistance Eligible Individual (or any individual who would be an Assistance Eligible Individual if a COBRA continuation coverage election were in effect) who had a qualifying event before April 1, 2021. This requirement does not include those individuals whose maximum COBRA continuation coverage period, if COBRA had been elected or not discontinued, would have ended before April 1, 2021 (generally, those with applicable qualifying events before October 1, 2019). This notice must be provided within 60 days following April 1, 2021 (that is, by May 31, 2021).

    The ARP also requires that plans and issuers provide individuals with a notice of expiration of periods of premium assistance explaining that the premium assistance for the individual will expire soon, the date of the expiration, and that the individual may be eligible for coverage without any premium assistance through COBRA continuation coverage or coverage under a group health plan. Coverage may also be available through Medicaid or the Health Insurance Marketplace®. This notice must be provided 15 – 45 days before the individual’s premium assistance expires.

    Unless specifically modified by the ARP, the existing requirements for the manner and timing of COBRA notices continue to apply. Due to the COVID-19 National Emergency, DOL, the Department of the Treasury, and the IRS issued guidance extending timeframes for certain actions related to health coverage under private-sector employment-based group health plans. [6] The extensions under the Joint Notice and EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01 do not apply, however, to the notices or the election periods related to COBRA premium assitance available under the ARP. Therefore, plans and issuers must provide the notices according to the timeframes specified in the ARP (outlined above).

    DOL is committed to ensuring that individuals receive the benefits to which they are entitled under the ARP. Employers or multiemployer plans may also be subject to an excise tax under the Internal Revenue Code for failing to satisfy the COBRA continuation coverage requirements. This tax could be as much as $100 per qualified beneficiary, but not more than $200 per family, for each day that the taxpayer is in violation of the COBRA rules.

    Q11: What information must the notices include?

    The notices must include the following information:

    • The forms necessary for establishing eligibility for the premium assistance;
    • Contact information for the plan administrator or other person maintaining relevant information in connection with the premium assistance;
    • A description of the additional election period (if applicable to the individual);
    • A description of the requirement that the Assistance Eligible Individual notify the plan when he/she becomes eligible for coverage under another group health plan (not including excepted benefits, a QSEHRA, or a health FSA), or eligible for Medicare and the penalty for failing to do so;
    • A description of the right to receive the premium assistance and the conditions for entitlement; and
    • If offered by the employer, a description of the option to enroll in a different coverage option available under the plan

    Q12: Will there be model notices?

    Yes. DOL has developed model notices that are available at https://www.dol.gov/cobra-subsidy.

    Individual Questions For Employees And Their Families

    Q13: How much time do I have to enroll in COBRA continuation coverage?

    In general, individuals who are eligible for COBRA continuation coverage have 60 days after the date that they initially receive their COBRA election notice to elect COBRA continuation coverage. Due to the COVID-19 National Emergency, DOL, the Department of the Treasury, and the IRS issued guidance extending timeframes for certain actions related to health coverage under private-sector employment-based group health plans. The extensions under the the Joint Notice and EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01 do not apply, however, to the notices or elections related to COBRA premium assistance available under the ARP. Potential Assistance Eligible Individuals therefore must elect COBRA continuation coverage within 60 days of receipt of the relevant notice or forfeit their right to elect COBRA continuation coverage with premium assistance. [7] Similiarly, plans and issuers must provide the notices required under the ARP within the timeframe required by the ARP.

    Assistance Eligible Individuals do not need to send any payments for the COBRA continuation coverage during the premium assistance period. For additional information about this guidance visit: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/employers-and-advisers/plan-administration-andcompliance/disaster-relief.

    Q14: I am an Assistance Eligible Individual who has been enrolled in COBRA continuation coverage since December 2020. Will I receive a refund of the premiums that I have already paid?

    No. The COBRA premium assistance provisions in the ARP apply only to premiums for coverage periods from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021. If you were eligible for premium assistance, but paid in full for periods of COBRA continuation coverage beginning on or after April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021, you should contact the plan administrator or employer sponsoring the plan to discuss a credit against future payments (or a refund in certain circumstances).

    Q15: I am currently enrolled in COBRA continuation coverage, but I would like to switch to a different coverage option offered by the same employer. Can I do this?

    Group health plans can choose to allow qualified beneficiaries to enroll in coverage that is different from the coverage they had at the time of the COBRA qualifying event. The ARP provides that changing coverage will not cause an individual to be ineligible for the COBRA premium assistance, provided that:

    • The COBRA premium charged for the different coverage is the same or lower than for the coverage the individual had at the time of the qualifying event;
    • The different coverage is also offered to similarly situated active employees; and
    • The different coverage is not limited to only excepted benefits, a QSEHRA, or a health FSA.

    If the plan permits individuals to change coverage options, the plan must provide the individuals with a notice of their opportunity to do so. Individuals have 90 days to elect to change their coverage after the notice is provided.

    Q16: Only part of my family elected COBRA continuation coverage but all of us were eligible. Can I enroll the others and take advantage of the premium assistance?

    Each COBRA qualified beneficiary may independently elect COBRA continuation coverage. If a family member did not elect COBRA continuation coverage when first eligible and that individual would be an Assistance Eligible Individual, that individual has an additional opportunity to enroll and qualify for the premium assistance. However, this extended election period does not extend the maximum period of COBRA continuation coverage had COBRA continuation coverage been originally elected. See Q3 and Q5 above for more information.

    Q17: I received my COBRA election notice. Can I change my coverage option from the one I had previously?

    In general, COBRA continuation coverage provides the same coverage that the individual had at the time of the qualifying event. However, under the ARP, a plan may offer Assistance Eligible Individuals the option of choosing other coverage that is also offered to similarly situated active employees and that does not have higher premiums than the coverage the individual had at the time of the qualifying event. See Q15 for more information.

    Q18: I am currently enrolled in individual market health insurance coverage, but I am potentially an Assistance Eligible Individual. Can I switch to COBRA continuation coverage with premium assistance?

    Yes, Potential Assistance Eligible Individuals can use the election period to change from individual market health insurance coverage (that they got either through a Health Insurance Marketplace®, such as through HealthCare.gov, or outside of the Marketplace) to COBRA continuation coverage with premium assistance. Additionally, you may apply for and, if eligible 9 enroll in Medicaid at any time. If you elect to enroll in COBRA continuation coverage with premium assistance, you will no longer be eligible for a premium tax credit, or advance payments of the premium tax credit, for Marketplace coverage you otherwise would qualify for during this premium assistance period. You must contact the Marketplace to let them know that you’ve enrolled in other minimum essential coverage or you may have to repay some or all of the advance payments of the premium tax credit made on your behalf during the period you were enrolled in both COBRA continuation coverage and Marketplace coverage. This repayment would be required when filing your income tax return for 2021 (see additional information about contacting the Marketplace below).

    Q19: Can I end my individual health insurance coverage retroactively if I can qualify for COBRA with premium assistance starting on April 1?

    Enrollees generally are not permitted to terminate coverage purchased through a Marketplace retroactively. You must do so prospectively. If you want to end coverage that you got from a Health Insurance Marketplace®, such as on HealthCare.gov, because you want to change to COBRA continuation coverage with premium assistance, you must update your Marketplace application or call the Marketplace to do so. If you enrolled in coverage through HealthCare.gov, you can call 1-800-318-2596 (TTY: 1-855-889-4325). If your state has its own Marketplace platform, find contact information for your State Marketplace here: https://www.healthcare.gov/marketplace-in-your-state/.

    If you want to end individual health insurance coverage that you got outside of a Marketplace, such as directly from an insurance company, you must contact the insurance company to do so.

    Q20: What should I consider when making a decision whether to continue with individual market health insurance coverage or change to COBRA continuation coverage with premium assistance?

    You should consider the factors you normally would when deciding on which health insurance coverage is right for you and your family. For example, in addition to premium cost, you may want to compare cost-sharing requirements such as plan deductibles and copays. You may also want to consider how much progress you have made toward your deductible and other plan accumulators, and compare different plans’ and coverage options’ provider networks and prescription drug formularies based on your family’s medical care needs. Note, however, that if you are currently employed by the employer offering the COBRA continuation coverage with premium assistance, you may enroll in Marketplace coverage but are ineligible for a subsidy or a premium tax credit for the Marketplace coverage for the period you are offered the COBRA continuation coverage with premium assistance.

    Q21: Can I qualify for a special enrollment period (SEP) to enroll in individual market health insurance coverage, such as through a Health Insurance Marketplace®, when my COBRA premium assistance ends on September 30? What about if my COBRA continuation coverage ends sooner than that?

    When your COBRA premium assistance ends, you may be eligible for a SEP to enroll in coverage through a Health Insurance Marketplace®, or to enroll in individual health insurance 10 coverage outside of the Marketplace. You may also qualify for a SEP when you reach the end of your maximum COBRA coverage period. For more information about this SEP, see: https://www.healthcare.gov/unemployed/cobra-coverage/.

    For more information about enrolling in Marketplace coverage, see: HealthCare.gov, or you can call 1-800-318-2596 (TTY: 1-855-889-4325). If your state has its own Marketplace platform, find contact information for your State Marketplace here: https://www.healthcare.gov/marketplace-in-your-state/.

    You may apply for and, if eligible, enroll in Medicaid coverage at any time. For more information, go to: https://www.healthcare.gov/medicaid-chip/getting-medicaid-chip/.

    More Information

    Q21: How can I get more information on my eligibility for COBRA continuation coverage or the premium assistance, including help if my employer has denied my request for the premium assistance?

    For group health plans sponsored by private-sector employers, guidance and other information is available on the DOL web site at https://www.dol.gov/cobra-subsidy. You can also contact one of EBSA’s Benefits Advisors at askebsa.dol.gov or 1.866.444.3272. EBSA’s Benefits Advisors may also be able to assist if you feel that your plan or employer has improperly denied your request for treatment as an Assistance Eligible Individual. Employers and plans may be subject to an excise tax under the Internal Revenue Code for failing to satisfy the COBRA continuation coverage requirements.This tax could be as much as $100 per qualified beneficiary, but not more than $200 per family, for each day that the plan or employer is in violation of the COBRA rules. If you feel you may have been improperly denied premium assistance, contact EBSA at askebsa.dol.gov or 1.866.444.3272. If you work for a state or local government employer and have questions regarding the premium assistance, please contact the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services via email at phig@cms.hhs.gov or call 410-786-1565.

    Originally posted on dol.gov

    __________________________

    [1]  For more information on COBRA continuation coverage requirements applicable to private-sector employment based group health plans, see “An Employer’s Guide to Group Health Continuation Coverage Under COBRA,” available at https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ebsa/about-ebsa/our-activities/resource-center/publications/anemployers-guide-to-group-health-continuation-coverage-under-cobra.pdf.

    [2]  Health Insurance Marketplace® is a registered service mark of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

    [3]  85 FR 26351 (May 4, 2020).

    [4]  Available at https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ebsa/employers-and-advisers/plan-administration-andcompliance/disaster-relief/ebsa-disaster-relief-notice-2021-01.pdf.

    [5]  ARP section 9501(a)(1)(A).

    [6]  Notice of Extension of Certain Timeframes for Employee Benefit Plans, Participants, and Beneficiaries Affected by the COVID–19 Outbreak (Joint Notice). 85 FR 26351 (May 4, 2020); EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01 (Feb. 26, 2021), available at https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ebsa/employers-and-advisers/planadministration-and-compliance/disaster-relief/ebsa-disaster-relief-notice-2021-01.pdf. Note that the Departments of Labor and the Treasury share jurisdiction for enforcement of the COBRA continuation provisions.

    [7]  Note, however, that a potential Assistance Eligible Individual has the choice of electing COBRA continuation coverage beginning April 1, 2021 or after (or beginning prospectively from the date of your qualifying event if your qualifying event is after April 1, 2021), or electing COBRA continuation coverage commencing from an earlier qualifying event if the individual is eligible to make that election, including under the extended time frames provided under the Joint Notice and EBSA Notice 2021-01. The election period for COBRA continuation coverage with premium assistance does not cut off the individual’s preexisting right to elect COBRA continuation coverage, including under the extended time frames provided under the Joint Notice and EBSA Notice 2021-01. Note, that the premium assistance is only available for periods from April 1, 2021 through September 30,2021

  • Top Strategies of Relationship Marketing

    May 19, 2021

    Tags: ,

    As a business, you are constantly managing your sales funnel–from the first point of contact with a prospect to their purchase of your service.  But it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) stop there. Perhaps the most important part of your sales funnel is the follow-up post-sale. It’s in this time of follow-up that you build the ongoing relationship that will lead to customer loyalty and, hopefully, customer referrals. Relationship marketing is the key to customer satisfaction and long-term company success.

    Relationship Marketing and the Bottom Line

    It makes senses that before we dive into strategies for relationship marketing, you understand WHY it’s important.  Gaining a new customer in a crowded market is hard. According to Invesp, “The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%, while the probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20%.” Did you know how expensive it is to get that new sale? It’s 5-25 times more expensive to gain a new customer than to retain an existing one. WOW! And while you are focusing on gaining that new client, you are likely not spending the same amount of time nurturing the relationships you have with your current ones. That lack of attention can affect your bottom line. By just increasing customer retention rates by 5%, you can increase profits by 25-95%!  Relationship building and relationship marketing must demand your attention or you’ll see lower profits because of the higher cost of acquiring that hard-to-obtain new customer.

    Relationship Marketing Strategies

    Cultivating your current relationships can ensure customer loyalty in the long-term. Here are some effective relationship marketing strategies to build strong, lasting connections with your satisfied clients.

    1. Spend the time and money on building an excellent customer service department. When your client has a service issue, they do not want to get in an endless loop of being passed off to the next computerized voice, supervisor, or department and end the call with their problem unresolved. Instead, you want to make sure that they feel heard, understood, and have had their problem resolved at the first touch-point. One bad customer service interaction can result in the loss of a repeat sale. One good customer service interaction can result in a great review and referral.
    1. Create a customer loyalty and/or referral rewards program.
      Loyalty programs aren’t restricted to a product punch card system. You can create a loyalty program that rewards current customers with a discount on a new service or a reduced service fee for a current offering. The same goes for referral rewards. Encourage referrals from your clients and give gift cards or send a thank you gift when they respond. Lack of customer loyalty affects your bottom line. CallMiner’s Churn Index 2020 states, “US companies lose $136.8 billion per year due to avoidable consumer switching.”  It’s worth the time to build into these relationships so that they result in long-term customers who don’t even think about leaving you.
    1. Ask for feedback and ask for it regularly.
      Communication is a two-way street. You can spend countless hours sending emails and posting to social media accounts about all the things your company does, but if you never ask your clients what they think about you, you’ll stay stagnant and never grow to be better. Open up the lines of communication in your client relationships. Don’t be afraid to hear where you are lacking—it’s a chance to fix a problem and make a customer feel heard. When you get positive feedback, publish it. It’s one thing to hear about why a company thinks they are the best, it’s another thing to hear why their client thinks they are.

    Relationship marketing is instrumental in creating a growing, thriving business. It builds customer satisfaction, retention, and elicits ideas for improvement while also producing opportunities for you to shout the praises from long-term customers. Take the time to cultivate these relationships and you’ll see your business is better for it.

  • Maybe your benefit program is not enough…a list of the 16 most popular employee perks | by Jordan Shields, Partner

    May 18, 2021

    Tags: ,

    According to a recent study published by the Society for Human Resource Management

    98%                 Paid Vacation

    83%                 Mental Health Coverage

    68%                 Healthcare and Flexible Spending Accounts

    56%                 Health Savings Account

    32%                 Long Term Care Insurance

    27%                 Paid Parental Leave

    19%                 IVF Coverage and Infertility Treatments

    15%                 Payroll Advances

    15%                 Pet Insurance

  • It’s not national health…but it is slowly appearing…proposed lower Medicare age

    May 11, 2021

    Tags: ,

    After the infrastructure bill, President Biden and the Democrats are proposing that the qualifying age for Medicare not be raised, in accord with the increasing average life expectancy and many working past the “typical” retirement age of 65; they are proposing the entry age go down to 60.

    The way is fairly clear in some respects, as Senator Bernie Sanders is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.  Stay tuned.

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