• Court Blocks New DOL Rules on Association Health Plans | CA Benefits Group

    April 4, 2019

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    In March, a federal district court struck down a Department of Labor (DOL) Rule on Association Health Plans (AHPs). Issued in 2018, the DOL rule aimed to expand the availability of AHPs to a greater number of small businesses as an alternative to standard ACA-compliant small group insurance policies. For details, see our June 2018 blog post.

    AHPs, also known as Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangements (MEWAs), have been around for years but, under DOL rules before 2018, they generally were limited to associations formed by employers in the same trade, industry, or profession. Traditionally, this meant employers that had employees and that also shared a “commonality of interest.” The 2018 DOL rule expanded the meaning to include employers without a shared interest if they were merely located in the same state or metropolitan area, including businesses without any employees. The key concern of states that objected to the new DOL rule was that disparate businesses, and even individuals with no employees, could form AHPs to avoid the ACA’s consumer protections. State insurance laws control the type of policies issued in each state (and various states already prohibit or restrict AHPs) but self-funded plans that are subject to ERISA may be able to avoid state law.

    The 2018 DOL rule was quickly challenged by 11 different states and the District of Columbia, led by the Attorney General of New York. On March 28, 2019, Judge John D. Bates of the U.S. District Court agreed with the states, saying the DOL rule “was intended and designed to end run the requirements of the ACA, [and] it does so only by ignoring the language and purpose of both ERISA and the ACA.”

    In State of New York, et al v. DOL, Judge Bates went on to say the “DOL unreasonably expands the definition of “employers” to include groups without any real commonality of interest and to bring working owners without employees within ERISA’s scope despite Congress’s clear intent that ERISA cover benefits arising out of employment relationships. Accordingly, these provisions are unlawful and must be set aside.”

    To recap, the 2018 DOL rule on AHPs has been vacated by the federal district court. The DOL may choose to seek a stay of the ruling, appeal the ruling, or rewrite its rule. In the meantime, the DOL pre-2018 rules continue to apply.

    Lastly, on a separate note, the name Judge John D. Bates may ring a bell with those in the employee benefits field. He is the same judge who vacated the EEOC rules on voluntary wellness programs in AARP v EEOC. The D.C. District Court, to which Judge Bates was appointed by President Bush, often hears cases involving federal laws, including ERISA and the ACA.

    by Rachel Sobel

    Originally posted on

  • The Advantages of Automation | California Benefits Partners

    March 27, 2019

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    As schedules continue to get more and more packed with work, health, and personal responsibilities, prioritizing and organizing our lives becomes increasingly crucial. When you look at your daily to-do list, some tasks are obviously more important than others, but the significance of other tasks may be less apparent. Automating certain things, like paying bills, is a no-brainer, but there are other areas of our lives that can benefit from automation as well. Consider the benefits of taking automation beyond your Netflix subscription renewal to other important parts of your daily life.

    Automate Your Finances

    So many of us have automatic drafts for various accounts that we don’t even bat an eyelash at automating our finances. But think about those other bills stacking up on your desk. Have you ever forgotten to pay a utility bill only to discover the lights don’t come on when you get home from work? Automate your finances by setting up payments for everything from utilities to credit cards. If you give out of the generous pocket of your heart, you can even set up autopayments for donations to your favorite charities. And don’t miss out on the regular deposit you make into your 401k at work. If your company matches your contributions, make sure you automatically deposit the amount that they agree to match so that you are maxing out this benefit. Not only do you avoid late fees and added charges, but you gain the peace of mind that comes from planning ahead.

    Automate Your Health

    Few things in life are more important than our physical health, but so many of us put off taking care of ourselves. Be proactive and schedule tasks related to your health. Get your annual physical and annual dental exams on the calendar early in the year. Women need to schedule their routine breast cancer exam, and doctors recommend everyone 50 years and older, having routine colon cancer screening. By automating these health exams, you aid in early detection of diseases and reduce the impact should concerns arise.

    In addition to annual health exams, you can schedule your family’s weekly meals. Planning out your menu of meals for the week saves time in deciding what to fix as well as time running to the grocery store for just one meal’s ingredients. Having a meal-prep day can be a weekly task that may end up saving you time in the kitchen every single day of the week. If planning and cooking aren’t things you enjoy, consider a meal kit service that delivers all the ingredients, recipes, and instructions to your door. There’s a meal kit service for every palate imaginable from vegan to kid-friendly to family style!

    Automate Your Relationships

    The most important part of our lives is whom we spend them with, so automating time with people is a great way to make them a priority in your schedule. Try starting each new month by looking at your calendar and planning relationship-building time. For instance, once a month schedule date night with your spouse. Book the babysitter, make a reservation, or whatever you both enjoy. You’ll have the added bonus of anticipating the fun, plus the ability to plan around what really matters rather than trying to “fit it in” after the fact. Maybe once a month, or every other month, you plan a girls’ night or get together with the guys every Monday to watch the football game. If you’re a parent, try scheduling one-on-one time with each of your kids.

    Don’t stop there, though. Schedule a set time each week or month where you unplug from electronics and do something you enjoy. Read, spend time outdoors, take a class. When you automate investing in your relationships—with yourself and others—you are able to prioritize how you spend your extra time each day. You’ll also re-evaluate which relationships are truly important to you so that you can give them the time they deserve.

    Automating your life doesn’t mean that you are stuck to a strict schedule with every minute accounted for or planned out. Instead, it means that you are looking at the things that hold the most value to you and devoting the time and resources you desire to make that part of your life healthy. Whether it’s finances, health, or relationships, you can save time and money and build stronger connections by adding simple automations to your life. Now get your calendar and computer out and automate what you appreciate!

  • 5 Ways Employers Can Attract and Retain a Hispanic Workforce

    March 22, 2019

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    According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the national unemployment rate for the Hispanic population is 4.9%. Here in the North Bay, that number is even less as you have the wine industry, cannabis industry, construction industry, and manufacturers all competing for this valuable workforce. So how do you compete for the workforce you need? We have identified five important things to consider when looking to attract new Hispanic workers and create loyalty with current ones.

    Cultural Understanding
    It is important for employers to familiarize and understand Hispanic culture. This will allow you to better understand, interact and appreciate your Hispanic employees and their culture. This will create a welcoming atmosphere and help build trust between the employer and the employees.

    Like the non-Hispanic workforce, offering flexibility is crucial to attracting and retaining your employees. But what does flexibility mean? To non-Hispanics, flexibility relates to the broader term “work-life balance”. To Hispanics, the term flexibility relates to family and the ability to take time to care for family members both in and out of the country.

    Benefits and Communication
    Do your Spanish speaking employees understand the benefits and financial investment you have made in them? Employee benefits, particularly health insurance, are not common in Latin America, so just providing a benefits program with no explanation will likely go unappreciated. Many employers are under the impression that just translating these benefits is enough for a Spanish speaking employee to understand them. They may understand the words, but not necessarily the meaning. If your benefits program is going to make an impact on attracting and retaining your Spanish speaking workforce, your organization needs to be equipped with the personnel necessary to not just translate but educate your employees on your benefits program.

    Develop and Engage
    Developing your Hispanic workforce with things like different training programs and mentorship programs will help keep employees engaged with your organization for the long term. People want to help people who are helping them. Further, you can create avoluntaryEmployee Resource Group which is an employee-led group that is meant to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organization’s mission, values, goals, business practices, and objectives.

    Happy employees will ultimately lead to more job applicants. Develop an employee referral program to incentivize employees to refer their friends and family.



    by Rosario Avila & Andrew McNeil

  • The Risks are Real | California Employee Benefits

    March 20, 2019

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    Even when you proactively anticipate all the people risks that have the potential to impact your workplace, it’s easy to convince yourself there is no risk to youthat it will never happen here.

    You may think no one at your workplace will harass anyone, no one will sue you over an honest mistake made in administering workers’ comp, no one will accidentally cause a data breach, or no one will ever bring a weapon to the office. You might think managing people risk is extremely time consuming and not worth the effort. Rationalizations like this may lead you to believe you don’t need to do anything to prevent these risks.

    However, these risks are very real and can happen anywhere, at any time. It’s imperative you cover all of your bases, and it’s actually very straightforward, especially if you have a partner on your side.

    Ideally, you will integrate people risk management (PRM) with your business practices so it’s not something extra to do; it’s a way of doing things you already do. PRM can be a lens through which you look through when evaluating your policies, procedures, and other aspects of how you run your company.

    Acknowledging and Preventing Risk: A Four-Step Plan

    When you are anticipating risk, you are thinking about what might happen. Then you need to look at what you should do when something actually happens and it’s time to acknowledge the risk.

    Maybe a law passes or regulation is finalized, you realize your pay policies are not in compliance with the law, or an employee informs you they have been prescribed medical marijuana but you have a very strict drug use policy. What tools to do you have to deal with that?

    Once you acknowledge the risks inherent in these issues, there are four steps to putting a plan of action into place to prevent the risks from causing damage to your company’s bottom line, its reputation, or to its level of employee engagement:

    1. Understand when and how the risk will impact you. If it’s a law or regulation, when does it go into effect? Is it an ongoing issue or something that can be addressed and then set aside? What are the potential penalties or pitfalls presented by the risk?
    2. Determine the best course of action. Does the situation require simple changes to operations or a more complicated approach? Where do changes need to be implemented — in handbook policy updates, procedural documentation, or new training programs?
    3. Craft communication strategies around the risk. Who needs to know what, and how much information should be given to people at each level? What information should be held back to preserve confidentiality? What information is only relevant to a handful of people (such as when an OSHA report is due) and what information is relevant to everyone (such as who needs sexual harassment training in your state)?
    4. Decide what change management activities are required to get buy-in. It’s one thing to decide to do something but getting people ready to embrace the change is another thing. If change management is good, then the changes will take hold, the implementation will be smooth, and the risks will be lower.



    by Larry Dunivan, CEO of ThinkHR
    Originally posted on

  • Opioid Addiction in the Workplace | California Benefits Agency

    March 11, 2019

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    The opioid crisis has driven overdose deaths in America to all-time highs. By 2017, the opioid mortality rate was five times higher than the rate in 1999. This crisis is not limited to one socio-economic class or one geographic area. Opioid addiction affects those in suburban homes, high-rise office buildings, and schools in every state in America.  Employers must address this epidemic in their workplace through education and services for employees, so that the tide of this crisis can recede, and their workforce can march ahead undeterred by addiction.

    Opioid Addiction Explained

    Opioid addiction most often results from the misuse of and addiction to prescription pain medication. It has become an epidemic that affects not only the patient, with implications in the workplace, as well. Many patients who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain don’t believe they will become addicted to them. But, with prolonged use, their need for more medication to achieve the same level of pain-relief increases, as does their dependence on these drugs.

    Education Is Key

    Educating your employees on how opioid addiction happens and what can be done to overcome it is essential in the workplace. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have many resources to help you with education that you can post around your office and workplace. Their website is also a great resource on educating the employer on what opioid misuse looks like and how to address it with your employees.

    Resources for Employees

    With an estimated 1.7 million Americans addicted to opioids, you can be assured you will encounter someone in your workplace who has been affected by this crisis. How can you help your employees to overcome this addiction? Your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a wonderful resource to offer. Each EAP will be different based on the service to which your company has subscribed. According to a recent survey, 91% of work organizations offer some type of EAPs for their employees. Most EAPs offer assistance in matching employees to local treatment resources, as well as short-term counseling and support/recovery groups. Also, EAP professionals are knowledgeable on treatment options and suggested ways to intervene when abuse is suspected.

    The opioid crisis is real—now, more Americans are likely to die from an opioid overdose than an automobile accident. This epidemic has sieged neighbors, co-workers, and family. The workplace is feeling this crisis through lowered productivity of employees as well as increased healthcare costs. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement. As an employer, you have the ability to help turn the tide of this addiction crisis by offering education and employee assistance programs for your workforce. The right resources can help your workforce become educated on and overcome this addiction.

  • March Madness 2019: The Ball is in Your Court | California Benefits Agents

    March 6, 2019

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    March Madness is upon us, and there is no avoiding it. Selection Sunday, when the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Committee announces which 68 teams made the 2019 tournament, is March 17. Games begin with the First Four on March 19 and 20 and culminate with the Final Four April 6 and 8.

    While this annual event can impact productivity, employers may find that the positive effects it has on team engagement and camaraderie outweigh any negatives. Consider these facts from both sides of the coin:

    • An estimated $1.9 billion is lost in workplace productivity during a typical March Madness tournament. (Challenger, Gray & Christmas)
    • Employees will spend 25.5 minutes per workday on March Madness, for a total of 6 hours spread over the 15 workdays when games will be played. (OfficeTeam) This includes time spent by 76 percent of employees who admit to checking scores during work hours and 53 percent who watch or follow sporting events on their computers while at work. (Randstad)
    • As much as $3 billion will be bet on workplace bracket pools during March Madness this year. (FordHarrison) About 40 percent of workers say they have participated in college basketball brackets in their offices, with an average of $22.44 contributed to the pools. (Randstad)
    • Nearly 9 in 10 employees said participating in NCAA brackets at work helped build team camaraderie, and 73 percent said they look forward to going to work more when they are part of an office pool. (Randstad)

    So how can an employer embrace the fun of March Madness while enforcing the rules it may push the limits of? Whether you view the tournament as a minor distraction that creates an opportunity to boost morale, or as a potential pitfall of legal liability, missed deadlines, and dissatisfied customers, the ball is in your court. Here are five ways to maximize the positive aspects of March Madness while minimizing disruptions.

    1. Have fun: Make it clear to your employees that you want them to enjoy work and March Madness while not letting the tournament put a full court press on their work. Encourage employees to wear their favorite team’s clothing and/or decorate their workspace in their team’s colors.
    2. Watch together: Put televisions in break rooms so that employees have somewhere to watch the games other than the internet. That way, connectivity is not slowed and productivity lost even for those not participating in the Madness activities. Provide snacks for the viewers.
    3. Be careful with brackets: Organize a company-wide pool with no entry fee to avoid ethical or legal issues surrounding office gambling. Give away a company gift to the pool winner that is not cash. Keep the brackets posted and updated in the break room.
    4. Be flexible: Allow workers to arrive early so they can work a full shift and still leave in time to see big games that overlap the end of their shift. Conversely, allowing employees to delay their start time the morning after big games may help reduce absenteeism.
    5. Follow the rules: Review applicable company policies—such as gambling, use of personal electronics and company computers, and work and break hours—with your employees before engaging in any March Madness activities at work, so it will be clear to all what is considered acceptable.

    Determine how March Madness fits with your business culture and customer deliverables. If employees are getting their work done, customers are happy, and the biggest problems are reduced internet bandwidth or a little more noise in the cubicles or lunchroom for a couple of days, it’s nothing but net. (See what we did there?) Decide how you’ll be playing this before the opening tipoff and the Madness begins!

    by Rachel Sobel
    Originally posted on

  • Negotiations are now possible, if you can figure out the numbers

    February 28, 2019

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    A new rule went into effect January 1 requiring hospitals to publish their online price lists for all the medical services they provide.  This was required under the ACA, but now they must be published online in a format that can be downloaded.  The central website for California hospitals for the most common outpatient procedures is


  • 3 Ways to Build a Thriving Company Culture

    February 27, 2019


    When you are a business owner, you know how important it is to create a thriving culture at the workplace for your employees. But how do you define company culture? The concept means different things to different people. First off, it is about leadership, so the most important thing you, as the leader of your company, need to do is set an example to follow. Once you do this, you can begin the process to build an inspiring and thriving company culture. You can seek the help of the top benefit brokers in San Francisco County for expert advice and tailor-made HR solutions for your company’s employee benefits needs.

    3 Tips to Help You Build a Thriving Culture in Your Company

    Here is a look at 3 ways to build a company culture that is both inspiring and thriving.

    1. Hire Character Before Talent: Most companies look at talent before anything else when they hire employees. However, it is extremely important to engage and hire people with character over mere talent. Character creates culture, which in turn supports character – meaning that they are mutually supportive. With character, you can not only create a thriving company culture, but also a successful business.
    2. Provide Opportunity: If you want the culture in your company to thrive, you need to make room for an opportunity within the world you have created. You must make sure that your team feels like that they can grow and rise within the space they are in. If they feel like they cannot contribute or are limited, they will eventually stop feeling inspired, and get tired of being part of your organization.
    3. Build a Community: Your company is made up of different people from different backgrounds who have different skills. You need to call them to work in unity in spite of all these differences. It is important to make your employees feel like they are part of a community and play a key role within it. You should also make sure to reward individuals as well as groups for breakthroughs in your company.

    Manage the Complexities of Benefits with the Leading Benefit Brokers in San Francisco County

    When you need expert help in managing employee benefits, you should look no further than Arrow Benefits Group, the top benefit brokers in San Francisco County. The company provides expert advice, tailor-made programs and customized HR solutions for companies across the county and the U.S. Call us today at 707-992-3780 to get expert counsel about employee benefits and much more.

  • ACA won’t go away…and the courts are courting further argument

    February 27, 2019


    California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra is leading the charge of other Attorneys General to appeal a ruling by a conservative Texas federal judge saying that the ACA is unconstitutional.  Even that judge has already said he would reconsider, but for now the rule stands.  The appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is joined by 16 states and the District of Columbia.  “In this particular case we believe the stakes are not only great, but compelling” Becerra, who voted for the ACA when he was a House representative, said.  Ellen Rosenblum from Oregon said “really, this is an absurd interpretation of the law and an overreach of the federal court that will hopefully be stopped at the appellate level”  Of course, others disagree “The court’s decision was about restoring the rule of law and federalism by eliminating an illegal, unconstitutional federal power grab” said a spokesman for the Texas Attorney General.

  • Heart Disease Risk and Prevention | Petaluma Employee Benefits

    February 27, 2019

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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 630,000 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.


    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

    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:

    American Heart Association—Healthy for Good

    American Heart Month Toolkit

    Heart Health Information

    Strategies to Prevent Heart Disease

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