Tag: petaluma

  • Healthcare Tax Repeal | CA Employee Benefits Firm

    September 24, 2018

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    Recently, the President signed a bill repealing the Affordable Care Act’s Individual Mandate (the tax penalty imposed on individuals who are not enrolled in health insurance). While some are praising this action, there are others who are concerned with its aftermath. So how does this affect you and why should you pay attention to this change? Watch this short video to learn more!

  • DOL and IRS Release Additional Information on Association Health Plans | California Benefits Firm

    September 21, 2018

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    On August 20, 2018, the Department of Labor (DOL) posted the Association Health Plans ERISA Compliance Assistance fact sheet.

    On August 20, 2018, the IRS added a new Q&A 18 to its Questions and Answers on Employer Shared Responsibility Provisions Under the Affordable Care Act. Q&A 18 confirms that:

    • An employer that is not an applicable large employer (ALE) under the employer shared responsibility provisions does not become an ALE due to participation in an AHP.
    • An employer that is an ALE under the employer shared responsibility provisions continues to be an ALE subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions regardless of its participation in an AHP.
    • The only circumstance when multiple employers are treated as a single employer for determining whether the employer is an ALE is if the employers have a certain level of common or related ownership.

    Originally published by www.UBABenefits.com

    By Karen Hsu


  • Affordable Care Act Individual Mandate Update | CA Benefits Firm

    August 20, 2018

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    Recently, the President signed a bill repealing the Affordable Care Act’s Individual Mandate (the tax penalty imposed on individuals who are not enrolled in health insurance). While some are praising this action, there are others who are concerned with its aftermath. So how does this affect you and why should you pay attention to this change?

  • Wearable Technology | California Benefits Firm

    July 30, 2018

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    Don’t lie–we ALL love gadgets. From the obscure (but hilariously reviewed on Amazon) Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer to the latest iteration of the Apple empire. Gadgets and technology can make our lives easier, make processes faster, and even help us get healthier. Businesses are now using the popularity of wearable technology to encourage employee wellness and increase productivity and morale.

    According to a survey cited on Huffington Post, “82% of wearable technology users in American said it enhanced their lives in one way or another.” How so? Well, in the instance of health and wellness, tech wearers are much more aware of how much, or how little, they are moving throughout the day. We know that our sedentary lifestyles aren’t healthy and can lead to bigger health risks long term. Obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and Type 2 Diabetes are all side effects of this non-active lifestyle. But, these are all side effects that can be reversed with physically getting moving. Being aware of the cause of these problems helps us get motivated to work towards a solution.

    Fitbit, Apple Watch, Pebble, and Jawbone UP all have activity tracking devices.  Many companies are offering incentives for employees who work on staying fit and healthy by using this wearable technology. For example, BP Oil gave employees a free Fitbit in exchange for them tracking their annual steps. Those BP employees who logged 1 million steps in a year were given lower insurance premiums. These benefits for the employee are monetary but there are other pros to consider as well. The data collected with wearable technology is very accurate and can help the user when she goes to her physician for an ailment. The doctor can look at this data and it can help connect the dots with symptoms and then assist the provider with a diagnosis.

    So, what are the advantages to the company who creates wellness programs utilizing wearable technology?

    • Job seekers have said that employee wellness programs like this are very attractive to them when looking for a job.
    • Millennials are already wearing these devices and say that employers who invest in their well-being increases employee morale.
    • Employee healthcare costs are reduced.
    • Improved productivity including fewer disruptions from sick days.

    The overall health and fitness of the company can be the driving force behind introducing wearable technology in a business but the benefits are so much more than that. Morale and productivity are intangible benefits but very important ones to consider. All in all, wearable technology is a great incentive for adopting healthy lifestyles and that benefits everyone—employee AND employer.


  • Additional Adjustments

    July 24, 2018

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    Employers need to see if their premiums are “affordable” for purposes of compliance with the Affordable Care Act for penalties.  Employees need to see the same to determine if they are eligible for a subsidy with the Exchanges.  New figures for 2019


    Household Income as                         New Percentage 2019

    Percentage of FPL


    Less than 133%                                              2.08%

    133 – 150%                                                     4.15

    150 – 200                                                        6.54

    200 – 250                                                        8.36

    250 – 300                                                        9.86

    300 – 400                                                        9.86


    Overall, then, if an employee pays a percentage of their annual income higher than these amounts, based on their Household Income, they have an “unaffordable” plan

  • Top 5 Social Media Tips | CA Benefits Firm

    June 27, 2018

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    The world is connected nowadays through our screens. Whether it be email, texting, websites, FaceTime, or social media; we all use technology to connect us to others. Check out this short video for more!

  • Opioids in America | California Employee Benefits Firm

    June 27, 2018

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    Lately, there’s been a big focus on America’s opioid addiction in the news. Whether it’s news on the abuse of the drug or it’s information sharing on how the drug works, Americans are talking about this subject regularly. We want to help educate you on this hot topic.

  • Does the President have a prescription for what ails drug prices? Depends on the dosage

    June 21, 2018

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    There is no doubt that prescription drug prices are a major driver in the overall cost of care.

    The question is what to do about it, and what repercussions would it have on other parts of the market and the manufacturers themselves?  The President has made partial good on his campaign promise, proposing a number of solutions to the problem, but will they work?  Some already say “no” because he is not using the purchasing power of Medicare to drive down prices, instead relying on legalistic prescriptions which will promote transparency and then…

    • Value based purchasing in federal programs
    • Using Medicare to pay different amounts for the same drug depending on the illness
    • Pressure other countries to raise their prices for prescription drugs (oh, sure)
    • Require drug ads to include the price (but if the carriers are paying, who cares?)
    • Ban gag clauses for pharmacists to they can recommend other, less expensive drugs
    • The patent system will change to reward innovation and not protect monopolies
    • Change the existing rebate system (but how, when no one understands how it works)

    That’s what it comes to in the analysis.  What was said in the long White Paper produced by the President and his team were the following goals:


    • Increasing competition – Accelerating FDA approval of generics, focus on FDA improving efficiency of generic development, clarify complex generics, closing loopholes allowing brand names to game the system, modernize Medicare Part D, put an inflation limit on Medicare Part B drugs, increasing the integrity of the Medicaid rebate program


    • Lowering list prices – transparency with Medicare, ACA rebate provisions, FDA evaluation on direct to consumer advertising


    • Reduce patient out of pocket spending – end gag clauses, require Part D providers to show lower cost alternatives on the Explanation of Benefits, evaluate options to alow high cost drugs to be priced differently based on indications



  • Hospitals cry foul over latest Anthem fare…definitions change and definitely cause harm

    June 15, 2018

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    Anthem has changed their policy regarding imaging performed in hospitals on an outpatient basis and will expand this into fourteen states.  Hospitals are not happy, nor amused and have filed suit.  Anthem stakes its claim on the idea of medical necessity, and hospitals are saying that doctors have the right to show necessity, not carriers.  And so the battle continues as carriers continue to try to dictate care but those who are responsible for care are not responsible for the payment.  No winners here…

    And as if that were not enough, Anthem has also begun pushing back on patients who visit the emergency room for ailments the carrier deems minor – called the “avoidable ER program” (as in avoiding payment).  While Anthem has lightened up on their procedures somewhat, they are refusing to pay some ER visits as non emergency (after the fact) which is not making patients and doctors particularly happy.  Stay tuned.

  • Independents may not be so depending on the interdependence of employment status

    June 11, 2018

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    The California State Supreme Court, in the case of a suit against Dynamex Operations West, said simply that “when a worker has not independently decided to engage in an independently established business but instead is simply designated an independent contractor – there is a substantial risk that the hiring business is attempt to evade the demands of an applicable wage order through misclassification.” In short, to be independent they must be, you know, independent.  Businesses must show that the worker is free from the control and direction of the employer, perform work that is outside the hirer’s core business and customarily engage in an independently established trade, occupation or business

    On April 30, 2018 the California Supreme Court determined that California employers must always start with the presumption that a worker is a common law employee.  They may classify them as independent ONLY IF ALL of these criteria are being met:

    Worker is free from control and direction in connection with the performance of the work

    The worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business

    Worker customarily engaged in independently established trade, occupation or business

    This gives common sense to what the Department of Labor has long used as their “twenty questions” to determine the independence of an independent contractor.  The only question remaining now is that, if the DOL finds an employer responsible for an “employee” who may have previously been misclassified, if all rights and benefits that apply will be made retroactively

  • Always ask the real price before you pay…prescription drugs need a prescription for action

    June 6, 2018

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    This should be apparent, but apparently it isn’t.  Sometimes prescription drugs, so often dispensed as generics, have a lower price than the copayment stated on the benefit card.  A new study, however, shows that consumers aren’t asking, thus not only paying a higher amount than necessary, but this amount is then “clawed back” by the Pharmacy Benefit Manager (no, the pharmacy does not keep the difference, nor does the insurance carrier) which acts as a middleman between the carrier and the consumer.  During a study period comprising the first half of 2013, a USC study found that overpayments totaled $135 million.  A good example – hydrocodone acetaminophen (that would normally be called “Vicodin”) was prescribed 120,000 times and there was an average overcharge of $6.94.  It is not just generics, moreover.  The brand name drugs of longer standing also often fall under the brand name co payment (Ambien was cited as the most egregious example)  So next time, don’t just reach for the card…

  • Opioids in America | CA Benefit Brokers

    June 5, 2018

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    Lately, there’s been a big focus on America’s opioid addiction in the news. Whether it’s news on the abuse of the drug or it’s information sharing on how the drug works, Americans are talking about this subject regularly. We want to help educate you on this hot topic.

    Opioids are made from the opium poppy plant.  Opium has been around since 3,400 BC and it was first referenced as being cultivated in Southwest Asia. The drug traveled the Silk Road from the Mediterranean to Asia to China. Since then, the drug has gained popularity for pain relief but it also has gained notoriety as an abused drug. Morphine, Codeine, and Heroin are all derived from the opium poppy and are all highly addictive drugs that are abused all around the world. As the demand for these drugs has increased, so has the production.  From 2016 to 2017, the area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan increased by 63 percent. In 2016, it killed some 64,000 Americans, more than double the number in 2005.

    We can see that the danger from this drug is growing rapidly. What can we do to recognize potential abuse problems and to get help? Here are some facts about opioid addiction:

    • How do they work? Opioids attach to pain receptors in your brain, spinal cord, and other areas that recognize pain signals. As they attach to the receptors, it reduces the sending of pain messages to the brain and therefore reduces the feelings of pain in your body.
    • Short-acting opiates are typically prescribed for injuries and only for a few days. They take 15-30 minutes for pain relief to begin and this relief lasts for 3-4 hours. Long-acting opiates are prescribed for moderate to severe pain and are used over a long period of time. Relief typically lasts for 8-12 hours and can be used alongside a short-acting drug for breakthrough pain.
    • Dependence is common with long-term use of an opiate. This means that the patient needs to take more of and higher doses of the medicine to get the same pain relieving effect. This does not necessarily mean the patient is addicted. Addiction is the abuse of the drug by taking it in an unprescribed way—like crushing tablets or using intravenously.
    • Americans account for less than 5% of the world’s population, but take 80% of the world’s opioid About 5% of the people who take opiates become addicted to the drug.
    • Help is available through many channels from private recovery centers to insurance providers. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline is 1-800-662-HELP. This line is confidential, free, and available 24-hours a day and 7 days a week. Family and friends may also call this number for resources for help. Additional resources can be found at drugabuse.com.

    Make sure you are educated about the dangers of opioid abuse. But, don’t be discouraged and think that the abuse is incurable! There are many resources that can be used to break the addiction cycle and can make real change in the lives of its victims. Ask for help and offer help.


  • Are retirees given any guarantees? The issue keeps going back and forth

    June 4, 2018

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    The Supreme Court has once again found that retiree benefits are not vested.  So the employer can promise but…     Actually, the Court simply clarified the need for clarity.  In the absence of specific language that vests retiree health benefits, the retirees may no longer assume that silence or ambiguity allows a lifetime contract.  Instead, the contract itself must state the case.  Seems simple, but this has been kicking around, even though the Supreme Court said the same thing in 2015.  Now it will show the unions that what they want needs to be negotiated and then put in writing (we will call this the “common sense” doctrine)

  • The new normal – see our White Paper – everyone is buying everyone – can we buy their act?

    May 31, 2018

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    Walmart is in preliminary talks to buy and partner with Humana

    CIGNA is buying Express Scripts

    CVS bought Aetna

    And the list goes on…

  • Disability Insurance & How to Use it! | California Benefit Consultants

    May 30, 2018

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    No one foresees needing disability benefits.  But, should a problem arise, the educated and informed employee can plan for the future by purchasing disability insurance to help cover expenses when needed. Check out this short video for more!

  • Tips to a Successful Annual Exam | Petaluma Benefit Consultants

    May 18, 2018

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    Have you ever heard the proverb “Knowledge is power?” It means that knowledge is more powerful than just physical strength and with knowledge people can produce powerful results. This applies to your annual medical physical as well! The #1 goal of your annual exam is to GAIN KNOWLEDGE. Annual exams offer you and your doctor a baseline for your health as well as being key to detecting early signs of diseases and conditions. For more, watch this short video:


  • Notifying Participants of a Plan Change | California Employee Benefit Firm

    May 15, 2018

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    Curious about when you should notify a participant about a change to their health care plan?

    The answer is that it depends!

    Notification must happen within one of three time frames: 60 days prior to the change, no later than 60 days after the change, or within 210 days after the end of the plan year.

    For modifications to the summary plan description (SPD) that constitute a material reduction in covered services or benefits, notice is required within 60 days prior to or after the adoption of the material reduction in group health plan services or benefits. (For example, a decrease in employer contribution is a material reduction in covered services or benefits. So is a material modification in any plan terms affecting the content of the most recent summary of benefits and coverage (SBC).) While the rule here is flexible, the definite best practice is to give advance notice. For collective practical purposes, employees should be told prior to the first increased withholding.

    However, if the change is part of open enrollment, and communicated during open enrollment, this is considered acceptable notice regardless of whether the SBC, SPD, or both are changing. Essentially, open enrollment is a safe harbor for all 60-day prior/60-day post notice requirements.

    Finally, changes that do not affect the SBC and are not a material reduction in benefits must be communicated and summarized within 210 days after the end of the plan year.

    By Danielle Capilla

    Originally published by www.UBABenefits.com


  • Top 5 Social Media Tips That Can Benefit Every Agency | CA Benefit Consultants

    May 7, 2018

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    The world is connected nowadays through our screens. Whether it be email, texting, websites, FaceTime, or social media; we all use technology to connect us to others. According to Hubspot, an online marketing and sales software provider, consumers are on social networks more than ever before. They wrote:

    In our survey of 1,091 global internet users, we’ve found people have dramatically increased content consumption on the three most popular social networks in the last two years: Facebook (+57% increase), Twitter (25% increase), and LinkedIn (21% increase). These networks have notably doubled down on content in the past few years to capture and retain the attention of their users — and it appears the playbook is working.The Future of Content Marketing: How People Are Changing the Way They Read, Interact, and Engage With Content

    So, how do you harness this tech to strengthen your connectivity to your audience? Here’s the top 5 tips for using social media that every agency can benefit from using.

    1. Consistent Content Posting

    Your followers want to know when they can expect new info to be posted on your website and social media. If you post once a week for 3 weeks and then not post again for another month, your audience will quit paying attention. Consistency is the key! Make a point to post at the same general time on the same days and you will see more interaction from your followers.

    1. Images & Videos

    62% of users thoroughly consume the social media post if it includes video as compared to only 25% consumption of traditional long content posts. That’s a HUGE difference! Grab your audience’s attention when they are scrolling through their social media by posting pictures and videos. They are telling us that they will stop and watch or read more than skimming because of the images they see.

    1. Keep Up with Social Media Trends

    Pay attention to what you are most engaged with on social media. Do you like to watch Facebook Live videos? Do you stop and scroll through pictures from companies when they post what they are doing in the community? Do you prefer to chat with a customer service representative online versus an email? If you are seeing your preferences change, there is a good chance your audience’s preferences are changing. Post pictures of your teams serving their community. Use videos to educate your clients on relevant issues in your field. Social media is constantly evolving so stay up on trends and use them on your pages!

    1. Facebook is Still King

    Consumers are using Facebook for more than just connecting to their high school friends—they are using it to read content from their favorite businesses and groups. This means you MUST keep your Facebook page updated and have new content posted regularly. According to a new Hubspot survey, 48% of consumers use their Facebook feed to catch up on news, business, and lifestyle stories. This ties back to Tip #1 and reiterates that consistent posting is the sweet spot for engaging customers.

    1. Engage Your Audience

    How are you talking to the people who use your business? Are you responding to inquiries on Facebook? When you post pictures on LinkedIn are you responding to the people who are looking and commenting on them? When you engage with your followers, they are more likely to have a stronger relationship with you. Entrepreneur Magazine says, “They are more likely to have a better evaluation of the brands, stay loyal to the brands and recommend the brands to others.”

    By following these tips, your social media pages can grow into healthy sites and you can be more effective as you engage with your audience.  Start using them today!


  • A DOL Audit Can Happen to You | Petaluma Benefit Consultants

    April 19, 2018

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    Summary plan descriptions (SPDs) are required for all retirement, health, and welfare plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). However, misconceptions about this requirement are widespread. ERISA attorney Stacy H. Barrow, partner with Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP, had a chat with ThinkHR about the importance of having proper ERISA documentation and the consequences of failing to do so.

    THR: What types of employers need to have an SPD?

    SHB: We tell all employers — of any size — who offer plans subject to ERISA that they need to have an SPD. This is the first item in every Department of Labor (DOL) audit. If you don’t have one and you get audited or a participant asks for plan documents, you will be scrambling to put documents together and you can’t do them fast enough to avoid an issue. In addition, cafeteria plans can only be adopted prospectively, so if you don’t have a written cafeteria plan in place, you may be jeopardizing the tax qualified status of your plan.

    THR: Won’t my broker or carrier take care of these documents?

    SHB: Employers may think that brokers or carriers take care of all required benefits documentation, but at the end of the day, it’s the employer who is responsible for complying with ERISA’s SPD requirement. Your broker may help you, but they might not be aware of every benefit you offer or your eligibility guidelines. The carrier’s documentation often is missing some of the required language, which is why you use a wrap. You don’t specifically have to use a wrap to develop your SPD, but the carrier document won’t get you there and an wrap is often the best way to comply. If the plan documents aren’t compliant, that’s not the carrier’s or broker’s responsibility, it’s the employer’s.

    THR: Do I really need to be concerned about a DOL audit?

    SHB: Employers can get complacent about documentation, thinking that only large employers get audited, or it won’t happen to them. It’s not only the large corporations that get audited. It can happen to employers of any size or type. It’s important to make sure you have good benefits documentation, because if you don’t, and you do get audited, it might cause the DOL to dig deeper and look for other problems, such as looking into your 401(k) plan.

    Plan documentation is a huge part of every DOL audit. I can’t stress strongly enough that they will want to see the summary plan description and plan documents. If you can get good, compliant documents to the DOL, it increases the chances of a speedy resolution. If you can provide them quickly, it sends a message that you are ready and in compliance.

    THR: What are the consequences of being out of compliance?

    SHB: Not having the proper documents may be an issue if you get audited or there is litigation over a denied claim. You need to be prepared for this possibility. If the DOL audits and imposes penalties, it may not be because the employer didn’t have a wrap document, but rather because the document wasn’t updated, wasn’t compliant, or wasn’t distributed to employees. And the DOL may impose penalties of up to $152 per day for failure to provide an SPD upon request. Also, failure to inform participants of plan changes may invalidate those changes.

    By Rachel Sobel

    Originally published by WWW.ThinkHR.com

  • Higher Satisfaction Through Higher Education | California Benefit Advisors

    April 18, 2018

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    When evaluating employee benefits, essentials such as health and dental plans, vacation time and 401(k) contributions quickly come to mind. Another benefit employers should consider involves subsidizing learning as well as ambitions. Grants and reimbursements toward advanced degrees and continuing education can be a smart investment for both employers and employees.

    Educational benefits are strongly linked to worker satisfaction. A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management revealed that nearly 80 percent of responding workers who rated their education benefits highly also rated their employers highly. While only 30 percent of those rating their higher education benefits as fair or poor conversely rated their employer highly.

    These benefits are popular with businesses as well. In a survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, nearly five of six responding employers offer some form of educational benefit. Their top reasons are to retain current employees, maintain or raise employee satisfaction, keep skill levels current, attract new talent and boost innovation and productivity. Tax credits offer additional advantages. Qualifying programs offer employers tax credits up to $5,250 per employee, per year.

    At the same time, companies should offer these benefits with care as they do pose potential pitfalls. Higher education assistance can be costly, even when not covering full costs. Workers taking advantage can become overwhelmed with the demands of after-hour studies, affecting job performance. Also, employers would be wise to ensure their employees don’t promptly leave and take their new skills elsewhere.

    When well-planned, educational benefits will likely prove a good investment. Seventy-five percent of respondents to SHRM’s survey consider their educational-assistance programs successful. To boost your employee morale, skill levels and job-satisfaction scores, consider the benefit that may deliver them all, and more.

    Find out more:
    IFEBP: Why Educational Assistance Programs Work
    EBRI: Fundamentals of Employee Benefit Programs

    By Bill Olsen

    Originally published  by www.UBABenefits.com

  • Disability Insurance and why you need it! | CA Benefit Consultants

    April 9, 2018

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    “Your most valued asset isn’t your house, car, or retirement account. It’s the ability to make a living.”

    No one foresees needing disability benefits.  But, should a problem arise, the educated and informed employee can plan for the future by purchasing disability insurance to help cover expenses when needed.

    When you ask people what is the number one reason disability insurance is needed, most will answer that it is for workplace related injuries. However, the leading causes of long-term absences are back injuries, cancer, and heart disease and most of them are NOT work related.   In addition, the average duration of absences due to disability is 34 months.  So how do you prepare for an unplanned absence from work as a result of an injury or illness? Disability insurance is a great option.

    Disability insurance is categorized into two main types.

    • Short Term Disability covers 40-60% of the employee’s base salary and can last for a few weeks to a few months to a year. There is typically a short waiting period before benefits begin after the report of disability. This plan is generally sponsored by the employer.
    • Long Term Disability covers 50-70% of the employee’s base salary and the benefits end when the disability ends or after a pre-set length of time depending on the policy. The wait period for benefits is longer—typically 90 days from onset of disability. This plan kicks in after the short-term coverage is exhausted. The individual purchases this plan to prevent a loss of coverage after short-term disability benefits are exhausted.

    While the benefits of these disability plans are not a total replacement of salary, they are designed for the employee to maintain their current standard of living while recovering from the injury or illness. This also allows the individual to pay regular expenses during this time.

    There are many ways to enroll in a disability insurance plan. Often times your employer will offer long-term and short-term coverage as part of a benefits package. Supplemental coverage can also be purchased.  Talk with your company’s HR department for more information on how to enroll in these plans.  Individuals who are interested in purchasing supplemental coverage can also contact outside insurance brokers or even check with any professional organizations to which they belong (such as the American Medical Association for medical professionals) as many times they offer insurance coverage to members.

    As you begin planning for your future, make sure you research the types of coverage available and different avenues through which to purchase this coverage. For more information on disability and the workplace, check out:




  • Federal Employment Law Update – March 2018 | California Employee Benefit Brokers

    March 28, 2018

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    FLSA Amendments to Tip Sharing Provisions

    On March 23, 2018, President Trump signed legislation (H.R. 1625) amending the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by prohibiting employers from keeping tips received by employees for any purpose. This includes prohibiting managers or supervisors from keeping any portion of employees’ tips, regardless of whether the employer takes a tip credit. Employers in violation of these protections are liable to the affected employee(s) for the sum of any tip credit taken, and all tips unlawfully kept, in addition to an equal amount as liquidated damages. Regarding willful violations of the employment of minors provisions (at 29 U.S.C. § 216(c)), any person in violation of the law will be subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,100 for each violation and will be liable to the affected employee(s) for all tips unlawfully kept and an additional equal amount as liquidated damages.

    The law is currently effective.

    Read US H.R. 1625

    Postponement of E-Verify Temporary Unavailability

    On March 15, 2018, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced via fact sheet that E-Verify and E-Verify Services would be temporarily unavailable from 12 a.m. March 23 to 8 a.m. March 26 Eastern Time for system enhancements. However, on March 22 the USCIS released an email stating that the enhancements were “still in the works,” and the modernization launch was postponed. Subsequently, E-Verify will remain available, and all regular employment eligibility verification timelines continue to apply.

    Read about the planned enhancements

    IRS Adjusts 2018 Inflation Amounts for Health Savings Accounts

    On March 5, 2018, the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced 2018 annual limits on deductions for individuals covered under a high deductible health plan (HDHP) in Rev. Proc. 2018-18. The deduction limit is $3,450 for an individual with self-only coverage and $6,850 for an individual with family coverage.

    Additionally, for calendar year 2018, an HDHP is defined as a health plan with an annual deductible that is not less than $1,350 for self-only coverage or $2,700 for family coverage, and the annual out-of-pocket expenses (deductibles, co-payments, and other amounts, excluding premiums) do not exceed $6,650 for self-only coverage or $13,300 for family coverage.

    Read Rev. Proc. 2018-18

    EEO-1 Reporting and Employees Who Regularly Report to Client Sites

    The portal for 2017 EEO-1 reporting is open and reports must be submitted and certified by March 31, 2018 at the latest.

    The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has addressed the issue that there may be some confusion as to how employers are to report employees working at client sites (a workplace the employer does not own but where the employee reports for work). According to the EEOC’s 2017 EEO-1 User Guide (see page 132), employers must still submit an EEO-1 report under the address of the client site for those employees, as opposed to the employer’s own address.

    See How to File an EEO-1 Report

    IRS Updates Withholding Calculator and Releases New Form W-4

    On February 28, 2018, the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released an updated Withholding Calculator and a new version of Form W-4 following passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December.

    The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act made changes to the tax law, including increasing the standard deduction, removing personal exemptions, increasing the child tax credit, limiting or discontinuing certain deductions, and changing the tax rates and brackets.

    If changes to withholding should be made, the Withholding Calculator gives employees the information they need to fill out a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate.

    More information is available at the IRS page, Withholding Calculator Frequently Asked Questions.

    Read the press release

    NLRB Vacates Hy-Brand and Browning-Ferris Joint Employment Standard Reinstated

    On February 26, 2018, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced that it vacated its December 14, 2017 decision in Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors regarding the joint employment standard. As a result, the Obama-era, employee-friendly joint employment standard established by Browning-Ferris Industries was reinstated. Under the reinstated Browning-Ferris standard, a company can be found to be a joint employer based on the potential of its ability to exercise control over terms and conditions of employment, regardless of whether the actual authority is exercised. This is an “indirect control” standard and is considered the main factor in determining whether a joint employer relationship exists, and thus liability, under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

    According to the NLRB, Hy-Brand was vacated due a determination by the board’s designated agency ethics official that member William Emanuel is, and should have been, disqualified from participating in the Hy-Brand proceeding. In a memorandum issued on February 9, 2018, the U.S. Inspector General found that Emmanuel’s former law firm was involved in the original Browning-Ferris decision, and subsequently, he should have recused himself from the Hy-Brand decision.

    Because the Board’s Decision and Order in Hy-Brand has been vacated, the overruling of the Board’s decision in Browning-Ferris Industries, 362 NLRB No. 186 (2015), is of no force or effect.

    Read the press release and order

  • New Guidance on Tipped Wages | Petaluma Benefit Consultants

    March 27, 2018

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    The 2,232-page budget spending bill that was signed by President Trump on March 23, 2018, included an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) prohibiting employers, managers, or supervisors from collecting or retaining tips made by employees, regardless of whether the employer takes a tip credit.

    This law essentially blocked the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2017 proposed rule which would have allowed tip sharing between employees who directly earn them with “back of the house” employees who “[c]ontribute to the overall customer experience,” but do not traditionally receive direct tips, such as cooks and dishwashers.

    The next step with the DOL’s proposed rule could be that the agency pulls it or conforms the rulemaking to the spending bill. However, experts are concerned that the bill did not go far enough to provide clear and concise definitions. For example, in the restaurant industry employees can wear many hats. So what happens when a food server is the shift lead? Is a shift lead a manager or supervisor because they are granted authority, be it minimal authority, over other food servers? Employers will be looking to the DOL to provide more specifics.

    For the time being, the FLSA standard continues, “[a] valid tip pool may not include employees who do not customarily and regularly received tips, such as dishwashers, cooks, chefs, and janitors.”

    Get the basics in our Federal Employment Law Update or go more in depth into the background and implications of tipping regulations on Eater.

    Originally published by www.ThinkHR.com

  • Learn all about Medical Savings Accounts! | CA Benefit Brokers

    March 23, 2018

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    Take control of your health care expenses and save money in 2018!


  • IRS Releases New Form W-4 and Updates Withholding Calculator | California Benefit Consultants

    March 16, 2018

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    Our February 1, 2018 blog post reported on the late February release of the Form W-4 and guidance on the income withholding rules that changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. On February 28, 2018, the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released the new 2018 Form W-4 and an updated withholding calculator.

    Why a Withholding Calculator?

    The IRS encourages the use of the withholding calculator for a quick paycheck checkup in light of the changes to the tax law for 2018. According to the IRS, employees may be encouraged to use the calculator to ensure the correct tax amount is being withheld from their paychecks. For example, reviewing withholding may help protect employees against having too little tax withheld and facing an unexpected tax bill or penalty during next year’s tax season. Alternatively, with the average refund being $2,800, the IRS anticipates that some employees may have less tax withheld up front and instead receive more in their paychecks. If an employee needs to make changes to his or her withholding, the calculator provides the necessary information to fill out a new W-4.

    Next Steps

    Make sure your employees know about the availability of the calculator. Only employees changing their withholding need to complete a new W-4, and they may use results from the calculator to complete the new form. Encourage those employees to submit updated W-4s as soon as possible to ensure their withholdings are accurate.

    The IRS also suggests that if employees follow the calculator’s recommendations and change their 2018 withholding, they should recheck their withholding at the beginning of 2019 to protect against having too little withheld. This is important where an employee reduces his or her withholding sometime during 2018 because a mid-year withholding change in 2018 may have a different full-year impact in 2019.

    Get it All

    More information is available at the IRS page, Withholding Calculator Frequently Asked Questions.

    Learn more about the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

    By Samantha Yurman

    Originally published by www.ThinkHR.com

  • California Employment Law Update – March 2018 | CA Benefit Advisors

    March 14, 2018

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    California Supreme Court Rules on Overtime Calculations with Retroactive Application

    On March 5, 2018, the California Supreme Court ruled in Alvarado v. Dart Container Corporation of California (Alvarado) that when calculating overtime in pay periods when an employee earns a flat rate bonus, employers must divide the total compensation earned in a pay period by only the non-overtime hours worked. This means, according to the Alvarado decision, the correct calculation of overtime associated with a flat sum bonus is the amount of the bonus divided by the regular hours worked by the employee, multiplied by 1.5 (not a 0.5 multiplier, which the employer used in the case):

    (Overtime Hours x Regular Rate x 1.5) + (Bonus/Regular Hours Worked x Overtime Hours Worked x 1.5) = Total Overtime Compensation in California

    This decision applies retroactively; thus all California employers who pay flat rate bonuses must ensure immediate compliance with these calculations or risk incurring penalties and liability.

    Read Alvarado

    Originally published by www.ThinkHR.com

  • Benefits of an Annual Exam | California Benefit Advisors

    February 22, 2018

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    Have you ever heard the proverb “Knowledge is power?” It means that knowledge is more powerful than just physical strength and with knowledge people can produce powerful results. This applies to your annual medical physical as well! The #1 goal of your annual exam is to GAIN KNOWLEDGE. Annual exams offer you and your doctor a baseline for your health as well as being key to detecting early signs of diseases and conditions.


    The #1 goal of your annual exam is to  GAIN KNOWLEDGE


    According to Malcom Thalor, MD, “A good general exam should include a comprehensive medical history, family history, lifestyle review, problem-focused physical exam, appropriate screening and diagnostic tests and vaccinations, with time for discussion, assessment and education. And a good health care provider will always focus first and foremost on your health goals.”

    Early detection of chronic diseases can save both your personal pocketbook as well as your life! By scheduling AND attending your annual physical, you are able to cut down on medical costs of undiagnosed conditions. Catching a disease early means you are able to attack it early. If you wait until you are exhibiting symptoms or have been symptomatic for a long while, then the disease may be to a stage that is costly to treat. Early detection gives you a jump start on treatments and can reduce your out of pocket expenses.

    When you are prepared to speak with your Primary Care Physician (PCP), you can set the agenda for your appointment so that you get all your questions answered as well as your PCP’s questions. Here are some tips for a successful annual physical exam:

    • Bring a list of medications you are currently taking—You may even take pictures of the bottles so they can see the strength and how many.
    • Have a list of any symptoms you are having ready to discuss.
    • Bring the results of any relevant surgeries, tests, and medical procedures
    • Share a list of the names and numbers of your other doctors that you see on a regular basis.
    • If you have an implanted device (insulin pump, spinal cord stimulator, etc) bring the device card with you.
    • Bring a list of questions! Doctors want well informed patients leaving their office. Here are some sample questions you may want to ask:
      • What vaccines do I need?
      • What health screenings do I need?
      • What lifestyle changes do I need to make?
      • Am I on the right medications?

    Becoming a well-informed patient who follows through on going to their annual exam as well as follows the advice given to them from their physician after asking good questions, will not only save your budget, but it can save your life!




  • Federal Employment Law Update – February 2018 | Petaluma Benefit Brokers

    February 16, 2018

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    IRS Releases Publication 15 and W-4 Withholding Guidance for 2018

    On January 31, 2018, the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Publication 15 — Introductory Material, which includes the following:

    • 2018 federal income tax withholding tables.
    • Exempt Form W-4.
    • New information on:
      • Withholding allowance.
      • Withholding on supplemental wages.
      • Backup withholding.
      • Moving expense reimbursement.
      • Social Security and Medicare tax for 2018.
      • Disaster tax relief.

    Read Publication 15 and further details here.

    EEOC Penalty Increases for Failure to Post Required Notices

    On January 18, 2018, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a final rule increasing the penalty amount from $534 to $545 for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) notice posting requirements.

    The final rule is effective February 20, 2018.

    Read the rule

    Originally published by www.ThinkHR.com

  • 2018 W-4 Forms Won’t Be Released Until Late February | CA Employee Benefit Brokers

    February 14, 2018

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    If you’ve been getting questions from your employees about completing new 2018 W-4 forms to take advantage of the tax reform rules, we’ve finally received some answers. You can continue to rely on the current W-4 forms for now until the new 2018 form is released in late February.

    The January 29th Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Notice 2018-14 provides additional guidance on the income withholding rules that were changed under the recently passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The guidance:

    • Extends the effective period of Forms W-4 furnished to claim exemption from withholding for 2017 until February 28, 2018.
    • Permits employees to claim exemption from withholding for 2018 by temporarily using the 2017 Form W-4. This procedure will expire 30 days after the 2018 Form W-4 is released.
    • States that employees experiencing a change in status that causes a reduction in the number of withholding exemptions are not required to furnish employers with new withholding certificates until 30 days after the 2018 Form W-4 is released.
    • Provides that employees who have a reduction in the number of withholding allowances solely due to changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are not required to furnish employers with new withholding certificates during 2018. However, employees may choose to update their withholding at any time in response to the act. Employees who choose to update their withholding may use the 2017 Form W-4 instead of the 2018 Form W-4 to report changes in withholding allowances until 30 days after the 2018 Form W-4 is released.
    • Confirms that the optional withholding rate on supplemental wage payments is 22 percent for 2018 through 2025.
    • Specifies that, for 2018, withholding under IRC 3405(a)(4) on periodic payments when no withholding certificate is in effect will be based on treating the payee as a married individual claiming three withholding allowances.

    In addition to the guidance, the IRS also released a new Publication 15, (Circular E), Employer Tax Guide, for 2018. Publication 15 includes the 2018 withholding tables and explains an employer’s tax responsibilities, such as withholding, depositing, reporting, paying, and correcting employment taxes.

    ThinkHR will continue to follow developments in this area and report on the availability of the new 2018 W-4 Form and other IRS guidance as it becomes available.

    By Rick Montgomery

    Originally published by www.ThinkHR.com

  • Benefits Easy: Intro to Self-Funding | Petaluma Benefit Advisors

    February 9, 2018

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    As the first month of 2018 wraps up, companies have already begun the arduous task of submitting budgets and finding ways to cut costs for the new year. One of the most effective ways to combat increasing health care costs for companies is to move to a Self-Funded insurance plan. By paying for claims out-of-pocket instead of paying a premium to an insurance carrier, companies can save around 20% in administration costs and state taxes. That’s quite a cost savings!

    The topic of Self-Funding is huge and so we want to break it down into smaller bites for you to digest. This month we want to tackle a basic introduction to Self-Funding and in the coming months, we will cover the benefits, risks, and the stop-loss associated with this type of plan.


    • When the employer assumes the financial risk for providing health care benefits to its employees, this is called Self-Funding.
    • Self-Funded plans allow the employer to tailor the benefits plan design to best suit their employees. Employers can look at the demographics of their workforce and decide which benefits would be most utilized as well as cut benefits that are forecasted to be underutilized.
    • While previously most used by large companies, small and mid-sized companies, even with as few as 25 employees, are seeing cost benefits to moving to Self-Funded insurance plans.
    • Companies pay no state premium taxes on self-funded expenditures. This savings is around 1.5% – 3.5% depending on in which state the company operates.
    • Since employers are paying for claims, they have access to claims data. While keeping within HIPAA privacy guidelines, the employer can identify and reach out to employees with certain at-risk conditions (diabetes, heart disease, stroke) and offer assistance with combating these health concerns. This also allows greater population-wide health intervention like weight loss programs and smoking cessation assistance.
    • Companies typically hire third-party administrators (TPA) to help design and administer the insurance plans. This allows greater control of the plan benefits and claims payments for the company.

    As you can see, Self-Funding has many facets. It’s important to gather as much information as you can and weigh the benefits and risks of moving from a Fully-Funded plan for your company to a Self-Funded one. Doing your research and making the move to a Self-Funded plan could help you gain greater control over your healthcare costs and allow you to design an original plan that best fits your employees.



  • New Tax Breaks for Health Plans | Petaluma Benefits Broker

    January 26, 2018

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    Last week’s drama that shut down the federal government, then un-shut it three days later, was settled when agreement was reached on a Continuing Resolution. Included in the resolution are three tax breaks of particular interest to employers that offer group health coverage to their workers.

    Cadillac Tax: Delayed until 2022

    The Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes a 40 percent excise tax on the value of employer-provided health coverage exceeding certain thresholds. This so-called Cadillac tax was scheduled to take effect in 2020 but now is delayed until 2022.

    Efforts to repeal the Cadillac tax are expected to continue. It originally had been scheduled to take effect in 2018, then was delayed to 2020. This additional two-year delay, to 2022, provides further relief to employers while giving Congress time to consider permanent action.

    Health Insurance Providers (HIP) Fee: Suspended for 2019

    Starting in 2014, the ACA has imposed an annual fee on certain health insurers that generally is passed on to their policyholders. It affects insured plans, including medical, dental, and vision insurance, but does not apply to self-funded plans. Most advisors estimate the current fee impacts health insurance costs by 3 to 4 percent.

    The HIP fee was suspended for 2017, then resumed for 2018. Last week’s resolution will provide another one-year moratorium: the fee is suspended for 2019.

    Medical Device Tax: Suspended for 2018 and 2019

    The ACA added a 2.3 percent excise tax on the sale of medical device products, starting in 2013. It was suspended for 2016 and 2017, then scheduled to resume for 2018. Analysts cite the tax as one factor in increased health care expenses that are passed on to health insurers and employers.

    The new resolution suspends the medical device tax retroactively for 2018 and 2019.

    ThinkHR continually monitors legislative and regulatory changes that affect employers and their benefit offerings.

    Originally published by www.ThinkHR.com

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