Your Phone May Be Smart, But Is It Clean?

phoneWhile your cell phone can carry your valued business contacts, treasured photos and more, it may be carrying plenty of germs as well. In fact, clinical microbiology experts told Time magazine recently that a cell phone can carry 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats!

What can you do to protect yourself? Keep your phone out of the bathroom, use microfiber cloths designed to clean your phone and most important – wash your hands since basic hygiene will always help protect you and others who may share your phone from time to time.

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Pregnant Workers Receive Accommodations

Pregnant-WorkerBeginning in April of 2018, employers in Massachusetts will need to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees, including measures to prevent discrimination against those pregnant workers who request an accommodation. Some of these accommodations will include allowing more frequent or longer breaks, modifying seating or other work-related equipment, temporarily transferring pregnant employees to a less strenuous or hazardous position and providing private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk. According to the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, employees must be notified of these rights, in writing, beginning January 1, 2018.

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Empowering Employees: Big Talk, Little Action

telemedicineTelemedicine offers a lot of potential for everyone – added convenience for busy families and lower costs than a traditional office visit. But as helpful as this service can be, it will only make a difference if it is used.

Low utilization is not unique to telemedicine. It’s a common problem with many new, well designed and well-intended health care services. Encouraging plan members to actually use new offerings is a challenge for employer groups, large and small. And while utilization is often higher in self-funded health plans, all employers need help turning talk into action. Here are a few ideas to consider:

It’s all about them – With health care consuming more of everyone’s income and attention, we all have a vested interest in our benefits. And while wonderful tools like telemedicine keep coming to the table, you need to look at these offerings from your member’s perspective rather than your own. Talk with your employees; ask if a service will help them and listen to their feedback. If it can add real value to your employee’s lives, utilization will follow.

Talk about health, not cost – Research indicates that when it comes to their health and wellbeing, there are many things members would prefer to hear about than fees and costs. A majority are interested in improving their health. It takes time, but focusing on current health risks and personalizing communications as much as possible will help members want to get more engaged.

Educate to empower – Transparency tools and online portals are no different than other modern advances. If people don’t understand them, they will never catch on. Like telemedicine, unless employees understand how to use it and when they can use it, they will never realize the benefit of having an experienced, board certified physician, with access to their medical records, available to help them 24/7.

While it seems that other new disruptive innovations, such as Alexa, catch fire overnight, they do take time. Since your employee communication budget likely pales in comparison to those driving consumers to Amazon, talk with your TPA about new ways to zero in on the needs of your employees. Doing so can lead to increased utilization and a happier, healthier workforce in 2018 and beyond.

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ACA Mandate Penalty Eliminated

The ACA has required people to have what the government has classified as minimum essential coverage, or else pay a penalty which now amounts to 2.5% of modified adjusted gross income over the income tax filing threshold.

While the House version of tax reform did not change the penalty in any way, the Senate version cut the penalty to 0% and in joint conference debates, the reduction was kept in the bill that was just passed by both houses. The Senate provision is not a repeal of the penalty, but instead a reduction, which could be increased by Congress in the future. While lower corporate and personal tax rates will take effect this year, this reduction will not become effective until 2019.

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Commonsense Reporting Bill Introduced

commonsense-reportingIn October, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill that would ease the ACA reporting mandates for employer-sponsored health plans. The bill would roll back the reporting requirements of Section 6056 and replace them with a voluntary reporting system. The bill would also allow payers to transmit employee notices electronically rather than having to send paper statements by mail.

While self-funded health plans must now comply with Sections 6055 and 6056, it is not yet clear how the bill would affect Section 6055 requirements. Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Warner of Virginia, sponsors of the bill, say their proposal would give the government a more effective way of applying premium tax credits to consumers who purchase insurance through an Exchange, something the administration has been trying to accomplish.

12 Billion Workdays Lost

healthRecent findings reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) report that without a greater willingness to tackle anxiety and depression, a staggering 12 billion days will be lost between now and 2030. Put in financial terms, these disorders are costing the world nearly $1 trillion each year in lost productivity. It’s no wonder why a growing number of employers are considering on-site behavioral health clinics and other ways to tackle this growing problem.

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Self-Service Benefits Education

siriWhile it may not yet be widespread, some companies are looking for ways to use voice-activated assistants such as Siri and Emma to provide plan members with answers about annual contribution limits, account balances and other details regarding flexible spending accounts, HSAs, HRAs and more. Many hope that linking these intelligent assistants to a mobile app will make it easier than ever for members to get answers to questions when they need them.

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