Tag Archives: Wellness

Is Your Office Gross?

Office GermsThe typical employee’s desk has more bacteria per square inch than an office toilet seat. If that’s not disturbing enough, desks, phones and other private surfaces are also prime habitats for the viruses and bacteria that cause colds, the flu, strep throat, pneumonia and other illnesses.

Germs are bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Not all will cause disease, but many are bad news in the workplace, as some can live from 2 to 72 hours or more on hard surfaces. Germs are then spread in a few of ways:

  • Infectious droplets from coughs or sneezes move through the air and land on nearby surfaces or are inhaled by others.
  • Physical contact is made with infected droplets on a hard surface (e.g., a desk) and is transferred by touching the mouth, eyes or nose prior to hand washing.

Germ Hot Spots

  • Telephones
  • Keyboard and mouse
  • Desktops
  • Doorknobs, elevator buttons and light switches
  • Vending machine buttons
  • Fax, printer and copy machines
  • Water fountain handles and water cooler spigots
  • Microwave door handles
  • Bathroom door handles and faucets
  • Chair armrests
  • Pens and other shared office items
  • Escalator and elevator handrails

Tidy vs. Clean

Even if you keep your desk tidy, it may not be “clean.” Unlike toilets, which tend to be cleaned regularly; keyboards, phone receivers and desks rarely receive a wipe-down. Consider this: crumbs and coffee spills are capable of supporting mini eco-systems. Without a cleaning, even a small area on your desk or phone can sustain millions of bacteria that could potentially cause illness.

Getting Rid of Germs

The good news: heightened awareness and hygiene efforts can go a long way in helping keep your office safer. Keep the following points in mind and share them with your co-workers:

  • Germ-busting at the office is a team effort! It only takes one person to infect healthy co-workers.
  • Regular cleaning of personal workspaces (desk, phone, keyboard, etc.) kills bacteria, stopping the spread of germs.
  • Frequent cleaning of shared workspaces (door handles, coffee pots, light switches, faucets, office equipment, etc.) is essential in maintaining sanitary safety. Disinfection is the goal, so be sure to use a true disinfectant, not simply an antibacterial product. Daily disinfection reduces bacteria levels by 99 percent, drastically lowering the risk of illness.
  • Be considerate of others and cough or sneeze into tissues, your sleeve or the crook of your arm. Wash your hands often and sanitize using alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel. Consider having these on-hand at your desk and in any common areas, including kitchens and restrooms.

Dana Rostro is the Director of Employee Benefits Sales and Operations at Texas Associates Insurors. Dana is ACA certified and has helped clients develop the best strategies for their operations within the new healthcare legislation.

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Workplace Wellness Programs – Are They For You?

wellnessOne of the many provisions buried in the Affordable Care Act is the ability for employers to set up workplace wellness programs that incentivize employees to take better care of themselves. A healthier workforce doesn’t just reduce insurance premiums. It’s also a workforce that is more productive when it’s at work and that takes fewer days off when ill.

There are two different types of workplace wellness programs. A participatory wellness program is a program that provides a reward to employees that perform an action. Some examples of participatory programs include when a company provides access to a fitness center for anyone who chooses to use it, provides a bonus for taking a diagnostic test or incentivizes employees to attend health-related educational programs.

A workplace wellness plan can also be structured as a health-contingent program. These programs are more specifically based on employees’ individual health issues and can also come in two types:

  1. Activity-Based Health-Contingent Programs
  2. Outcome-Based Health-Contingent Programs

If a company chooses to implement a health-contingent program, it can offer a reward equivalent to up to 30 percent of an employee’s cost of health coverage. A program that is tied to stopping smoking can have a reward of up to 50 percent of a worker’s insurance coverage cost.

Activity-Based Workplace Wellness

An activity-based program is a program that focuses on getting an employee to take a certain activity towards improving their health. While a participatory program might include company support towards the cost of a gym membership, an activity-based program would require that worker to go to the gym on a predefined basis to earn the reward. Another example would be a reward tied to successfully completing a dieting program or committing to walk a certain number of times per week for a certain number of minutes per session.

Outcome-Based Workplace Wellness

Outcome-based programs focus on what a worker achieves rather than on what he does. An outcome-based plan starts with measuring a worker’s health. It can then set a goal for the measured standard. These programs can be tied to lowering cholesterol, lowering blood pressure or to reducing body-mass index. In these programs, the result is more important than the inputs that go into achieving it.

Calculating Rewards

Whether a company chooses an activity- or an outcome-based program, the rewards are calculated the same way. Rewards are based on the total cost of coverage, spanning both the employer’s and the employee’s payment .For instance, if an employee’s coverage costs $4,800 per year and the employer offers a 30 percent rebate, the employee would receive a bonus of $1,440. She would receive the bonus regardless of whether she pays $1,200, $2,400 or more of her total healthcare cost.

Alternate Routes to Rewards

Workplace wellness programs must comply with other federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means that they must have an alternate path for employees to earn a reward if they are unable to comply with the initial terms of a reward. For instance, an employee in a wheelchair won’t be able to participate in a program that incentivizes walking, so some other type of incentive must be put in place for them.

The rules underlying both activity- and outcome-based workplace wellness programs are complicated. Adding in the additional risks of legal exposure that come with creating incentives that are meaningful but also available to every employee makes the process even more challenging. However, the benefits to be reaped from a healthier workforce are also well worth it in the long run.

Dana Rostro is the Director of Employee Benefits Sales and Operations at Texas Associates Insurors. Dana is ACA certified and has helped clients develop the best strategies for their operations within the new healthcare legislation.

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5 Ways the Affordable Care Act Affects Small Businesses

Small Businesses have been cited by the White House as the ‘backbone’ of the United States Economy. That backbone of 28 million small employers saw dramatic changes  October 1, when the Health Insurance Exchanges opened, giving way to a new era of Health Care in the United States. So how exactly will the Affordable Care Act, which takes full effect on January 1, 2014 affect the ‘backbone’ of the US Economy? Here are 5 ways America’s small businesses will be affected by ‘Obamacare.’ health care benefits

Health Insurance

First and foremost, the Affordable Care Act provides for every single US citizen to purchase Health Insurance of some form or another come January 1, or else face hefty fines. This is the first step in what is expected to be a long, long road to nationwide coverage, along which businesses, big and small, will have a major role to play.

Come January, big businesses (50 employees or more) will be legally obliged to provide health insurance or pay a tax of $2,000 per employee (for all but the first 30 employees) starting January 2015. Smaller businesses (less than 50 employees) will also have to provide health insurance but will not be subject to fines, provided their employees get tax credits through an exchange. For small businesses with less than 25 employees, a tax credit of 35% will be made available to contribute towards health insurance provision.

Workplace Wellness

The Affordable Care Act will also create new incentives promoting workplace wellness programs, encouraging employers to take greater interest and more opportunities to support the health and well-being of employees. Funding will be provided as part of this preventative measure which has already been embraced by many businesses nationwide.

A study titled ‘Employee Benefits: Today and Beyond’ which surveyed US businesses found that: “almost half of employers (44%) are already increasing the use of wellness programs to improve the health of employees. Among these companies that have already implemented this approach, 33% have been very successful in achieving their desired cost savings.”

The Affordable Care Act will allow Businesses with workplace wellness programs, effective after 1, 2014, an tax credit increase of up to 20%, and a further 10% of the cost of health coverage if programs are designed to prevent or reduce tobacco use.

New Tax Credits

As mentioned above, one of the key factors in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act is the introduction of new tax credits, designed to help make Health Insurance readily accessible to US citizens. This includes tax credits for Businesses, aimed at helping employers provide coverage for employees.

The small business tax credit, for example aims to help businesses with less than 50 employees afford the cost of healthcare coverage. The Affordable Care Act aims to raise this tax credit to 35% for by 2015 for businesses that purchase coverage through the SHOP marketplace which opens October,1.

SHOP Marketplaces

Those SHOP (Small Business Health Insurance Options Program) Marketplaces will offer Small Businesses a portal through which to shop for health coverage on a competitive marketplace. These marketplaces include web portals that provide standardized, easy-to-understand information, making comparing and purchasing coverage easier for businesses.

The new SHOP Marketplaces will also allow small groups to pool risks and reduce administrative complexity and subsequently increase their purchasing power while reducing costs.

Employer’s Mandate

All that said and done, the Employer’s Mandate has now been pushed back to 2015, so Businesses will not feel the full effects of the Affordable Care Act for at least another 18 months. Instead, the initial Health Care Reform procedure will be regarded as ‘real-world testing’ ahead of full implementation in 2015. This has caused an increased level of doubt among critics and supporters of how Health Care Reform will take full shape, if at all. Businesses are now in a state of concern thanks to mixed messages. While employers may have initially felt relieved that they would have more time to fully prepare for the introduction of the new legislation, President Obama has hinted that fines could swell for Companies that view the Employer Mandate delay as a let-off.

To conclude, this shroud of uncertainty should prompt employers to consult their Insurance Agents about the Affordable Care Act, its provisions and what it means for their business. The facts are there, it is now up to Businesses to assess the situation and consider what the best Insurance option for them instead of treating the Employer’s Mandate delay as a let-off.

If you are unsure of how the Affordable Care Act will affect your Business, or if you’re unsure of what to look for in the SHOP exchanges, speak to an expert directly for free.

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How Will Obamacare Affect My Wellness Program?

Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes “pay or play” requirements on large employers. Under these rules, large employers that do not offer health coverage to their full-time employees and their dependents, or that offer coverage that is either unaffordable or does not provide minimum value, may be subject to a penalty. This penalty is also referred to as a “shared responsibility payment.”

On May 3, 2013, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released a proposed rule on ACA’s minimum value and affordability requirements. This proposed rule includes guidance on how health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) and wellness program incentives are counted in determining the affordability of employer-sponsored coverage.

The regulation is not final. However, employers may rely on the proposed regulation until final regulations or other applicable guidance is issued.

Background

The affordability of any health coverage offered by a large employer is a key point in determining whether the employer will be subject to a shared responsibility penalty. The coverage is considered affordable if the employee’s required contribution to the plan for self-only coverage does not exceed 9.5 percent of the employee’s household income for the taxable year.

“Household income” means the modified adjusted gross income of the employee and any members of the employee’s family, including a spouse and dependents. The IRS established three safe harbors for employers to use, which measure affordability based on the employee’s W-2 wages, the employee’s rate of pay or the federal poverty level for a single individual.

HRA contributions and wellness program incentives

The proposed regulation includes special rules for determining how HRAs and wellness program incentives are counted in determining the affordability of eligible employer-sponsored coverage. Employer contributions to health savings accounts (HSAs) do not affect the affordability of employer-sponsored coverage because HSA amounts generally may not be used to pay for health insurance premiums.

HRA Contributions

The proposed rule provides that amounts made newly available under an HRA that is integrated with an eligible employer-sponsored plan for the current plan year are taken into account only in determining affordability if the employee may either:

  • Use the amounts only for premiums; or
  • Choose to use the amounts for either premiums or cost sharing.

Treating amounts that may be used either for premiums or cost-sharing only toward affordability prevents double counting the HRA amounts when assessing minimum value and affordability of eligible employer-sponsored coverage.

Wellness Program Incentives

The proposed rule also contains clarification on affordability when premiums may be affected by wellness programs. Under the proposal, the affordability of an employer-sponsored plan is determined by assuming that each employee fails to satisfy the wellness program’s requirements, unless the wellness program is related to tobacco use. This means the affordability of a plan that charges a higher initial premium for tobacco users will be determined based on the premium charged to non-tobacco users, or tobacco users who complete the related wellness program, such as attending smoking cessation classes.

Transition relief is provided in the proposed rule for plan years beginning before Jan. 1, 2015. Under this relief, if an employee receives a premium tax credit because an employer-sponsored health plan is unaffordable or does not provide minimum value, but the employer coverage would have been affordable or provided minimum value had the employee satisfied the requirements of a nondiscriminatory wellness program that was in effect on May 3, 2013, the employer will not be subject to the employer mandate penalty.

The transition relief applies for rewards expressed as either a dollar amount or a fraction of the total required employee premium contribution. Also, any required employee contribution to premium determined based upon assumed satisfaction of the requirements of a wellness program under this transition relief may be applied to the use of an affordability safe harbor.

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