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New Fiduciary Rule Affects Employers That Offer HSAs

The Department of Labor’s new fiduciary rule, which mainly applies to 401(k) plans, will also affect employers who offer their staff health savings accounts.

The new rule, which takes effect September 2024, bars employers from providing advice to their workers on how they should invest the funds in the HSA they offer. It should be noted that just offering an HSA does not, in and of itself, make a sponsoring employer a fiduciary, as long as the employer doesn’t cross the investment advice line.

While HSAs are used to save for medical costs in the future, account holders can invest the funds in them just like they can with 401(k) plans and allow those returns to accrue over the years. HSAs are also portable, meaning they can be moved from one employer to the next, and they can be kept until retirement years.

Since HSAs were established 20 years ago, they have typically been exempt from ERISA, but this new rule changes that.

The rule states that a fiduciary may not receive a fee in connection with providing investment advice, which could occur when, for example, an individual recommends an HSA investment, investment strategy or rollover and receives a commission.

More importantly for employers, the new rule expands the definition of fiduciary advice to cover a one-time recommendation. 

Investment education

That doesn’t mean that employers can’t educate their workers on the features of their HSAs. That’s because under current Department of Labor regulations, there has been a long-standing exception from fiduciary status if an individual or organization is providing “investment education.”

For example, employers may provide a wide range of information about the HSA program they offer, including the types of investments account holders have access to, without assuming fiduciary status. Topics that do not create a fiduciary relationship include information about:

  • The benefits of participation,
  • The benefits of increasing contributions,
  • Investment fund strategies and objectives, and
  • Fees and expenses.

To avoid fiduciary status, you simply should refrain from recommending how employees invest their HSA funds.

You should also check to see if your HSA provider offers investment advice regarding your employees’ accounts. If you have concerns, please reach out to us.


Gen Z Workers Go for HDHPs, but Don’t Forget Your Other Employees

While the number of U.S. workers choosing high-deductible health plans has leveled off during the last two years, uptake has been growing rapidly among one segment of the working population: Gen Z employees.

The 2024 “State of Employee Benefits Report” by benefits administration provider Benefitfocus found that 45% of Gen Z workers and 43% of millennial workers surveyed were enrolled in HDHPs. The report notes 84% of employers offer both HDHPs and traditional health plans to ensure that they can met the needs of a multi-generational workforce.

It emphasizes that employees often choose health plans that will end up costing them more than it should in terms of out-of-pocket expenses or premiums, and that employers should help by providing assistance and education.  

Study findings

The trend of more Gen Z workers gravitating to HDHPs makes sense, since these plans are best suited for younger individuals who are generally healthier and have fewer health problems than their older counterparts — Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.

HDHPs feature higher deductibles and more out-of-pocket expenses in exchange for lower premiums upfront. The plans are typically tied to a health savings account (HSA), which employees can fund with pre-tax dollars to reimburse for health-related expenses.

But employers are cautioned against offering just HDHPs as they are not a good fit for everyone, particularly those who are regular users of their health plans or have chronic conditions that require more doctors’ visits, medical procedures and medications.

The study suggests that employers should offer a mix of plans that will meet the needs of their workforce. It found that:

  • 64% of health plan enrollees selected a traditional plan in plan year 2024, compared to 69% in 2022.
  • Across generations, higher-salaried individuals choose HDHPs over traditional plans.
  • Generation X has the highest premiums compared to other generations, across all plans.
  • The average employer covers 78% of their employees’ health insurance premiums, up from 74% in 2022. Despite the increase, employees are still facing higher premium outlays.
  • Participation in HSAs and flexible spending accounts fell 20% from 2022 to 2024, indicating that employers are not doing enough to educate their staff about these tax-advantaged accounts.

One of the keys to a successful employee benefits program is to ensure that your workers are all choosing a plan that is best for their life situation. Choosing the wrong plan could end up costing them more in either:

  • Upfront premiums for an unnecessary expensive plan with strong benefits that the employee may not use because they are young and/or healthy, or
  • Out-of-pocket expenses if they choose a plan that has a high deductible when they are frequent users of medical services, either due to pre-existing conditions or other issues that crop up later in life.

What you can do

The report recommends that employers:

Focus on assistance and education — The study found that 70% of workers want help from their employer to better understand the employee benefits they are enrolled in or are considering.

To help your staff choose the plan that’s going to give them the most bang for their buck, your guidance and advice can be crucial. During your educational sessions, provide scenarios of how choosing the wrong plan can financially burden an enrollee. Provide tools that can help them ascertain which plan is right for them.

Offer a mix of plans — To ensure that employees have access to the health plan that is best for their health circumstances and budget, you should offer a mix of HDHPs and traditional health plans like health maintenance organizations and preferred provider organizations.

You can tailor your employee benefits educational sessions to each generation. Make sure not to overgeneralize, as there are instances when a younger person should be in an HMO or PPO.

Offer voluntary benefits — Not all voluntary benefits are created equal, and some add more value than others. These plans complement an existing health insurance plan by providing a financial backstop when faced with an unexpected medical emergency. They include:

  • Accident insurance
  • Critical illness/specified disease insurance, and
  • Hospital indemnity insurance.

As well, benefits that help with other unexpected expenses that life deals increasingly burdened employees, are growing in popularity:

  • ID theft protection,
  • Legal insurance, and
  • Pet medical insurance.

Addictions Are Rising Among Workers; What Employers Can Do

According to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 10% of America’s workers are dependent on one substance or another.

The nation is still battling the biggest drug scourge: opioid and fentanyl. Provisional data from CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics indicate that in 2023 there were an estimated 107,543 drug overdose deaths in the U.S., 81,083 of which were opioid-related. While those are shocking statistics, the majority of addicts are hooked on other drugs or alcohol, and that includes millions of American workers.

A study by the American Addiction Center found that 22.5% of respondents admitted to using drugs or alcohol during work hours. The most common substance used during working hours is cannabis.

Those who work from home at least part of the time are more likely overall to abuse drugs or alcohol than those who work in offices. Overall, people who work from home part-time or full-time are about 10% more likely than people who work full-time in offices to get drunk at work.

As an employer, the costs are great if you have someone on staff who has a substance-abuse problem. Workers with addictions to drugs are alcohol have:

  • Lower or lack of workplace productivity;
  • Higher health care costs;
  • Increased absenteeism and presenteeism;
  • Diminished quality control;
  • More disability claims;
  • Increased workplace injuries;
  • Lower morale;
  • Higher job turnover; and
  • Employee theft.

How your health plan can help

If you have an Affordable Care Act-compliant health plan, it will offer access to mental health and substance abuse treatment, which is considered one of 10 essential benefits plans must offer.

The ACA requires health plans to pay for prevention and early intervention as well for substance abuse issues. 

Health care plans also have to comply with a “parity” law, which requires them to treat mental health issues the same way they do physical diseases. Since the COVID-19 pandemic demand for mental health services has soared, straining both providers of those services and the health plans.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2024 also started requiring all ACA-compliant health plans to contract with at least one substance use disorder treatment center and one mental health facility in every county where they are available in the plan’s service area.

What else can you do?

Some employers have tried to help employees tackle their addictions or abuse problems by implementing workplace prevention, wellness and disease-management strategies. These programs improve health, which lowers health care costs and insurance premiums and produces a healthier, more productive workforce.

Considering offering an employee assistance program. These programs offer temporary free access (typically a set amount of sessions) to a number of services like counseling as well as substance abuse assistance. These sessions are confidential and the employer will not know if an employee is accessing them.

Consider offering more accessible substance use management solutions, like digital and telehealth-based solutions. There are a growing number of these types of service providers, which make accessing counselors more convenient and cost-effective.

Offer confidential screenings and assessments. There are a number of screening, brief-intervention and referral-to-treatment modules available to help people confront their drinking or drug use and get the help they need. 


HRA Gym Cost Reimbursement? Not So Fast Says IRS

The IRS has issued a new bulletin, reminding Americans that funds in tax-advantaged medical savings accounts cannot be used to pay for general health and wellness expenses.

The bulletin focuses on medical savings accounts that employers will often sponsor, including flexible spending accounts (FSAs), health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs), which are funded by employees’ untaxed earnings.

These accounts are only to be used for qualified, legitimate medical expenses, like out-of-pocket costs for medical services, prescription medications and medical hardware.

The IRS said that it had issued the bulletin due to concerns about companies misrepresenting the circumstances under which food and wellness expenses can be paid or reimbursed through one of these accounts.

IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said some companies behind these plans are employing aggressive marketing tactics that suggest that these accounts can pay or reimburse for things like food for weight loss, “when they don’t qualify as medical expenses.”

Mistaken claims

Some companies mistakenly claim that notes from doctors based merely on self-reported health information can convert non-medical food, wellness and exercise expenses into medical expenses, but this documentation actually doesn’t, according to the IRS.

Such a note would not establish that an otherwise personal expense satisfies the requirement that it be related to a targeted diagnosis-specific activity or treatment; these types of personal expenses do not qualify as medical expenses.

These accounts can only reimburse for services, prescription drugs and hardware that alleviate or prevent a physical or mental defect or illness.

The IRS maintains examples of what these plans can reimburse for, and it has a set of frequently asked questions on its website to address any confusion. The essence of what is reimbursable comes down to whether it’s a qualified medical expense.

Some examples of what HRAs, HSAs and FSAs may or may not cover include:

Gym memberships: You cannot be reimbursed for membership fees if you joined the gym for general health, as it’s not a medical expense.

However, you can seek reimbursement if the membership was purchased for the sole purpose of affecting a structure or function of the body (such as a prescribed plan for physical therapy to treat an injury) or the sole purpose of treating a specific disease diagnosed by a physician (such as obesity, hypertension or heart disease).

Food or beverages purchased for weight loss or other health reasons: The costs can be reimbursed only if:

  • The food or beverage doesn’t satisfy normal nutritional needs,
  • The food or beverage alleviates or treats an illness, and
  • The need for the food or beverage is substantiated by a physician.

If any of the three requirements is not met, the cost of food or beverages is not a medical expense.

Exercise for the improvement of general health: If you are paying for swimming, dance or kayaking lessons, the costs cannot be reimbursed by these accounts, even if a doctor recommends it, because these activities are only for the improvement of general health.

Nutritional counseling or a weight-loss program: This is a qualified medical expense only if it treats a specific disease diagnosed by a physician (such as obesity or diabetes).

Smoking cessation: The cost of a smoking cessation program is a qualified medical expense because the program treats a disease (tobacco-use disorder).

The takeaway

If you offer HSAs, HRAs and/or FSAs to your staff, you may want to consider sharing the IRS bulletin with them so they understand what they can seek reimbursement for. If they are being reimbursed for non-medical items and services, they may run afoul of federal tax law.


2025 HSA Contribution, HDHP Cost-Sharing Limits

The IRS has announced significantly higher health savings account contribution limits for 2025, with the amount increasing 3.6% for individual HSA plans.

The IRS updates this amount annually, along with minimum deductibles as well as the out-of-pocket maximums for high-deductible health plans. Under its rules, HSAs, which help employees save for medical expenses, are only available to those enrolled in qualified HDHPs.

Understanding these amounts now can help you get an early start on human resources planning for next year.

Here are the changes coming in 2025:

HSA annual contribution limit

  • Self-only plan: $4,300, up from $4,150 in 2024
  • Family plan: $8,550, up from £8,300 in 2024
  • Catch-up contribution (for those aged 55 and older): $1,000 (unchanged)

HDHP minimum annual deductible

  • Individual plan: $1,650, up from $1,600 in 2024
  • Family plan: $3,300, up from $3,200 in 2024

HDHP annual out-of-pocket maximum

  • Individual plan: $8,300, up from $8,050 in 2024
  • Family plan: $16,600, up from $16,100 in 2024

What to do

If you sponsor an HDHP for your staff, you should review the plan’s minimum deductible amount and maximum out-of-pocket expense limit when preparing for the 2025 plan year.

If you allow employees to make pre-tax contributions to an HSA, you should also update your plan communications to reflect the new amounts.

The many benefits of HSAs

An HSA is a special bank account for your employees’ eligible health care costs. They can put money into their HSA through pre-tax payroll deductions, deposits or transfers. As the amount grows over time, they can continue to save it or spend it on eligible medical and medical-related expenses.

Employers can also contribute to the accounts, but the annual contribution maximum applies to all contributions in total (from the employee and the employer).

The money in the HSA belongs to the employee and is theirs to keep, even if they switch jobs. If they go to a new employer that offers qualified HDHPs, they can continue to fund the account in their new job.

Funds roll over from year to year and can earn interest. Many plans also have investment options for the funds to help savers further grow the account.

There are a number of benefits for employees who have an HSA:

  • The money an employee contributes to an HSA is not subject to income taxes, which reduces their overall taxable income.
  • They are not taxed on withdrawals.
  • If employees contribute to their HSA with after-tax money, they can deduct their contributions during tax time on Form 1040.
  • Employees can tap the funds for any approved out-of-pocket medical expenses.
  • They can also grow the account tax-free by investing the funds in the account, sort of like a nest egg for medical expenses in retirement.

HSA-eligible expenses:

  • Payments for services or medicine that go towards health plan deductibles, copayments or coinsurance.
  • Dental or vision care (including orthodontics, eye exams, corrective lenses).
  • Medical devices.
  • Certain over-the-counter medicines, like pain relievers, allergy medication, cold and flu medicine, and menstrual products.
  • Vitamins and health supplements, if recommended by a medical or health professional for the treatment or prevention of a specific disease or condition.

Interest in Health Premium Reimbursement Accounts Grows

Employer adoption of specialized accounts that they fund to help reimburse employees when they buy health insurance on their own is surging in 2024.

The number of employers who offer individual coverage health reimbursement accounts (ICHRAs) grew 30% in 2024 from the year prior, expanding a benefit that provides employers another option than purchasing group health plans for their employees, according to a new report by the HRA Council.

Employers fund these accounts with money that employees can use to purchase health insurance, often on Affordable Care Act exchanges.  

Uptake has been even larger among employers with 50 or more full-time employees (up 85%).  These employers are required to purchase health coverage under the ACA, and offering ICHRAs allows them to satisfy the employer mandate under the law.

Thanks to generous subsidies on the exchanges, the funds that employers contribute are often enough for workers to purchase either Silver- or Gold-level plans, which have the lowest copayments, coinsurance and deductibles.

How ICHRAs work

As mentioned above, employers fund ICHRAs with money that workers can use to help reimburse for the purchase of health insurance, often on an ACA exchange. Excess funds can be used to reimburse them for qualified medical expenses, including copays, coinsurance and deductibles, in addition to medications and some medical equipment.

Funds are deposited into the ICHRA on a monthly basis. These funds are not taxed.

Employers that offered an ICHRA between July 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023 contributed an average $908.80 a month, which was more than enough to purchase the lowest-cost self-only Gold plan on an ACA exchange, according to a report by PeopleKeep, a benefits administration software company.

Some other features of these plans include:

  • No reimbursement limits.
  • Firms of any size can offer an ICHRA.
  • Employers may designate different reimbursement amounts to different types of employees.
  • Employers can offer both group health plans and an ICHRA concurrently.

Satisfying the employer mandate

ICHRAs can satisfy the ACA employer mandate if they meet the standards the law sets out for group health plans:

Affordability: To be considered affordable, employer-sponsored health insurance or benefits for employees should cost no more than 8.39% of the employee’s household income in 2024, using the lowest-cost Silver plan on the ACA exchange as a standard after accounting for the employer’s ICHRA contributions.

In other words, the lowest-cost Silver plan premium, minus the employer’s ICHRA monthly allowance, must be less than 8.39% of the worker’s household income.

Minimum value: Under the ACA, a health plan meets the minimum value standard if pays at least 60% of the total cost of medical services for a standard population, and its benefits include substantial coverage of physician and inpatient hospital services. Any plan a worker purchases on an ACA exchange will satisfy the employer mandate.

Small-employer option

There is actually a similar plan that is only available to employers with fewer than 50 full-time equivalent workers: the qualified small employer health reimbursement account. QSEHRAs differ from ICHRAs in a number of ways.

They have maximum contribution limits, determined by the IRS each year. For 2024, those limits are $6,150 for each self-only employee and up to $12,450 per employee with a family.

While an ICHRA allows for varying allowance amounts based on many employee classes, QSEHRAs only allow employers to vary reimbursement amounts based on age and family size.

All full-time W-2 employees and their families are automatically eligible for a QSEHRA. Employers may offer plans to part-time employees as well.

Employers can’t offer both group insurance and a QSEHRA to their staff.

The takeaway

While these accounts are growing in use, it’s a risky move to stop offering group health insurance and replace it with an ICHRA. These are new accounts and most workers will be unfamiliar with them.

And considering that health insurance is one of the main benefits that employees look for, offering a reimbursement arrangement may turn some workers off. Give us a call if you have questions.


Worker Enrollment in HDHPs Falls

After enrollment in high-deductible health plans soared during the last decade, 2022 marked the first year that enrollment in these plans fell among American workers since 2013, according to a new report by ValuePenguin.

The insurance-review website found that 54% of U.S. workers signed up for HDHPs in 2022, compared to 56% in 2021. The dip, while seemingly small, represents millions of workers that have opted for other plans as employers are offering a greater variety of plans to their employees, including preferred provider organizations (PPOs) and health maintenance organizations.

Additionally, fewer are exclusively offering HDHPs to their employees. In 2022, 9% of employers with 20,000 or more workers offered HDHPs exclusively, a drop from 22% in 2018, according to Mercer’s “National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans.” And 10% of employers with 500 or more workers offered only these plans, compared to 13% in 2018.

Signs of weariness

There are signs that workers are growing weary of high out-of-pocket expenses associated with HDHPs and are more willing to pay a little extra in premium in exchange for lower deductibles, copays and coinsurance.

Indeed, workers who are enrolled in HDHPs are 30% less confident that they will know what their health care costs will be, compared to those who are enrolled in PPOs, which usually have lower deductibles, according to recent research by Arizent, a publisher of health insurance news. Seven in 10 HDHP enrollees also found their health care costs too expensive, compared to 50% of PPO enrollees.

Offering employees a choice of at least one other type of plan besides an HDHP can avoid blowback. It can create bad feelings if staff think their health plan offers little coverage thanks to a high deductible that they never reach. It hurts even more if they haven’t funded their health savings account (HSA), which often happens.

Additionally, if paying for medical costs becomes a burden, employees may forgo necessary care, likely worsening any conditions they are dealing with, which can affect their productivity at work as well. And if they have a medical emergency, they may have to take on debt to pay for the care.

A happy medium

First: HDHPs are not for everyone. People who have chronic conditions are not good candidates for these plans. A huge deductible before receiving coverage year after year can be a barrier to receiving care.

Fortunately, there are many HDHPs with relatively low deductibles. Under the law, for a plan to qualify as an HDHP it has to have a deductible of at least $1,600 for single coverage and $3,200 for family coverage.

If you can offer an HDHP with a deductible at or near the minimum, along with an attached HSA that you partially contribute to, the plan would be less burdensome for employees. And since HSAs are only available for individuals enrolled in HDHPs, employees need some additional education on the importance of HSAs.

The many benefits of HSAs

  • Employees contribute pre-tax dollars to the account.
  • Employers can also contribute to the account.
  • Funds withdrawn from the account to pay for qualified medical expenses are not taxed.
  • Funds in the account can be invested and build value over time, like a 401(k) plan.
  • HSAs can be moved when an employee switches jobs.
  • Funds can be used for medical expenses at any time, even in retirement.

Finally, HDHPs with a high deductible can be a real value for young and healthy individuals.

That’s because under federal law, an HDHP will pay for a number of basic procedures with no cost-sharing on the part of the enrollee for preventive care like checkups and screenings, which insurers must cover with no out-of-pocket expense on the part of health plan enrollees.


DOL Rescinds Trump-Era Association Health Plan Rule

The Department of Labor on April 29 issued a final rule rescinding Trump-era regulations that expanded the number and types of employers that could band together to create association health plans to cover their employees.

The 2018 regulations, which have been in legal limbo since 2019, also allowed these association health plans avoid many consumer-protection elements of the Affordable Care Act, which critics said would open the door to participating employers offering insufficient coverage.

The DOL said it needed to rescind the law due to concerns about the potential for fraud and mismanagement in association plans. It said that the new rules limit these plans to “true employee benefit plans” that are the result of a “genuine employment relationship” and not an effort to skirt consumer protections built into the ACA.

Once the final rule takes effect in late May, employers that want to create an association plan will have to comply with much stricter rules that narrowly define these plans and limit the instances under which they can be formed.


Prior to 2018, groups or associations that could meet the three criteria below would be considered a single group health plan, which in turn would determine whether they must comply with small-group market or large-group market rules under the ACA:

  • Business purpose standard — Whether the group or association has a business or organizational purpose and function that is unrelated to providing health insurance benefits.
  • Commonality standard — Whether the employers share a commonality of interest and genuine organizational relationship unrelated to the provision of benefits. For example, a trade group for auto shops could qualify since all of the members have a common interest.
  • Control standard — Whether the employers participating in the benefit program exercise control over the program, both in form and in substance.

Trump rules never took off

The Trump-era rules turned the earlier regulations on their head, particularly the first two standards:

Business purpose: Under the 2018 rule, a group of employers could have formed bona fide associations that had as their primary purpose the provision of health coverage.

Commonality: The 2018 rule would have let associations meet the commonality standard solely through the geographic proximity of its members, such as being located within the same state or city, without having any other common interests.

The 2018 rule also eliminated requirements that these plans comply with essential patient-protection elements of the ACA.

In 2019, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held that a large portion of the rule was based on an unreasonable interpretation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and inconsistent with “congressional intent.” It later stayed action on the case and ordered the DOL to reassess its rulemaking.

After that, White House administrations changed and the department last year proposed the rule that was finalized April 29.


Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Final Rules: What Employers Need to Know

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has published a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act final rule that will give new protections akin to disability accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act to pregnant workers and those who have recently given birth.

The rule, which takes effect June 18, will require employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees or applicants with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

The new regulations apply to employers with 15 or more workers on their payroll. This is a significant new labor law and another source of potential lawsuits for employers.

Who is covered

Essentially, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for these workers if they ask for it, particularly if they are temporarily unable to perform one or more essential functions of their job due to issues related to their pregnancy or recent childbirth.

Reasonable is defined as not creating an undue hardship on the employer. Temporary is defined as lasting for a limited time, and a condition that may extend beyond “the near future.” With most pregnancies lasting 40 weeks, that time frame would be considered “the near future.”

What’s required

Like what is required by the ADA, if an employee asks for special accommodation due to a covered issue under the PWFA, the employer is required to enter into an interactive process with the worker to identify ways to accommodate her.

The law requires employers to accommodate job applicants’ and employees’ “physical or mental condition related to, affected by, or arising out of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.”

The condition does not need to meet the ADA’s definition of disability and the condition can be temporary, “modest, minor and/or episodic.”

The PWFA covers a wide range of issues beyond just a current pregnancy, including:

  • Past and potential pregnancies,
  • Lactation,
  • Contraception use,
  • Menstruation,
  • Infertility and fertility treatments,
  • Miscarriage,
  • Stillbirth, and
  • Abortion.

What’s a ‘reasonable accommodation’

The law’s definition of reasonable accommodation is similar to that of the ADA. The regulation lays out four “predictable assessments,” which would not be an undue hardship in “virtually all cases”. These would allow an employee to:

  • Carry or keep water nearby and drink, as needed;
  • Take additional restroom breaks, as needed;
  • Sit if the work requires standing, or stand if it requires sitting, as needed; and
  • Take breaks to eat and drink, as needed.

Employer rights

As mentioned, an employer may reject an accommodation if it would create an undue hardship, which is defined as a significant difficulty or expense.

Employers may ask for documentation under the PWFA if it is reasonable and the employer needs it to determine whether the employee or applicant has a covered condition and has asked for accommodation due to limitations the condition causes her.

If the worker is obviously pregnant, the employer may not require documentation.

The takeaway

Employers with 15 or more workers will need to add mentions of the new rule in their employee handbooks and train managers and supervisors about it, in order to keep from running afoul of the PWFA.

The ramping up period is short and it’s important that you have in place policies that require supervisors and managers to notify human resources if a worker asks for special accommodations.


Employers Push Preventive Care to Affect Costs, Staff Health

Chronic conditions and overall poor health are a key cost-driver of health care costs, which is hitting the pocketbooks of both individuals and employers.

There are a number of factors that are driving this, including poor lifestyle choices, poor diets, lack of exercise and hereditary issues. But another reason for Americans’ declining overall health is the cost of accessing health care, not keeping up with checkups and vaccinations and having a poor understanding of their health insurance coverage.

Employers are recognizing the effects their employees’ poor health is having on the insurance premiums they and their staff pay, and some are taking it into their own hands to help their workers through various programs that help them better utilize their benefits.

Declining health

Recent research from Arizent, parent company of Employee Benefit News, found that 65% of employers feel their staff are generally healthy, but only 35% of employers with less than 100 workers think the health of their employees has improved over the past few years, which they directly correlate with rising health plan premiums.

The survey also found that 40% of employers have seen an uptick in the use of sick days and medical leave by their staff. This may also be an outgrowth of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, managers have generally encouraged staff to stay home if they are ill to avoid spreading the love to other staff members.

“However, increased use of medical leave does hint at more serious health challenges popping up for workers,” the report says. “Moreover, approximately one-third of employers are seeing a rise in disability leave and the overall prevalence of chronic illnesses.”

This suggests that more employees need time off for their health. These may be warning signs of declining health among workers.

Besides taking more sick and leave time off, less healthy workers may also not be as productive, may have greater instances of presenteeism and cause group health premiums to grow.

What employers are doing

Focusing on preventive care — Overall, 89% of employers surveyed are taking steps to control health care costs, with a majority focusing on improving preventive care access. They are incentivizing preventive care in a number of ways, according to the Arizent survey:

  • 39% host vaccination sessions at the office,
  • 32% host educational talks or webinars about preventive care,
  • 31% host disease screenings,
  • 28% provide monetary incentives, and
  • 26% offer paid time off specifically for primary care appointments. 

Efforts are bearing fruit for employers that do the above, with 21% of them saying that the health of their staff has improved over the last few years.

Improving health care literacy — Studies have shown that most group health plan enrollees have a poor understanding of their insurance coverage, and how to use it. Many do not understand what deductibles, copays and coinsurance are and how they work.

Choosing the wrong plan can result in significant out-of-pocket layouts for care, which can further suppress a person’s financial ability to pay for it. Other studies have found that more and more Americans are skipping doctor’s appointments and forgoing necessary care due to the costs and their current health care debts.

The report said that if employers want their workers to pick the best care for the best price, they need to ensure their employees are knowledgeable about their coverage and how to choose the group health plan that best fits their health status. That requires that employers educate their workers better about their benefits.

The takeaway

The Arizent study suggests that by helping and encouraging employees to access prevent care and by educating their staff on their benefits, the efforts can pay off in a healthier workforce, and possibly affect premiums.

Employers may need to invest in educational resources and health care navigation tools to help employees better understand the true cost of their plans, beyond what they are paying in premium.

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