Category Archives: Wellness
Most employers know that the real costs from employee benefits come from unhealthy choices by employees. Premiums are just one indicator of the “health” of the group, but there are other soft costs that add up to large expenditures of capital. Low productivity and staffing issues can also be major cost drivers for the employer. Here are a few tips that you can share with your staff, or better yet, build into a custom Employee Wellness Program:
Get the Nutrition Facts
As you and your family strive to eat healthier, you should be aware of what is in the food you consume. The best way to know what is in the food products you buy is to read the nutrition facts on food labels.
The following information on labels will help you understand how much is in a portion and how this compares to recommended intake:
- Serving size – The serving size lists the recommended amount to be eaten by a single person. The rest of the nutrition facts are based on this amount.
- Calories and calories from fat – Especially important if you’re trying to lose or maintain weight, these numbers tell you how many calories are in each serving and where they’re coming from.
- Percent daily values – Based on the recommended consumption of 2,000 calories a day, this value indicates how the food product compares to recommended amounts.
When reading ingredients on a product label, keep in mind that ingredients are listed in descending order: ingredients with the greatest amount will be listed first, followed by ingredients used in lesser amounts.
FDA Bans Artificial Trans Fats by 2018
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that artificial trans fats are no longer Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) and is requiring that they be phased out of the food supply by 2018.
While trans-fat does occur naturally in some meat and dairy products, many processed foods, such as crackers, coffee creamer and margarine, contain artificial trans fats. Artificial trans fats are created in partially hydrogenated oils (PHO)’s, which are oils that have been infused with hydrogen. This process keeps the oils solid at room temperature, and is used to maintain flavor and increase the shelf life of processed foods. Intake of trans fat has been shown to cause various health problems, including high cholesterol and coronary heart disease.
Strengthen Your Core with Plank Exercises
Core muscles are one of the most active muscle groups in the body. Whether you are typing, putting on your shoes, vacuuming or playing basketball, you are engaging your core muscles in some capacity. Because you use core muscles for so many activities, it is important to keep them strong and flexible. There are several specific benefits to maintaining a healthy core:
- Strong back muscles. Many people suffer from debilitating low-back pain. A strong core can relieve the lower back from extra strain and pressure.
- Improved balance and stability. A strong core stabilizes your whole body, increasing your range of motion and decreasing your risk of falling.
- Good posture. Often overlooked, posture is an important factor in overall health. By standing tall, your core muscles can minimize wear on the spine and allow you to breathe more deeply.
Core fitness should be factored into any exercise plan. The plank pose is a popular and effective exercise that is great no matter what your fitness goals are.
To try the plank, get into a pushup position. Bend your elbows so your forearms are resting on the floor directly underneath your shoulders. Focus on creating a straight line with your body from head to toe, and try to hold the pose for as long as you can (if this is too challenging at first, you can try bending your knees). Many people struggle to hold a plank pose for 30 seconds on their first attempt, but, with regular practice, you should be able to hold the position for longer intervals. A good goal if you’re just getting started is to work up to a two-minute plank.
Once you are able to hold this position for two minutes, you can move on to more advanced versions of the plank pose, such as lifting an arm or leg, or resting your forearms on an exercise ball.
Contact us today for more information on how to drive down costs by increasing your employee’s connection to wellness.
The Effect of E-cigarettes on Health
E-cigarettes have become increasingly popular in recent years. While many adult smokers switch to e-cigarettes in an attempt to quit tobacco, teenagers are the largest and fastest growing population for e-cigarette use. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products reported that e-cigarette use among teens tripled in 2014.
While e-cigarettes are commonly believed to be a safer alternative to regular cigarettes, very little is known about their effect on the body. Research has found that e-cigarette vapors produce particles containing harmful chemicals. These chemicals can harm lung tissue and worsen acute respiratory diseases such as asthma and bronchitis. Consider limiting your use of e-cigarettes until further research has been conducted.
Shop the Farmers Market
Nothing is more frustrating than fruit or veggies going bad before you are able to eat them. Produce purchased in supermarkets is usually harvested long before it is found on grocery store shelves; in fact, it is estimated that produce travels an average of 1,500 miles from its source before reaching our homes. Because of this, many fruits and vegetables aren’t at peak freshness and need to be eaten within a few days of purchase. Your local farmers market can help bridge the gap from farm to table.
There are several benefits to buying locally sourced food: you support local farmers, you can buy in-season produce and your perishable food items will last much longer because they come fresh from the farm. During the summer months, farmers markets offer a rainbow of delicious and healthy options to choose from; sweet corn, bell peppers and eggplant are all in season during the summer months and can most likely be found in plentiful supply at your local farmers market.
There is often such a variety at farmers markets that you can always find something you’ve never tried before. Aren’t sure how to prepare your newly discovered fruits and veggies? Just ask! Many vendors are passionate about the food they produce and are often more than happy to offer preparation tips and tasty recipes for you to try.
Farmers markets aren’t just for produce. You can also find locally sourced eggs, meat, jams and baked goods at farmers markets. Flowers, crafts and jewelry are popular items as well. In addition, farmers markets are a great way to connect with your community; you can get to know your local farmers, catch up with friends and spend time with your family.
Now that summer is here, check out your local farmers market. Buying local is a great way for you to eat healthier and save money.
Outdoor Summer Activities
There are plenty of reasons to get outside and enjoy the sunshine this summer. Spending time outdoors can increase energy, improve your mood and burn calories. Just remember to wear sunscreen and stay hydrated!
Below are some fun outdoor activities to get you moving:
- Swimming: This full-body workout burns about 476 calories per hour.
- Hiking: Burn around 442 calories per hour while spending quality time outdoors.
- Biking: This low-impact activity burns about 476 calories per hour and strengthens your legs.
- Volleyball: You can burn around 544 calories per hour playing this beach sport.
This classic dish incorporates seasonal summer vegetables like eggplant and red bell peppers.
- 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium eggplant, peeled and diced
- 2 zucchini, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 tsp. dried basil
- ½ tsp. dried oregano
- 3½ cups tomatoes, diced
- 1 lemon, quartered
- ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
Put a large pot on the stove over medium-low heat, and when it is hot, add the oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, basil and oregano and cook covered until the eggplant is very soft—about 40 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook uncovered for 20 minutes. Serve right away, garnished with lemon quarters and basil, or cover and refrigerate up to three days.
Yield: 8 servings. Each serving provides 77 calories, 2 g of fat, 0 g of saturated fat, 18 mg of sodium, 3 g of protein and 5 g of fiber.
For a custom Employee Wellness program, contact us today!
Over four million babies are born in the United States every year, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccination against 16 vaccine preventable diseases. Unfortunately, not all parents ensure their children are properly immunized.
Keeping Kids Healthy
Before vaccinations became widely available, diseases like measles, mumps and whooping cough were common in childhood, leaving thousands of children blind, deaf, brain-damaged or even dead. Today, vaccines have almost completely wiped out these major diseases.
What Is a Vaccination?
A vaccination (or an immunization) contains an imitation virus, typically a live but weakened virus, or an inactive bacteria virus, that is administered to protect against serious diseases. This virus causes the body to produce antibodies, special agents of the immune system that attack harmful elements inside the body. While fighting the imitation virus, the antibodies learn to recognize the real virus so they can attack it when the body is exposed to it. Researchers have found that live virus vaccinations seem to provide longer immunity than inactive ones.
Vaccinations are usually administered in one of two ways: orally or by injection. Doctors have found that vaccines administered orally tend to have a higher chance of side effects and allergic reactions than injected vaccines.
Possible Side Effects
Overall, vaccines are safe to administer and typically only cause minor side effects. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the risk of effects related to actually contracting a disease is much more dangerous than the risk of having a serious reaction to a vaccination. However, there have been a few cases of major reactions in small children, such as:
- Extremely high fever—A rectal temperature reading of 105 degrees or more
- Inconsolable crying—More than three hours of crying without stopping, or an abnormal cry
- Convulsions—Full-body shaking, twitching or jerking in response to a high fever
- Severe allergic reactions—Swelling in the mouth and throat, wheezing, breathing difficulties, dizziness, paleness or limpness.
Should your child suffer from any of the above symptoms after receiving his or her vaccinations, call your doctor immediately.
Although today in the United States epidemics of infectious diseases are rare, bacteria and viruses that cause many diseases still exist. These bacteria and viruses may affect people who are not protected by vaccines. Vaccinations are necessary because they can prevent repeated epidemics of infectious diseases.
Do I Need to Vaccinate?
Experts recommend that all children be routinely vaccinated. Most children in the United States are currently vaccinated as recommended, helping control infectious diseases that were common and deadly in the past.
Scientists, doctors and other health care professionals extensively test vaccines to make sure they are safe and effective before putting them on the market. In the United States, the FDA reviews all the test results to decide if it will approve a vaccine for use.
When Should I Vaccinate?
Newborns are immune to many diseases because of antibodies they have acquired from their mothers while in the womb. These antibodies only last from about a month to a year after birth, so it is best to vaccinate children when they are babies. However, you should still have your children vaccinated, even if you do not do it when they are babies or when they are very young—it is better for them to be vaccinated late than not at all.
By vaccinating your children when recommended, you will have to worry less about them becoming infected or infecting others, especially once they begin attending school, which increases their risk.
Vaccinations are covered by most insurance programs, but because of their importance they are available even to those without insurance. If you are not insured and cannot afford your child’s vaccinations, contact your city, county or state health department. They can help you find a place to have your child immunized where it will be inexpensive or even free.
If you are unsure when you should take your child in for vaccinations, call your health care provider for information and vaccination schedules. More information is also available at: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Immunization Hotline, 800-232-2522 or www.cdc.gov/vaccines.
Supreme Court Issues Ruling in Pregnancy Discrimination Case
On March 25, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a former employee of United Parcel Service (UPS). The employee was faced with the choice to either continue working her labor-intensive job during pregnancy or take unpaid leave.
In its Young v. UPS decision, the Supreme Court held that the employee should be given the opportunity to prove that UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) by not providing her the same light-duty accommodation that was given to other UPS employees who were considered injured or disabled. The PDA requires that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition be treated the same for all employment-related purposes as “other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”
The employee in this case, Peggy Young, worked as a part-time driver for UPS. In 2006, Young became pregnant and was advised by her doctor that she should not lift more than 20 pounds. However, UPS required drivers to be
able to lift up to 70 pounds and denied Young’s lifting restriction.
Young sued UPS, alleging that it violated the PDA because it had a light-duty policy for other types of workers, including those who were injured on the job or disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but not for pregnant workers. UPS argued that it treated her as it would treat other relevant individuals and therefore did not discriminate against her based on pregnancy.
In 2008, the ADA’s definition of “disability” was expanded, requiring employers to accommodate employees with temporary lifting restrictions originating outside of work. In 2014, the EEOC also issued guidance requiring employers that provide light-duty assignments to employees who are unable to perform their full duties to make similar accommodations for pregnant employees. Many employers may have already changed their policies in light of this guidance.
The Supreme Court sent the case to the lower court for further review and also outlined standards for PDA cases. An individual may show discrimination by showing that her employer did not accommodate her while pregnant but did accommodate others who are similar “in their ability or inability to work.”
The decision is a victory for pregnant workers because it establishes an easier framework to prove illegal discrimination. Employers should review their policies to make sure that they do not discriminate against pregnant workers in violation of applicable laws. A significant factor in determining whether discrimination occurred will be if the employer accommodates a large percentage of nonpregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers.
HR Summertime Checklist
Employers and HR departments that take time to prepare for the summer months may be able to enjoy them a bit more. Now is a good time to start considering the employee management areas outlined below to ensure a smooth summer. Think about how each area impacts your organization and whether any action should be taken.
PTO/Vacation Requests – Do managers and supervisors know how to administer employee requests to make sure appropriate staffing levels are maintained and employees are treated fairly?
Summer Hours – Will your company begin or continue a “summer hours” policy? Will it be company-wide?
Dress Code – Does your company allow for a more relaxed dress code during the summer? How long does this last?
Staffing – Are you a seasonal employer who should start hiring for the summer? Are there layoffs to be administered prior to summer? Will you be hiring interns?
Of course, the above is not an all-inclusive list and each organization is unique. Think about what the summertime season means for your organization and get prepared.
DID YOU KNOW?
Many employers have implemented wellness programs to control health care costs. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed several lawsuits against employer-sponsored wellness programs it says violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).
Until more clear guidance is available, you should take note of the issues highlighted in the EEOC cases. Specifically, you should review your wellness plan to ensure participation is voluntary and that employees are not excessively penalized for refusing to participate. In addition, you should evaluate whether the information collected about employees is protected under the ADA, GINA or any other employment benefit law.
For help with any part of the Employee Benefits spectrum, call us today at 877-936-3580.
On April 16, 2015, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a proposed rule that describes how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to employee wellness programs that include questions about employees’ health or medical examinations. Although the ADA limits when employers may inquire about employees’ health or require them to undergo medical examinations, these inquiries and exams are permitted if they are part of a voluntary wellness program.
The long-awaited proposed rule would provide much needed guidance for employers on how to structure employee wellness programs without violating the ADA. Most importantly, the proposed rule addresses the amount of incentives that may be offered under employee wellness programs that are part of group health plans. This amount is generally consistent with HIPAA’s limits on wellness program incentives, although the proposed rule does not fully incorporate HIPAA’s increased incentive limit for tobacco cessation programs.
Implications for Employers
The EEOC is seeking comments on the proposed rule and may make revisions to its guidance before it is finalized. While employers are not required to comply with the proposed rule before it is finalized, they may choose to do so. According to the EEOC, it is unlikely that a court or the EEOC would find an ADA violation where an employer complied with the proposed guidance until a final rule is issued.
Many employers offer workplace wellness programs as a way to help control health care costs, encourage healthier lifestyles and prevent disease.
Employers may offer participatory wellness programs, which do not require individuals to meet a health-related standard in order to obtain an incentive. Participatory wellness programs include, for example, subsidized fitness club memberships, reimbursement of smoking cessation classes (without regard to whether the employee quits smoking) or rewards for completing a health risk assessment (HRA) without any further action required by the employee with respect to the health issues identified by the HRA.
Employers may also offer health-contingent wellness programs, which require individuals to satisfy a standard related to a health factor in order to obtain an incentive. For example, health-contingent wellness programs may require participants to participate in exercise programs, remain tobacco-free or attain certain results on biometric screenings (for example, low cholesterol, blood glucose and blood pressure levels) to obtain an incentive.
Wellness program incentives can be framed as rewards or penalties and often take the form of prizes, cash, or a reduction or increase in health care premiums or cost-sharing.
Legal Concerns for Wellness Programs
Employee wellness programs must be carefully designed to comply with the ADA and other federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, religion, compensation, age or genetic information.
Additionally, wellness programs that are part of group health plans must be designed to comply with HIPAA’s nondiscrimination requirements, as amended by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Under HIPAA, health-contingent wellness programs are required to follow certain standards related to nondiscrimination, including a standard that limits the amount of incentives that can be offered. The maximum reward under HIPAA for health-contingent wellness programs is 30 percent of the cost of health coverage (or 50 percent for programs designed to prevent or reduce tobacco use).
The ADA prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Under the ADA, an employer may make disability-related inquiries and require medical examinations after employment begins only if they are job-related and consistent with business necessity. However, these inquiries and exams are permitted if they are part of a voluntary wellness program.
Neither the ADA nor prior EEOC guidance addressed the extent to which incentives affected the voluntary nature of a wellness program. Recently, the EEOC filed well-publicized lawsuits against a number of employers, alleging that their wellness programs violated the ADA and other federal fair employment laws. In response, Congress called on the EEOC to issue guidance on wellness programs and introduced legislation, the Preserving Employee Wellness Program Act, to provide more certainty for employers regarding wellness programs.
The EEOC’s proposed rule would establish the following parameters for permissible wellness program designs under the ADA.
- Reasonable Design: A wellness program must be reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease. A program that collects information on an HRA to provide feedback to employees about their health risks, or that uses aggregate information from HRAs to design programs aimed at particular medical conditions is reasonably designed. A program that collects information without providing feedback to employees or without using the information to design specific health programs is not reasonably designed.
- Voluntary: Wellness programs must be voluntary. Employees may not be required to participate in a wellness program, may not be denied health insurance or given reduced health benefits if they do not participate, and may not be disciplined for not participating. Employers also may not interfere with the ADA rights of employees who do not want to participate in wellness programs, and may not coerce, intimidate or threaten employees to get them to participate or achieve certain health outcomes.
- Employee Notice: For wellness programs that are part of group health plans, employers must provide employees with a notice that describes what medical information will be collected as part of the wellness program, who will receive it, how the information will be used and how it will be kept confidential.
- Limited Incentives: For wellness programs that are part of group health plans, employers may offer limited incentives for employees to participate in the programs or to achieve certain health outcomes. Consistent with HIPAA, the amount of the incentive that may be offered for an employee to participate or to achieve health outcomes may not exceed 30 percent of the total cost of employee-only coverage. For example, if the total cost of coverage paid by both the employer and employee for self-only coverage is $5,000, the maximum incentive for an employee under that plan is $1,500.
This incentive limit only applies to wellness programs that include disability-related inquiries or medical examinations. According to the EEOC, a smoking cessation program that merely asks employees whether they use tobacco (or whether they stopped using tobacco upon completion of the program) is not a wellness program that includes disability-related inquiries or medical examinations. Thus, the EEOC’s proposed guidance would allow an employer to offer incentives as high as 50 percent of the cost of employee coverage for that smoking cessation program, consistent with HIPAA’s requirements. However, an incentive tied to a biometric screening or medical examination that tests for the presence of tobacco would be limited to 30 percent under the proposed rule.
- Confidentiality: Medical information obtained as part of a wellness program must be kept confidential. Generally, employers may only receive medical information in aggregate form that does not disclose, and is not reasonably likely to disclose, the identity of specific employees.
Wellness programs that are part of a group health plan may generally comply with their obligation to keep medical information confidential by complying with the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Employers that are not HIPAA covered entities may generally comply with the ADA by signing a certification, as provided for by HIPAA regulations, that they will not use or disclose individually identifiable medical information for employment purposes and abiding by that certification.
Practices such as training individuals in the handling of confidential medical information, encryption of information in electronic form, and prompt reporting of breaches in confidentiality can help assure employees that their medical information is being handled properly.
- Reasonable Accommodations: Employers must provide reasonable accommodations that enable employees with disabilities to participate and to earn whatever incentives the employer offers. For example, an employer that offers an incentive for employees to attend a nutrition class must, absent undue hardship, provide a sign language interpreter for a deaf employee who needs one to participate in the class. An employer also may need to provide materials related to a wellness program in alternate format, such as large print or Braille, for someone with vision impairment. An employee may need to provide an alternative to a blood test if an employee’s disability would make drawing blood dangerous.
CIBC of Illinois, Inc. Merges With Strategic Employee Benefit Services of Champaign
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Kankakee, IL– (February 9, 2015)- William Johnson, Chairman and CEO of CIBC of Illinois, Inc. is pleased to announce the successful merger of CIBC of Illinois and Strategic Employee Benefit Services of Champaign (SEBS). The new organization will operate as CIBC of Illinois, Inc. and include offices in both Kankakee and Champaign.
“This is an extremely exciting development for both of our organizations,” said Johnson. “The expertise that CIBC possesses in the ever-changing world of employee benefits and group health insurance is exactly what businesses are demanding, and the SEBS connection to the Central and Southern Illinois markets is a great opportunity for us to deliver these solutions on a consistent basis. The synergies we gain via this new powerhouse organization will position CIBC as an industry-leader in both size and capabilities that we deliver to businesses.”
As a result of the merger, former SEBS Benefit Consultant Tony Johnston was named as President and Chief Operating Officer for both the Kankakee and Champaign offices, and Erin Beck remains as Chief Financial Officer for CIBC.
“This is a great opportunity for the SEBS team to further commit to the exciting business opportunity of employee benefits, “said Tony Johnston. “Our extensive client base will now have access to the cutting edge benefits knowledge, wellness resources, technology, and regulatory compliance that is requisite in the healthcare reform era.”
About CIBC of Illinois, Inc.
CIBC is a leader in the development and implementation of innovative employee benefits plans. Headquartered an hour south of Chicago in Kankakee and with a branch office in Champaign, CIBC serves private sector clients, non-profit organizations, governmental bodies and agencies and Taft-Hartley health and welfare funds across the Midwest. Over the past two decades, they have creatively addressed the employee benefits needs of hundreds of organizations — some with as few as two employees and others with as many as 25,000 employees around the globe.