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CIBC of Illinois Employee Wellness Newsletter: June 2015

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.

Ratatouille

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.

Source: USDA

For a custom Employee Wellness program, contact us today!

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High Deductible Plan Options: Bringing Consumerism and Cost-Savings to tthe Marketplace

CIBC of Illinois specializes in Group Benefit plans, and in order to best serve our clients, we also employ consultants that specialize in individual and family health insurance plans. In both of these areas, we continually get asked about high deductible plans because, in most cases, there is a significant cost advantage found in these types of plans. Hopefully this article will provide some basic information, and as always, please contact us for a detailed analysis.

Moving From a Standard Plan to an HDHP

There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all health plan. Everyone has different health insurance needs depending on their health care requirements along with those of their dependents. While some prefer standard deductible health insurance (often called a PPO health insurance plan), people are increasingly switching to a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) with a Health Savings Account (HSA) as a better way to maximize their health care dollars.

Standard Plans vs. HDHPs

Standard plans and HDHPs are set up much in the same way. Under both plans, the member pays a premium for coverage. Both must cover preventive services free of charge. If a member receives nonpreventive medical care, he or she pays a deductible—a specified amount of money that the insured must pay before an insurance company will pay a claim. The chief difference between the plans is that under an HDHP, premium payments are considerably lower and the deductible is considerably higher.

The minimum deductibles for HDHPs are established by the IRS. For 2015, the minimum deductible is $1,300 for individuals and $2,600 for families. Comparatively, standard plans come with a deductible that is generally quite a bit lower.

The cost of the higher premiums for HDHP plans is offset by two factors. First, as previously mentioned, the premium price for an HDHP is much lower than standard plans. This means that members who use little or no medical care during the year can save hundreds of dollars that would otherwise go to unnecessary health coverage, while still remaining compliant with the individual mandate provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

While some people prefer standard deductible health insurance, people are increasingly switching to an HDHP with an HSA as a better way to maximize their health care dollars.

The second major factor setting HDHPs apart from standard plans is the addition of an HSA.

Health Savings Accounts

HSAs are one of several types of tax-advantaged health accounts, and are exclusively available to people enrolled in an HSA-compliant HDHP.

With an HSA, the account holder or his or her employer (usually both) make contributions into a savings account. No taxes are deducted from money placed into the account, as the HSA contribution is withdrawn from a paycheck before taxes are assessed. While in the savings account, the money can earn interest. The employee is free to spend that money on qualified medical expenses.

The total amount that can be placed in an HSA per year is capped by the IRS. For 2015, the maximum contribution limit is $3,350 for individuals and $6,650 for families, though account holders over 55 years old may contribute an extra $1,000 to those totals.

These limits are significantly higher than other types of tax-advantaged health accounts, and unlike the other options, HSAs have additional unique features that allow you to save more money and keep it over a longer period of time. Whereas funds in health Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) and Health Reimbursements Arrangements (HRAs) come with an expiration date or a maximum carry-over dollar amount, HSAs allow you to build your balance as high as you wish in perpetuity. Except for the cap on total contributions per year, there are no limits on how much money can be in your account and how long it remains open.

Additionally, HSAs are individually owned accounts, meaning employees take the account—including any employer contributions—with them if they leave their employer.

Using Health Care with an HDHP

Because of the high deductibles associated with HDHPs, having an HDHP means you need to become a smart health care shopper.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that some types of health care products and services cost much more than similar items, and the more expensive option may not be necessary for the treatment you require.

Additionally, like most other health plans, HDHPs cover preventive services at no cost. Preventive care is defined as medical checkups and tests, immunizations and counseling services used to prevent chronic illnesses from occurring. Preventive care not only keeps you healthy, but it can also monitor and even reduce the risk of developing future, costly health problems.

Most types of specific preventive services are listed here. While it can sometimes be difficult to determine if a specific medical service qualifies as preventive, you can call your health plan to learn if a service is considered preventive before receiving it.

Other medial savings strategies people with HDHPs should consider are:

  • Using a generic in place of a name brand prescription can result in significant savings. While there is not a generic version for every type of drug, the only difference between a branded drug and a generic counterpart is the name; they both have the same active ingredients. If you need medication, find out what class of drugs your prescription is classified under. If you receive a name brand prescription from a doctor, ask if a generic is available.
  • Emergency Room vs. Urgent Care.Like prescriptions, there is a sizable cost adjustment between emergency rooms and urgent care. It is very expensive for hospitals to support all of the equipment and staff that an emergency room requires, so visits to the emergency room generally cost much more than those to a doctor’s office or an urgent care center. If you develop a problem that needs to be treated quickly, but it is not life threatening or risking disability, go to an urgent care clinic.
  • Qualified Medical Expenses. Use your HSA to pay for qualified medical expenses without paying taxes. Qualified medical expenses include the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease, and the costs for treatments affecting any part or function of the body. These expenses include payments for medical services rendered by physicians, surgeons, dentists and other medical practitioners. They also include the costs of equipment, supplies and diagnostic devices needed for these purposes. Like preventive care, there can sometimes be uncertainty surrounding what is an allowable qualified medical expense. Specific qualified medical expenses are approved by the IRS, and a list of them can be found here.

HDHPs and HSAs are not the ideal health coverage plan for everyone. However, for many people, HDHPs are a great way to avoid paying for superfluous coverage and HSAs are an excellent vehicle for stockpiling tax-free money to use on future health care needs.

Paid Paternity Leave: What Working Mother’s…and Farher’s Should Know

Although the advantages of offering paid maternity leave are frequently recognized, the importance of providing paid paternity leave is often overlooked. Many new fathers would like to take time off when a child is born or adopted, but not all companies offer paternity leave benefits. Paid paternity leave can be an attractive benefit when recruiting and retaining these employees.

Paid Paternity Leave v. FMLA

Paternity leave is the paid or unpaid time that a father takes off work for a child’s birth or adoption. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires covered employers (typically those with 50 or more employees) to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave for eligible employees for certain circumstances, which includes for the birth and care of a child within one year of his or her birth or placement.

Some states have additional leave requirements beyond federally mandated family leave. However, there are no laws requiring that private companies pay employees during paternity leave.

Paid paternity leave goes beyond the FMLA requirements and offers fully or partially paid leave for new fathers. Paid paternity leave typically runs concurrently with FMLA-required leave, but it can be offered in addition to FMLA leave.

Advantages of Paternity Leave

Although unpaid leave is mandated by FMLA, paid paternity benefits are an attractive but not universally offered benefit. Only 14 percent of employers provide paid paternity leave, according to the 2014 National Study of Employers by the Families and Work Institute. Paid paternity leave serves as a great recruitment and retention tool, and offering this benefit can set your company apart when recruiting talented job candidates. Studies show that the majority of working fathers think paid paternity leave benefits are important, and more than half of young fathers have considered the availability of paid paternity leave benefits when deciding whether or not to take a job.

An additional benefit of paternity leave is to the employee’s family. Studies have shown that a father taking paternity leave to be with his family for the first weeks after a child’s birth improves both the mother’s wellbeing and the quality of the bond between father and child.

Offering Paternity Leave

If you choose to offer paternity leave, you will need to consider the following:

  • How much time off will you provide for paternity leave?
  • Will paid leave run concurrently or in addition to FMLA leave?
  • Can paid paternity leave be taken incrementally or must it be taken in one chunk of time directly following the birth or adoption of the child?
  • Can paternity leave be taken part time?
  • Will paternity leave include partial or full pay?
  • How will you determine eligibility? For example, does the employee have to be employed for a certain length of time before becoming eligible for paid paternity leave?
  • How will you encourage employees to take advantage of the benefit? Studies show that many of the fathers who are offered paternity leave but don’t use it fear the stigma that may come with taking time off work for a newborn.

Paid paternity leave can be a great addition to your benefits package and can help with both recruitment and retention. Consider how paternity leave fits into your company’s culture and create a policy that works for you.

Self-Funding Your Benefit Plans: Take Advantage of Probability

Importance of claims analysis

In today’s business climate, managers need benefits solutions as resourceful and cutting-edge as the organizations they run. For many employers, pre-packaged full insurance health plans do not provide the greatest value to meet their organizations’ needs. Employers of all sizes are looking to mold their plans around the requirements of their businesses.

There are many reasons employers might eschew a traditional plan system. Small and mid-sized employers might want to avoid risk charges and state premium taxes. Large employers may want administer their benefits plans themselves and grow their cash flow by holding their reserves in an interest-bearing account. Multi-state employers might want to free themselves from the burden of complying with the insurance regulations of multiple states. Employers of young, healthy workforces may be looking to capitalize on their advantages by saving on health insurance.

Because each business is unique and requires its own set of insurance solutions, diversity in provided benefits plans is needed. For many employers it may be far more beneficial to pursue self-funding as a benefits solution.

Self-funding Advantages

A self-funded group health plan is one in which the employer eliminates obligations to a health plan provider by assuming the financial risk for providing health care benefits directly to its employees. While experienced, successful business managers are experts at mitigating risks, many will gladly take on risk exposure if the probability is good for a high payout. There are numerous well-documented advantages to self-funding for employers that manage risk well; including:

  • Reduced insurance overhead costs. Carriers assess a risk charge for insured policies (approximately 2 percent annually), but self-insurance removes this charge.
  • Reduced state premium taxes. Self-insured programs, unlike insured policies, are not subject to state premium taxes. The premium tax savings is about 2 to 3 percent of the premium dollar value.
  • Avoidance of state-mandated benefits. Self-insured plans are exempt from state insurance laws, subject only to ERISA compliance.
  • Choosing benefits services à la carte
  • Flexibility in plan designs, administration and offered services
  • Customizable stop-loss insurance to reduce the risk associated with high claims
  • Improved cash flow. Self-insured employers do not have to pre-pay for coverage, and claims are paid as they become due.
  • Additional cash flow if reserves are held in an interest-bearing account

Complete Customization

One of the greatest assets offered by self-funding is the complete freedom to structure benefits according to needs of your company. Employers can choose what benefits they want to offer, while opting to insure individual benefits through traditional means or forgo offering them altogether.

The following benefits may be self-insured:

  • Health care (indemnity, PPO, POS and HMO)
  • Dental
  • Short-term disability
  • Prescription drugs
  • Vision care

Employers can also make the final call on important variables, such as:

  • Eligibility
  • Exclusions
  • Cost-sharing
  • Policy limits
  • Retiree benefits

Employers are also free to administer benefits themselves if they have the resources, or to retain a third-party administrator at a fraction of the cost of a traditional benefits provider.

Most advantageous to employers worried about the potential for large claims is the ability to acquire stopgap insurance, allowing managers to determine their total amount of yearly costs with 100 percent certainty.

CIBC of Illinois, Inc. welcomes the opportunity to help your organization examine its plan designs and make recommendations for improvement.

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