Author: cornerstoneins

Cyber Security 2022 Update: Ongoing Cyber Turmoil from 2021

There is no question, our world is more digitized than ever. Technology can offer significant and various benefits, but it has caused individuals and businesses to be more susceptible to cybercrime. Cybercrime has steadily become more common and costly. 

With the rapid shift of work to remote and hybrid offices in the past two years, hackers welcomed this transition and took advantage of the vulnerability and gaps in security by businesses. Cyber-attacks continue to threaten businesses in 2022. 

Cyber Security Turmoil Trends in 2022

Cyber security risks have been increasing over the past two years. These types of events have given rise to data compromise and continue to evolve. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s annual report, 2021 was a record-setting year for data compromise events and was up 68% from 2020. 

Cybercriminals Success Rate

According to Forbes.com, in a recent study that was conducted by Positive Technologies, these types of industries were examined to determine an external attacker could breach 93% of an organization’s network and gain access to the company’s resources: 

  • Financial organizations
  • Fuel and Energy organizations
  • Government bodies
  • Industrial businesses
  • IT companies

The number of breaches in 2021 is alarming. The cyber-attacks that were committed were highly sophisticated and complex. The president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, or ITRC, shared a prediction that “there is no reason to believe the level of data compromises will suddenly decline in 2022.” The top cyber security attack event and cause of data compromise is ransomware.

Ransom-Related Data Breaches

Ransomware typically involves infecting devices with a virus that locks files away, and the attackers threaten to destroy or publicize them unless a ransom is paid. In either case, this leaves businesses vulnerable and susceptible to fines and ransom.

Rising Cyber Security Ransomware Threats

Ransomware attacks have doubled over the last two years and are continuing to rise in 2022. Ransomware attacks typically occur in small and medium businesses but have been expanding to large corporations. 

According to the ITRC report, the cyber attacks have recently been affecting critical infrastructure and supply chains’ security. The weaknesses were targeted and exploited at higher rates than in the past.

Other cyber attack events include but do not exclude other cyber attack methods: 

  • Phishing
  • Smishing
  • Business email compromise
  • Malware
  • Zero-day attacks
  • Credential stuffing 

As a business, it’s important to review cyber security for your company and understand the impact it can have on your organization. AssuredPartners Cornerstone can help you understand the importance of fortifying your cybersecurity and help you protect against cyber attacks. 

Ensure You’re Protected with AssuredPartners Cornerstone 

AssuredPartners Cornerstone can safeguard your business against cyber attacks — including ransomware, fraud, theft and data breaches. With the proper risk management, you can ensure you are adequately addressing the growing and evolving data breach threats. 

If you have any questions or concerns about your cyber security risks and want to ensure you’re protected against risk or loss, contact AssuredPartners Cornerstone today.

Discover a Better’s Night Sleep: National Sleep Awareness Month

A good night of sleep is important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has linked insufficient sleep to the development of chronic diseases and conditions including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression. 

The failure to regularly get enough sleep can lead to chronic fatigue, which can increase the risk of productivity issues at work and distracted driving crashes. Sleep is essential for maintaining a healthy, productive and low-stress lifestyle. 

Benefits of Getting Enough Sleep

Sleep is beneficial and should be a priority. Getting at least seven hours of sleep every night will help keep costly chronic conditions at bay and help you combat fatigue. It’s time to start shaping healthy sleep habits. 

Increased Productivity 

When you give your body enough time to go through all the sleep stages, you have more energy, muscle repair, improved memory, and the release or regulation of important hormones that are essential for everyday functions within the body. 

Increased Work Performance

As an employer, you and your employees and in turn, your business, benefits when sleep becomes a priority. A natural benefit of better sleep is increased work performance. It’s never too late to start focusing on improving your sleep schedule. 

Decreased Weight Gain

According to the National Sleep Foundation, not allowing your body enough time for rest and regulation can lead to an increased appetite. The particular hormones that give you the feeling of being full or hungry can become irregular, which may cause increased feelings of hunger that lead to weight gain. 

Improved Mental Health

Getting enough sleep can help alleviate feelings of fatigue that may contribute to stress, depression and anxiety. Symptoms of fatigue can be drowsiness, loss of energy and even mood swings. 

Here are some tips to share with employees, so they can enjoy a better night’s sleep and improved productivity with a clear head. Offering employees the right benefits and resources can create a stronger team. For more information on how to improve sleep habits or to address sleep issues, encourage employees to contact their doctors.   

How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep 

There are ways individuals can achieve a better night of sleep. Encourage employees to focus on their wellness and adapt healthier habits this year. 

Choose the Right Foods Before Bed

Healthy eating can help you sleep better and feel energized all day. Avoiding big meals right before going to bed can help as well. A snack of 200 calories 90 minutes before bed of one of the following foods can help your muscles relax, quiet your mind and produce sleep-inducing hormones (serotonin and melatonin) to help you fall asleep faster: 

  • Bananas
  • Chamomile tea
  • Warm milk
  • Honey
  • Oatmeal
  • Almonds
  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Turkey

Avoid Caffeine Before Bed

Stimulants like caffeine and nicotine promote alertness, which can make it difficult for you to fall and stay asleep, so it’s important to avoid them for three to four hours before bed. This may seem like common sense, but many people believe they are immune to the effects of caffeine after having consumed so much over the years. But, choose a decaffeinated tea or a cup of hot milk and enjoy a much better night of rest. 

Eliminate Sleep-Stealing Effects of Electronic Devices

Electronic devices that simplify your life and make it easier may be having the opposite effect on nightly sleep habits. If you’re having a hard time falling and staying asleep, devices like your cellphone, TV and tablet may be to blame. The blue light from electronic devices causes melatonin suppression, later sleep onset and reduced REM sleep. To prevent the harmful effects of electronic devices, there are a few steps you can take. 

Your device has a “nighttime” mode that adjusts the screen lighting to promote sleep. Also, ensure you set the phone on silent mode, so you won’t be woken by texts or emails. Or, make a few lifestyle changes, and refrain from using your phone at least one hour before bed. Reading a book or meditating to relax can also enhance your sleep. 

How AssuredPartners Cornerstone Can Help

AssuredPartners Cornerstone partners with you to optimize your employees’ wellness to create a more concentrated, productive team.

If you would like to learn more about how to help your employees discover a better night’s sleep, contact AssuredPartners Cornerstone today.

An Update on COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing in the Workplace

As the Coronavirus variant Omicron continues to spread, health and safety policies in the workplace are once again a pressing concern. New mandates for COVID-19 vaccine and testing for workplace safety continue to be established and then opposed in a back and forth manner. 

As an employer, what do you need to know? While the legislation continues to change, there are measures you can take to ensure your workplace is prioritizing its employees’ safety and health.

Recent COVID Vaccine and Testing Mandate Updates

On Nov. 5, 2021, OSHA established an ETS, or emergency temporary standard, that required all employers with over 100 employees to ensure that all employees are vaccinated against COVID-19, or submit to a weekly COVID-19 test. The ETS was quickly challenged by employers and employees which caused the ETS to be stayed. These back and forth rulings and appeals continued. 

Most recently, on Jan. 13, 2021, the Supreme Court blocked the COVID-19 testing mandate for employers with 100 or more employees. However,  in a 5-4 opinion the SCOTUS allowed the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services vaccine mandate for health care workers to go into effect.  

In response to this ruling, OSHA is withdrawing the emergency temporary standard as an enforceable standard as of Jan. 26, 2022, but OSHA continues to strongly encourage the COVID vaccination for all employees.

COVID-19 Testing and Vaccine Mandate Impact on Workplaces

With this flux of mandates and rulings over the past few months especially, what can employers do to be prepared? Everything is changing so quickly, so employers don’t know how to prepare, regardless of what the law says. 

Most employees aren’t even aware of what mandates and standards are in place right now. AssuredPartners Cornerstone always prioritizes helping employers keep their employees educated on subjects beneficial to their health.

Keep in mind, OSHA could continue to issue citations under the General Duty Clause if they feel employees’ working conditions are unsafe resulting in an unchecked spread of COVID in their workplace. As an employer, you have a key role in helping prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19 by implementing safety protocols to help keep your employees healthy. 

Employer Health and Safety Responsibilities

The vast majority of employers have already implemented COVID precautions including social distancing, mandatory mask-wearing procedures and work-from-home provisions which are still considered best practices at this time. We encourage you to work with your employees for feedback on any potential policy changes to seek their input to protect their health.

How AssuredPartners Cornerstone Can Help

Employers are doing their best to make decisions that are difficult. But, that’s where we are here to help. AssuredPartners Cornerstone can help employers determine what to say, what mandates to have in place to help employees understand employers need to be flexible. 

We can provide you with policy templates and fact sheets if you wish to explore customized mandates or protocols for your employees. AssuredPartners Cornerstone focuses on helping employers establish wellness plans which include helping you establish a plan to effectively communicate important COVID-19 information.

Do you need assistance in establishing a clear plan to communicate and execute COVID-19 Omicron prevention methods for your workplace? Contact AssuredPartners Cornerstone today.

4 Ways to Reduce Health Benefits Costs in 2022

Health benefits costs have been on the rise in recent years and are predicted to continue trending in that direction this year. Employers anticipate they may experience a 5% increase in health plan premiums this year, according to a Willis Towers Watson survey.

How can you prepare for the rising costs as an employer — and how can you best serve your employees? Here are four strategies to reduce benefits costs this year.

Ways to Minimize Health Benefits Spending

1. Alternative Plan Modeling

In an alternative plan, you’ll increase employees’ share of expenses. While often this takes place through premium increases, you run the risk of losing employees to companies with better benefits options. With alternative plan modeling, rather than a traditional health plan, you can come up with a different design approach to your benefits package

Alternatives might include:

    • Consumer-driven health plan models, featuring a high deductible health plan with savings options included
    • Self-funding models that are funded and managed by an employer vs. a carrier
    • Reference-based pricing models, which are self-funded health plans that include set spending limits on shoppable service offerings
    • Level-funding models are self-funded plans where an employer pays a certain amount to a carrier for claims but any leftover is refunded at the end of the year
  • Direct contracting includes partnering with doctors and facilities who value a community driven plan and understand the importance of transparency in costs and outcomes

If you’re looking to embark on an alternative benefits plan, feel free to contact me or the rest of our AssuredPartners Cornerstone employee benefits team with questions. AssuredPartners Cornerstone helps you focus on high quality, low cost options to improve employee outcomes and reduce overall costs.

2. Health Care Literacy

Perhaps you have a great employee benefits package — but do employees know how to take advantage of it? When employees feel empowered and educated about their benefits, they’re more likely to save money and improve their well-being. Try giving employees the questions they need to ask to be more informed patients and benefits users, like:

  • Can I be treated in an equally effective, yet less expensive, manner?
  • How much will this appointment cost?
  • When should I visit an emergency room instead of an urgent care facility?

By investing in employee education now, you can potentially save down the road because employees will be healthier and need to spend less on medical expenses overall.

3. Telemedicine Solutions

Telemedicine, or telehealth, options have become increasingly popular since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Only 11% of U.S. consumers utilized telemedicine in 2019 — that number was up to 46% in mid-2021 according to McKinsey and Company. 

For employers who are curious about telemedicine offerings, consider providing it to your employees in their benefits package in a limited capacity. This could look like employees seeing their doctor in person for an annual checkup but following up with them in the future in a virtual setting. If employees find that to be helpful, you could expand telehealth offerings down the road.

4. Prescription Drug Policy Revisions

Health plans also offer a significant benefit with prescription drugs, but navigating prescription drug prices can be overwhelming. There is a wide range of brands available for prescription drugs. Most individuals opt for brand-name only, disregarding the savings a generic brand can offer them despite the medication and dosage remaining the same. 

It’s important your employees know to ask their doctors for alternative options including generic brands. This more affordable option can decrease prices for everyone. Another way to control this needless spending is to require your employees’ health plans to cover the generic options prior to the more expensive brand names. Additionally, AssuredPartners Cornerstone can work with you and Pharmacy Benefit Managers to help keep your employees’ prescription drug costs down.  

How AssuredPartners Cornerstone Can Help 

AssuredPartners Cornerstone can help you reduce health care expenses. As employers, you should prioritize maximizing your health benefits plan but ensure it’s affordable. Our skilled team can provide employee benefits administration to offer a plan that benefits the needs of all of your employees. 

If you have any questions about how you can reduce health benefits costs and how it affects you or your employees, contact AssuredPartners Cornerstone today.

Affordable Care Act and Benefits Compliance Part 3: ACA Reporting

For the third part of our ACA refresher series, let’s take a look at what reporting is required of the Affordable Care Act so you can make sure you’re compliant. (And if you’d like additional background, here are parts 1 and 2 of our benefits compliance refresher.)

What Reporting Does ACA Require?

The employer (and in some cases, the insurer) is required to include information about who is covered by the Affordable Care Act, who is offered coverage, who took the coverage and how much the coverage was. This information is found on the 1094 and 1095 forms.  

1095 forms are due to employees on January 31 of the following year (January 31, 2022 for the 2021 calendar year). 1094 forms are due to the IRS by the following February 28 if submitted in paper form, or by March 31 if filed electronically. 

Each year the IRS has extended the deadline to provide 1095 forms to employees by 30 days, but this year, we do not anticipate this extension for 2021 filing, so it’s important to ensure your employees receive their 1095 forms by January 31, 2021. 

Part 1 on the 1095-C form is about the employee; part 2 is mostly where the information for the ACA required reporting will be. Part 3 asks the employer to complete a list of covered individuals and which months they were enrolled in the plan. Depending on what plan you offer and what the size of your company is will determine what type of reporting and information is required. 

affordable_care_act_reporting

If you file more than 250 W-2s in the previous calendar year, you are required to report the total cost of the employee’s health insurance for employer-sponsored health coverage. You must include employee and employer contributions even though it is non-taxable. This is optional for employers who filed fewer than 250 W-2s in the previous calendar year.

Changes to ACA’s Electronic Filing Process

The IRS has proposed two significant changes to the electronic filing process. The proposed changes would also affect the filing of W-2 and 1099. 

The ACA filing threshold for e-filing will be reduced from 250 returns to 100 for returns due in 2022 (and to 10 for returns due in 2023). 

Additionally, employers would be required to aggregate the number of different returns it files when determining whether the 250-return threshold is reached. 

For example, the employer would aggregate all W-2s, forms 1095-C and forms 1094-C to determine a total amount. If that amount surpasses 100, the forms must be transmitted and filed electronically. If this proposal goes into effect, this rule will result in almost all employers electronically filing for 2023.

How Cornerstone Can Help With ACA

We know you’re busy, and staying compliant with the ever-changing (and often complex) ACA rules can be difficult. By working with AssuredPartners Cornerstone, you can be assured that your workplace — and employees — are covered and compliant.

Connect with our human resources experts if you’d like assistance with the benefits administration process. Our skilled team can ensure you offer a healthcare plan for your employees that is ACA compliant.   

If you have any questions or concerns about the Affordable Care Act and how it affects you or your employees, contact Cornerstone today.

Affordable Care Act and Benefits Compliance Part 2: Safe Harbors

Now that we’ve looked at the general refresher of how to stay compliant with the Affordable Care Act, let’s review the ways ACA makes health benefits more affordable through its three safe harbors. 

What Does ACA Say About Affordability?

Employers are required to offer health coverage to eligible full-time employees at an affordable rate. You need to look at what the employee pays for their own coverage on the lowest benefit plan that you offer. 

For plans beginning in 2022, the required contribution for employee-only coverage should not exceed 9.61% of the employee’s household income. 

Safe Harbors of the Affordable Care Act

Because employers may not know their employee’s household income, the IRS provides three safe harbors for affordability: 

  • Federal Poverty Level (FPL)
  • Rate of Pay
  • W-2 

Federal Poverty Line Safe Harbor

Under the Federal Poverty Level Line Safe Harbor, affordability is determined based on the federal poverty line for a single individual. Under this safe harbor, employer-provided coverage offered to a single individual is considered affordable if the employee’s cost for self-only coverage does not exceed 9.61% of the FPL for a single individual. The 2022 FPL for an individual is $12,880.

$12,880 x 9.61 = $1,237.77

$1,237.77 / 12 months = $103.14

Employee coverage for the Federal Poverty Line Safe Harbor is $103.14.

Rate of Pay Safe Harbor

The rate of pay safe harbor works great for hourly employees. Under the rate of pay safe harbor, affordability can be determined without the need to analyze every employee’s wage and hours. Use the hourly rate for the lowest-paid employee at the beginning of the plan year. For instance, you can use the lowest hourly rate at $11.50. 

$11.50 x 130 hours = $1,495

$1,495 x 9.61 = $143.67

The employee coverage for the rate of pay safe harbor for hourly employees in this example is $143.67.

W-2 Safe Harbor

The W-2 safe harbor works well for salaried employees, employees who receive tips or employees who consistently work more than 30 hours per week. Estimated wages are entered by the employee on their W-2 forms. 

It is a bit of a guess as to what W-2 wages will be next year. If the employee notes estimated wages at $20,000, this is the number we base our equations on. 

$20,000 / 12 months = $1,922

$1,922 / 12 months = $160.17

The base amount is $160.17 for employee coverage. This option allows the employer to charge more for the employee-only coverage and still be compliant but is sometimes a gamble because the rate is based on the employees’ estimated wages.  

How Can Cornerstone Help With Benefits Compliance?

Because the legislation is ever-changing, we know it can be difficult to keep up with benefits compliance information. AssuredPartners Cornerstone is here to help you make sense of ACA so you can keep your employees informed. Looking for more information on ACA? Here are previous blogs from Cornerstone on changing ACA and CARES Act legislation as well as previous appeals to legislation. 

Whether you need help with benefits administration or are looking to create a wellness program that meets your workplace’s needs, our team has the expertise to assist you.

If you have any questions or concerns about the Affordable Care Act and how it affects you or your employees, contact Cornerstone today.

Affordable Care Act and Benefits Compliance: A Refresher

The Affordable Care Act or ACA was passed back in 2010, but what affected you as an employer was enacted in 2014 and later. With about 23,000 pages of legislation, some aspects of the ACA are unchanged from the original law, but some look very different today.

As an employer, benefits compliance is necessary. Cornerstone Insurance stays up to date on changing ACA and CARES Act legislation and can help you stay informed of any potential appeals to legislation. 

What is Included in the Affordable Care Act?

Important components of ACA include: 

  • Dependent coverage is available to anyone ages 26 and older
  • No cost-sharing for preventative care services such as: 
    • Physicals
    • Mammograms
    • Flu shots
  • Medical loss ratio rebates
  • Enhanced preventative care for women
  • HSA & Health FSA limit
  • W-2 reporting for over 250 W-2s
  • SBC (summary of benefits and coverage) and exchange notification requirements

Before we discuss the employer mandate under the ACA, note that the individual mandate is still in place, but the tax penalty has been reduced to zero dollars, so for all intents and purposes, the individual mandate is not in effect today. 

Who is an Applicable Large Employer?

The employer mandate requires “applicable large employers” (ALEs) to provide affordable health care coverage to full-time employees or pay a penalty.

You are an ALE if you employ 50 or more full-time employees, including full-time equivalents, on average through the previous calendar year. You may be required to calculate each year. All commonly owned entities need to be considered in order to determine the status of ALE. Generally, if two entities have 80% common ownership, they would be considered commonly owned. Since this is a general rule, check with your legal counsel or CPA with any questions. 

Employers need to count anyone who works full-time as one full-timer. All the part-timer employees’ hours are totaled and divided by 30 hours. For example, an employer has 35 full-time employees and 30 part-time employees who work a total of 29,780 hours. 

29,780 hours / 52 weeks / 30 hours = 19 full-time employees

The total of 35 full-time employees plus 19 full-time employees based on part-time hours equals 54 employees. This measurement determines your status for the following year.  

ALE Requirements to Avoid Penalty

If you are an ALE, you are subject to the play or pay mandate and must do the following in order to avoid the penalty: 

  • Establish who is considered to be a full-time employee
  • Offer those full-time employees health insurance that meets “minimum essential coverage”
  • Offer that health coverage to eligible full-time employees at an “affordable” rate
  • Report offer of coverage to the IRS annually

According to the ACA,  there are three types of employees: 

  • Full-time employees who work 30+ hours per week
  • Employees who work less than 30 hours per week
  • Employees who work an unpredictable number of hours per week

A full-time employee is an employee who regularly works 30 or more hours per week — you must offer them coverage. Employers do not need to offer coverage for employees who never work 30 or more hours a week, but there are some employees who you don’t know how many hours a week that they will work. For these employees, you will need to measure hours to determine potential full-time status. 

You must establish a corporate measurement period and consistently measure variable hour employees to determine if they are eligible for health insurance. Employers will need to measure new hires in an initial measurement period to determine if they are eligible for health insurance. If these employees are determined full-time (if they work an average of 30 or more hours during the measurement period), you must offer these employees coverable for an established stability period. 

Most payroll platforms assist with this measurement process. If your payroll does not, please reach out to Cornerstone Insurance for help on setting up the best way to create a measurement process for your variable hour employees. Once you’ve established how many employees you need to offer coverage to, you will need to establish the coverage plan and affordability. 

What is Minimum Essential Coverage?

To be considered a minimum essential coverage plan, a health insurance plan must meet the minimum threshold of coverage as defined by the ACA. These include:

  • No annual lifetime limits
  • No pre-existing conditions
  • Must comply with MLR rules
  • Provide substantial coverage for in-patient care and physician treatment
  • Many others 

Cornerstone can help you provide a healthcare plan to your employees that offers minimum essential coverage and are fully ACA compliant

ACA Penalties — What’s my Risk?

With the ACA requirements, there are potential penalties. The only way you can be penalized is if an employee goes to the exchange or the healthcare marketplace and obtains subsidized coverage as opposed to taking your health insurance. The IRS section 4980H covers the penalties. 

The two questions employers should ask themselves are: 

  • Do you offer minimum essential coverage to 95% of the eligible employees (a)
  • Is your coverage offered at an “affordable” rate (b)?

If you can’t answer yes to part (a), the 2022 penalty is $2,570 or $229.17 per month per eligible employee. There is relief from the IRS for the first 30 employees. The penalty to 4980H (b) in 2022 is $4120 or 343.33 per month per employee who received subsidized coverage on the exchange.

affordable_care_act

The above image maps out the full process of how a penalty from the IRS is triggered. As the employer, you offer employees a healthcare insurance plan on January 1. The employee may or may not take your insurance. But, if the employee chooses to go to the healthcare market exchange for a subsidized healthcare insurance plan, this triggers an investigation by the IRS. 

If you are submitting your ACA reporting, you are informing the IRS who is eligible for what plans. The employee files a tax return, so the IRS knows what the household earns and ensures the plan you are offering is 9.61% of the household income.

If a penalty is triggered, the IRS provides form letter 226J to ALEs that may owe a penalty for prior tax years. This includes an employer shared responsibility penalty (ESRP) Summary Table itemizing your proposed ESRP by month. The IRS relies on the information from Forms 1095-C and 1094-C filed by ALEs as well as individual tax returns. If you receive a penalty, you have 30 days to respond.

What Can Cornerstone Do for Your Benefits Compliance?

As an employer, it’s important to ensure your employees understand their benefits. You are required to provide an SBC to all eligible employees at open enrollment, upon request and within 90 days of HIPAA special enrollment qualifying event. Cornerstone Insurance can help you keep your employees informed with updated benefit information. 

Cornerstone Insurance is here to offer you assistance with every step of the benefits process. Our skilled team can ensure you offer a healthcare plan for your employees that is ACA compliant.   

If you have any questions or concerns about the Affordable Care Act and how it affects you or your employees, contact Cornerstone today.

Health Plan Transparency Requirements Coming in 2022

At the end of August, the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Treasury delayed enforcing previously created transparency rules for health plans. However, these health plan transparency requirements are now scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of 2022. 

There are multiple layers to the new requirements, and it’s important to understand what they are and be aware of how and when these new requirements will be put into effect. Our employee benefits company wants to keep you informed so you can help your employees be knowledgeable of the changes to their health insurance plans.  

What the New Health Plan Transparency Entails

Beginning in 2022, the new requirements for transparency in coverage will require health insurance groups to provide information about health care costs with in-network provider information, out-of-network provider information and prescription drugs. Transparency requirements aim to help keep your employees better aware of the costs to their health care. Here are a handful of criteria included in the new ruling.

Identification Cards 

An identification card will be issued to all participants and beneficiaries to include information about deductibles or out-of-pocket maximums for in-network and out-of-network care. It must also include a telephone number and a website for consumer assistance. If physical, the cards will have a QR code to access the website. Electronically, there will be a link for additional resources on the website. 

No Surprise Bills

The “No Surprises Act” addresses out-of-network care by a provider or a facility, including emergency situations. This requirement for all group health care options prevents your employees from receiving a surprise medical bill in an emergency situation or in the case of an air ambulance. 

If it is not an emergency, the facility or provider will have to send a detailed notice or an estimate of charges approximately 72 hours prior to receiving out-of-network care. Ensure your employees are aware of their right to know the cost of medical care prior to receiving it and protect them from any surprise payment that is a strain on mental health and causes stress and distraction.  

Prescription Drug Information

In an effort to increase transparency, insurers can no longer write gag clauses into their contracts with pharmaceutical companies. Pharmacies will now be required to share costs in order to help individuals navigate prescription drug costs which can be high out-of-pocket expenses. 

An annual report on certain information regarding prescription drugs is now required. It will contain the top 50 brand prescription drugs paid for by your plan and the total number of claims for each drug. This information will be reported to the secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Labor as well as the Treasury, but it will be available in a public area for your employees to access information on what is included in the group health plan. 

Accurate Provider Information

Effective as of 2022, insurers and plans will have to provide accurate information about in-network providers with verification of information and timely updates to any changes in provider information. Individuals who relied on inaccurate data and received a surprise bill from an out-of-network provider will be granted relief.

If the person visited an out-of-network provider, the bill must reflect the in-network maximum cost of service because the provider information in the database was inaccurate. The payment will be applied towards the enrollee’s deductible. 

If the cost is higher than it would be if the patient was in-network, and the patient paid the bill, the out-of-network provider will reimburse the patient of the excess amount with interest.

Making Sense of Health Plan Rules

These full health plan transparency requirements must be disclosed in three machine-readable files. The information will include rates on in-network providers for all covered items and services, billed charges and covered amounts on out-of-network providers and historical pricing on prescription drugs provided by in-network providers. These free publicly accessed files and requirements were set to be in effect January 1, 2022, and will require monthly updates. 

Educating your employees on these transparency requirements can set them up for success as they navigate the complicated but critical world of healthcare. Cornerstone Insurance Group is always here to answer questions and help you give your employees the best health insurance plan and health care possible. Do you have any questions or concerns? We’re here to help.

We know how difficult it is to navigate new policies related to health insurance and benefits administration, and we want your organization to remain as educated as you can be. Have questions on the new health plan transparency requirements? Contact our employee benefits team today

Topics: HR

How to Help Your Employees Combat Zoom Fatigue

Employers have had to adapt, working harder to communicate wellness opportunities, benefits information, and providing what employees need most right now. 

With the rapid change to remote and flexed work environments, businesses have turned to technology to resolve communication gaps. Since some employees are no longer meeting in person, they’re becoming Zoom experts. 

A new phenomenon is emerging with video conferencing like Zoom, Google Meet or Microsoft Teams termed as Zoom fatigue. Employers now have the challenge of helping employees recognize and combat zoom fatigue to optimize productivity. 

Recognize Zoom Fatigue

Online meetings are more tiring than face-to-face meetings for multiple reasons. Employees must make more of an emotional effort to appear interested and engaged. The focus on online eye contact puts individuals on high alert and is exhausting. Here are some telltale signs to recognize Zoom fatigue. 

Symptoms of Zoom Fatigue

Zoom fatigue symptoms include: 

  • Anxiety
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Exhaustion
  • Eyestrain or sore eyes
  • Low productivity
  • Lack of concentration or focus
  • Pessimism

Employees experience emotional exhaustion and have reduced motivation. The fatigue goes beyond the pandemic and Zoom to include visual and social fatigue. Some may even experience a feeling of “tech invasion.” Assisting employees to recognize that these symptoms stem from too much time spent in online meetings is important and will affect both their work and personal lives. 

Cognitive Overload

Without the use of non-verbal cues during a video conference, employees may experience cognitive overload. When too much thought is put into a task, because we can only see individuals’ faces, expressions are exaggerated and employees must work harder to understand the body language of co-workers. 

When we stare at the screen in a meeting, we work harder to maintain eye contact. Additionally, the psychological stress of staring at ourselves all day long has negative consequences for our mental health.  

Addressing Zoom fatigue in the workplace to prevent depression-like symptoms and can cause employee burnout is a must. Cornerstone Insurance Group can assist with educating your employees on recognizing Zoom fatigue and introduce ways to combat it. 

Combat Zoom Fatigue

Zoom meetings are necessary for teams to collaborate in today’s workplace environment, but employers can encourage employees to take certain steps to avoid spending all day on a video call to prevent Zoom fatigue. 

Turn off Self-View

It is not always possible, but when it is, encourage employees to turn off their cameras. Without the video component, employees do not have the expectation of forcing a continual smile or keeping constant eye contact. Additionally, this diminishes the heightened emphasis on facial cues which contributes to intense personal emotional reactions. 

Avoid Multitasking

Encourage employees to stop multitasking and dedicate all of their attention to the video call and conversation, then they are not caught off guard causing increased and unnecessary stress. Zoom calls can already be mentally overwhelming without adding additional side tasks or distractions.  

Follow an Agenda

Meetings with shared agendas are more efficient and more likely to end on time, giving employees eyes a rest from constant screen time. Zoom meetings should be scheduled and not impromptu when possible, so an agenda with clear objectives will necessitate the interaction. 

Instead of hosting a Zoom meeting for a quick question, instill collaboration through alternative methods of communication and clear policies to prevent Zoom fatigue.

Use Collaborative Notes

A shared document or non-video collaboration can help prevent Zoom fatigue from setting in, by helping reduce the level of intensity employees from spending too long staring into others’ eyes and being on video conference high alert.

Collaborative notes, like with Google Documents or a messaging application like Slack, allow employees to work together and provide feedback to each other without the constant video interaction.

If you’re struggling to come up with a solution that works for your workplace, Cornerstone Insurance’s human resources specialists can help you establish and implement policies to assist your team.

Focus on Employee Wellness

Employers need to make sure they have the appropriate policies in place to support the physical and mental well-being of all employees. Cornerstone Insurance Group can guide you in encouraging your employees to make small changes to combat Zoom fatigue. 

With our help, you can train your employees on ways to stop fighting Zoom fatigue and develop safe practices that lead to better communication and more productivity. Cornerstone Insurance Group focuses on improving the wellness of each and every employee in all types of work environments. Let us help you create a custom plan catered to your team and your work environment.

Cornerstone Insurance Group can help you help your employees combat zoom and pandemic fatigue to create happy, healthy and productive teams. Contact us today.

Adapting to Changing Workforce Trends in a Post COVID-19 Environment

Coronavirus-19 forced us to time travel to a workforce that may have developed gradually over the next few decades but became the new norm almost overnight. We watched a rapid shift to virtual work and education as well. The recovery isn’t over, but businesses must continue to adapt to the changing workforce trends. 

Addressing Evolving Recovery Concerns

The workforce reacted and responded to the pandemic with unprecedented levels of flexibility, new partnerships and adaptability in just weeks. Businesses experienced rapidly evolving organizational priorities.

Given the severity, intensity and impact on both employees and business, the recovery for workforce strategies moving forward requires actions based upon informed and continuous reflection.

Reflection

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Index shows 65% of business owners were optimistic that the worst of the pandemic passed by mid-year 2021. But, employers’ are now reflecting on the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

The contagious virus is not necessarily the top concern for organizations looking forward. After almost a year and a half of quickly shifting and adapting to the situation, other issues like sustainability, navigating a hybrid work environment, and competing for talent are taking precedence.   

Employers are more vigilant than ever in reflecting on what has worked during the pandemic and which opportunities were missed. In reflecting upon the changing workforce, employers are bringing in the employees’ perspectives and concerns. 

Prioritize Human Resources

Looking forward, businesses are choosing different operational models and alternate resources to use dependent on the employer/employee situation. Businesses and employees are able to focus on addressing

  • Individuals or families contracting the Delta virus
  • Compliance with ever-changing laws and regulations
  • Job protection/reduced layoffs

These pressing business and workforce priorities pivot around human resource departments to address concerns regarding compliance for the safety and protection of their employees to increase productivity, so businesses can financially benefit. 

One of the major contributing factors to these concerns is financial stress and limited resources which affects employee productivity. A never-ending cycle of reflection on alternative options and prioritization is required to keep businesses moving in the right direction. It’s all cyclical. Cornerstone Insurance is here to help provide you with solutions and clear direction to create an exceptional HR team

Improving Employee Well-Being

Focusing on the physical, psychological, and financial concerns of your employees through employee well-being and benefits has a positive and significant impact on COVID-19 recovery. 

Flexibility

Employers need to recognize the diversity of workers’ individual expectations and support them in the transition to recovery, which includes being flexible. Workers may return to onsite work, but others may continue to work remotely. Some will adopt a hybrid approach.

Organizations need to help prepare employees with the skills and capabilities required for such a wide range of workforce approaches and practices to address a worker’s mental and emotional health.  

The evolving recovery will require a shift in focus to new priorities, new work routines and schedules. How organizations prepare and support their workforces will be a key driver to workforce performance and retaining talent. 

The Growing Importance of Benefits

Employers are challenged to attract and retain the workforce they need. Employee benefits can play a pivotal role because they provide protection and support when employees need it most. 

As we approach a new benefits enrollment period, now is the perfect time to reflect on what your employees utilize or require to address their concerns that could be impacting their productivity during this COVID-19 recovery period.

Custom Benefits Packages

Employers know  a benefits package that is customized to employees’ personal and household needs are: 

  • 18% more likely to be productive
  • 36% more likely to feel engaged
  • 37% more likely to feel resilient
  • 45% more likely to feel motivated
  • 54% more likely to feel valued/appreciated

Many employers can optimize their benefits strategy without significantly affecting the budget but reaping the tremendous impacts, and Cornerstone Insurance Group can help you find solutions

Clear Communication

Cornerstone values the importance of employee education of your benefits program. The value of traditional benefits like health insurance and retirement savings are well-known, but employees may need additional insights to help them recognize how other options can provide just as much support and enhance their financial security. 

Cornerstone Insurance can help you determine the best way to adopt an employee-centric approach to benefits as well as a clear communication strategy to help your employees reap the most from what you can and do offer. 

With a commitment to your team and your business, we can help you navigate the evolving recovery and to adapt to the continuous changes in workforce trends to emerge stronger than ever. 

Are you ready for your business to thrive on the “new normal?” Contact Cornerstone Insurance today with any questions or inquiries. We’re here to help.

Promote Healthy Eating in the Workplace

Healthy employees tend to be less stressed, more productive, and take fewer sick days. A key factor in employee health is nutrition which is why you want your employees to eat well. When employees eat healthier, they are fueling their brains and bodies.  

How to Get Started

The first thing you will need to do as an employer is to decipher your organization’s current understanding of health and eating practices. 

Create an Assessment

You can start with an assessment of the variety and types of foods and beverages your employees consume. These ‘food diaries’ can help you to understand the foundation of their diets which will help to illuminate where reasonable improvements can be made.

Some of your employees may lack information and education on how to eat in a way that supports their health; others may know how but lack the desire or support they need to follow through on that knowledge.

What people eat is ultimately their decision. Employers are in a unique position however to provide healthy options while their employees are at work and to provide resources for employees looking to expand their knowledge as it relates to diet. In order to make an educated decision, employees must understand the impact to themselves. Thus, education is a key element of any workplace wellness program.

How to Help Your Employees Be Healthier

Including educational tips on health and nutrition through informative newsletters is a great way to educate and remind employees to focus on their health. It also helps them to know that their employers are prioritizing the well-being of their employees.

When providing recommendations and tips remember this: rather than building the message around what not to eat, consider forming the basis of your recommendation around healthy options and the benefits they have. Recommendations should always be additive to their diets, not restrictive.

What is a Healthy Diet?

One type of diet that is rising in popularity right now is the flexitarian diet. It’s a flexible, plant-based diet but is based on the following principles: 

  • Eat mostly fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains
  • Focus on protein from plants instead of animals
  • Be flexible and incorporate meat and animal products from time to time 
  • Eat the least processed, most natural form of foods
  • Limit added sugar and sweets

Due to its flexible nature and focus on what to include rather than restrict, the Flexitarian diet is a popular choice for people looking to eat healthily and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Suggesting this type of eating style and including tips on the specific foods to eat and recipes to start with can help guide your employees in making healthy choices. 

What is Portion Control?

Choosing the right food isn’t everything. While portion control can be an off-putting term, it’s the key to enjoying a non-restrictive diet. There are no bad foods and everything can be quite literally – on the table – as long as people portion correctly.

Many have either an exaggerated or limited idea of what it means to choose a healthy amount of food. Teaching portion control that uses everyday items as examples of portion size equips people with the tools they need to indulge or limit themselves when choosing certain foods. 

As an example, a serving size of any animal protein is 3 oz which is no bigger than a deck of cards.

Portion control helps individuals get the benefits of the food: flavor, taste, and nutrients while limiting excessive calorie intake.

How Do Employees Benefit?

Losing weight is not always the goal. Ideally, your employees should be able to gain or maintain a healthy weight when being attentive to their diet but there are other major benefits as well. 

A majority plant-based diet can lead to increased heart health, reduced blood pressure and is proven to lower the risk of cancer and type 2 diabetes. The benefits of portion control include: 

  • Reduction in binging or stress eating
  • Improvement in digestive functions
  • Glucose/fat level balances
  • Increase in satiety level
  • Money savings   

How Does Healthy Eating Translate Into Work Performance

Having healthy employees may seem to impact the individuals themselves, but it actually has a huge impact on your business’s success. 

More Productive

Employees who eat nutritious foods benefit from improved cognitive functions which include better focus, concentration, memory, and creativity. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a lack of essential nutrients can cause fatigue and reduced immunity resulting in more illness. 

The foods employees eat will also have a direct effect on their moods and attitudes. Healthy balanced diets are associated with fewer incidences of depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Encouraging a healthy diet will lead to more productive, energetic, and positive employees. 

Less Cost to Businesses

According to the CDC, workplace health programs can impact insurance costs. Employees with preventable health issues increase health care costs. Encouraging healthy habits keeps employees in the low-risk category while also supporting all employees to adopt good health practices.

How Cornerstone Can Help 

Cornerstone Insurance can help you help your employees implement healthy habits and choices to improve productivity and save on insurance costs. Cornerstone Insurance can help you launch a wellness program that caters to your employees for the benefit of your business.

Contact Cornerstone Insurance today for assistance in creating happier, healthier and more productive teams.

Top Safety Measures to Avoid Heat Illness in the Workforce

As an employer, you understand the importance of providing a safe environment for your employee’s well-being. According to OSHA, employers are required to provide a safe workplace void of any potential hazards that can cause harm to employees. 

This includes preventing employees from overheating and causing heat illness.    

Employee Training

Being in the midst of the summer months, heat illness is a real risk, and as an employer, you should ensure your employees are educated on the symptoms of heat illness as well as how their health and activities can cause or prevent overheating.  

How to Recognize the Symptoms

There are different types of heat illnesses and symptoms. An uncomfortable and painful heat rash can cause severe itching. Heat Cramps and heat exhaustion occur with too much perspiration; the loss of body salt and water causes severe muscle cramps or spasms in the back, stomach, arms and legs. With heat exhaustion, an individual will have cool or pale skin, nausea, headache, weakness, vomiting and a fast pulse. 

Probably the most dangerous heat illness is heatstroke. A heat stroke causes: 

  • High body temperature
  • Sweat stops
  • Red, dry skin
  • Rapid breathing and pulse
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures 
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness 

Employees can take the right steps to treat heat illness when they recognize the symptoms and severity of what it can cause.    

How to Identify Personal Risk Factors

Educating employees on personal risk factors can help them understand their limitations as well as how to take precautionary measures when working in hot workplace environments. 

It’s important to note some health factors, like age or pre-existing medical conditions, really can’t be changed. Medical history can cause employees to be less tolerant to heat including: 

  • Short-term disorders and minor illnesses
  • Chronic skin disorders
  • Previous heatstroke

But, some factors are choices. As an example, the use of alcohol or drugs or taking prescription medication can affect an employee’s tolerance to heat. Being in good health is important in combating heat illnesses. Cornerstone Insurance Group works with employers to help educate employees on avoiding heat illness.

How to Acclimate & Hydrate

People respond to heat differently. Acclimating to the heat is important. According to OSHA, adjusting to heat usually takes five to seven days, but it can take a few weeks. Employers should train employees on how to acclimate as well as how to stay properly hydrated.  

Your employees should be aware of what heat illness looks like and how your worksite procedures address it.

How to Treat Heat Illness Symptoms

Educate your employees on what to do if one of their peers is showing signs of heat illness. If heat illness is suspected, employees should act quickly to get the individual out of the sun and provide cool water or an electrolyte-replacement beverage.  

When it comes to the more serious heat-induced illnesses, it’s important employees know how to seek medical attention immediately and try to cool the individual with cold water, compresses, ice and ice packs, or by fanning them. If an employee has heatstroke, an ambulance should be called quickly; heatstroke requires emergency treatment.

Proactive Measures

Ultimately, the best way to prevent heat illness from occurring in a workplace environment is to identify the risks and be proactive. 

Conduct a Heat Assessment

Heat illness assessments evaluate a wide range of risk factors including:

  • Workplace temperature
  • Humidity
  • Heat radiation 
  • Air movement
  • Employee workload
  • Clothing 
  • Acclimatization. 

Cornerstone Insurance Group can help employers with a Heat Illness Assessment Checklist as part of our risk management program. Even if your employees have to work in a heated environment, there are still steps you can take to limit the risk of heat illness. 

Schedule

Scheduling the most difficult or physically taxing jobs for the coolest part of the day and allowing employees to work more slowly during the hottest periods of the day help reduce the risk of heat illness. Schedule routine maintenance or tasks during cooler seasons. For indoor work, these routine tasks can be completed when hot operations are shut down.

Supervise

Supervising your employees in high-risk environments will allow you to oversee and manage work and rest cycles. Managers should monitor workers closely or require work to be done in pairs or groups. Instill a buddy system to help spot signs of heat illnesses and try to reduce activity levels during the peak periods of potential risk and be ready with the appropriate treatment.

Employees need to be able to recognize, treat and practice safe ways to prevent heat illness from the onset. The best way you can protect your employees from heat illness is by establishing a proactive plan to create a safe work environment

Do you have a plan and procedures in place to protect and prepare your employees to combat heat illness and reduce potential long-term health risks? 

Cornerstone Insurance Group is your workplace safety and risk management partner. We care about the well-being of your employees and your business. We can help you assess and address any potential risks for heat illness in your workplace.   

Contact Cornerstone Insurance Group today for more tools and resources to ensure the health and safety of your workforce.

Why Simplifying Employee Benefits Information Is Important

Employee benefits can be complex, but if employees don’t fully understand their benefits packages, you may risk them not taking full advantage of what you’re offering. 

Take a look at how you can better communicate your employee benefits so that all parties involved can be successful. 

A Clear Communication Strategy Benefits You 

Did you know that, according to a recent report by Watson Wyatt Worldwide, more than 80% of employees respond positively to a benefits plan that’s been effectively communicated as opposed to less than 26% when it has not been effectively communicated? 

An effective communication plan that simplifies benefit information enhances the way your employee perceives their benefits plan and in turn, you. 

Here are some additional benefits:

Employees Feel Valued

Employees (especially those who are just entering the workforce) may not always understand the language that’s used in benefits explanations. For instance, with health insurance terminology, only 7% of individuals can define terms such as premium, deductible and coinsurance according to UnitedHealthCare. 

If benefits information is too complex, employees may skim over it or ignore it completely. Employees are more likely to pay attention and understand when you make the information relatable and personable. If the information is understood and emphasized, an employee will feel more valued within the company and appreciate the benefits you offer. 

Productivity Increases

Employees are more dedicated when they are valued, but they are also more productive when they are healthy and happy. If your employees understand their benefits package, they are more likely to take a proactive role in participating in the benefits to the fullest extent. And when they have access to health insurance or other perks that make their lives more satisfactory, they will likely be able to manage their health better — reducing unnecessary absenteeism due to illness. 

Easier to Acquire and Retain Talented Employees

When you’re hiring new employees, clearly explaining benefits can give you a competitive edge in obtaining and retaining the top employees.

If you have a communication strategy to simplify benefits information, candidates will understand the value of your benefits package which can be even more attractive than a higher salary. 

More Efficient Use of Your Resources

The value you present to employees with benefits, especially health insurance plans, can be monetarily equal to a raise in salary for them. This can, in turn, cost you less due to group rates and lower payroll taxes. Employers can avoid the hidden cost of paying extra payroll taxes on higher salaries by instead offering benefits that provide similar value to employees. 

How Cornerstone Helps Simplify Employee Benefits

When it comes to communicating employee benefits, the biggest hurdles for employers may include:

  • Reaching a diverse audience of employees
  • Budget and time commitment required
  • Complexity of information 

Cornerstone Insurance Group offers employee benefits administration that analyzes and uses data to create a custom benefits package for your employees as well as concrete methods for simplifying benefits information — methods that make sense for your particular organization, employees and goals.

Our goal is to not only create a comprehensive employee benefits package and communication strategy but also use the latest tools and technology to improve on the benefits experience by implementing an enrollment solution that helps employees make better decisions about their benefits. 

At Cornerstone, we use applications like Alex by Jellyvision and Nayya to simplify the benefits experience for your employees. These applications combine everything into one place for the employees which can drive value perception of the plan and encourage employees to be better stewards of their healthcare costs. 

We offer the opportunity to hold on-site company meetings to explain benefits, walk through and optimize wellness plans, talk about financial wellness and more to make sure your employees can make fully informed decisions about their benefit options. It’s important to both the employee and employer to provide easy-to-understand information.  

If you’re struggling to understand how to simplify benefit information for your employees or you are looking for a solution for providing employee benefits, reach out to Cornerstone Insurance Group because we’re here to help.

Optimize Your Employee Wellness Program

A key part of any wellness program is to encourage healthy habits in the workplace and have happier, healthier, more motivated, and productive employees. However, many businesses invest in or launch employee wellness programs and struggle with participation. 

Are you having trouble getting employees to participate? At Cornerstone Insurance Group, we firmly believe in customizing health and wellness plans to best fit your work culture. Here are some great incentives from Cornerstone’s wellness experts to help get employees excited about participating in wellness programs. 

Employee Wellness Program Incentives

Whether employees are working remotely or commuting into the office again, employers should focus on encouraging healthy behaviors. Wellness program incentives can look many different ways and should be customized for your employees’ goals. Many companies offer premium discounts in exchange for participation. Some companies offer additional PTO days or make contributions to employee HSAs. 

Wellness programs should always be a benefit that companies offer for their employees, not to their employees, and they should never be a requirement. If you’re struggling to get participation in your wellness program, perhaps it’s time to try some of these proven incentives.  

Offer Giveaways

Giveaways are a great small incentive to incorporate into your employee wellness program. This can be anything from gift cards to business “swag,” or free healthy snacks at your workplace. Employees can earn giveaways by setting and reaching goals. Companies choose different levels of giveaways for individual employees or teams. Rewards can be more than just monetary. Giveaways can include outings, events, or unique experiences. 

Be inventive with your incentives. Ask your employees what motivates them to work towards their health goals. Their ideas for rewards are usually creative and more meaningful than what you may come up with. 

One regional company gave employees pedometers to “walk around the world” together. The concept was to track your steps and walk the distance from New York to Hong Kong There were ten intermediate destinations, and when you reached a new city, you learned about the culture through a virtual education system. Once the entire journey was completed, you received a gift card. If you only made it halfway, you received half the amount. Employees were not only able to get fit, but they were also able to learn about different cultures and cities.     

Provide Gym or Fitness Class Time

If you’re not ready to embark on monetary giveaways, one concept many companies have adopted is providing time or reimbursement for their employees to go to the gym, take fitness classes or simply take a walk during the workday. This benefit has been proven successful in many organizations as a way to motivate employees to get active and be more productive while at work.

Employers can also consider allowing employees to have a more flexible schedule to make their health a priority. Encourage your team to take an afternoon walk, do 10 minutes of yoga before a morning meeting, or hit the gym at lunch. You will find employees are more focused on work tasks if they take the time to take care of their bodies. 

Introduce Educational Programs

Sometimes what stops employees from making healthy decisions is their lack of knowledge on healthy living. Media, fad diets, and trendy programs have warped our sense of what is actually healthy. Consider including educational programs in your wellness program. 

Bring in the professionals to teach your team what it means to be healthy. Consider having a wellness counselor or nutritionist come to speak with your team to educate and get them excited about becoming healthier. This is a great time to set achievable and realistic goals. 

Encourage Achievable Goals

Yes, achievable goals can be an incentive because if your employees are overwhelmed by the idea of an overhaul of their health, they will simply check out or become discouraged. Mapping out smaller goals along the way and making it personal to their health journey is important for continued success and participation in your program. 

Achievable goals don’t have to be just set at a personal level. Many businesses set company-wide goals to work together as a team. Employees use personal fitness trackers like FitBits or Apple Watches to track participation to an end goal. 

Setting goals is crucial in being aware of the journey ahead, tracking progress, and celebrating victories. It will push your employees to be stronger and empower them to push themselves a bit outside of their comfort zone. 

Acquiring more participation in your employee wellness program is important. First, make sure employees know about and understand the wellness program; some may not be aware there is a program in place. Then, ask your employees what they want in a wellness program and what types of incentives they would like to see. Having a program that no one knows about and has incentives employees don’t care about is a sure way to failure. Make sure to get your employees’ opinions, after all, it is a program for them. 

Becoming healthier is a journey. It takes time and support. Assist your employees in discovering their potential by utilizing a wellness program and find what fits your company culture best. When you focus on gaining participation in your wellness program, you will be successful in building a stronger team.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to Cornerstone’s wellness team to help implement the right employee wellness program for you!

If you need additional support and information on how to get more participation in your wellness programs or if you don’t have an employee wellness program and would like to start one, contact Cornerstone Insurance Group today!

OSHA’s Walking-Working Surfaces Standard and Fall Prevention

At the end of May, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed updates to its stair rail system requirements related to walking-working surfaces and protective equipment.

As is often the case with new safety standards, many employers have asked for clarification. At Cornerstone Insurance Group, we want you to have peace of mind about your risk management strategies. Here is what you need to know about the latest in walking-working surfaces and general fall prevention standards.

What is New in the Walking-Working Surfaces Standard?

The biggest change in the Walking-Working Surfaces requirements is related to new handrails and stair rail systems with a width of less than 44 inches (found in Table D of this standard). The previous stair rail provision was unclear, stating:

“One stair rail system each open side”

But OSHA intended it to say:

“One stair rail system with handrail on each open side”

They hope that the new language clarifies any confusion in this particular safety standard. In addition, OSHA has eased restrictions on previously installed stair rail systems by allowing the top rail of those systems to act as a handrail if it’s as low as 30 inches.

What Do I Do if I’ve Abided by the Old Wording?

OSHA does recognize that many employers may have implemented stair rail safety standards that follow the previous language (i.e. stair width that’s less than 44 inches and open on both sides). 

However, there’s no need to worry. You do not have to modify your stair rail system if it was installed before the effective date of the new final rule as long as it was in compliance with OSHA standards at the time of installation.

OSHA now has two separate provisions for stairs with two open sides and a width of less than 44 inches. Flights of stairs that have two open sides, are less than 44 inches and installed before the effective date of a final rule would be required to have a stair rail system on each open side but do not need to have a handrail. 

Are There Other Revised Standards I Should Know About?

OSHA is also proposing provisions to Section 1910.29 called “Fall Protection Systems and Falling Object Protection-Criteria and Practices.” Many have expressed confusion over whether or not the top rail of a stair rail system can also serve as a handrail. 

The new proposed standard states that the top rail of stair rail systems installed prior to January 17, 2017 (the date of the final rule) can serve as a handrail if the top rail is 30 to 38 inches tall and meets OSHA’s other handrail requirements. Employers are not required to modify their stair rail systems if they complied with the previous ruling.

Cornerstone’s Risk Management team wants to ensure your workplace is as protected as possible from falls and other injuries. If you’re looking for a specialist to walk you through OSHA’s standards or want to create a risk management plan that works for you, contact Cornerstone today.

COVID-19 Carrier Updates – UnitedHealthcare

UnitedHealthcare

Eligibility Requirements – Reduced Hours/Layoffs

UnitedHealthcare is temporarily (through May 31, 2020) relaxing its requirement that employees be actively working to be eligible for coverage and will allow employers to cover reduced hour employees, as well as furloughed and laid off employees, as long as the employer continues to pay the monthly premium.  Please note that employers must offer this coverage on a uniform, non-discriminatory basis.

The rehire waiting period for re-hired employees who were terminated due to COVID-19 will be waived.

Special Open Enrollment Period

UnitedHealthcare is providing its fully-insured small and large employer employers with a Special COVID-19 Enrollment Opportunity to enroll employees who previously did not to enroll in coverage. The opportunity will be limited to those employees who previously did not elect coverage for themselves (spouses or children) or waived coverage.

  • The enrollment opportunity will extend from March 23, 2020, to April 13, 2020, with an effective date of April 1, 2020.
  • Employers are not required to adopt the Special COVID-19 Enrollment Opportunity. Because of this, no opt out action is required on their behalf. UnitedHealthcare realizes each situation is unique, and each customer must make their own decisions on the enrollment opportunity.
  • Dependents, such as spouses and children, can be added if they are enrolled in the same coverage or benefit option as the employee.
  • Standard waiting periods will be waived; however, existing eligibility and state guidelines will apply.
  • For small employers (2-50), a wage and tax statement will be needed to validate the employee’s eligibility.

 

Please note that if a group has more than one plan option, this Special Enrollment Opportunity does not allow current members to change plans.

UnitedHealthcare All Savers

Eligibility Requirements – Reduced Hours/Layoffs

United Healthcare All Savers is temporarily (through May 31, 2020) relaxing its requirement that employees be actively working to be eligible for coverage and will allow employers to cover reduced hour employees, as well as furloughed and laid off employees, as long as the employer continues to pay the monthly premium.  Please note that employers must offer this coverage on a uniform, non-discriminatory basis.

The rehire waiting period for re-hired employees who were terminated due to COVID-19 will be waived.

Special Open Enrollment Period

All Savers is providing its fully-insured small and large employer employers with a Special COVID-19 Enrollment Opportunity to enroll employees who previously did not to enroll in coverage. The opportunity will be limited to those employees who previously did not elect coverage for themselves (spouses or children) or waived coverage.

  • The enrollment opportunity will extend from March 23, 2020, to April 13, 2020, with an effective date of April 1, 2020.
  • Employers are not required to adopt the Special COVID-19 Enrollment Opportunity. Because of this, no opt out action is required on their behalf. UnitedHealthcare realizes each situation is unique, and each customer must make their own decisions on the enrollment opportunity.
  • Dependents, such as spouses and children, can be added if they are enrolled in the same coverage or benefit option as the employee.
  • Standard waiting periods will be waived; however, existing eligibility and state guidelines will apply.
  • For small employers (2-50), a wage and tax statement will be needed to validate the employee’s eligibility.

Please note that if a group has more than one plan option, this Special Enrollment Opportunity does not allow current members to change plans.

COVID-19 Carrier Updates – Cigna

Cigna

Eligibility Requirements – Reduced Hours/Layoffs

If an active, enrolled employee working 30 hours or more per week as of March 1 is furloughed or has hours reduced below normal full-time eligibility, Cigna will agree, at the request of the employer, to allow the employee to remain on the plan for the duration of the extended relief period as long as fee and premium payments are made.

These changes to eligibility would be available for all funding types – fully insured, partially self-funded and self-funded plans.

Clients must confirm that the employees who remain on the plan through the extended relief period were active and covered by the plan as of March 1, 2020.

Special Open Enrollment Period

At this time, there has not been an announcement by Cigna regarding a Special COVID-19 Open Enrollment opportunity.  We will continue to provide updates as they are received.

COVID-19 Carrier Updates – Blue Cross Blue Shield of IL

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois

Eligibility Requirements – Reduced Hours/Layoffs

Blue Cross of IL is temporarily (through April 30, 2020) relaxing its contractual eligibility requirements. From now through April 30, 2020, employers can maintain employees on their respective plans even though they may not meet the eligibility definition stated in their plan. This includes reduced work hours, furlough, leave of absence or layoff. This does not create a scenario whereby employees that previously waived coverage who now drop below minimum eligibility requirements can be added to the plan. This only pertains to employee’s enrollment in the plan as of March 20, 2020. Payments are still required on a timely basis. The employer does need to do anything related to these eligibility issues. No paperwork or email is needed. If a group wants to change their eligibility guidelines beyond April 30, 2020 then a new BPA would be needed for a May 1, 2020 or later effective date redefining the group’s eligibility.

The rehire waiting period for re-hired employees who were terminated due to COVID-19 will be waived for employees rehired by May 31, 2020.

Special Open Enrollment Period

Blue Cross Blue Shield of IL is offering groups an optional special enrollment period from March 30 – April 30, 2020 with an effective date of April 1, 2020. This would apply to eligible employees and their dependents who previously declined coverage and now want to enroll, or currently enrolled employees who wish to add an eligible spouse or dependent to their existing coverage.

Guidelines: Applicable enrollment changes must be received on or before Friday, May 2020. Effective date of coverage will be April 1, 2020. This enrollment event will be for medical/pharmacy and dental coverage only. Employers should notify their account representative if they plan to use this special enrollment option and use the standard eligibility process to add employees.

COVID-19 Carrier Updates – Anthem Blue Cross

Anthem Blue Cross

Eligibility Requirements – Reduced Hours/Layoffs

Anthem Blue Cross is temporarily (through May 31, 2020) relaxing its requirement that employees be actively working to be eligible for coverage and will allow employers to cover reduced hour employees, as well as furloughed and laid off employees, as long as the employer continues to pay the monthly premium.  Please note that coverage must be offered on a uniform, nondiscriminatory basis to all employees, and employee premium contributions must be the same or less prior to the reduction in hours/layoffs.

The rehire waiting period for re-hired employees who were terminated due to COVID-19 will be waived for employees rehired by May 31, 2020.

Special Open Enrollment Period

Anthem Blue Cross is providing its fully-insured small and large employer customers with a Special Enrollment Period to enroll employees who previously did not to enroll in coverage. The opportunity will be limited to those employees who previously did not elect coverage for themselves (spouses or children) or waived coverage.  The enrollment period will extend from March 23, 2020, to April 3, 2020, with an effective date of April 1, 2020.  Employees are not required to participate in the Special Open Enrollment Period.  Dependents, such as spouses and children, can be added if they are enrolled in the same coverage or benefit option as the employee.

Anthem Blue Cross – MCF MEWA PLANS (Missouri Chamber Federation)

Eligibility Requirements – Reduced Hours/Layoffs

Anthem MEWA Plans are temporarily (through May 31, 2020) relaxing requirements that employees be actively working to be eligible for coverage and will allow employers to cover reduced hour employees, as well as furloughed and laid off employees, as long as the employer continues to pay the monthly premium.  Please note that coverage must be offered on a uniform, nondiscriminatory basis to all employees, and employee premium contributions must be the same or less prior to the reduction in hours/layoffs.

The rehire waiting period for re-hired employees who were terminated due to COVID-19 will be waived for employees rehired by May 31, 2020.

Special Open Enrollment Period

Anthem MEWA Plans are providing its fully-insured small and large employer customers with a Special Enrollment Period to enroll employees who previously did not to enroll in coverage. The opportunity will be limited to those employees who previously did not elect coverage for themselves (spouses or children) or waived coverage.  The enrollment period will extend from March 23, 2020, to April 3, 2020, with an effective date of April 1, 2020.  Employees are not required to participate in the Special Open Enrollment Period.  Dependents, such as spouses and children, can be added if they are enrolled in the same coverage or benefit option as the employee.

COVID-19 Carrier Updates – Aetna

Aetna AFA (Groups with 2-50 Employees)

Eligibility Requirements – Reduced Hours/Layoffs

If an active, enrolled employee working 30 hours or more per week is furloughed or has hours reduced below normal full-time eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Aetna AFA will allow employers to allow the employee to remain on the plan for the duration of the extended relief period – through July 31, 2020.  This is allowed  as long as fee and premium payments are made, the employees are not terminated from the plan and the reduction in hours/la off is a temporary measure resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Please note that employers must offer this coverage on a uniform, non-discriminatory basis, without regard to health status-related factors.

The rehire waiting period for re-hired employees who were terminated due to COVID-19 will be waived.

Special Open Enrollment Period

At this time, there has not been an announcement by Aetna AFA regarding a Special COVID-19 Open Enrollment opportunity.  We will continue to provide updates as they are received.

Aetna – Fully Insured Plans and Large Groups

Eligibility Requirements – Reduced Hours/Layoffs and Special Open Enrollment Period

At this time, there has not been an announcement by Aetna Fully Insured Plans / Large Groups regarding relaxed eligibility requirements or a Special COVID-19 Open Enrollment opportunity.  We will continue to provide updates as they are received.

5 Employee Wellness Benefits You Should Offer

There’s been a brighter spotlight on employee benefits in the last few years, especially in terms of employee wellness benefits

In order to better retain and recruit employees — as well as stay competitive in your industry — consider revising your employee wellness benefits. 

What Employee Wellness Benefits You Should Consider

The pandemic has surfaced a need for more wellness benefits than ever. If you’re considering revising your employee benefits offering, take a look at the following trends. 

A Focus on Mental Health

Employee assistance programs can include more coverage for telehealth counseling, phone calls with counselors, and more. Removing the barriers between employees and their access to mental health providers should be a standard part of employee benefits. 

In addition to this, more workplaces are offering educational resources for employees on mental health to raise awareness for it in the office. 

Telehealth Coverage and Offerings

Even when things return to normal (or our new definition of it), there are many people who have grown to prefer the remote option for appointments. 

Whether it’s mental health resources or a family care practitioner, many physicians have sorted out how to best meet their patients’ needs for non-emergency situations. Make sure your employees’ appointments are still covered, whether in-person or virtual and that they’re informed about what’s available to them. 

Flexible Schedules and Locations

In addition to having remote access to healthcare providers, many employees have found to be more productive working from home than being in the office. If this is an option for your company, consider creating a more flexible work environment permanently. 

Whether this means certain days that are WFH, employees have the option to WFH when they want to, or some kind of combination approach, allowing employees to work from where they feel most comfortable and accomplished could give you the competitive edge. 

Emphasis on Holistic Well-being

Traditional employee wellness benefits may cover medical appointments and procedures, but there’s more to health than just access to treatment. Having a more holistic approach may involve a focus on work-life balance, encourage exercise (for example, covering gym or fitness studio memberships), and others.

Expanded Financial Wellness Resources

Financial-related concerns are the number-one source of anxiety for people. This is now the time, if you don’t already, to provide your employees with sufficient financial planning resources. Consider matching 401K contributions, helping pay student loans, or holding workshops to better educate employees on what’s available to them.

Employees are more likely to be engaged with their work and prepared to handle any hurdles that come their way if these resources are in place. 

For more insights on employee wellness and benefits, be sure to follow along with Cornerstone’s blog. Are you ready to restructure your employee benefits offerings? Contact Cornerstone Insurance Group today.

How to Cope With Stress in Uncertain Times

COVID-19’s impact on all of our lives has been wide-reaching and challenging. Beyond the virus’s physical effects on the body, the pandemic has caused extreme stress. Whether it’s the anxiety of losing a job, not being able to see friends, losing loved ones or simply grieving the loss of normal times, everyone handles these difficulties in different ways.

While public health measures to get the pandemic under control continue to take place, there are things you can do to ensure your mental wellness doesn’t suffer.

The Impact of Excess Stress

It’s no secret that stress can cause a number of issues, including:

Shift in Feelings

Those who are experiencing high levels of stress may experience fear, sadness, frustration and anger more frequently.

Lack of Energy and Appetite

Changes in appetite are not uncommon, as is the lack of desire to do things one once enjoyed. 

Trouble Concentrating

Stress can consume the mind, causing an individual to lack focus in their day-to-day life.

Difficulty Sleeping

Good rest is one of the best ways to restore your brain and body after stressful days, but those who have consistent stress may find it difficult to get to sleep and sleep well.

Increased Use of Substances

One of the greatest risks of enhanced stress levels is the increased likelihood of someone turning to tobacco, alcohol or drugs to cope.

Other Physical Responses

Headaches, body aches, gastrointestinal issues and skin irritations are all common physical manifestations of stress.

Healthy Methods for Coping with Stress

There are several actions you can take to manage current stress and better handle future anxiety and frustrations.

Take A Break

Often a coping mechanism for stress is to fill your time even more, but one of the best things you can do is to rest. Put down your phone and know your limit with the news. Disconnect from social media and your TV regularly. Make sure you’re building in time to your day to enjoy things you like.

Maintain a Healthy Diet and Exercise Regimen

It can be easy to turn to junk food and a sedentary lifestyle when life is overwhelming. But if you can make an effort to eat well-balanced meals, exercise regularly — whether it’s a 5K, a yoga class or a walk around the block — and get plenty of sleep, your body will thank you. 

Connect with People

One of the many byproducts of stress is that it can cause some people to retreat inward. While it can be difficult to connect with others in this age of social distancing, take time to regularly call a friend or go on a distanced walk with a neighbor. Even starting meetings early to talk with coworkers can boost your spirits.

Talk to a Professional

If the above methods are not adequate, or your stress is interfering with your ability to live a fruitful life, please reach out to your healthcare provider or visit Psychology Today to find a therapist near you. 

How Employers Can Help Stressed-Out Employees

Employers can, and should, proactively address the stress experienced by their teams. Some of the ways you can do this are by:

  • Recognizing the challenging time we’re living in.
  • Offering mental health resources and benefits.
  • Reiterating the importance of taking breaks or PTO.
  • Encouraging employees to ask for help. 

Employees will feel more valued if their companies acknowledge the challenges that exist and the stress everyone is feeling.

For more wellness resources, be sure to follow along with Cornerstone’s blog. If you’re looking to expand your company’s wellness and benefits, contact Cornerstone today.

HR Update: Coronavirus Information

As the world health community continues to closely monitor the Coronavirus, also referred to as COVID-19 companies are wondering how this will impact their employees and business. At this time, no one truly knows how severe this outbreak will be, however, given the uncertainty of Coronavirus’s path, we recommend taking proactive steps in your workplace.  This is not only to prevent the spread of illness but also to establish policies that define how you will handle long-term illnesses.

Protect Yourself and Those Around You

First and foremost, ask your employees to assist in taking steps to reduce the transmission of communicable diseases in the workplace. Employees should be reminded of the following:

  • Stay home when they are sick.
  • Wash their hands frequently with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Cover their mouth with tissues whenever they sneeze or cough, and immediately discard used tissues in the trash. If a tissue is not available, use the “vampire sneeze” by sneezing or coughing into their elbow versus their hands.
  • Avoid people who are sick.
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces, including their phone, keyboards or remote.

Within the workplace, employers should take measures to routinely clean common surfaces like door handles, coffee pots or copy machines or possibly provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers throughout the workplace and in common areas.  You may even elect to offer cleaning sprays or wipes for employees to use to disinfect objects that often get overlooked like their telephone, monitors and keyboards.

Alternate Work Options

This is also a good time to evaluate travel and determine if it is really necessary. Although it may not always be possible, encourage employees to use telephone or video conferencing versus traveling to a remote worksite – not only could this save the company money, but it could also prevent key employees from becoming sick and missing time.

Furthermore, review which positions, if any, can work remotely. You may not have a policy that routinely allows work-from-home, but this could be something that your organization may want to consider, especially if someone does show symptoms of illness. Allowing employees to work from home may prevent the spread of illness through the department. Establishing a remote work program can be done by informing employees telecommuting will be considered on a case-by-case basis for positions with primary job duties that can be performed remotely.

Even with all these measures in place, it’s still very possible that employees will get sick. Take this opportunity to review your sick time or PTO policy and examine the option of granting additional time, or allowing employees to borrow time from next year, in the event of a serious health threat. Reminding your employees of the company’s sick or PTO policy is recommended because it is important employees understand these policies are designed for them to stay home for short-term illnesses.

These policies are in place not only so the employee can stay home to get better, but also so they don’t spread their germs throughout the office. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that employees remain at home until they are fever-free (100 degrees F or 37.8 degrees C) for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.

Also remind employees they should not report to work if they are experiencing symptoms such as fever (100 degrees F or 37.8 degrees C), cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills or fatigue. If you choose to send employees home who exhibit these symptoms, we would recommend advising your staff in advance that employees who report to work ill will be sent home in accordance with these health guidelines.

FMLA Guidelines and the WARN Act

Cornerstone also recommends familiarizing yourself with appropriate state or federal laws and your company’s policies concerning long term illnesses. If your organization has 50 or more employees FMLA guidelines prevail, but if your company falls under that threshold or certain employees do not yet qualify for FMLA, we recommend establishing a leave policy for employees who will be out longer than just a few days. Your policy should define whether the leave is paid or unpaid, how long the company will hold the employee’s job, and how long the employee will be allowed to remain active on benefits.

In the event COVID-19 escalates so greatly that it impacts business operations or global commerce, you may be faced with temporary shutdowns, layoffs or even permanent downsizing. Before making any decisions regarding layoffs, closures or terminations, familiarize yourself with laws that may protect employees in these instances like the WARN Act, which requires a minimum of 60 days’ notice in advance of plant closure or mass layoff. In addition to the federal WARN Act, there may be similar state or local laws defining notice requirements that must be adhered to.

We recommend establishing these preventative measures so that your organization has a procedure in place in advance of anyone getting ill.

For additional information, contact Bethany Holliday.

Topics: HR