Category: Health

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.

COBRA Subsidy 2021: What Should I Know?

It was recently announced that there would be a new 100-percent COBRA premium subsidy under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This coverage — which extends from April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021 — has been the source of a lot of confusion.

If you’re an employer, here are some things you need to know about the COBRA subsidy.

Who is Covered By the COBRA Premium Subsidy?

The temporary 100 percent COBRA premium subsidies cover eligible current and former employees. These Assistance Eligible Individuals (AEIs) are COBRA-qualified beneficiaries who may be eligible because they experienced:

  • An involuntary job loss
  • A reduction in hours that made them eligible for COBRA

This includes both the employee and their dependents. These AEIs should also meet one or more of the following requirements:

  • Be enrolled in COBRA as of April 1, 2021, or
  • Became eligible for COBRA between April 1 and September 30, 2021, or
  • Would have been eligible for COBRA on April 1, 2021, but did not choose to be covered or dropped coverage altogether.

Some examples of group health plans (GHPs) that are not covered under this subsidy include:

  • Healthcare FSAs and HSAs
  • Church plans that aren’t subject to ERISA
  • Retiree-only plans

Nearly all qualified beneficiaries aged 65+ will not be eligible for the COBRA subsidy since they are eligible for Medicare, but more on that later. 

A Note On Involuntary Termination

One of the biggest questions since the COBRA subsidy was announced was what exactly is involuntary termination? For instance, if a teacher is employed under a one-year contract and that contract has finished, is it a voluntary or involuntary termination? 

While we wish there was a black and white answer, this is entirely situational (for instance, was the employee given the opportunity to renew their contract and they turned it down?). 

We recommend staying in close contact with your legal counsel to ensure you’re making the right decisions for your past and current employees. 

What is the Amount and Duration of the COBRA Subsidy?

Coverage for the COBRA subsidy is at 100 percent, is free and is not taxable to the AEI. The period is a maximum of six months, from April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021. 

The COBRA subsidy will end for the qualified beneficiary if any of the following situations occur: 

  • The individual is eligible for Medicare (first day of the month on or after)
  • The individual is eligible for other GHP coverage (first day of the month on or after)

There are penalties if an AEI fails to notify the appropriate parties about their eligibility for Medicare or other GHP coverage. 

How Do Individuals Validate Their COBRA Subsidy Status?

Employers are required to provide a notice to AEIs and their qualified beneficiaries of the COBRA premium subsidy and the ways in which they may qualify. Remember that the only qualifying event for being an AEI is to have either been involuntarily terminated or had a reduction of hours. 

If this is the case, your COBRA vendor will send eligible employees a second-chance election where they confirm they are eligible. At that point, employees will fill out a form and elect their free coverage.

If an employee or former employee is an AEI who prepaid for coverage during the six-month COBRA subsidy period, they will be refunded for those premiums. 

If you’re looking for more information, check out the Department of Labor’s COBRA Premium Assistance FAQ page. 

Need help navigating the COBRA subsidy or have other health plan questions? Cornerstone’s employee benefits team is here to help. Contact us 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.

Flu Shots: What You Need To Know

Considering the recent events in 2020, it should be more apparent that the seasonal flu is taken seriously. With the COVID-19 vaccine still in preproduction stages, numerous sources are citing it won’t be available until late in 2021. While we are taking more precautions than ever before due to COVID-19, we still need to keep the approaching flu season top of mind.

Protecting yourself against the flu is more important than ever. This fall there will be two respiratory viruses circulating making it possible to contract a double infection. The influenza vaccine can minimize at least one of the potential respiratory infections. If you were to get sick with influenza your body’s immune system is weakened making it more vulnerable to a possible coronavirus infection. Besides protecting yourself, you help prevent the spread of the virus to your family and those in the community who may not be able to get the vaccine.

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the reports of people testing positive for COVID-19, without ever having any symptoms. The same thing is possible with the influenza virus, you can spread it without ever having symptoms of being sick. This is the reason healthcare professionals are required to get the flu vaccine every year, protecting themselves and the people around them.

Transmission

The main mode of transmission is by particles in the air and on contaminated surfaces, making washing your hands and using hand sanitizer important to stopping the spread of the flu virus. An infected person can spread the flu virus to an average of 1.3 other people. This number may be higher in families living together and those who are working in close proximity to each other. The virus can be transmitted one day prior to the infected person experiencing any symptoms and can continue to be contagious 5-7 days after the onset of symptoms. Individuals with compromised immune systems may remain contagious for several days longer than that.

Prevention

The most important step you can take to prevent getting and spreading the flu is getting vaccinated every year. Washing your hands and using hand sanitizer often is are also important ways to reduce the transmission of the virus. Take care to help younger children wash and sanitize their hands often as well. The CDC estimates that over 20 million people each year will contract the flu, however, it is estimated that the flu shot will save around 40,000 lives each year. Even if you are young and healthy, the flu vaccine can prevent you from spending 2 long sick weeks in bed and can save the lives of those around you.

Flu Facts

  • The flu infects an estimated 20-40 million people a year in the US alone.
  • Of those infected, over 61,000 deaths occurred in the 2017-2018 flu season.
  • There were a reported 600,000+ flue related hospitalizations in the 2017-2018 flu season.
  • Each year the CDC watches trends and tracks the different strains or mutations of the virus to formulate the most effective vaccine for the current flu season.
  • The best time to get the flu shot is early on in the season and as it takes up to two weeks for your body to build up an immunity to the virus.
  • Once you have the flu, antibiotics will be useless to help with symptoms. Instead, use of antivirals should be taken under doctor supervision as early as possible for best results.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we need to take care of ourselves and those around us. Be mindful of those who are more vulnerable, or those who can’t get vaccinated due to underlying health issues. Getting vaccinated helps everyone in the long run. For more information on the flu shot, don’t forget to check out our webinar on flu shots.