Contact Us

Phone: (713) 681-2500

Fax: (713) 684-1600

Email: Send Email

facebook  twitter

Community Outreach
ribbon
STORM SEASON
Important Note:

June through November our agency may become prohibited from binding coverage should a “Tropical Disturbance” enter the Gulf of Mexico or Caribbean Sea.

In these cases we may be unable to bind new coverage quoted in open proposals until the storm leaves our area and our binding authority has been restored.

Please arrange your coverage protection early to avoid this type of delay. While we regret any inconvenience, the carriers impose these restrictions on all agencies.

Archive for the ‘Employee Benefits’ Category

Avoid Buyers Remorse When Shopping for Benefits

HR executives need to pay close attention to 3 essential components before selecting any health-plan.

* Choosing the right broker
* Strong and reliable plan offerings
* Gaining employee input

Indeed, a key component of a Human Resource (HR) manager’s job is involved in benefits management. Key responsibilities include investigation, examination, suggestion as well as integration of health-plan benefits. To avoid health benefit headaches, take a look at these elements in detail.

Choosing The Right Broker:

One of the vital elements in ensuring the smooth adoption of a health benefit plan is getting hold of the right broker. While some organizations are tempted to opt out of a broker’s services, having one can make a huge difference. (Just because you can buy plans directly online doesn’t mean that’s the best way to get the right plan for your organization’s needs.) Brokers can prove to be quite cost-effective for organizations of any size. In fact, they rarely add extra expense to the organization. (It is important to note that the selected benefits provider is responsible for paying compensations to the broker.

A broker has the knowledge to construct a health-benefit plan suited for your organization. The broker can help you navigate the laws as well as other variables that may affect the employee benefits and the health care market. Such brokers are well- experienced in looking after innumerable health plan options.

Most importantly, your broker can offer a better understanding of a health plan’s true value and total cost of ownership. This goes way beyond deductibles and expenses.

Strong And Reliable Plan Offerings:

It is also important to make sure that employees can choose the plan that suits them best. For this, one should have a proper understanding of employee finances, lifestyle, and demographics. This understanding can be made better with efficient and trustworthy interaction.

Frequent and early communication with employees is a must. One can also provide tools to help the employees make their decisions of selecting the right health plan. This includes helping employees understand costs, benefits, and plan requirements. (One of the primary reasons buyer’s remorse sets in for companies is a lack of employee understanding regarding the plans benefits.)

Ongoing Employee Input:

This is another way to avert buyer’s remorse. Maintaining interaction with employees in preparation of enrollment can minimize or prevent troubles. This will ensure employees make the best benefits selections at the time of enrollment. It’s also best to repeat messages to strengthen their value and reduce knowledge gaps.

Opting for an open-door policy to improve interaction with employees is a good way to keep a tab on ongoing employee responses. For example, you can establish an email-address where employees can send comments. You can also create secure online forms for collecting anonymous feedback. Alternatively, a company can leverage employee focus groups. These involve teams from various departments of the organization. They work to learn about employees’ perspectives.

In Conclusion:

By taking the above-mentioned elements into consideration, you can ensure successful plan implementation.

And if you have more questions on selecting, implementing, or managing a health benefit plan, reach out to us. We’ll put you in touch with the information and resources you need to ensure success.

Employee Benefits Technology Draws Better Talent

It’s extremely important for SMBs and startups to choose and employ benefit technologies for providing employees with the right benefit management infrastructure. It’s also helpful for attracting and keeping quality talent.

What should the startups or business owners looking to establish their own digital employee benefits system do?

Experts are saying that the last five years have seen HR technologies develop significantly. We have been flooded with technological innovations; the most prominent ones among them offer a plethora of self-service features. This is good news for business owners. Today, instead of hiring a Human Resource professional for a few hours a day or week, business owners can use a system capable of bringing workers onboard and managing and uploading all their vital HR related information.

Should a startup look to outsource the services related to employee benefits, or is keeping it in-house a better decision?

There’s always the option of recruiting an in-house CPA or certified public accountant. He or she can do the job of linking employee benefits with workers records and can also manage things like payroll record, tax obligations etc. However, having a full-time CPA can be cost-prohibitive for startups. As the owner of your company, you can also decide to handle all these elements yourself, but that could be extremely stressful; the situation would be even more unpleasant if you have employees in multiple states.

A great way of handling all these issues is opting for third-party solutions. You should hire the services of an HR technology provider that specializes in medium and small businesses. These service providers would help you with core HR administration; you will also gain access to advanced benefit management software.

Using the solutions offered by these third parties offers more than cost savings. You may also find access to a greater assortment of potential benefits you can offer your team.

What kind of benefits are millennial workers (or younger) demanding?

Individuals, who are in their early to late 20s, primarily look for easy commuting. So, for employees who take public transportation or share rides, the majority of the third party HR technology providers offer software for tracking that history and building benefits around commuting.

Health is another major concern. Keeping that in mind, companies have started to set up wellness programs and offer benefits such as Tai chi and yoga classes, massage, etc. Some companies are allowing employees to have interest bearing accounts for holidays, health etc. Another common benefit offered by businesses is reimbursements for learning and education programs.

What kinds of employee benefit systems are required for managing these modern-day benefits?

One of the highlights of these HR systems is their all-encompassing nature. This allows business owners to make various benefits accessible through these systems. For example, you can arrange a volunteer program or wellness program for your employees and make them accessible through the HR systems provided by third parties. Your aim should be helping your employees in staying fit and healthy. That would eventually benefit your business.

Younger individuals are more interested in becoming smart consumers of various medical benefits. They know how to get the best medical care for the lowest possible price.

How do today’s workers use modern technology for tapping into employee benefits systems?

Ideally, you should work with a provider that offers some sort of mobile application. In fact, this is one of the biggest advantages of outsourcing HR services for your local business.

How important is it to discuss benefits when hiring, recruiting, and maintaining workers?

It’s extremely important. Even a few years ago businesses could get away without worrying about benefits. However, as it becomes more competitive to attract talent, having a benefits system in place can make a huge difference in recruiting. As such it is important to understand the trends in benefits, what potential target employees are looking for, as well as the cost implications for having a benefits system in place.

This List of Must-have Benefits May Surprise You

With the ability pool as aggressive as it is, employers understand that a durable benefits bundle is necessary to hire and also keep the most effective and brightest employees.

Much more employees expect employers to stay on top of present fads and also proactively offer a collection of rewards for their changing requirements, according to MetLife’s latest advantage trends study.

Specifically, these complying with 10 benefits top the requirements staff members desire employers to give, inning accordance with MetLife.

10. Short-term disability insurance

43% of employees state this is a must-have benefit

9. Lasting disability insurance

43% of workers claim this is a must-have benefit

8. Vison treatment insurance coverage

51% of employees state this is an essential advantage

7. Life insurance

57% of staff members state this is a must-have advantage

6. Residence insurance policy

62% of employees claim this is a must-have benefit

5. Dental insurance coverage

68% of employees state this is an essential benefit

4. Vehicle insurance

68% of workers state this is an essential advantage

3. 401( k) (or various other retirement).

72% of employees state this is an essential advantage.

2. Prescription drug protection.

72% of staff members say this is a must-have benefit.

1. Medical (wellness) insurance coverage.

88% of employees say this is an essential benefit.

Giving Rewards to Increase Motivation

Recognizing an employee’s talent and rewarding them is a simple way to increase motivation. American Express recently conducted a survey on 300 SME (small-medium enterprises). They found that 89% of workers have received some form of incentive from their company. While most employees have received some form of incentive, about 33% percent of employee participants feel that it makes them work harder. This is interesting to note considering that 37% of employers who don’t currently use rewards believe that starting a reward system would increase their employees level of production.

 

While rewarding employees can serve many functions, about 34% of employers feel that adding a incentive program will result in higher retention rates. This seems to makes sense, since 46% of employees feel “really valued” after receiving an incentive. Since 44% percent of employees feel rewards are a way of employers noticing their dedication, it may be worth the investment of companies to think about adding such a system

 

Companies choose various way in which to reward their team members. 38% of companies choose to only provide an incentive to their high performing employees. While 23% provide rewards to all their employees. It seems that a lot of companies have a harder time investing money into their talent unless it is high profitable for them to do so. But, its interesting to consider that 21% of employers choose to reward their long term employees.

 

Brendan Walsh, Executive Vice President, recently said “Small to medium-sized businesses have put strategies in place to grow product and service in innovations”. Companies are looking for ways to increase their level of production through various avenues. It’s difficult to judge a reward system in “hard” numbers. Feedback from employees can be a valuable resource to calculate the cost benefit of a reward system.

 

One often overlooked aspect of incentives is how they are delivered. Looking an employee straight in the eye and saying “thank you” is critical. Simply adding money to a pay check without some form of recognition defeats the purpose.

 

Of course, incentives are only one part of attracting and keeping employees. We are always searching for new information on employee benefits. If you have any questions about your current employee benefit program, please feel free to contact us. We can answer any questions and help with the expansion of any employee benefit package.

Paid Family Leave a Standard Benefit?

Both left and right have suggested concepts for paid family leave. This is an outcome of the fact that most Americans support some form of federally mandated family-leave law.

It may be surprising for business owners and managers to hear that the U.S. is the only developed country that doesn’t offer guaranteed time off for parents and other caregivers.

But there is a shift taking place. New York passed a generous state-backed family program in 2016. It allows for 12 weeks of paid time off for new parents. It also allows for time off for anyone who needs to care for a family member with a serious medical condition.

Minnesota, Rhode Island, & California all have established family-leave policies.

Big companies are joining the fray. From Cambell’s to American Express they are introducing or expanding their paid-leave programs. These include offering more time off and allowing for more ways to qualify for coverage.

While the trend is increasing, universal mandatory family leave is a way’s off. Congress is not unified on what should be included in a program or whether one should exist at all…

Yet younger workers are particularly interested in family leave options. Employers are taking notice. Employers are realizing this is a significant way to compete and offer unique benefits.

One challenge facing businesses is that benefit plans are often built around older concepts of family care. These assume that women will take on most of the child care duties early on. Yet fathers have become much more involved.

One concern is whether the company’s culture is fully supportive of the paid leave options they offer. Some paid leave laws don’t include job protection. Employees feel pressured to return to work earlier than they otherwise would prefer because their career depends on it.

One progressive program is offered by Earnst& Young which has more than 230,000 employees world-wide. It is expanding parental leave to cover 16 weeks for new mothers & fathers. This includes time for birth, of course. But it also includes surrogacy, adoption, or legal guardianship as well. Their program is robust and considered to be a trendsetter. The point? To be the most attractive potential employer.

Small companies are not as disadvantaged as you might imagine. Often times a small business can be more flexible with their workforce vs. larger companies. Small companies can also be more responsive.

Small Business Options and Challenges

Small businesses tend to be lean operations. Having a team member leave is challenging. Offering paid time off for 16 weeks at a time may feel impossible.

Yet the key is in finding flexible options that can be appealing to workers while being affordable for the employer. This could include flex time as well as working from home.

Why is it important to be flexible? Because the median cost of replacing a worker is roughly 21% of their annual salary. With that in mind, finding flexible leave options becomes more affordable.

If the employer works with employees to plan, workloads can often be divided. Likewise projects can be scheduled around an individual’s absence. By carefully evaluating options, a small business can often find a path that can absorb the impact of leave.

If you are thinking about a flexible leave program, the best first action is to talk with your benefits adviser who can help you explore your options.

Encouraging Healthy Eating in the Workplace Pays Dividends!

Have you thought about a workplace wellness program? They can be extremely helpful in creating a happy & healthy workforce. They can also result in decreasing sick days while creating significant gains in productivity.

One important aspect of a good wellness program is helping employees learn how to make healthy and balanced eating decisions. Helping team members make sensible food choices can have a big influence on the effectiveness of a wellness program.

One important thing is to help your employees understand that any such program is voluntary. In fact, it is critical to listen to employees closely to help determine if a healthy eating program would be a good fit for your office. Surveys and conversations can help uncover team concerns. They can also help to uncover “evangelists” who’ll keep co-workers excited about the program.

Some general guidelines include:

  • Know your employees – find out what has and hasn’t worked for them in the past.
  • Work with your team to develop a plan the entire team can be excited about.
  • Determine how long the plan will go and what support will be included.
  • Pay employees a little extra to help organize the program and keep it going.

As for topics, there are many you can leverage to build an excellent program…

  • Pros & cons of going vegan
  • How to eat healthy when on business trips
  • Understanding the basics of healthy eating
  • Weight administration
  • Stretching healthy dinners into healthy lunches the next day
  • Understanding the impact of things like salt, sugar, fats, and cholesterol
  • How stress management impacts eating habits

The list is nearly endless!

You should also ask your insurance professional if integrating a healthy eating / wellness program could have a positive effect on your group health insurance rates…

And for more thoughts on creating a program, here’s a great resource out of Canada.

Paid Time Off & Parental Leave Make Employers More Competitive

Paid Time Off & Parental Leave Make Employers More Competitive

To remain competitive in a tightening employment market, companies are increasing the amount of PTO (paid time off) given to workers. This is especially true for parental leave. Another major adjustment becoming popular is a change how paid leave is structured. We’ll start with that first.

Companies are realizing they have to innovate to be competitive employers. They are finding that paid leave is more attractive when compared to other pay and benefit options.

One program that’s become popular is PTO banks. These incorporate holiday, sick days, and earned time off into one united account. A survey of companies performed by WorldatWork in 2002 showed that 28% of respondents were leveraging PTO banks. As of 2015, the number had shot up to 43%.

More traditional PTO approaches separate vacation, sick, and paid holidays into separate accounting. They are still more widespread but they are in decline.

One advantage for the PTO bank approach is that plans are easier to administrate. Another advantage is that they help reduce absenteeism. And 69% of companies with PTO banks report that they are critical in attracting new employees.

One negative aspect of PTO banks is that they have to be allocated as a liability on the company’s financial reports.

It’s best to consider a PTO bank in situations where the company has a culture that encourages employees to feel like they have more agency and control over their circumstances.

But the big benefit that has everyone talking lately is Paid Parental Leave. More than 18% of companies surveyed have indicated they are offering more family friendly leave options that surpass the mandates in the FMLA. (Family Medical Leave Act.)

For companies that offer advanced paid leave options, 16% report that they offer 6 weeks. Another 16% report they offer 12 weeks.

Here’s one example. As of 2017, American Express is leading the way by offering a full 20 weeks of paid parental leave for mothers and fathers. They are also offering 6 to 8 weeks of extra paid time off for women who give birth and require medical leave.

Employers can set requirements so that employees must meet requirements before they can utilize this benefit. The most generous programs require tenure of 12 months or more before employees can use the benefit.

So should you implement a robust Parental Leave Program?

  • Can your business afford it?
  • Will employees support it?
  • Will all managers from the top down fully embrace the policy?

And as with PTO Banks, the real question is how will this help your company beat out your competitors for talent. Will offering extended parental leave give you an edge?

And even if you can’t afford to offer PTO Banks or 4 months of paid parental leave, look for creative alternatives! Think about ways you can help new parents with their work / life balance. For example, more flexible hours or telecommuting options.

And if you want to review all of your benefit options, be sure to check with us for ideas. We’ll help you find creative ways to show your employees that you care.

Best of 2016: Health Tops Retirement in Financial Resolutions

Health Tops Retirement in Financial Resolutions

Life expectancy is increasing, Social Security benefits are shrinking, and a recent study shows that 54 percent of Americans have too little saved to ensure an adequate income stream after they collect their last paycheck. Given these facts, you’d expect more of your workers’ New Year’s resolutions to focus on retirement—but that’s not the case.

According to the New Year’s Resolutions Survey from Allianz Life Insurance Company, 44 percent of respondents plan to put their focus on health and wellness this year. Only 29 percent were pledging to improve their financial security in 2016, followed by 13 percent who were going to make changes to their career or employment and 9 percent who were determined to enhance their education.

If you’re not currently offering benefits to help your employees meet this highly popular goal, you may want to do so as soon as possible. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Strategic Benefits Survey, 69 percent of companies offer some type of wellness program, resource or service to their workers. Among them, 40 percent increased their investment in employee wellness initiatives in 2015.

Their employees responded favorably; 52 percent reported that employee participation in wellness initiatives had increased over the prior year, in part due to the incentives or rewards they offered including:

  • Reduced healthcare premiums (45 percent)
  • Gift cards (37 percent)
  • Company gift items (25 percent)
  • Recognition (20 percent)
  • Time off from work (7 percent)
  • Bonus or cash (7 percent)
  • Contributions to HSA/HRA (3 percent)

Assisting your employees with their health-related resolutions (such as to exercise more, lose weight or lower their blood pressure) can help you attract better job candidates and retain your best workers. Twenty-four percent of employee participants in the SHRM survey said workplace wellness programs were a “very important” contributor to job satisfaction.

But that’s not all; wellness initiatives are also good for your bottom line. Seventy-seven percent of employers said the initiatives had been “somewhat” or “very effective” in decreasing their company’s cost of healthcare. Eighty-two percent said the initiatives were “very effective” or “somewhat” effective in improving the physical health of their company’s workers—an important factor in productivity.

If you need a few suggestions to integrate into your own workplace wellness initiative, consider the following—some of which won’t cost you a dime:

  • Walking meetings
  • Onsite fitness classes
  • Onsite preventative screenings
  • Onsite fitness and weight loss tracking
  • Departmental and interdepartmental weight loss competitions
  • Walking or “Steps per Day” challenges
  • Reimbursement for gym membership
  • Stress management assistance
  • Goal-setting assistance
  • Support groups
  • Healthy vending machine alternatives
  • Mandatory vacation
  • Group participation in community running and cycling events

If you’re ready to get started with a workplace wellness program, we can help. Contact us for further suggestions, currently available benefits and more.

Mitigate Your Exposure to ACA Penalties

Mitigate Your Exposure to ACA Penalties

While the current political landscape suggests changes may be looming for the Affordable Care Act, it is important to ensure you are aware of the law in its current state and what penalty risks you may face.

The most complicated component of the ACA for most companies is the Shared Responsibility requirement. It requires people to secure a minimum level of health care protection and they also require companies with more than 50 full-time employees to offer their workers budget friendly health insurance options.

Companies who presently fail to offer coverage considered acceptable under the ACA can face fines of $2,000 per full-time worker.

Companies with high labor costs and minimal profit margins are typically the most exposed to potential ACA penalties. This includes businesses involved in logistics, hospitality, and retail spaces. (Due to rule changes, many formerly part-time employees were reclassified as full-time in 2014.)

Because these industries tend to offer lower wages, an employer’s group health plan may be considered “unaffordable” which would then trigger ACA penalties for the employer should the workers receive additional subsidies to buy protection via the public health care exchange.

If you meet the trigger size and are required to offer minimum, affordable coverage… but at least one worker purchases through a public exchange instead… you can be penalized.

Likewise, if you offer minimum required coverage to all workers but it isn’t economical, making it so the worker can’t afford the cost of protection… you can be penalized if only one staff member purchases through a public exchange.

The key to managing the impact of ACA penalties is to change your plan designs and premium choices to maximize worker participation in the plans.

Naturally understanding the in’s & outs of these complexities is reason enough to rely on the help of someone with health plan benefits experience to ensure you’re crafting the right plan for the right outcome.

And as the law evolves, having someone familiar with the changing landscape will help you maximize the benefits you offer to your employees while helping you mitigate any exposer you might have to fees & penalties.

If you are concerned about changes to the law, your risk exposure, or simply making certain you are offering the right plan for your team, be sure to reach out to your benefits specialist right away.

Compliance Priorities for Next Year’s Benefits Plan

Compliance Priorities for Next Year’s Benefits Plan

Open enrollment for individual and family healthcare plans for 2017 is rapidly approaching. It begins on November 1, and many employers choose a similar timeline when allowing workers to sign up for, or make changes to, their participation in the company’s benefits offerings. As such, now is a vital time to review your benefits package and ensure your plans are in compliance with all government regulations before you roll them out to your workers during the open enrollment period.

Retirement Plans

In April, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), issued a final rule to address conflicts of interest in retirement advice. This fiduciary standard applies to anyone who provides investment advice to sponsors and participants in workplace retirement plans and individual retirement accounts including 401(k)s and IRAs, and is expected to impact compliance issues and costs for employers who offer employer-sponsored retirement plans as part of their benefits package.

In essence, the definition of ‘fiduciary’ has been expanded by the new rule, and many vendors who service employer-sponsored retirement plans who were not formerly considered fiduciaries now will be. This includes broker-dealers and mutual-fund representatives. Experts recommend that employers carefully evaluate all of their retirement plan advisors and services and cut ties with those who do not want to comply with the new fiduciary standard.

Healthcare Plans

The Department of Health and Human Services continues to update regulations that can have direct effects on the healthcare benefit employers offer. Before you roll out your non-grandfathered 2017 healthcare insurance selections to your workforce, you’ll want to makes sure each one covers all essential health benefits including:

  • Ambulatory patient services
  • Emergency services
  • Hospitalization
  • Maternity and newborn care
  • Behavioral health treatment for mental health and substance use disorders
  • Prescription drugs
  • Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices
  • Laboratory services
  • Preventative and wellness services (including chronic disease management)
  • Pediatric services (including dental and vision care)

The medical options offered must also meet established minimum value, minimum essential coverage and affordability standards. For example, in order to avoid making employer shared responsibility payments to the IRS, your employer-sponsored plan must cover at least 60 percent of the total allowed cost of benefits that are expected to be incurred under the plan.

Finally, you must make sure that the healthcare plans you’re offering—and the insurers who back them—meet the final Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, section 1557) which prohibit any discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability when offering or providing health coverage. This includes denying or limiting coverage for health services provided to transgender individuals, categorically excluding all coverage for health services related to gender transition, or denying or limiting coverage for specific health services related to gender transition.

Wellness Plans

If your employee wellness program includes a health risk assessment, biometric screening, asks for a spouse’s information, or includes a financial incentive for participants, you’ll want to ensure it meets new Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rules.

While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) generally prohibit employers from asking for information about their workers’ health conditions or the health conditions of their family members, they do not prevent employers from asking health-related questions or conducting certain medical examinations to determine risk factors as part of a voluntary wellness program.

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) as amended by the ACA, wellness programs are only considered voluntary if they offer incentives that are 30 percent or less than the cost of an individual’s health insurance premium. The maximum incentive for spouse participants is also limited to 30 percent. No additional incentives are allowed in exchange for specific genetic information (such as family history or genetic test results) of an employee, employee’s spouse, or employee’s children. Smoking cessation programs can offer an incentive up to 50 percent of the cost of individual healthcare coverage.

The Bottom Line

Benefits plan compliance has always been complicated and has only become more so in recent years. If you’re uncertain that your 2017 offerings meet government standards and regulations, contact your benefits professional for a review and assistance.