Review, confirm, update: Your office spring cleaning should include employee benefits files

From ChamberChoice and Smart Business Pittsburgh

As spring approaches, many of us get the itch for a little “spring cleaning.” It’s less hectic with end of the year issues and open enrollment out of the way. It’s also the perfect time for employers to pull out benefits records for review, confirmation and updating, says Chuck Whitford, consultant at JRG Advisors.

Smart Business spoke with Whitford about the tasks that employee benefits professionals should consider when spring cleaning.

Why should employers review and confirm items in their employee benefits this spring?

Many employers use benefits confirmation statements once employees have completed their open enrollment elections. Although these statements are generally utilized for electronic enrollments, some employers also provide them for paper elections. During this time, an employer should compare the confirmation statements to what is on record for an employee’s benefits choices and dependents enrolled. Furthermore, an employer should ensure that payroll records reflect any premium changes because of the employee’s elections.

This is especially important when an employee’s premium insurance elections are done on a pre-tax basis through an employer’s Section 125 plan. Section 125 rules provide that an election is irrevocable for the 12-month plan year unless there is
an IRS permissible reason for a mid-year election change. There are some events not in the 125 rules that could allow an individual to make a mid-year election change, such as a mistake by the employer or employee, or needing to change elections
to pass nondiscrimination tests. To make a change due to a mistake, there must be clear and convincing evidence that the mistake has been made. For instance, individuals might accidentally sign up for family coverage when they are single with no children.

What could need to be updated with life insurance and disability benefits?

Two popular benefits that employers provide their employees are group term life insurance and disability (both short and long term). Life insurance premiums are usually based on the age of the employee, while disability premiums are based on an employee’s wages.

An employer should take advantage of spring cleaning to ensure that its records (payroll and invoices) reflect the age changes
of employees as well as any pay increases that may have occurred at the beginning of the year. Also, the employer should double check these benefits for issues such as the removal of terminated employees, employee classification change, which affects the amount of a benefit, and proper taxation.

Depending on the employer’s policies, an employee may be able to have the premiums for disability insurance paid on a post-tax basis, instead of pre-tax, which enables an employee to avoid taxation upon receipt of a disability benefit.

How should beneficiary forms be reviewed and updated, if necessary?

Beneficiary designations are frequently used in retirement and life insurance plans to determine entitlement to benefits payable upon death of the participant. In the case of certain benefits subject to spousal protections, federal law imposes requirements on both the form and timing of beneficiary designations. Other types of beneficiary designations are a matter of plan design. A beneficiary designation that doesn’t accurately reflect an employee’s intent can result in disputes following the death of a participant.

There are a multitude of life situations that could be costly to an employer if a proper beneficiary designation is not on file — think divorce, simultaneous death of the participant and beneficiary, or lost forms as examples. An employer may be required to defend a lawsuit, correct improper payments or find the proper beneficiary.

Does the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act make other changes necessary?

The IRS updated the income tax withholding tables for 2018 to reflect changes made by the new tax law. The updated tables, which were to be used no later than Feb. 15, 2018, reflect the new rates for employers. As part of its spring cleaning, an employer may want to have its employees complete new W-4s. Employers should visit the IRS website for the release of
2018 W-4s.

PA Senator, Geisinger Representative Brief Local Chambers on Energy Policy and Efficiency

From Chambers for Innovation & Clean Energy

To some, Pennsylvania may be best known for its great historical significance — as home of the Liberty Bell and the place where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the U.S. Constitution drawn up.

But Pennsylvania has an equally strong history of innovation: being home to the nation’s first baseball stadium, first commercial broadcast station, and the world’s first high-speed, multi-lane highway to name just a few examples.

So perhaps not surprisingly a growing number of Pennsylvania leaders are now taking steps to seize the growing economic opportunities in energy innovation.

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PA State Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Allegheny/Washington)

“This is a win-win for everyone,” PA Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Allegheny/Washington) said in a recent briefing call with local Chamber of Commerce leaders from across the Keystone State.

Sen. Reschenthaler is a co-sponsor Senate Bill 234, which would allow municipalities to establish voluntary programs to provide financing for energy upgrades without any upfront costs.  Known as Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE), property owners re-pay the financing through a property assessment. C-PACE is offered in enabling legislation is active in 33 states plus Washington, D.C.  

SB 234 was overwhelmingly passed on the Senate floor 42-8 and is now being considered by the House Commerce Committee. Sen. Reschenthaler asked that Chamber leaders contact their legislators to voice their support.

(Note: The Columbia Montour Chamber has not taken a formal position on this proposed legislation)

“It’s about job creation in high paying fields such as electrical contractors, excavating, general construction, engineering, and so on,” Sen. Reschenthaler said. “It will lower energy costs for local businesses, increasing competitiveness.” Importantly, he added, the program uses funds from private institutions, not taxpayer dollars.

Asked why he became interested in CPACE, Reschenthaler said because he believes in energy independence and knows that renewables help contribute to that.

Geisinger Savings Through Efficiency

Co-hosted by the Columbia Montour Chamber, the briefing call was also an opportunity for local Chamber leaders to hear from Geisinger about how it is saving with energy efficiency.

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Al Neuner, VP of facility operations at Geisinger

“Energy is one of these topics that can benefit everyone,” said Al Neuner, VP of Facility Operations at Geisinger. As a result of its investments in energy efficiency, Geisinger has saved $15 million in energy costs, Neuner said.

“And businesses do not have to be as large as Geisinger to benefit from energy efficiency—he noted, adding that it is very scalable and no-risk (Watch a video about Geisinger’s energy efficiency program).

“One of the things we can do as chambers is to play the role of conveyor and bring our business members, the community, the utility, and workforce development organizations together to exchange information so that clean energy, and clean energy workforce training is more relatable to all of our businesses and community members,” said Fred Gaffney, president of the Columbia Montour Chamber.

“There are people and resources there to help you pay for this,” he said, referring to Act 129, a law passed in 2008 to encourage energy efficiency and provides rebates for new appliances, lighting and windows and energy audits.

A 2017 Public Utility Commission study found that Act 129 has delivered $6.4 billion in benefits for all electric consumers to date.

Growing Solar Jobs in PA

The speakers also briefed Local Chamber leaders on the recently passed Act 40, the Solar Jobs bill, aiming to limit state payments to out of state projects and grow jobs here in PA.

Ron Celentano, President of Pennsylvania’s Solar Energy Industry Association told the audience that up to 70 percent of the solar energy purchased in the state was coming from outside the state, said.

The new Solar Jobs bill corrected this by requiring that the solar come from within Pennsylvania.

“We see this as a great opportunity to have more solar jobs created within the state,” Celentano said. “And we’ve been seeing growth of solar jobs already since the passage.”

The call was co-hosted by the Columbia Montour Chamber and Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy.

Data Analytics: Health Data Should be Used For More Than Just Keeping Score

From ChamberChoice and Smart Business Pittsburgh

Benefits consultants use data as a part of the consulting services provided to employers. The consulting strategy includes looking at health claims throughout the benefits year, creating reports and reviewing the reports with the benefits administration team.

“But this approach of simply ‘keeping score’ of data doesn’t accomplish the goals of every employer, which is to drive down the costs of a health insurance program,” says Michael Galardini, director of sales at JRG Advisors. “The next generation benefits consultant uses predictive modeling and data analytics to lower the largest cost of a health insurance program: emerging claims.”

Smart Business spoke with Galardini about how employers can get better results with emerging claims to lower the costs of a health insurance program.

How can predictive modeling and data analytics software identify risks andimprove a health insurance program?
Predictive modeling and data analytics software is a population health management service that can identify the high-risk members of a health insurance program.

Once identified, these members are ranked by severity and gaps in care. A web-based reporting system will provide access to the actionable information to target these high-cost and high-risk members. The system reveals the members who are noncompliant with preventive care — and members who require disease management, prescription drug maintenance or health coaching intervention.

Managing this data properly can ensure that these high-risk members don’t fall through the cracks.

Once properly identified, the next step in the risk management strategy is to evaluate the actual cost and forecast the cost in the next 12 months for each member. These include things like the number of emergency room and inpatient stays for each member in the next year. By identifying and evaluating these emerging claims, consultants can now get ahead of the costs that are driving the increases in premiums.

What’s the benefit for employers?
Identifying and managing these claims helps stabilize or lower the premium costs. The old process of reviewing claims data after the claim already occurs doesn’t allow the benefits consultant to provide a strategy to mitigate the costs to the employer.

Using predictive modeling and data analytics to identify high-risk members gives time to develop a population health management strategy to better manage the emerging claims.

What is population health management?
A significant component of reducing the identified health risk is using care managers to work with high-cost and high-risk members. Benefits consultants partner with care managers to review the data provided by the predictive modeling and data analytics software to motivate these members to manage their health care. Care managers can work directly and confidentially with the members to ensure the proper medical care is being provided for their specific medical conditions. These members will be guided through actions, such as timely preventive care, prescription drug adherence and coordination of care.

How do employees benefit?
The goal of the care managers is to teach the high-cost and high-risk members to self-manage their health care, comply with care instructions and pursue ways to improve their health status. Care managers can also use cost transparency tools to guide the member to find the best price for medical services. This not only keeps the claims costs lower for the health insurance plan, but also can help lower out-of-pocket costs the member has in the form of a deductible or co-insurance.

Incorporating predictive modeling and data analytics with a population health management strategy can produce the result that every employer expects from a benefits consultant — disrupting the current distribution model to move the needle of the emerging claims to lower the costs of a health insurance program.

Penn College to Offer Training to Those Seeking Employment in Natural Gas and Energy Industries

From Penn College

Workforce Development & Continuing Education (WDCE) at Pennsylvania College of Technology is offering training to people seeking employment in the natural gas and energy industry. In addition to learning industry employability skills and gaining three industry-recognized certifications, students will be connected to employers who have immediate hiring needs.

Scholarships are available to those who qualify on a first-come, first-served basis. The training is delivered by Penn College as a result of its award-winning ShaleNET partnership.

The 40-hour training sessions are scheduled in Williamsport and Wellsboro:

March 12-15, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., WDCE on Penn College’s main campus in Williamsport
March 26-30, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wellsboro Area School District building in Wellsboro
April 9-13, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., WDCE on Penn College’s main campus in Williamsport

To be considered for training, registrants must possess a valid driver’s license and have obtained the minimum of a high school diploma/GED. Potential students will need to produce results of recent drug testing, driving record and criminal background checks.

For more information, email ShaleTEC or call 570-327-4775.

Application Deadline For Next Round of Atlantic Sunrise Community Grant Program is March 1

The Atlantic Sunrise Community Grant program has granted more than $2 million to 268 organizations through Pennsylvania since its inception in 2015. Williams is now accepting grant applications for its latest round of grants, which will be the seventh round, and application deadline for this spring cycle is next Thursday, March 1. Two cycles of Atlantic Sunrise grant awards are announced each year – spring and fall. 

Please visit the Atlantic Sunrise Community Grant program page to learn more about the application process, eligibility guidelines, and how organizations are utilizing grant funds to improve their local communities. The application can also be accessed on the same website. 

Several Chamber members have benefited from receiving grants during previous grant rounds since the program’s inception in 2015, including the Columbia County Traveling Library, the Foundation of the Columbia Montour ChamberHemlock TownshipPennsylvania College of Technology Foundation, Buckhorn Volunteer Fire Co.Camp VictoryBenton Rodeo AssociationBloomsburg Theatre Ensemble and the Columbia-Montour Area Vocational Technical School