Welcome New York Life – Elizabeth Kelchner, Agent

More than 400 businesses and organizations belong to the Chamber to receive benefits and support efforts to strengthen their businesses and our region. Increased membership allows us to offer additional programs and benefits, have a stronger voice in advocacy and be involved in more activities and initiatives in our communities. The Chamber welcomes its newest member, New York Life – Elizabeth Kelchner, Agent, to help us fulfill our mission.

A native of Berwick, Elizabeth Kelchner is an independent agent of the New York Life Insurance Company. Although she operates out of her office in Scranton, she lives in Columbia County, and has been a New York Life agent since 2016. She offers a variety of products through New York Life that can help meet a number of insurance and financial needs, including but not limited to retirement, college funding, long-term care, lifetime income strategies, and much more. She can be reached at 570-854-1869, or visit her website or Facebook page

Chamber’s Energy Partner Improves Service Offerings

The Chamber’s energy consulting partner, OnDemand Energy, helps businesses and individuals save money on electric and natural gas costs by managing the complexities of energy supply, delivery, and consumption. In January, OnDemand was acquired by Kinect Energy, Inc., a World Fuel Services company. Representatives expect that this acquisition will further benefit chamber members.

OnDemand/Kinect Energy will continue to serve all segments of the chamber membership from residential through large commercial and industrial customers. With Kinect Energy, our ChamberChoice Energy Program will have increased capabilities to provide marketing and back office support to all chambers, allowing education to smaller members and residents on the energy program value.  Finally, the ChamberChoice Energy Program large commercial offerings, particularly on multi-state or international chamber customers, will be significantly enhanced through a much broader and comprehensive set of energy products and services.

“OnDemand has been the exclusive energy consultant for our ChamberChoice Energy Program and has done an incredible job delivering market leading energy products and services over the last 10 years.  Their combination with Kinect Energy will strengthen our existing energy program and now enable our Chamber members to realize a much broader and comprehensive suite of energy products and services while continuing to allow them to focus on their core business,” said Sam Weber, president of ChamberChoice.

Members of the Columbia Montour Chamber have collectively saved millions of dollars on their energy costs through the program since it began. To find out if you can save on your electricity and natural gas costs, contact OnDemand Energy at 888-566-3362 and tell them you’re a member of the Chamber for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. Or, Chamber staff would be happy to facilitate and introduce you to an OnDemand rep, so, if you would prefer that route, call the Chamber office at 570-784-2522. 

Final Disability Claims Regulations Effective April 1

From ChamberChoice

In Jan. 2017, it was reported that the Department of Labor (DOL) published final regulations governing the ERISA claims and appeals process that will apply to all claims for disability benefits. The effective date of the rule has been delayed from Jan. 1, 2018 to April 1, 2018. These regulations mirror amendments to the claims procedures for group health plans added under the Affordable Care Act. The amendments require plans to satisfy additional procedural and notice requirements for disability claims. The Department determined the need to revise regulations to provide greater transparency and accountability, since disability cases dominate the ERISA litigation field.

Overview of Final Rules

The new regulations apply to all ERISA-governed plans that provide disability benefits, if the plan conditions its availability to the claimant upon showing of disability. This not only includes short-term and long-term disability plans, but it can also include other plans that condition the availability of benefits upon the plan’s determination that a disability exists, such as 401(k) plans and pension plans. If the determination of a disability is made by a person or entity other than the plan, then the disability claim is not subject to the final rule.

The new regulations include the following improvements for the processing of claims and appeals for disability benefits:

Avoiding Conflicts of Interest. Plans must ensure that disability claims and appeals must be decided independently and impartially, meaning claim decision makers should not be incentivized to deny claims.

Disclosure Requirements. Benefit denial notices must contain a complete discussion on a decision, including:

o Why the plan agreed/disagreed with views of health care and vocational professionals, or with disability determinations made by the Social Security Administration.

o Statement that the claimant is entitled to access relevant documents and their claim file.

o The plan’s internal rules, guidelines, protocols or standards used in deciding the claim. If none exist, the letter must state that fact.

o Benefit denial letters have to be provided in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner.

Right to Review and Respond to New Information Before Final Decision. Claimants must be given notice and a fair opportunity to respond if the appeal denial is based on new or additional rationales or evidence that were not included when the benefit was denied at the claims stage.

Exhaustion of Claims and Appeals Processes. Claimants are not barred from suing due to failure to exhaust the administrative remedies under the plan when the plan itself failed to comply with its claims procedures (except for
certain minor failures).

Coverage Rescissions are Adverse Benefit Determinations. Retroactive rescissions of coverage are considered benefit denials that trigger the plan’s appeals procedures.

What Employers Need to Consider
• The final regulations apply to claims for disability benefits filed on or after April 1, 2018.

• Know which plans (besides short or long term disability) have disability triggers which require compliance with the final rules.

• Review whether the terms of the plan should be amended to rely on the disability determination by another party (such as the Social Security Administration) to avoid compliance with the final rule.

• Ensure that your Plan Document, Summary Plan Description and any communication materials are in compliance with the rule.

• Reach out to any vendors administering disability benefits as to their denial letter, including right to access a claim file and a fair opportunity to respond to any new or additional evidence relating to the claim.

The enhanced claims procedures for disability benefits affect plan administrators, participants, beneficiaries and third party administrators of disability benefit plans. The details of the final regulations need to be studied and new procedures implemented before the applicability date of April 1, 2018. Thus, employers should begin to review their disability benefit programs to ensure compliance with these final rules.

Governor Wolf Launches PA Business One-Stop Shop to Support Pennsylvania Entrepreneurship

business.pa.gov is a new website intended to be a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs in PA.

From the Governor’s Office

On Feb. 7, Governor Tom Wolf launched the new PA Business One-Stop Shop to serve as a sole source to guide entrepreneurs and small businesses through all stages of development, from planning and startup to operation and expansion.

“I know first-hand how difficult it can be as a business owner to navigate through the complex web of processes, requirements, and resources that are needed to successfully run a business,” Governor Wolf said. “That’s why I tasked my administration to come together across agencies to simplify the process so entrepreneurs can get back to doing what they do best – creating, innovating, and succeeding in Pennsylvania.”

The PA Business One-Stop Shop includes resources for planning a business, registration and permitting, hiring employees, receiving funding and technical assistance, and more. It is intended to take the guesswork out of many business operations and procedures, and serves as an equalizer for any who want to do business here.

Before the One-Stop Shop, a small business owner or entrepreneur would be required to seek out information from several different agencies and organizations throughout the planning, startup, and operation processes. The PA Business One-Stop Shop consolidates all of this information into one website, and any questions can be directed to a single phone number that provides one-on-one customer service by phone as well.

“One of the biggest barriers to entry that an entrepreneur can face is the difficulty of knowing what steps to take to start a business, and then knowing what further steps to take to grow that business,” Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Secretary Dennis Davin said. “With the PA Business One-Stop Shop, what used to require endless searching for websites and countless phone calls – or spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on services to assist in that process – now can be found on one website, with one phone number. It’s great news for those looking to start or grow a business in Pennsylvania.”

The process for creating the PA Business One-Stop Shop was truly an interagency state government collaboration between the departments of State, Labor and Industry, Revenue, and the Office of Administration. To identify the needs of the business community, Wolf Administration officials held planning sessions and user testing with a wide variety of internal government and external stakeholders and partners to ensure different perspectives and input was received from communities and businesses across Pennsylvania.

In addition to this new one-stop shop website, the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Center (SBDC) network is available for personalized, one-on-one services for entrepreneurs. Locally, the Wilkes University SBDC and Bucknell University SBDC service Columbia and Montour counties, respectfully, and are available to meet with individuals looking into starting a small business. These meetings can take place at the SBDC locations, at the Chamber office, or at an alternate location agreed upon by each party. 

Business Continuity Strategies Discussed at Learn at Lunch Featuring Thrivent Financial [Video]

Attendees had an opportunity to learn about ways they can protect their business from going out of business in the event of an unexpected event that keeps them from running their business on a daily basis at a Learn at Lunch on Feb. 13. The lunch talk was sponsored by PPL Electric Utilities and held at the Hampton Inn Bloomsburg

Financial advisors Richard Keller and Kerry Maurer from Thrivent Financial in Bloomsburg spoke about steps that business owners can take to ensure their business continues in the event of death, extended sickness or other leave, retirement, or other unexpected event that makes them unable to fulfill their regular day-to-day duties in running the business. Things like buy/sell agreements, special life insurance policies designed for the beneficiary to be able to buy the business, key personnel insurance, and various other subject and concepts related to business succession planning and protection were discussed. 

The entire presentation was broadcast on Facebook Live, and all Learn at Lunch events this year are scheduled will be streamed on Facebook Live as well, so that other interested members and others will be able to hear the presentation should they be interested but unable to attend in person. See below for the entire presentation, which lasts just over 50 minutes.