What Do Your Eyes Say About You? Visit your eye doctor every year

When is the last time you saw your eye doctor for a vision exam? It’s recommended that you have a vision exam once per year. Even if you have naturally good vision or have had corrective laser vision surgery, an annual eye exam is still important.

Annual eye exams not only help to detect vision problems, they can also show signs of other health conditions. Your eyes are the only place in your body that provides a clear view of your blood vessels, arteries and cranial nerve. Your eye doctor can discover health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol all through a simple vision exam.

Aging can mean eye issues

As people age, they become more susceptible to cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration. Did you know that cataracts are the most common cause of blindness? With glaucoma, vision loss occurs gradually over time and symptoms often do not show until the disease has progressed. Early detection of these conditions is key to keeping your eyes healthy and your vision sharp.

Adults aren’t the only people that need vision exams. It’s important to have your children’s eyes examined as well. Studies show that 60 percent of students identified as problem learners have undetected vision troubles. It’s recommended that children have their first eye exam at just 6 months of age, followed by another at around age two or three and then again before starting kindergarten.

Vision insurance benefits cover annual eye exams

The vision insurance programs offered through BCN Services covers an annual eye exam for employees and their covered dependents for just a $10 co-pay. In addition to the insurance coverage, everyone enrolled in the VSP Vision Care plan is eligible for exclusive member extras.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about these exclusive member extras, please feel free to contact your Partnership Manager at 800-891-9911 or contact us here.

 

Amanda Cline (200x184)

Amanda Cline, Benefits Program Manager

BCN has solutions for your Affordable Care Act challenges

Do you know about the latest solution for employees and employers struggling with the increasing deductibles of ACA-compliant plans?

BCN and Aflac have partnered on a new offering called Aflac Group to help with these Affordable Care Act concerns.  This plan is only being offered through BCN Services to our client partners.

The benefits of these plans are:

  • Guaranteed-issue for employees.
  • Fixed rates for employees and employers.
  • Can be used in conjunction with major medical plans to help offset the deductible!

These plans address two of the biggest challenges facing employees and employers under the ACA: increase in deductibles and variable pricing on quotes.

As employers move to plans with deductibles or increase their deductibles, employees often cannot afford the upfront costs of medical care if they are hit with a serious health incident.  One solution would be to add the Aflac Group Hospital Indemnity plan which allows for $1,000 upfront payment and $200 per day for a hospital admission.  This will bridge the gap between a deductible plan and provide coverage until the deductible is met.  This coverage can be either employee paid or employer paid.

The second challenge employers face is the variable or individual pricing employers are receiving on major medical quotes.  The Aflac Group products are guaranteed issue and guaranteed pricing.  You will know exactly what the costs are for your employees.

There are presently three different Aflac Group options offered:

  • Aflac Group Hospital Indemnity
  • Aflac Group Critical Illness
  • Aflac Group Accident Advantage

To learn more about any or all of these offerings and how they can be offered in conjunction with your major medical plans, please contact BCN at 800-891-9911, contact us here or email us at hr@www.bcnservices.com

BCN 25-year logo

Fielding top-ranked questions about employee 401(k) plans

Believe it or not, we are now halfway through 2014.  I know some of you started 2014 with the resolution to start contributing to your 401k plan or maybe you’re a business owner who wants to offer employees a way to save.  Offering a 401k retirement plan with BCN is an easy and safe option to help assist you and your employees on the path to a secure retirement.

Here are the top questions we regularly receive from owners and employees with regard to a 401k plan:

How much money can I put into my 401(k) account?

The maximum pre-tax contribution dollar amount is set by law and adjusted annually for inflation. The 2014 pre-tax contribution limit is $17,500. If you are age 50 or older you may also make an additional catch-up contribution of $5,500 per year. In addition, there are special non-discrimination rules that apply to the plan. If you earn more than $115,000 a year, or own more than 5 percent of the company, for example, contribution caps may apply for you.

Which is better: Investing pre-tax in a 401(k) plan or after-tax outside of the plan?

The difference between the two types of investments is when you are taxed. Pre-tax contributions and earnings are taxed only when you withdraw it. Since the money that would normally be paid in taxes goes directly into the 401(k) plan, pre-tax contributions can compound your interest and allow the account to grow quickly.

However, if you need to withdraw money prior to age 59½ you may incur a 10 percent withdrawal penalty in addition to owing current income taxes. After-tax contributions are taxed before they are invested. You are taxed on the growth and earnings in your account as you save.

I would like to transfer an old 401(k) into my new plan. Can this be done?

Yes, this can be done and is referred to as a trustee-to-trustee transfer, or more commonly, a rollover. You need to request a rollover form from Slavic401k.com and a distribution form from your former employer. There are no penalties with a trustee-to-trustee transfer.

Why are there so many Vanguard Funds in the new plan?

Vanguard is well known for their low-cost funds. Morningstar did a study titled “Fees Matter.” They found that expenses are a better predictor of future returns than past performance. As an investor, there are three elements that you can control in the 401(k) plan: the amount of risk you take (type of investment), the amount you contribute and save, and the fees charged on the funds you select.

The passively managed S&P 500 Index has outperformed 80 percent of actively managed funds over a 20-year period primarily because of the low fees charged. For example, the SSgA S&P 500 Index fund in the typical Slavic401k.com plan costs only 0.09 percent to own. The Trustee of the plan elected to include many low-cost funds as options for your investments.

Can I withdraw money fwhile I am still working?

Most plans offer loans allowing you to borrow money from your 401(k) account, but you have to pay yourself back with interest. If you fail to pay back the loan, it is treated as a withdrawal and the outstanding loan balance will be subject to current income taxes as well as a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty.

If your plan doesn’t offer loans, you may be able to qualify for a severe financial hardship withdrawal if no other resources are available to you. According to the IRS a hardship withdrawal includes the following:

  • Down payment of primary residence
  • College tuition for you or your dependents
  • Unreimbursed medical expenses
  • Prevent eviction or foreclosure from your home

What if I choose to leave my job?

Your distribution options are the same whether you voluntarily leave or are terminated. If your account balance is more than $5,000, you can leave your money in the plan. If you want to take your money with you, your vested account balance can be rolled into another 401(k) plan with your employer or directly transferred into an IRA to avoid early withdrawal penalties.

If you would like more information regarding the 401k plan, please contact us here.

 

BCN Services logo

Does Your Company Have an Affordable Care Act Strategy in Place?

As you may know, the employer mandate to provide health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been delayed until 2015 for large companies (100 or more full-time equivalent employees) and until 2016 for midsize companies (50 to 99 employees).

It is still important to develop a health care strategy now to prepare for the future.  Even if you currently have fewer than 50 full-time employees, formulate a strategy because your company could grow.

How you schedule hours this year will determine if an employee is considered full time next year. It’s a good idea to limit the hours of workers the business wants to keep part-time. Without a policy, employees are more likely to cross the 30-hour threshold.

For purposes of calculating full-time status, you’ll also need to determine what time frame your company will use for the following periods:

  • Look-back measurement period – No longer than 12 months and no shorter than three consecutive months to determine if an employee has full-time status and is eligible for health care coverage.
  • Administrative period – Up to 90 days for employer to calculate and notify employees of full-time status, enroll/disenroll employees and carry out similar administrative tasks.
  • Stability period – Once employees are notified of their full-time status, they will be considered full-time for a stability period that can be no less than six and no more than 12 months (and not longer than the measurement period, except in this first year), regardless of hours worked during this time. At the end of the stability period, the employer may again measure the employee’s status

As your HR team, BCN Services wants to help your company determine what approach to dealing with the ACA will work best for you. Contact us.

Amanda Cline (200x184)

Amanda Cline, HR Generalist

The Affordable Care Act and You: March 31st, and possible extensions

The Affordable Care Act signup period officially ended March 31, 2014.  There has been much discussion regarding the extension of this date and a lot of confusion as well.  Today, we take a look at the extension process, who is eligible and how a person receives an extension.

Who is eligible for an extension?

Anyone who started to enroll before the deadline, but didn’t finish the process will automatically qualify for the extension.

What about paper applications?

Paper applications will be accepted through April 7th 2014.  So if you did not start the process on Healthcare.gov, complete and send in the paper application as soon as possible.

What if I am an “unresolved case” after applying on the Healthcare.gov website?

There is no time limit.  If you are already in the “unresolved cases” queue, once your situation is resolved you will be enrolled, there is no end date for this to happen…yet.

What is a “special enrollment period” and how do I or my employees qualify?

Extensions through a “special enrollment period” are being granted for hardship reasons including: natural disasters, domestic abuse/violence, website malfunctions, insurance company errors, and mistakes by insurance counselors.To be considered for a special enrollment period, contact the Federal call center at 1-855-889-4325 or the appropriate state marketplace and explain your situation.  Special Extensions are granted on the honor system.  If your extension is granted, you or your employee(s) have another 60 days to enroll.

As with anything related to the Affordable Care Act, the information provided here is accurate as of March 31, 2014 and subject to change if the extension process or dates is modified after the March 31, 2014 date.

Please contact BCN Services if you have additional questions or would like to learn how we can eliminate the headaches and hassles of dealing with the ever-changing health care landscape.

BCN 25-year logo

Business owners face taxes for employer-sponsored group health plans

With the passage of Health Care Reform through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,  many Americans wondered how the  federal government would fund the high cost of providing government subsidized health insurance.  That question was quickly answered, ant the answer is taxes.  Business owners have begun to feel the heavy burden of multiple taxes being levied on their employer-sponsored group health plans and several new taxes took effect on January 1 of this year.  Following is a list of the taxes, what groups they apply to, and what they will be used for:

Health Insurance Industry Fee:  This is the largest tax which will be used to fund the cost of the Health Marketplace insurance costs.  For 2014 the expected cost could range between 2-2.5 percent of total premium of the group health plan.  In 2015 and beyond, this tax could increase to between 3-4 percent.  This tax applies to all fully insured plans, both small group and large group.  The fee does not apply to self-funded group health plans.

Transitional Reinsurance Program: Used for the re-insurance policy applied to each Marketplace plan, this tax will cost  $5.25 per member (not per subscriber, but for each person on the employer’s health contract).  This fee began on January 1, 2014 and applies to all fully insured-group health plans, both small group and large, and all self-funded plans.  This tax may be reduced in following years; final guidance has not been given.

Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Fee:  Started in 2012, this fee is used to fund a research program for which findings on clinical effectiveness are used to assist patients and providers make educated medical decisions.  The fee is $1 per covered member for the first plan year ending on or after Oct. 1, 2012, and $2 per member per year after the first year.  Medical inflation may be applied in consecutive plan years.  The fee is scheduled to continue through 2019. It applies to all fully insured and self-funded plans.

Risk Adjustment Admin Fee: Will be used to fund the administration of subsidizing plans that have less-than-average health status by assessing plans with above-average health status.  It is applied to small group employer plans only.

Many insurance carriers have adjusted their underwriting process to include these taxes, and have added them to the total monthly premium of employer-sponsored group health plans.  Other carriers, such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan, are adding the taxes as a separate line item on the monthly invoice.

BCN Services will monitor any changes or further guidance to the tax assessments on employer-sponsored plans and will communicate any relevant information.  As always, if you have any questions, please contact your Partnership Manager.

 

FrankLewandowski_6684

 

Frank Lewandowski, Partnership Manager

Looking ahead in 2014 to health law compliance, options for business and benefit planning

As the glow of the New Year’s ball fades and we enter 2014 in a very real sense, we all turn our thoughts to what lies ahead for employee benefits: Enrollment completion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act individual mandate during the first quarter of the year and implementation of PPACA for business, beginning now.

While the Obama administration altered the law and deferred the business mandate last summer, most businesses that could deferred implementation of the PPACA until their renewal THIS year, whether mid-year or end-of-year decision.

Either way, it will be here before we know it.  With the myriad technical fixes and bureaucratic twists and turns, BCN has continued to implement and prepare for compliance, including development of employee management reports to determine eligibility and restructuring our dental offering to include PPACA compliant pediatric dental.

Equally, if not more importantly, we continue to assess options for small to medium sized business.  There are several key cost containment options to consider in order to comply with the law, while not completely upsetting the balance that you created over years of careful employee benefit planning.

Certainly the concept of Total Compensation is of great importance when you offer substantial benefits to your staff.

When maintaining a part time workforce is not possible, there is a movement afoot to offer a mini-med or bare-bones type plan parallel to PPACA compliant plans for employees that prefer to opt out and keep costs down.  While these sorts of plans are not for everyone, the PPACA allows them in a complementary setting, subject to the rules.

BCN has put several, new guaranteed issue gap offerings in place designed to complement the new health plans, or, in some cases, offer alternatives to more expensive plans.   These new complementary plans are issued by Aflac Group … yes The Duck.  The difference is:  online enrollment, no underwriting, guaranteed issue and rates! Easy.

We look forward to giving you the choices you need to run your businesses successfully!

 

AndyHans_6698

 

Andrew (Andy) C. Hans, CEO

Individual Insurance and the Affordable Care Act: Part 2

We are back with Part 2 of BCN’s ongoing series about the Individual Health Insurance Market, also called IHIM.  The IHIM is in a state of constant flux and following is an update and some solutions regarding the individual market.

  1. BCN can help your organization or employees navigate this constantly changing landscape.  We have staff that is certified as Individual Market Experts.  We can assist any current client or employee with this process.
  2. Healthcare.gov, the national health care exchange website, appears to be up and working, although we are getting varying reports regarding ease of use, connectivity and being able to complete the process.  Some people are having no problems, while others are still frustrated with the technology.
  3. The deadline for signing up to receive coverage effective Jan. 1, 2014 has been pushed back from Dec. 15, 2013 to Dec. 23, 2013.
  4. Consumers and insurers are being told that any consumer that has paid by Dec. 31 2013 is guaranteed coverage starting Jan. 1, 2014.

There are still strong concerns surrounding the program.  They range from difficulty accessing the program, security issues, network issues (thinking your doctor is in the network, but they are not), and coverage issues (are you in the program or not), etc.

If you or your employees are feeling overwhelmed or just need someone to discuss the available options, please contact the BCN call center at 1-800-891-9911.

One option that is not getting a lot of attention is that individuals can access an insurance carrier’s private health care exchanges and, in many cases, this has been proven to be a more user friendly experience for insurance sign-up.  This is one of the options the BCN Individual Marketplace experts will evaluate for employees to see if it is an option based on their income, needs and available carrier networks.

BCN will continue to keep you updated on the most important issues facing your organization.

BCN 25-year logo

Individual insurance and the Affordable Care Act: Part 1

BCN’s goal with our weekly blog is to provide our partners with information that is important to our clients and employees.  Recently, as you might imagine, we are fielding many questions, comments and concerns regarding individual insurance and health care exchanges under the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

This week we will begin to explore health insurance for the individual and try to answer the questions we have been receiving.  Please feel free to send comments and questions to us as we venture down this path.

As more and more employees, employers and the general public  is exposed to the world of health insurance, many people are confused by the language of insurance.  A recent poll found only 14 percent of Americans could define and understand the basic terms commonly used to define health plans.  The questions we receive at BCN support these numbers.

Today we will identify and define the most common terminology used for individual as well as group plans:

  1. Deductible:  The amount you owe before your health insurance benefits kick in. For example, if your deductible is $500, your insurance won’t pay for anything until your costs are more than $500.
  2. Co-pay:  A co-payment, or co-pay, is the amount the insured person pays every time he or she receives a health service. For instance, if your co-pay to see a doctor is $25, you pay that amount each time you see him or her. The insurance takes care of the rest.
  3. Co-insurance:  Your part of the costs of a health service that is covered by insurance. It is calculated as a percentage and you pay it in addition to whatever deductible you may owe. For example if your plan allows $100 for a doctor visit and you’ve already met your deductible, your 20 percent co-insurance payment would be $20. The insurance plan picks up the rest of the cost.
  4. Out-of-pocket maximum:  The most you pay during the period of your policy (most policies are in effect for one year) before your insurance plan begins to pay 100 percent of the allowed amount. This total does not include your balance-billed charges, your premium, or health care services that your plan doesn’t cover. (Some plans don’t count payments to out-of-network providers (see No. 8 below), , co-insurance payments, co-payments, other expenses or deductibles toward this amount, so read the plan instructions carefully.)
  5. Premiums:  The fee you pay to be enrolled in your insurance plan.
  6. Claim:  The bill you or your doctor or health care provider submits to your health insurance company.
  7. Allowed amount:  This may also be called an “eligible expense” or “negotiated rate” or “payment allowance.” It is the maximum amount on which payment is based for health care services that are covered by your insurance.
  8. In- and out-of-network:  An in-network provider is a health care office that has contracted with the health insurance company to provide services for people on that insurance plan. An out-of-network provider is someone who does not have such a relationship with the insurance company. Typically, insurance will only cover the cost of services from health care providers who are “in-network.”
  9. Essential health benefits:  This is the set of health care services that must be covered by certain plans starting in 2014. There are 10 categories in which insurance plans must provide services and items: Maternity and newborn care, prescription drugs, rehabilitative services and devices, lab services, ambulatory patient services, emergency services, hospitalization, wellness and preventive services, chronic disease management, and pediatric services that include vision and oral care.  For more about how these 10 categories will be handled, see this article: Essential health benefits.
  10. Preventive care:  Routine health care that includes checkups, patient counseling and screenings to prevent disease, illness and other health complications.

Next week we will begin exploring the options, costs and alternatives to the healthcare exchanges.

BCN 25-year logo

 

The Affordable Care Act and You: 10 essential health benefits insurers must now offer

The Affordable Care Act is changing how Americans receive health care.  Plans are changing across the board and often the topic of Essential Health Benefits is mentioned as the driving force behind many of the changes.  What are these 10 Essential Health Benefits, or EHBs, that everyone is referring to?

  1.  Ambulatory Patient Services – This is outpatient care and the most common form of health care.
  2. Prescription Drugs – All plans will cover at least one drug in every category and class in the US Pharmacopeia, the official publication of approved medications in the US.
  3. Emergency Care – Visits do not require pre-authorization.
  4. Mental Health Services – This benefit could be new to your plan, as many current plans do not carry this coverage.
  5. Hospitalization – Your insurer must cover your hospitalization, but with co-pays and deductibles.
  6. Rehabilitative and Habilitative Services – Existing coverage will expand under most plans.
  7. Preventive and Wellness Services – Insurers are now required to provide 50 preventative services at no extra cost.
  8. Laboratory Services – Preventive screening tests are covered, while “diagnostic” tests may not be.
  9. Pediatric Care – This is directed at Dental and Vision care.  Children under the age of 19 now will be covered for cleanings, x-rays, fillings and medically necessary orthodontia.  Eye exams and one pair of glasses or contacts included as well.
  10. Maternity and Newborn Care – This change now classifies prenatal care as a preventative service that must be provided at no extra cost.

The new law mandates that every carrier participating in the exchanges offer the 10 Essential Health Benefits and set certain standards that all insurers must meet, whether they are providing health insurance through an employer or directly to individuals and small groups.

Prior to the law only 2 percent of existing individual health plans provide all 10 essential benefits.  On average, today’s plans offer 76 percent of these benefits.

Health plans and options are changing,  so be sure to consult with BCN Services if you have questions or concerns about how your health benefits will be affected by these Essential Health Benefits.  Read more here. Contact us at 1-800-891-9911 or email us at hr@www.bcnservices.com.

BCN 25-year logo