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Small business owners understand the value of providing group health insurance benefits to employees, but they don’t always feel capable of doing so. Between the high cost of premiums and the level of required employee participation (70 percent) many small business owners give up on the idea entirely. If you know someone in this situation, please pass along this news: During Small Group Special Enrollment each fall, your employees can overcome these limitations and establish a group health insurance plan. How does it work? It’s pretty simple. Only one employee needs to enroll in a plan. That’s it! There’s no minimum enrollment criteria, so each employee can make the decision that feels best for them, without any pressure. As for the business owner’s part, they are not required to contribute to premiums. Or, they can contribute what they are able, and allow employees to pay for the rest. So if affordability has been an obstacle in the past, the Small Group Special Enrollment Period will allow employees to access a group healthcare plan of their choosing. Aside from contribution and participation guidelines, all other normal underwriting guidelines are still in force. This means employees can still access high quality group plans while sidestepping what would normally be burdensome obstacles. As a bonus, employees can access yet another benefit of these group plans. If the employer has established what is called a “cafeteria plan”, workers can pay for their premiums using pre-tax payroll deductions. This essentially serves as a significant tax deduction and savings, which any employee appreciates. There is just one downside to this news: The Small Group Special Enrollment Period is only open for one month, between November 15 and December 15 (with plans taking effect January 1). Business owners must act fast to help their employees access these group healthcare plans, along with the potential tax savings. Contact us to learn more about how to get...

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Each year, prior to Medicare’s Annual Election Period, employers must send notices of creditable coverage to all employees over age 65 (or any other employee or dependent otherwise eligible for Medicare). What is creditable coverage? If a health insurance plan (in this case, a group policy) is expected to pay, on average, as much as a standard Medicare Part D policy, that is called “creditable coverage”. It means that the prescription drug benefits of a healthcare plan is at least equivalent in coverage to what Medicare Part D plans would offer. What must the notice of creditable coverage communicate? Prior to October 15 each year, employers must supply written notice to all Medicare-eligible employees COBRA-covered individualsretirees covered by the group health planand all dependents of these employees or former employees The notice simply certifies that the prescription drug plan offered by the group health plan qualifies as “creditable coverage” for the purposes of being equivalent with Medicare Part D. Why does creditable coverage matter? The Medicare Modernization Act imposes a late enrollment penalty on individuals who do not maintain prescription drug coverage for 63 days or longer, following their initial date of Medicare eligibility. The notice serves to inform individuals that their group health plan does provide this coverage. Otherwise, if they are not maintaining coverage they should consider enrolling in Medicare Part D promptly, in order to avoid a penalty later. How does Medicare know whether an individual has maintained creditable coverage? The law also requires employers to file an online disclosure to certify the creditable coverage status of their group health plan. This disclosure should be filed no later than 60 days from the beginning of the plan’s contract year, within 30 days of termination of a prescription drug plan, or within 30 days of any change to the status of creditable coverage. Again, notices of creditable coverage must be sent to all affected employees and former employees by October 15. Medicare must also be notified of your plan’s creditable coverage status. Contact us with any questions regarding these notices, so that we can assist you in properly complying with the...

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Who could have predicted the changes 2020 has brought? Remote working, or working from home, was rising in popularity prior to this year. Even still, no one expected the swift and dramatic rise of remote work at the level we’re currently experiencing. Because this change has happened so suddenly, many businesses found themselves somewhat unprepared for the transition. Institute these safe practices, and pass them along to your employees to help things run more smoothly. Ensure that each device is protected. Employees should use a device dedicated to work; sharing with family members should be strongly discouraged. Remind them to install security updates when prompted, and to protect devices with passwords. Use safe WiFi connections. Working from home sometimes also means working from hotels, cafes, other locations. Remind your employees that public WiFi connections are not secure, and can put your data and business operations at risk. As for home WiFi, make sure everyone is using a strong password and secure firewall. Adopt a VPN. Institute a Virtual Private Network for company use, and make sure to update settings and limitations regularly. Consider two-factor authentication. Your cloud system and any other processes should be protected with two-factor authentication, for optimal protection against data theft or loss. Create a protocol guide. Update your old security protocol, or adopt a new guide, to clearly communicate your expectations to employees. Focus on the expected response in the event of device loss or theft, and for suspected or known security breaches. Each employee should know how to immediately proceed if one of these events occurs. The above procedures can help protect your business from unwanted virtual viruses and more… But what about real-world viruses and other health risks? Check with your healthcare plan administrator about telemedicine (virtual healthcare appointments). This type of healthcare is not only time-saving; receiving healthcare from home can shelter us all from the inherent risks of waiting rooms. If these benefits are available under your plan, communicate that information directly to employees. Review sick leave procedures and determine how you will handle telemedicine appointments as time away from “the office”. Working from home is still work, and together we can adopt procedures to keep each other safer at this...

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Telemedicine sounds like a new thing, but the origins of “remote” healthcare lie all the way back in the 1950s. Many decades ago, patients learned that they didn’t always need to visit their physician in person when a simple phone call would suffice. Today, telemedicine is supported by high-speed internet access, allowing us to attend face-to-face virtual “visits” with our healthcare providers. And in the time of Covid-19 and shelter-in-place orders, many insurance carriers are now covering telemedicine appointments. Telemedicine actually encompasses three areas of patient care: Interactive care allows patients and healthcare providers to “meet” virtually to discuss symptoms and other concerns Remote patient monitoring allows providers to collect data on patients remotely, such as blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and more Store and forward is a method of sharing a patient’s healthcare information with other providers and specialists (with the patient’s permission, of course)While telemedicine does include all of these areas of practice, most of us associate the term with virtual medical appointments conducted via video call. These interactive care appointments can benefit the patient in a number of ways, including:No need to travel to an appointment; the visit can be conducted from home or anywhere else the patient is located No worries about obtaining childcare or juggling schedules in order to attend appointments Fewer hours missed from work and/or school Limiting exposure to other illnesses in hospitals or medical offices Quicker access to care Affordability of care; telemedicine appointments are often priced much lower than in-office consultations Covered by many health insurance plans Reimbursed by Medicare and Medicaid/Medi-Cal in many situationsOf course, telemedicine appointments should not be used for emergency situations. Patients should always call 911 or proceed to an emergency room if they suspect heart attack or stroke, have sustained a serious injury, or otherwise need immediate lifesaving care. But for routine care, minor illnesses and injuries, mental health treatment, and many other non-emergency situations, telemedicine provides safe and quality healthcare at greater convenience to the consumer. Even better, the monetary savings help us all by helping to lower the cost of healthcare. Ask your healthcare provider if they offer telemedicine appointments, and familiarize yourself with the process so that you know what to do next time you need healthcare...

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From school openings to job security, to personal budgets and safety, we all have plenty to worry about right now. Luckily, your health insurance premium might not be one of them. Many health insurance providers have announced that they will be offering a variety of solutions to help consumers make their regular health insurance premium payments. The pandemic situation has created a curious combination of events in these past few months. Due to fears of coronavirus, and shutdowns in many areas, the numbers of elective procedures and office visits at this time have sharply declined. With consumers avoiding both doctor appointments and emergency rooms, healthcare providers have reported a 30 percent drop in inpatient care, a 25 percent drop in outpatient care, and a 35 percent drop in physician services. Naturally, such an enormous drop in healthcare services has equalled a decline in health insurance claims. Many of the major health insurance providers will be extending that savings to their customers, which can be great news if you’re worried about making premium payments right now or in the near future. Depending upon your carrier, you might be able to take advantage of these provisions:A credit for premiums paid in previous monthsA discount on upcoming premiums dueAn extended grace period for making premium paymentsSuspension of out-of-pocket charges on some healthcare servicesLook for a notice from your health insurance provider, or you can call them directly to discover what help they might be offering to their customers. Alternately, feel free to call us and we’ll assist you in locating answers. This is all great news, but we do want to caution you about one potential problem: Considering that preventive care accounts for many of the healthcare services postponed at this time, some of those avoiding doctor visits might be at increased risk of chronic health problems in the future. Stay in touch with your doctor, and discuss with them alternate means of accessing care. They will advise you of which preventive tests or procedures are most important, considering your personal risk factors, and help you make a plan to catch up on preventive...

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