5 Simple Tips to SPRING into Fitness!

Spring is here! That means it's time to ditch those winter layers, and even that excess winter weight. No matter what your current fitness level, spring is a great time to refocus your habits and spruce up your routine.

Get a Check Up or a Physical

Before starting any new fitness regimen, it's a good idea to check with your doctor. Your medical professional will be able to assess any potential risks associated with starting a new fitness routine and may advise you on the types of activities you should try or avoid. For example, if you suffer from low back pain, your doctor can suggest the types of activities that will strengthen your muscles without extra risk of injury, and they may even suggest avoiding certain types of workouts.

Hit the Trails

If you enjoy walking, jogging, or biking, it’s time to take your workouts into the great outdoors. Indoor workouts are convenient, not to mention climate controlled, but it’s time to take advantage of the spring weather and enjoy those activities out of doors for a nice change of pace. While you're at it, change your pace! Try increasing your speed or adding in some hills and add the extra challenge your current fitness level.

Sign Up for a Race

Spring is a great time to walk, jog, or run in a charity race. Whether it's a cause close to your heart, or an event close to home, there are lots of 5K's and fun-runs to choose from. Try searching on Facebook events for upcoming races. Sometimes the simple act of paying a registration can be all the motivation needed to get your running or walking back on track--figuratively and literally.

Join a Local Team

All work and no play can make for a very boring fitness routine. Try joining a local recreational sports league. Check with your local parks and recreation office for adult leagues. It can be a great way to get fit while making new friends. Soccer, softball, volleyball and even dodgeball are common. If you can find coworkers to join you, consider starting an office team of your own. Bragging rights can be very effective motivational tools!

Start a Fitness Challenge at Work

Start a sports team isn't the only way to get the office involved. Consider starting an office fitness challenge. It could be something as simple as a "30-Day Water Challenge" or a "Biggest Loser" weight loss contest. The most important part of a fitness challenge at work is the opportunity to motivate one another, to challenge one another, and even to hold each other accountable.

Start by assessing your current fitness level, consult a medical professional as needed, and set realistic goals for improvement. From there, the possibilities are endless.

It's Intern Season!

Summer internships offer students opportunities to gain real-world experience and hands-on career development. Conversely, internship programs give employers access to highly motivated and educated young workers and give junior managers more experience training and supervising. There are benefits for everyone involved.

However, there are some people risks that many employers overlook. One of the largest issues is determining what interns should be paid – or not paid.

The Department of Labor issued new guidance on January 5, 2018, that gives employers more flexibility in deciding whether to pay interns. A seven-criteria test is now used to determine if an internship may be unpaid, but the biggest change is that not all factors need to be met – no single factor is decisive, and the determination is made on the unique circumstances of each case.

If the job training program primarily provides professional experience that furthers a student’s educational goals, a student may not be considered an employee entitled to compensation. However, if students are doing work usually done by employees and are not receiving training and close mentoring, they should be paid wages. If there is any doubt, the best approach is to pay the student.

4 Reasons to Pay Interns

However, while it’s now legally permissible to classify more interns as unpaid, there are still compelling reasons to pay interns even when the internship does meet the criteria for unpaid status.

Unpaid internships tend to exclude students from lower- and middle-income backgrounds, who cannot afford not to work at paid jobs during the summer. In addition, they may need to pay up to several thousand dollars for course credit, in addition to coming up with funds for housing, clothing, and transportation related to the internship. This can put internships out of reach for some of the students who can benefit from them the most.

Unpaid internships may devalue the work paid employees are doing. After all, interns are working alongside regular employees — often doing some of the same tasks — and not being compensated for that work. This may send the message to employees that their work, or time, is not valued.

Unpaid internships can create a negative impression of your company. Customers or the community may see you as taking advantage of these students, which is not the message you want to portray. It’s a good community relations move to offer youth paid opportunities.

The work the unpaid intern is doing may actually be work that should be compensable. Improperly classifying an internship and not paying the student could result in wage claims that include back pay, penalties, and fines. To mitigate those risks, once again, the best approach is to pay the student.

Hiring summer students is a great way to help youth learn what it takes to be successful in business while helping employers get special projects completed. Plan ahead and structure your program so that your summer internship program is a great experience for everyone.


by Rachel Sobel

Originally posted on ThinkHR.com

The Best Advice for Dealing With Stress at Work

"Work is where I go to de-stress," said no one ever. Whether you're passionate about your job or spend all of your free time polishing your resume in hopes of greener pastures, there's no two ways about it: Work can be stressful. And office spaces? Even with a well-stocked snack supply, they don't exactly exude a sense of serenity.

Most people know that stress, regardless of its origin — can be the catalyst for a variety of emotional and biological issues, including increased anxiety and depression and even heart disease. But how many are actively taking steps to reduce work stress on a daily basis? Not nearly enough. From the perfect lunch to mindfulness techniques, here's how to hack your workplace for a stress-free day.

1. Get Enough Sleep

A good day usually starts with a good night's sleep. So if you're skimping on sleep in order to hang out with friends or catch up on your latest Netflix obsession, there's a good chance you're going to wake up groggy and less inclined to take the proverbial bull by the horns at work.

Without enough rest, your performance at work suffers. You're more prone to burn out, poor decision-making, mistakes and the inability to recover from distractions in the workplace, according to the National Sleep Foundation. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times — aim to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, logging seven to nine hours.

2. Choose a Better Breakfast

In a cruel twist of irony, the most often-skipped meal of the day is also the most important. Not only does sitting down to the right breakfast each morning help you make better food choices throughout the day, it makes thinking clearly and combating work stress easier.

"The reason breakfast helps with brain function is simple — your brain runs on glucose, or sugar," says Patricia Bannan, RDN, author of Eat Right When Time Is Tight. "When you awaken, your blood sugar levels are low because you haven't eaten for eight to 12 hours. Properly fueling up each morning will positively affect tasks that require retaining new information and help you feel better emotionally and physically."

For a healthy, filling breakfast, Bannan suggests her blueberry power muffins, oatmeal with almond butter or plain Greek yogurt with blueberries.

3. Get Preemptively Zen

Taking five to 10 minutes to practice Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) — either on your commute or before you leave the house — can go a long way to easing stress throughout your day, says Nancy Douglass, a therapist and executive coach at the Stress Management Counseling Center in Clinton, NJ.

"MBSR helps because it trains your brain to be more present," she says. "When you're more present, you tend not to get overwhelmed and look ahead at all the many tasks yet to do — instead, you mindfully concentrate on the ones at hand, effectively reducing your stress."

If you're pressed for time, Douglass recommends doing a mini-MBSR exercise to reel yourself back in if you catch yourself stressing. Ask yourself if what you're stressing over is in or out of your control, and then let go of anything that's outside of your control, such as a difficult person at work or a deadline you can't change, she says. "Also, reminding yourself frequently that you can 'only do the best that you can do' will go a long way in keeping work stress in check."

4. Get a Plant

Not only are plants a fun, affordable accessory for any cubicle, they'll make you more productive and will help you deal with work stress, too. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology showed that the mere presence of plants in an office can positively affect one's attention span.

How? Plants help activate your undirected attention systems — the part of your brain that's effortlessly drawn to the attractive or interesting aspects of our surroundings — and this, in turn, gives our directed attention systems — the part that's capable of staring at a spreadsheet for extended periods of time — time to rest and rejuvenate itself.

5. Walk It Off

When stress creeps up at work, take a walk! A 2015 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that participants reported feeling less tense, less stressed and more productive after walking. Cecilie Thogersen-Ntoumani, the study's lead author, wrote that, "Lunchtime walks improved enthusiasm, relaxation, and nervousness at work."

Bonus points if said walk can be done in nature, which also has been shown to be effective in reducing stress, according to a 2011 study in Public Health Reports.

6. Choose Lunch Wisely

Just as choosing the right breakfast is important for combating work stress, so is your lunch selection. Ideally, you want to avoid meals that are too heavy and make you feel sluggish, instead opting for foods that will energize you and that have staying power (think lean proteins and fiber).

"A salad or Buddha bowl made with a large base of greens and other veggies, a lean protein, such as wild salmon, chicken breast or beans, a small scoop of quinoa and a drizzle of tahini sauce is a great workplace lunch," says NYC- and Los Angeles-based dietician Cynthia Sass. "Other options are a taco salad (skip the fried shell!) with greens, grilled veggies, pico de gallo, a scoop of black beans and either half of an avocado or a quarter cup of guacamole; or a veggie broth-based soup with beans, like white bean and kale."

7. Breathe Deeply

Keeping a small essential oil diffuser on your desk can be helpful once that dreaded 4 p.m. slump rolls around. "For an afternoon energy boost, try using a combination of peppermint and lemon in a diffuser, or apply to your temples, wrists and between the collar bones after diluting with a carrier oil," says Kac Young, Ph.D., author of The Healing Art of Essential Oils.

Young, who's also a certified meditation teacher, also recommends breathing deeply when work stress starts rearing its ugly head. "Take a long, slow breath in through your nose, first filling your lower lungs, then your upper lungs," she says. "Hold your breath to the count of three, then exhale slowly through pursed lips, while you relax the muscles in your face, jaw, shoulders, and stomach."

8. Know How to Shake It Off

It's inevitable that at some point or another in your career, a coworker or superior is going to make a rude comment or offer unproductive criticism — be prepared. "In The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz, he says, 'Don't take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality…' This couldn't be more true," Douglass says.

"If someone deals out harsh criticism or rude comments at work, keep in mind that it's more about their need to offload the negativity and possibly their bad day than it is about you. When people are secure in themselves, they take the time to be respectful of others, not hypercritical and demeaning. If you can keep this truth in mind, you will be able to quickly shake off the salty comments and get back to the tasks at hand."

by Nicole Fabian-Weber
Originally posted on LiveStrong.com

Episode 7: Hope for Rural Healthcare with Carl Schuessler, Part 2

 
Healthcare Solutions Podcast
 

In Part 2 of this important discussion, Cristy and Carl talk more about how communities can use smarter tools and under-the-radar rules to save money and provide better care for employees. Carl gives us a glimpse at the re-localization and re-personalization of healthcare which benefits both providers and patients #letsfixhealthcare.

Carl Schuessler

Meet Carl Schuessler

Serving as a Population Health Manager specializing in Cost Containment and Risk Mitigation, Carl is the Managing Principal of Benefit Strategies and Mitigate Partners.

With over 25 years of experience in employee and executive benefits consulting and financial planning experience, Carl offers clients improved cash flow, saves money and retains well-structured employee benefit and financial planning solutions. He is also an accomplished speaker and author.

He was selected as one of the first group of 30 forward-leaning Benefits Advisors in the U.S. to participate as a Charter Member in the Health Rosetta Certification Program for Benefits Advisors. The Health Rosetta is a blueprint of best practices for intelligently purchasing health benefits that’s been sourced from the most forward leaning benefits purchasers of all types around the country. The certification program helps ensure he stays at the front of the market to better serve his clients.

The Health Rosetta’s creator, Dave Chase, recently published a book that I think you’ll find valuable that also mentions me, The CEO’s Guide to Restoring the American Dream: How to Deliver World Class Health Care to Your Employees at Half the Cost.


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Episode 6: Hope for Rural Healthcare with Carl Schuessler, Part 1

 
Healthcare Solutions Podcast
 

In this episode, Cristy and Carl Schuessler, founder of Mitigate Partners and creator of the Fair Co$t Health Plan, talk about the state of rural health in our nation and how he is helping a small Florida hospital remake themselves from the inside out.  Better than that, the long-term goal is to elevate this hospital as a hub for healthcare services available to local employers in their community.  So, grab your headphones and #letsfixhealthcare.

Carl Schuessler

Meet Carl Schuessler

Serving as a Population Health Manager specializing in Cost Containment and Risk Mitigation, Carl is the Managing Principal of Benefit Strategies and Mitigate Partners.

With over 25 years of experience in employee and executive benefits consulting and financial planning experience, Carl offers clients improved cash flow, saves money and retains well-structured employee benefit and financial planning solutions. He is also an accomplished speaker and author.

He was selected as one of the first group of 30 forward-leaning Benefits Advisors in the U.S. to participate as a Charter Member in the Health Rosetta Certification Program for Benefits Advisors. The Health Rosetta is a blueprint of best practices for intelligently purchasing health benefits that’s been sourced from the most forward leaning benefits purchasers of all types around the country. The certification program helps ensure he stays at the front of the market to better serve his clients.

The Health Rosetta’s creator, Dave Chase, recently published a book that I think you’ll find valuable that also mentions me, The CEO’s Guide to Restoring the American Dream: How to Deliver World Class Health Care to Your Employees at Half the Cost.


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Episode 5: Part 2--How Real Leadership is Solving the Opioid Crisis

 
Healthcare Solutions Podcast
 

In this episode, Cristy and Mark continue their discussion and dive into topics such as employer best practices, focusing on "whole person" well-being programs, etc.  Transforming workforce culture to think more positively and resiliently about challenges of all kinds, especially how we approach pain, is part of what employers might add to the messaging boards when it comes to addressing workplace wellness culture.  Some messages can be so simple they seem worthless to mention, but we can't be too careful about the positive culture we instill in our workforce.  This positive culture might just encourage an employee to tackle an episode of pain with the will and resilience to manage it without using prescriptions.  It's certainly worth the time to listen to this discussion. #letsfixhealthcare

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Meet Mark Pew

Senior vice president of product development and marketing for Preferred Medical, Mark is a passionate educator and agitator. Known as the RxProfessor, Mark is focused on the intersection of chronic pain and appropriate treatment, particularly as it relates to the clinical and financial implications of opioids, benzodiazepines and other Rx painkillers along with the evolution of medical marijuana . He is a strong champion for the workers' compensation industry to #CleanUpTheMess, a movement he created to drive attention to the importance of individualized appropriate treatment for injured workers. Mark is a vocal advocate of the BioPsychoSocialSpiritual treatment model. A nationally recognized speaker and writer, Mark received the WorkCompCentral Magna Comp Laude award in 2016 and the IAIABC’s Samuel Gompers Award in 2017. His blog was recognized in both 2016 and 2017 as a WorkersCompensation.com "Best Blog." 


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A brief introduction of Mark Pew - The RxProfessor

Dave Chase on the Opioid Crisis

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Episode 4: Part 1--How Real Leadership is Solving the Opioid Crisis

 
Healthcare Solutions Podcast
 

Cristy and Mark Pew begin a discussion around how the Worker's Comp industry took a leading role a while ago and continues today to affect positive change around solving the opioid crisis.  Learn from this important perspective and use insights to move your own organization to take a leading role in the solution as well.  Grab your headphones and #letsfixhealthcare!

mark pew headshot.JPG

Meet Mark Pew

Senior vice president of product development and marketing for Preferred Medical, Mark is a passionate educator and agitator. Known as the RxProfessor, Mark is focused on the intersection of chronic pain and appropriate treatment, particularly as it relates to the clinical and financial implications of opioids, benzodiazepines and other Rx painkillers along with the evolution of medical marijuana . He is a strong champion for the workers' compensation industry to #CleanUpTheMess, a movement he created to drive attention to the importance of individualized appropriate treatment for injured workers. Mark is a vocal advocate of the BioPsychoSocialSpiritual treatment model. A nationally recognized speaker and writer, Mark received the WorkCompCentral Magna Comp Laude award in 2016 and the IAIABC’s Samuel Gompers Award in 2017. His blog was recognized in both 2016 and 2017 as a WorkersCompensation.com "Best Blog." 

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In Ranking of Healthiest Countries, US Comes in at 35

Maybe it’s something in the gazpacho or paella, as Spain just surpassed Italy to become the world’s healthiest country.

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That’s according to the 2019 edition of the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, which ranks 169 economies according to factors that contribute to overall health. Spain placed sixth in the previous gauge, published in 2017.

Four additional European nations were among the top 10 in 2019: Iceland (third place), Switzerland (fifth), Sweden (sixth) and Norway (ninth). Japan was the healthiest Asian nation, jumping three places from the 2017 survey into fourth and replacing Singapore, which dropped to eighth. Australia and Israel rounded out the top 10 at seventh and 10th place.

For the Bloomberg 2019 Healthiest Country Index full data set, click HERE

The index grades nations based on variables including life expectancy while imposing penalties on risks such as tobacco use and obesity. It also takes into consideration environmental factors including access to clean water and sanitation.

Spain has the highest life expectancy at birth among European Union nations, and trails only Japan and Switzerland globally, United Nations data show. Spain by 2040 is forecast to have the highest lifespan, at almost 86 years, followed by Japan, Singapore and Switzerland, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

“Primary care is essentially provided by public providers, specialized family doctors and staff nurses, who provide preventive services to children, women and elderly patients, and acute and chronic care,” according to the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies 2018 review of Spain, noting a decline the past decade in cardiovascular diseases and deaths from cancer.

Eating habits

Researchers say eating habits may provide clues to health levels enjoyed by Spain and Italy, as a “Mediterranean diet, supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, had a lower rate of major cardiovascular events than those assigned to a reduced-fat diet,” according to a study led by the University of Navarra Medical School.

Meanwhile in North America, Canada’s 16th-place ranking far surpassed the U.S. and Mexico, both of which dropped slightly to 35th and 53rd. Life expectancy in the U.S. has been trending lower due to deaths from drug overdoses and suicides.

Cuba placed five spots above the U.S., making it the only nation not classified as “high income” by the World Bank to be ranked that high. One reason for the island nation’s success may be its emphasis on preventative care over the U.S. focus on diagnosing and treating illness, the American Bar Association Health Law Section said in a report last year after vising Cuba.

South Korea improved seven spots to 17th while China, home to 1.4 billion people, rose three places to 52nd. Life expectancy in China is on track to surpass the U.S. by 2040, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Sub-Saharan economies accounted for 27 of the 30 unhealthiest nations in the ranking. Haiti, Afghanistan and Yemen were the others. Mauritius was the healthiest in Sub-Sahara, placing 74th globally as it had the lowest death rate by communicable diseases in a region still marred by infectious mortality.

This post originally appeared on BenefitsPro.com.

Responding to criticism, FDA takes action on opioid oversight

The FDA has come under bipartisan fire in recent years for its oversight of opioids. Treatment advocates and lawmakers have blamed the agency for turning a blind eye to the widespread abuse of prescription medication, both by approving powerful new opioids for medical use and for failing to put in place effective rules to prevent inappropriate prescriptions.

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The agency has proposed new rules that will require drugmakers to conduct studies examining the effectiveness of their medications when used for chronic conditions.

The rules aim to address the fact that doctors are often prescribing highly addictive drugs to treat chronic pain. Many experts have argued that powerful opioids should only be used occasionally to treat acute pain.

Notably, the FDA approved the use of OxyContin for chronic pain with no evidence that it can effectively reduce pain in the long-term.

“There are certain important questions that we could answer by properly studying the chronic administration, looking at the efficacy over time,” explained FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in recent testimony to a Congressional committee.

Experts have highlighted a number of medical practices that have facilitated widespread opioid addiction. Not only have those dealing with chronic conditions become addicted to painkillers due to what were likely inappropriate prescriptions, but prescriptions often include far more pills than necessary to deal with the pain that is being targeted, such as recovering from wisdom tooth removal.

Painkiller addiction has played a major role in fueling an explosion in heroin use, as opioid addicts who have exhausted their prescriptions turn to a cheaper fix on the street. Since 2017 nearly 50,000 Americans have died of opioid overdoses.

This post originally appeared on BenefitsPro.com.

A NOTE FROM A FELLOW TRAVELER

Guest Post by Tom Emerick

When I travel around the U.S. giving speeches I often ask for a show of hands of people who have had relatives harmed by a major misdiagnosis, bad surgery, botched treatment plan, etc. Nearly every hand in the room always goes up and everyone is always incredibly surprised to see this. I then share that if they know ten people who have died of cancer, likely three of those ten were misdiagnosed and given a useless or harmful treatment plan. Jaws drop, but it’s true.

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I follow this with “how are we spending $3 trillion on a healthcare system that is harming so many people?”How is this happening? We’ve all seen bad medical events with our own families and friends, but we don’t realize how common and costly it is.

This is also the core insight behind what’s wrong with the U.S. health care system.

I’ve had the unique experience of being behind the scenes for more than 30 years. This has let me identify seven high-level systemic problems with the US health care system. All are the result of various flawed incentives Dave covers in the following pages. These problems enormously damage our country, both individually and collectively. This book addresses these issues and practical solutions in a systemic way I’ve not found elsewhere.

1. Lack of accountability

Health care providers aren’t accountable to anyone for the quality of care provided in the U.S. A clinician can misdiagnose 20-40 percent of patients, which many do, yet nobody prevents it or stops them. The biggest care quality failure is misdiagnosis. Anything that follows harms you and your wallet. Data shows that misdiagnosis rates in some categories of major care are 20-40 percent! We have an epidemic of misdiagnosis.

2. Status quo lobbying power

Health care institutions in America are very powerful. Few, if any, sectors of our economy have more powerful lobbies at both the national and local levels than health care providers and health insurers. They have $3 trillion reasons to protect the status quo and spend more than anyone to protect it.

3. The American health care exceptionalism fallacy

There is a fallacy in the U.S. that we have the best health care. This is simply not true. We may have the easiest access to care or the most providers in certain categories. However, the cost and quality of this doesn’t really stack up to our peer countries in any critical systemic metric. Our health care is twice as expensive with significantly worse results.

4. Limited individual purchaser influence

The individuals and corporations that pay for over half of health care lack the individual power or influence to offset that of our collective health care institutions. Our government pays the other half, yet even Medicare and Medicaid do a poor job of managing many issues, including the widespread misdiagnosis and over-treatment of patients discussed in Dave Chase's book CEO's Guide to Restoring the American Dream.

5. Widespread conflicts of interest

The world of health care insurers, providers, vendors, buyers, brokers, and advisors is a bizarre world rife with conflicts of interest we just wouldn’t accept elsewhere in society. For example, benefit managers generally hire benefit consultants paid by health insurers and providers. This is a textbook conflict of interest. If Fred hires Bob to sue Joe, Joe would be off his rocker to hire Bob to defend him. Yet this kind of nuttiness is the default approach throughout the purchasing, administration, and delivery of health care in America. Enough is enough.

6. Poor internal financial oversight

Health care plans are one of the biggest areas of spending and financial risks facing public and private employers, yet they’ve been placed in the hands of human resources managers. Taking care of employees is in HR’s DNA and many are very good at it. Unfortunately, this same trait makes many of them poor benefits managers, risk assessors, and financial analysts. Many just have not made the necessary decisions to maximize the quality and minimize the cost of health benefits.

This isn’t from a lack of solutions. They exist. They give employees better quality care, save employees out of pocket spending, and save employers money. Many HR managers are just not willing to shake up the status quo. Alas, the status quo needs to be shaken up badly.

7. Reimbursement is more a wealth transfer than an economic transaction

Expense reimbursement models in health care are not really economic transactions. If a consumer goes to a doctor who treats the consumer, but is paid by a third-party—an employer, insurer, or government entity—this is more a wealth transfer than a classic economic transaction. Market economics do not apply when third parties pay consumers’ bills. Yet this is how health insurance works.

I highly recommend Chase’s book as it explains these problems and the root causes behind them in detail, then offers common sense ways to take control of health care costs and improve the quality of care your employees receive.

It is do or die time. If you think it wise to save our country and health care system, things need to change and change now.

About the Guest Contributor:

Addressing misdiagnosis and overtreatment in cancer, musculoskeletal procedures, organ transplants, and other high-cost areas has a greater impact on patients than any blockbuster drug. Tom Emerick has more experience with these types of claims than most, if not all, benefits leaders. He was Walmart’s Global VP of benefits and ran benefits at Burger King, British Petroleum, and American Fidelity. He’s the author of Cracking Health Costs and created one of the first centers of excellence programs for large employers, subsequently making it accessible for any self-insured employer. He’s been walking the path this book lays out for decades.

Episode 3: Local Government Employers Lead the Way

 
Healthcare Solutions Podcast
 

Cristy talks with David Contorno, Founder of E-Powered Benefits, about how he is helping an upstate SC County with about 1,000 employees break free from status quo healthcare and try something new.  They discuss the many moving parts of affecting change in a positive way even if everyone is not on board at first.  Learn from their experience and get excited about what you can achieve in your own community

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Meet David Contorno

David Contorno is Founder of E Powered Benefits. As a native of New York, David began his career in the insurance industry at the age of 14, and has since become a leading expert in the realm of employee benefits over the last 21 years.

Among his many accolades, David received a Broker Spotlight in 2004 and was recognized as an outstanding Broker of Service in 2005 through 2014 by Blue Cross Blue Shield. He has continually received the Echelon Award by United Healthcare since 2003, reserved for the top 1% of agents nationally, and was a 2015 “40 Under 40” Award Winner presented by Charlotte Business Journal. Most recently, David was Benefits Selling Magazine’s 2015 Broker of the Year and, in March 2016, Forbes deemed him “One of America’s Most Innovative Benefits Leaders.”

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CMS Disclosure Requirement for Employer Health Plans

Do you offer health coverage to your employees? Does your group health plan cover outpatient prescription drugs? If so, federal law requires you to complete an online disclosure form every year with information about your plan’s drug coverage. You have 60 days from the start of your health plan year to complete the form. For instance, for a calendar-year health plan, this year’s deadline is March 1, 2019.

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Background

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is a federal agency that collects data and administers various federal programs. The agency utilizes the CMS online tool to collect information from employers about whether their group health plan’s prescription drug coverage is creditable or noncreditable. Creditable coverage means the group health plan’s prescription drug coverage is actuarially equivalent to Medicare’s Part D drug plans. In other words, the group plan is considered creditable if its drug benefits are as good as or better than Medicare’s benefits.

To confirm whether your plan provides creditable or noncreditable coverage, check with the plan’s carrier or HMO (if insured) or the plan’s actuary (if self-funded). CMS provides guidance to help plan sponsors, carriers, and actuaries determine the plan’s status.

Deadline for Disclosure

All group health plans that include any outpatient prescription drug benefits, regardless of whether the plan is insured, self-funded, grandfathered, or nongrandfathered, must complete the CMS disclosure requirement. There is no exception for small employers.

Complete the CMS online disclosure form every year within 60 days of the start of the plan year. For instance, for calendar-year plans, this year’s deadline is March 1, 2019.

Additionally, if your plan terminates or its status changes between creditable and noncreditable coverage, you must disclose the updated information to CMS within 30 days of the change.

Completing the Disclosure Form

The CMS online tool is the only method allowed for completing the required disclosure. From this link, follow the prompts to respond to a series of questions regarding the plan. The link is the same regardless of whether the employer’s plan provides creditable or noncreditable coverage.

The entire process usually takes only 5 or 10 minutes to complete. To save time, have the following information handy before you start filling in the form:

  • Information about the plan sponsor (employer): Name, address, phone number, and federal Employer Identification Number (EIN).

  • Number of prescription drug options offered (e.g., if employer offers two plan options with different benefit levels, the number is “2”).

  • Creditable/Noncreditable Offer: Indicate whether all options are creditable or noncreditable or whether some are creditable and others are noncreditable.

  • Plan year beginning and ending dates.

  • Estimated number of plan participants eligible for Medicare (and how many are participants in the employer’s retiree health plan, if any).

  • Date that the plan’s Notice of Creditable (or Noncreditable) Coverage was provided to participants.

  • Name, title, and email address of the employer’s authorized individual completing the disclosure.

We suggest you print a copy of the completed disclosure to keep for your records.

Note: Employers that receive the Retiree Drug Subsidy (RDS), or sponsor health plans that contract directly with one or more Medicare Part D plans, should seek the advice of legal counsel regarding the applicable disclosure requirements.

Additional Disclosure Requirement

Separate from the CMS online disclosure requirement, employers also must distribute a disclosure notice to Medicare-eligible group health plan participants. The deadline for distributing the participant notice is October 14 of the preceding year. It often is difficult for employers to identify which employees and spouses may be Medicare-eligible, so most employers simply distribute the notice to all participants regardless of age or status.

Click here to download more information.

This post originally appreared on ThinkHR.com.

NC BENEFITS ADVISOR HONORED, STARTS PODCAST | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

Cristy Gupton, President of a leading North Carolina employee benefits consulting firm, Custom Benefits Solutions, was featured as one of America’s Top 20 Women in Benefits Advising in the October 2018 Issue of the national trade publication Employee Benefits Advisor.

A Morganton, NC resident, Gupton was selected based on her nationally-recognized seminars, publications and work to help employers combat the opioid crisis through employee education and smart design of employee health plans. A cornerstone of her presentations is her vision to simultaneously reduce both supply and demand for opioids by using the employee health plan to improve healthcare while reducing costs.

“While it’s humbling to be recognized on a national level, it also adds fuel to my fire and propels me to keep working until the problem is solved”, said Gupton, who is a member of the peer group The Health Rosetta lead by author and healthcare visionary, Dave Chase. 

"The status quo health plans that most employers offer drive employees to volume-centric primary care centers designed to refer you to expensive (and often unnecessary) services that produce poor patient outcomes," says Dave Chase, author of The Opioid Crisis Wake-Up Call: Health Care is Stealing the American Dream. Here's How We Take It Back. ”Employers are paying far too much for low-quality care – a side effect of which is the opioid crisis – and transparent benefits advisors like Cristy are helping lead a health care revolution and find actionable solutions."

These and other events inspired Gupton to begin a national conversation about finding solutions to the problems plaguing our current healthcare system, she said. 

“That’s when the idea of hosting a podcast came to mind,” Gupton said. “I learn a lot from podcasts and I’m always eager to hear the next one in the lineup. I don’t even need a radio in my car anymore.” 

The launch of her podcast, Healthcare Solutions, will address topics like Direct Primary Care, Reference-Based Pricing, Pharmacy Benefits Management, and many other issues detailing how employers who provide healthcare to over 170 million Americans can improve care while lowering costs.

“I’m excited to bring the problem solvers to the table to talk about real solutions that make a difference,” Gupton said. “In the third episode, the case-study of an upstate SC local government who decided to abandon the status quo and try something new is captured for listeners to learn from. Hopefully, what resonates with listeners is that the solutions are here. It’s just up to us to put them in place.”

Finding the podcast and subscribing won’t be difficult. It’s easily found on Apple podcasts, Google Play, and www.custombenefits.work. Searching the hashtag “#letsfixhealthcare” should lead you right to it. 

# # #

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Cristy Guptonat828.413.3581or email cristy@custombenefits.work. 

ABOUT CUSTOM BENEFITS SOLUTIONS: Custom Benefits Solutions has assisted employer organizations in crafting the best benefit packages for employees using three core beliefs: Trust, Transparency and Technology. Cristy Gupton, a third-generation insurance expert, founded Custom Benefits Solutions in 2006. She is a co-creator of the Substance Use & The Workplace Community Forum and lead of the Health Rosetta’s Opioid Component Committee.

Download the press release.

2019 Minimum Wages | North Carolina Employee Benefits

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Eighteen states rang in 2019 with new, higher minimum wage rates. These states (AK, AZ, CA, CO, DC, FL, ME, MN, MO, MT, NV, NJ, NV, NY, OH, OR, SD, and WA) have scheduled annual adjustments for their minimum wages based on approved legislation, via ballot initiative, or varying formulas.

Thirty states have a minimum wage higher than the federal rate, sixteen states’ minimum wages are equal to the federal rate, and five states have no minimum wage requirement at all. The higher rate (state or federal) always prevails when the laws differ.

Get the Details

The 2019 State and Federal Minimum Wage Chart is available for free download on the ThinkHR website. They track all state minimum wage rates throughout the year and provide information on changes.

This post originally appeared on ThinkHR.com.

From Resolutions to Reality: 5 Tips for Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

Ever wonder why the resolutions you make in January don’t stick around after March? You aren’t alone! Studies show that only 8% of peoplekeep their New Year’s resolutions. Only 8%! Why? And how do people achieve their goals set at New Year’s? We’ve broken it down for you so you can identify your goal-breaker as well as give you some tips on how to make those resolutions stick. 

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There are three main reasons that New Year’s resolutions fail. The first goal-breaker is taking on too much (too big of a goal) and expecting it to happen too fast. Researchers have found that it takes 66 days to break a habit. That’s much higher than the previously published 21 days. It conversely means that it also takes 66 days to form a new habit. So, battle your goal-breaker by setting smaller goals and not expecting to master those resolutions by the end of the month.

The second reason you fail to keep your resolution is you don’t have anyone supporting you. This could be because you simply didn’t tell anyone that you have new life goals. It could also be due to fear of accountability. You need some life-cheerleaders that root you on to victory. These cheerleaders also call you out when you are riding off the tracks. Their support isn’t tied to your achievement of your goals but instead their support is firmly tied to you and they want to see you succeed.

The last goal-breaker is that you don’t believe in yourself! When you make New Year’s resolutions that are super unattainable, and then you fail, you doubt yourself. When this cycle persists, time and again, you fill your head up with negative thoughts and begin believing you aren’t capable of accomplishing anything. Self-doubt is powerful. 

Now, let’s steer this ship back on course with some tips on KEEPING your New Year’s resolutions. 

Remember that bigger isn’t always better. 

Set your resolutions as small, attainable, goals.  With those small goals, set realistic timelines to achieve them. Avoid “I want to run the Ironman by November” if you’ve never run more than 2 times a month. Set your goal as “I want to run a 5K by Christmas” and work towards increasing your endurance each week.

Reward yourself along the way.

If exercising is your goal, reward yourself with a trip to the movies if you go to the gym 3 times a week. When you look forward to rewards, and you feel like they are attainable, you are more likely to work hard to get them! 

Tell others about your resolutions. 

Finding an accountability partner helps keep your ship on course as they can encourage you for achievements as well as guide you back to the course when you start to stray. 

Write your goals down on paper. 

Mark Murphy says Writing things down doesn’t just help you remember, it makes your mind more efficient by helping you focus on the truly important stuff. And your goals absolutely should qualify as truly important stuff.”

Identify your purpose. 

Knowing your “WHAT” (goal) is important, but knowing “WHY” can be just as important when it comes to following through on your intentions. Whydo you want to lose weight in 2019? When you put the why to the what, you are truly focused on what matters. “I want to lose weight so that I can play with my children without getting tired and show them that hard work is worth it.”  Now, THAT’S a great goal. 

 

Identifying goal-breakers and goal-makers are equally important pieces to achieving what you set out to accomplish, especially with regards to New Year’s resolutions. Make this the year your goals become reality by focusing on these five simple tips. 

Episode 1: What is Healthcare Solutions all about? with Wes Hawn

Introducing, The Healthcare Solutions Podcast Episode 1!

 
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Healthcare innovations that make a difference. On the show, Cristy Gupton, President of Custom Benefits Solutions, meets with other experts in the industry and talks over solutions to current obstacles. Today's problems with healthcare and how we change it for the better.

Subscribe:

Get Back to Work! | North Carolina Employee Benefits

Managing the Intersection of Workers’ Compensation with Other Leave Regulations

You’re ready when the call comes in. Your client’s employee was seriously injured on the job. You reassure the client that your team has them covered, and you outline their workers’ compensation policy provisions, administrative claim filing process, and accident site investigation protocols.

You check in later in the week. As a result of the accident site investigation, the employer’s worksite processes are updated, equipment is modified, and employees are being trained to prevent future accidents like this one. Employee training records are updated, the OSHA injury/illness logs are completed, and the safety team is monitoring the new processes and systems.

The employee is not back to work, but is progressing well with medical treatment and is receiving wage replacement provided by the policy. Everything is well documented so that the client is ready in the event of an OSHA or state safety audit/inspection.

The client appreciates the extra service and professional advice you’ve given to make the best of the unfortunate accident. You’re satisfied that this situation is under control and make a note to follow up with them in the next few weeks. Your job on this claim is done … or is it?

Important Leave Details Cannot be Overlooked

Your goal is to advise your clients of all risks affecting their business, and it’s likely you haven’t spent much time thinking about the impact of uninsurable HR-related business risks or opportunities to mitigate them. In this situation with an injured worker, there are other employment laws and benefits considerations besides state workers’ compensation rules that your client should factor in when managing time off and return to work.

Although workers’ compensation eligibility, coverage, and benefits rules vary from state to state, most employees are covered when the occurrence is job-related. Depending upon the employer size and type of injury or illness suffered by the employee, the employee also may be entitled to medical and/or disability-related protections under two federal laws: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). To make things even more complicated, some states have enacted their own disability and family and medical leave laws, some of which provide greater amounts of leave and benefits than the federal rules. Failure to look at the entire situation and take these laws into consideration can prove costly to your client.

Counsel your client to consider the following:

  • If the employee has a serious health situation requiring time off the job, then FMLA may apply.

  • If the employee is disabled, the ADA may apply.

The bottom line is that when employees need time off because of a medical or disability-related issue, it is important to remember that they may have rights under all of these laws at the same (or different) times for the same illness or injury. Each situation needs to be reviewed very carefully, so that the right amounts of time off to manage the condition are provided, and that benefits, compensation, notifications, and other protections are managed.

Avoidable Mistake #1

The most common mistake that employers make with work-related employee injuries/illnesses: Not considering and/or designating FMLA leave concurrently with a workers’ compensation claim. This can result in legal claims for failure to provide benefits, as well as additional costs to the business.

For the claim you just handled, let’s say that the injured employee is off work on temporary total disability for 16 weeks. His doctor then releases him to return to light-duty work, and your client offers him a light-duty job. If they had not properly designated that employee’s time off as FMLA leave, the employee may be able to reject the offer of light-duty work and then be entitled to up to 12 additional weeks of unpaid FMLA leave. Additionally, your client would also be required to keep the employee on their health insurance through those 12 additional weeks of unpaid leave and return him to his former job when he finally returns to full-duty work.

If the client had designated the leave concurrently at the time of the injury, the FMLA job and benefits protections would terminate after the first 12 weeks, while the employee was still on temporary total disability. The employee would then have four more weeks of workers compensation temporary disability, without FMLA protections for additional time off or benefits continuation beyond the wage replacement and benefits provided under workers compensation.

Here’s why: FMLA is a federal law that provides employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for specific reasons, including a serious health condition due to a work-related injury or illness. FMLA applies to:

  • Private employers with 50 or more employees working within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite; and

  • All public agencies and private and public elementary and secondary schools, regardless of the number of employees.

Employees are eligible to take FMLA leave if they have:

  • Worked for their employer for at least 12 months;

  • Worked for at least 1,250 hours over the 12 months immediately prior to the leave; and

  • There are at least 50 employees working within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite.

Note: The 12 months of employment do not need to be consecutive, which means that any time previously worked for the same employer can be used to meet the requirement unless the break in service lasted seven years or more. Some exceptions apply.

Within the context of a work-related injury or illness, the most common serious health conditions that qualify for FMLA leave are:

  • Conditions requiring an overnight stay in a hospital or other medical care facility; and

  • Conditions that incapacitate the employee for more than three consecutive days and have ongoing medical treatment (either multiple appointments with a healthcare provider, or a single appointment and follow-up care such as prescription medication).

Generally, basic first aid and routine medical care are not included unless hospitalization or other complications arise.

Employers must also consider compliance with state “mini-FMLA” laws that cover an employee’s serious health condition. California, Connecticut, Maine, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia have enacted medical leave laws impacting private employers. Massachusetts medical leave law provides for leave benefits beginning January 2021, with proposed regulations to be published in March 2019. Other states are considering similar laws.

Avoidable Mistake #2

The second common mistake that employers make with work-related employee injuries/illnesses: Not considering the ADA requirements for entering into an interactive process for reasonably accommodating an employee’s return to work.

The ADA is a federal law that prohibits covered employers from discriminating against people with disabilities in the full range of employment-related activities. Title I of the ADA applies to employers (including state or local governments) with 15 or more employees and to employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees with any number of employees.

The ADA protects individuals with a disability who are qualified for the job, meaning they have the skills and qualifications to carry out the essential functions of the job, with or without accommodations. An individual with a disability is defined as a person who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;

  • Has a record of such an impairment; or

  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

The ADA does not set out an exhaustive list of conditions covered by the law, making it more difficult for employers to determine with certainty what conditions actually are considered a disability. These conditions require medical interpretation of the severity of the condition by the employee’s healthcare provider, and it is always a best practice to work with medical and legal experts when in doubt. A good rule of thumb to use in reviewing ADA issues is to look at the medical condition in its entirety. Generally, conditions that last for only a few days or weeks and are not substantially limiting with no long-term effect on an individual’s health — such as basic first aid, broken bones, and sprains — are not considered disabilities under the Act.

The ADA does not specifically require employers to provide medical or disability-related leave. However, it does require employers to make reasonable accommodations for qualified employees with disabilities if necessary to perform essential job functions or to benefit from the same opportunities and rights afforded employees without disabilities. Accommodations can include modifications to work schedules, such as leave. There is no set leave period mandated because accommodations depend on individual circumstances and should generally be granted unless doing so would result in “undue hardship” to the employer.

One of the most common questions — and one of the most difficult to answer — is the definition of what is considered a reasonable accommodation.

In the real world, the definition of what is a reasonable accommodation varies and is based on several factors. Examples include: making existing facilities accessible; job restructuring; part-time or modified work schedules; acquiring or modifying equipment; changing tests, training materials, or policies; providing qualified readers or interpreters; or reassignment to a vacant position. Determining what is reasonable and does not cause undue hardship to the business can be difficult, so be sure to consult with experts and provide documentation regarding why an accommodation would be unreasonable for the business.

The Department of Labor (DOL) suggests that every request for reasonable accommodation under the ADA should be evaluated separately to determine if it would impose an undue hardship, taking into account:

  • The nature and cost of the accommodation needed;

  • The overall financial resources of the company, the number of employees, and the effect on expenses and resources of the business; and

  • The overall impact of the accommodation on the business.

There are two issues that arise with returns to work that are risky for employers: (1) 100 percent healed policies and (2) light-duty rules.

Regarding 100 percent healed policies, employers cannot require an employee to be completely healed before returning to work because those rules violate the ADA’s requirements to allow workers to use their right to an accommodation. Even if the employee is not 100 percent healed, he or she could possibly still work effectively with an accommodation.

Employers may create light-duty positions as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA or as part of the return-to-work plan from workers compensation. The goal is to get employees back to work at 100 percent of the productivity that they had before the injury, and there are times when a light-duty position might be the next step, with lighter physical requirements and reduced productivity expectations.

Caution your clients to design the light-duty position to meet the physical requirements of the partially healed worker, so that there will be no physical reason for the employee to refuse the light-duty position.

Under most workers compensation plans, an employee’s refusal to return to work in a light-duty position that meets his or her medical restrictions can result in termination of workers compensation benefits. Additionally, the ADA does not allow an employee to refuse work that meets the physical requirements of the accommodation.

Without that careful look at the duties of the position as they pertain to the employee’s medical needs, however, the employee can refuse the position and continue to collect benefits until he or she is able to perform the requirements of the position.

Steps for Success

While these laws have different goals, medical circumstances create overlaps between them. It is important to understand the rules and benefits in order to manage them correctly and avoid the risk of legal challenges and more expensive or longer leaves.

Advise your clients to:

  • Designate FMLA leave for eligible employees concurrently with the workers compensation claim.

  • Keep in touch with injured or ill employees throughout their leave.

  • Manage pay and benefits according to each situation.

  • Carefully evaluate requests for intermittent time off, light duty, or other modified work.

  • Consult with your legal advisors and insurance carriers regarding special situations.

  • Handle returns to work and reinstatement of benefits in accordance with the laws.

This article originally appeared on ThinkHR.com.

The Big-Picture View of Risk | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

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Many human resources and business leaders think about compliance in black-and-white terms. We simply check the boxes and evaluate compliance efforts using one measure: “Are we doing it right or not?”

It’s easy to fall into the trap of failing to see the broader implications of our compliance efforts. We need to go beyond, “What’s the law and what should I do about it?” We need to ask questions like, “How does this law intersect with our culture?” or “What best practices will support this requirement?”  We need to understand that risk crosses our desks every day.

That’s where people risk management comes in.

People Risk Management: What It Is

People risk management is simply the strategic and wholistic view of compliance. It’s really all about the end-to-end story; it’s how we deal with all the things that happen in the employee lifecycle in a way that minimizes risk while maximizing employee engagement.

It’s all about how we anticipate risk, reduce the likelihood of risk events, and deal with them when they do happen. The best companies proactively respond to risk in an ethical way that not just protects us from liability, but also builds trust and respect among the workforce.

People Risk Management: An Example

Let’s say a new sexual harassment law goes into effect in your state. This triggering event (the new law) is just part of the issue. You need to take a big-picture view of the entire situation. You’ll need to know what you should anticipate, what you need to do, and how to evaluate your efforts to make sure you’ve addressed every risk.

Because this law is related to how people behave, in addition to administrative requirements, it can be difficult to understand how to simultaneously address both the risk of harassment and the risk of failing to comply with each aspect of the law. You also need to incorporate your response to this issue into your company culture to demonstrate that you care about protecting not just the company, but also your employees.

When engagement and compliance issues intersect, and you do both well, you create a culture that says you deal with stuff in a clear way, but also you protect yourself from legal risks. It’s a double benefit.

This article originally appeared on ThinkHR.com.