Keeping You in the Know

Health Tips and Information


Envisioning Greater Benefits for Your Employees

A quality health insurance plan is often cited as the most valuable benefit you can offer to your employees. But what happens if that healthcare plan doesn’t cover absolutely every service they want or need? Most employees appreciate the opportunity to choose from a menu of add-on benefits, to help close any gaps in coverage.

Since health insurance plans rarely cover eye exams, glasses, or contact lenses for adults, optional vision insurance can add value to your group health benefits plan. You can establish the plan as an add-on option, at no extra cost to you, while still allowing your employees to access a vision care plan at a desirable group rate.

The value of vision insurance. Health insurance plans do offer eye exams for minors under age 19, but this coverage doesn’t apply to your employee, their spouse, or children over age 19 who have decided to stay on their parents’ insurance plan. A vision care plan can close this gap, and make annual eye exams, glasses, and contact lenses more affordable for the family.

Eye exams are necessary for everyone. It is commonly believed that some people have eye troubles, while the rest of us don’t, and that this situation becomes permanent at some point during late childhood or early adulthood. That actually isn’t true! Adults can develop vision problems, particularly far sightedness or astigmatism, at any time. In fact, this is becoming more common as we all spend more time in front of computer and phone screens. Other eye health problems can develop over time, too, and affect anyone.

Added “insurance” for health. As for those other health problems, conditions like glaucoma and macular degeneration can impact adults regardless of a lifetime of perfect vision. Therefore, we all need to attend regular vision screenings, particularly as we get older, so that we can seek early treatment. And believe it or not, optometrists and ophthalmologists are often the first to notice signs of health conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even brain tumors. Attending annual vision screenings is yet another way to detect potential health problems early.

Safety matters. Since vision impacts workplace safety, offering optional vision insurance to your employees can benefit you, too. Fewer workplace accidents means greater productivity and possibly even savings on various liabilities.

To learn more about vision insurance, give us a call. We will discuss how you can add this valuable benefit to your menu of options, at a great rate for your employees.



Keeping an Eye on the Measles Outbreak

Lately, it might seem as though everywhere you turn, news outlets and social media posts remind you of the recent measles outbreak. If you’re feeling concerned about the illness, or your chances of catching it, hopefully we can offer some reassurance.

Why is this year’s measles outbreak such a big deal? Contrary to common belief, measles has never been completely eradicated in this country. Even in the year 2000, the year measles was declared “eradicated” in the United States, the CDC recorded 86 cases. Every year since, outbreaks of the virus have ranged from 37 cases (in 2004) to 667 cases (in 2014).

According to the CDC, more than 700 measles cases have been reported in the United States in 2019.

This year’s outbreak seems like a big deal because it is the largest we’ve seen in 25 years. However, keeping in mind that our population totals more than 327 million, your odds of contracting measles are still quite low.

Protecting yourself from measles. It’s important to remember that in developed nations, measles patients require hospitalization in about 7 of 1,000 cases. Due to proper nutrition and access to healthcare, only rarely does measles contribute to death (about 1 in 10,000 cases in the United States). But because even mild viral illnesses can cause inconvenience, and occasionally more serious symptoms (mostly in the immunocompromised), you probably want to avoid contracting the measles.

Take care to wash your hands regularly, especially in public places, and boost your immune system by eating a healthy diet. In fact, because the majority of more serious measles cases result from depleted vitamin A in the body, consuming foods high in vitamin A can confer a protective effect.

How would you know if you contract measles? About 10 to 14 days after exposure, you might notice symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Conjunctivitis (inflammation in the eyes)
  • A flat, blotchy red rash that begins on the face and gradually spreads to the rest of the body

Avoid spreading measles to others. Given the overall low prevalence of measles in the United States, symptoms such as a fever, runny nose, and sore throat are much more likely to signal a run-of-the-mill sinus infection. But if you know or suspect that you were recently exposed to measles, then you should see your doctor for testing. Wearing a surgical mask in the waiting room can help protect those around you.

If you do test positive for measles, your doctor will advise you on your next steps. In most cases, treatment with vitamin A and plenty of rest will have you feeling better in about a week.

In the meantime, since you might be contagious, stay away from crowded places and avoid contact with young children or anyone who has a compromised immune system.


Helping Your Employees Navigate Their Benefits

We all know that employee benefits packages help business owners to recruit the best workers, while also contributing to worker satisfaction and retention. But there is a big difference between offering valuable benefits, and employee usage and appreciation of them. If your workers aren’t well versed in the options available to them, and aren’t selecting the benefit options that are best suited for their situations, then they aren’t reaping the full value of those benefits… And neither are you.

That’s why communication between HR departments and employees can be so critical. In order to help your employees understand their group benefits and select the best options for their situations, take the following steps.

Provide expertise. Does your HR department or provider give employees access to the information they need, in order to make informed decisions? Are they accessible by phone, email, or appointment? Are written materials, pamphlets, etc clear, and do they accurately give necessary information on benefits without added clutter?

Help employees ask the right questions. Sometimes employees are so unfamiliar with their own benefits, that they don’t even know which questions to ask! Then they make benefit selections based on what appears the easiest, or they simply continue with last year’s choices.  Encourage them to ask the right questions, such as:

  • Are my favorite doctors and facilities in-network?
  • Has the benefit plan administrator, or insurance carrier, changed?
  • Are alternative medical practitioners covered?
  • Has prescription drug coverage changed?
  • Are there any new benefit options that weren’t available last year?
  • Are there any voluntary benefits I should know about?
  • Do we have a wellness program or incentives?
  • How can I learn more about my benefit options?

Streamline the enrollment process. If you haven’t already, elect an online benefits software program that employees can access at their leisure. This will allow them full access to benefits information, and make the enrollment period more convenient for everyone.

Continue to reach out to employees throughout the year. The conversation regarding benefits should be an ongoing one, throughout the year. Regularly issue reminders about topics such as:

  • Using flex spending account funds before the year ends
  • Formulary changes (for prescription drug changes) and the opportunity to save money by using generic drugs
  • Information on voluntary benefits programs, like wellness programs and additional insurance options
  • Updates on retirement savings options, such as updates on employer matching funds, all required notices, the summary annual report, or information on taking advantage of income tax benefits

These ideas should get you started, but give us a call for more information on communicating employee benefits. We can help you ensure that your employees (and you) reap the maximum amount of satisfaction from your group benefits package.


How to Get Life Insurance with No Premiums For a Year

We all know that protecting our loved ones should be high on our financial priorities list. But with so many day-to-day expenses, many of you might be procrastinating on choosing a life insurance policy. That’s understandable, but what if you found a creative way to sign up for a life insurance policy, with no premiums for the next few months or even year?

That is entirely possible at this time of year, because many of you will soon be receiving your tax refund check. It’s tempting to put that money toward something a bit more “fun”, yes, but ultimately there’s nothing more rewarding than peace of mind.

Overcoming life insurance obstacles. If you’ve been putting off selecting a life insurance policy, it’s probably for one of these common reasons:

  • Rearranging your monthly budget to cover the premiums feels challenging
  • You don’t want yet another monthly payment to remember (or risk losing coverage if you forget to pay)
  • You already have a life insurance policy, and you suspect it’s not enough or the right type of coverage, but you just haven’t confronted that problem yet

A simple solution. Whether it’s your budget, remembering payments, or not knowing how much life insurance you really need, we can help.

First, schedule a meeting with us to perform a needs analysis. This tells us more about your family’s needs, and how much money they would need to survive without you. You need to do this whether you’re investigating life insurance for the first time, or you’re simply reevaluating your current coverage. As life changes and families grow, so do our insurance needs.

Then, we can match you with a policy that fits your coverage needs. When you put your tax refund toward the payments, you could be paid up for months or even an entire year. Now you won’t have to rearrange your budget to accommodate the premiums, and you won’t have to worry about forgetting a payment. You rest easy for the next year, knowing that your family is protected in the event of an unforeseen event.

Changing Healthcare Plans Outside of Open Enrollment

Each fall, Open Enrollment allows us the opportunity to sign up for a new healthcare plan, or change from our existing plan into a new one. But what if you missed the deadline and find yourself without healthcare, or needing to make changes, at some other time during the year?

In certain cases, you might qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. If you experience one of these Qualifying Life Events, you should get in touch with us right away to review your options.

You lose your health insurance coverage. Coverage can be lost when you change jobs, you lose access to a student healthcare plan, you turn 26 and age out of your parents’ plan, or you become ineligible for Medi-Cal due to an income increase. Some other circumstances might also apply.

Your household dynamics change. You get married or divorced, or you add a child to the household through birth or adoption. A death in the family might also be a Qualifying Life Event.

Your residence changes. You move into a new area (county or even zip code, if your healthcare plan doesn’t offer service there), you’re a migrant worker who moves for work, or you’re a student who moves to or away from school. Those who are leaving transitional housing (such as a shelter) can also qualify.

Some other events. Although they’re less common, these events can also qualify you for a Special Enrollment Period:

  • You leave jail or prison
  • You become a US citizen
  • You become a member of a recognized Native American tribe
  • Your income changes to the extent that your coverage qualifications also change
  • You are an Americorps member, starting or ending your service

Please keep in mind that your Special Enrollment Period will last for only 60 days, from the time of one of these Qualifying Life Events. So, you still need to avoid procrastination and give yourself time to make an informed decision. Give us a call if you think you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period at any point during this year, and we can help guide you through your healthcare plan options.

How to Know If You Need Short-Term Disability Insurance

If you were ever temporarily disabled and unable to work, would you have a plan in place to cover your living expenses? Some employers provide short-term disability insurance, which covers part of your income in the event that you can’t work for three to six months. If your employer does not provide this type of insurance, you might be interested in locating your own policy.

So, who needs short-term disability insurance?

Those whose employers don’t provide a policy. Investigate your employer’s offerings, because this benefit is often not widely advertised. Check on the exact benefits, as well, to be sure they will be sufficient to meet your needs.

Those who have long-term disability insurance, but not short-term. Many employers offer both types of disability insurance, but not all. Since long-term disability insurance often requires a six-month waiting period, you could exhaust your savings before reaching the end of that term.

Those who are self-employed. Obviously, you won’t have employer-provided benefits in this case. Carefully evaluate your insurance needs, and consider short-term disability insurance to provide much-needed income in the event of an accident or illness that prevents you from working. This rule also applies to independent contractors.

Those who can’t wait on SSDI. Approval for Social Security Disability Insurance often requires a wait of six months or more, and your disability must fall under certain rules. In the meantime, you could use up any liquid assets available to you. A short-term disability insurance policy can help to close that gap and ease the financial burden.

Keep in mind that most short-term disability insurance plans will provide about 60 percent of your lost wages, up to a specified dollar amount. The exact payout amount, and the length of payments, will depend upon the policy you select and the premiums you pay. Generally speaking, short-term disability insurance can provide vital income during a difficult period of your life, but you might need to supplement this income with other planning measures, depending upon your financial needs.

Why You Should Always Review Medical Bills

We all know that healthcare isn’t cheap, but how often do you scrutinize your bills for errors?

As it turns out, you definitely should be reviewing those bills when they arrive. About 80 percent of all medical bills contain errors. On bills totaling $10,000 or more, the average mistake can cost you more than $1,300.

And of course, it’s not just you who who gets stuck with the bill. Bills that contain errors are more likely to be rejected by health insurance companies, but even if your policy does pay the bill, the higher costs are essentially passed on to all consumers.

What causes medical billing errors? Often these errors originate from simple mistakes during the data entry process. Names or policy numbers can be entered incorrectly, for example. Other times, a poor explanation of an insurance company’s coverage can result in overcharges.

Another common culprit is errors in diagnostic code. If the wrong code for a procedure is entered, either due to misunderstanding or a simple typo, this can result in charges for more expensive procedures or medications that were not actually performed.

The end result. The end result, of course, is that you could be paying more out-of-pocket than you should be, for services that weren’t actually performed. When insurance companies are overcharged, the price of healthcare increases for everyone. If your health insurance company does catch the overcharge, they could reject the bill.

This is why you should always check every medical bill, as soon as it arrives, to be sure the bill matches all services, procedures, and medications that you received. Notify the physician’s office of any potential discrepancies, or call your insurance company to share your concern.


15 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Cancer

Recently, new figures were released regarding the incidence of cancer in the United States. One in three of us will receive that diagnosis at some point during our lifetimes, with about ninety percent of those cases occurring after age fifty (according to the American Cancer Society).

We all hope it won’t be us, but luckily you don’t have to rely solely upon hope. While some people face an increased risk of cancer due to factors they can’t control, such as genes or environment, there are steps you can take to reduce your odds of ever facing this diagnosis.

  • Maintain a healthy weight – if you stay within your recommended weight range, you can reduce your odds of cancer by about 18 percent
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and low in processed meats, sugars, and deep-fried foods
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes per day
  • Avoid alcohol entirely, or at least cut back
  • Don’t smoke, as one in three cancer cases is related to smoking
  • Avoid secondhand smoke
  • Avoid carcinogenic chemicals, and follow all safety recommendations to reduce exposure if you must use them
  • Have your home tested for radon, and avoid other forms of radiation
  • Watch out for sunburns, as they increase your risk of skin cancer
  • Take precautions against viruses that can trigger cancer, such as HPV, which is communicated through unprotected sexual activity
  • Use medications when absolutely needed, but talk to your doctor about other options that are available to you, because occasionally prescription drugs are found to be possibly carcinogenic after long periods of use
  • For women, breastfeeding reduces breast cancer risk, so consider this choice if you have kids
  • Avoid hormone replacement therapy unless it is absolutely necessary
  • Engage in regular, honest conversations with your doctor about your risks and choices you can make to avoid various types of cancer
  • Attend all recommended screenings – while they don’t prevent cancer, they can lead to early detection and therefore more effective treatment

Each individual’s risk of cancer comes from a variety of potential situations and choices, such as genetics, environment, diet, lifestyle, and more. Sometimes, bad luck seems to play a role. If you’re concerned about your risk of developing cancer in the future, you should know that it is possible to add a supplemental cancer insurance policy to your existing healthcare coverage at any time. You don’t need to wait for Open Enrollment to elect this type of coverage.

In the event that you are ever diagnosed with cancer, your cancer policy could help to pay for co-pays, deductibles, hospital stays, diagnostic tests, and various treatments and procedures. Some policies even cover lost income, or expenses like childcare and travel if you need to go somewhere to obtain treatment. Call us to discuss your concerns, and we can help match you with a policy that addresses your needs in the event that this unfortunate situation should ever arise.

Keeping Up With Trends in Employee Benefits

We’ve all been thrilled to see low unemployment rates, as a sign of a positive and growing economy. However, a competitive hiring environment definitely encourages business owners to consider their compensation and benefits packages more closely. We’re seeing that workers know they can be a bit more choosy with regard to employment, and weigh several offers before opting for the work situation that best fits their lifestyle and preferences.

So, what does that mean for employee benefits? After pay, health insurance and other benefit offerings fall at the top of most prospective employees’ priority lists. Employers who want to be competitive are revamping their benefits packages to match up with changing demands of the workforce.

Keep an eye on the competition. To attract the most skilled applicants (and retain current employees), wise employers are keeping an eye on competing companies. Just as pay must fall in line with labor market demands, benefits packages, too, are a serious consideration for most workers. Knowing what other companies are offering can be an invaluable tool.

Consider a “buffet” of benefits. One of the biggest trends today is “customizable” benefits menus, that allow employees to select the options that best suit them. With regard to health insurance and wellness benefits, the following are growing in popularity:

  • A choice of health insurance tiers, with varying deductibles and premiums
  • Health savings plans, to help manage high deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses
  • A choice of physicians and/or treatment centers
  • Flexible hours/locations for work
  • Family leave
  • Life and disability insurance
  • Pet insurance
  • Gym memberships or onsite fitness centers
  • Wearable device allowances
  • Employee discounts to local businesses and attractions
  • Identity theft protection
  • Employee financial planning services
  • …and more

Open the lines of communication. If you really want to know what your current and prospective employees want, simply ask! When workers feel that their opinions are considered, and their ideas receive serious consideration and follow-up, they know that they are valued members of a team.

For more information on constructing a well-rounded, competitive employee benefits package, give us a call. We can help you identify the options available to you, and design a package that will help you attract and retain the most highly skilled workers.

One Surprising Factor Behind Rising Health Insurance Premiums

You’ve probably seen the news reports on rising health insurance premiums, or simply noticed a difference in your own monthly costs over recent years. But what you don’t know might surprise you: While we might imagine that higher doctor or hospital bills are to blame, the cost of specialty drugs is another driving force behind the increase.

The California Department of Insurance recently released their Prescription Drug Cost Transparency Report, and the results were illuminating. In 2017, brand name prescriptions totaled 1.4 million, prescriptions for generic drugs totaled about 8.9 million, and specialty drug prescriptions totaled 270,000.

While it seems that specialty drugs comprised only a minority of overall drug prescriptions for that year, reported spending shows a different side of the story. While brand name drugs costs insurers about $271 million, and generic drugs cost about $172 million, the total bill for specialty drugs topped out at a whopping $606 million!

How does this spending contribute to premium hikes? According to the report…

  • Brand name drugs make up about 11 percent of insurer spending, and carry a 1.2 percent impact on premiums
  • Generic drugs make up about 4 percent of insurer spending, and carry a 0.3 percent impact on premiums
  • Specialty drugs make up about 20 percent of insurer spending, and carry a 3.7 percent impact on premiums

So, what are “specialty drugs”, anyway? These prescriptions generally apply to complex medical conditions, and require special administration and monitoring. Generally, they require special approval from insurance companies before coverage for their use can be obtained. The most commonly prescribed specialty drugs are:

  • Humira (an immuno-suppressant)
  • Truvada (a common HIV drug)
  • Humalog (an insulin therapeutic)
  • Victoza (a drug used for diabetes)
  • Androgel (a hormonal prescription)
  • Enbrel (used for arthritis)
  • Stelara (a psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis treatment)
  • Copaxone (used for Multiple Sclerosis)

Rising health insurance premiums affect us all. While we take comfort in the fact that all insured individuals are able to access the prescription drugs needed for their health conditions, future advocacy work might focus on reducing the cost of these drugs, and on preventing serious health conditions. We will continue to keep you updated on this situation. In the meantime, please contact us if you have questions about health insurance premiums, supplemental forms of insurance, or any other related issues.





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