All posts by Stephanie O

What do Employees Think of Health Insurance

Most Americans who have health insurance through their employer are not only satisfied with their plans, but many also feel their premium and deductible costs are reasonable – though they are concerned about rising costs, according to America’s Health Insurance Plans’ survey, “The Value of Employer-Provided Coverage.”

Luntz Global Partners conducted the survey on behalf of AHIP, querying 1,000 U.S. adults with employer-provided coverage. A majority (71 percent) of respondents are satisfied with their current health insurance plan, while 19 percent are dissatisfied and 9 percent say they have neither favorable nor unfavorable opinions.

More than half (52 percent) say their premiums and deductibles are reasonable, while 41 percent say their premiums are unreasonable and 36 percent say their deductibles are unreasonable. A few (7 percent) say their premiums are neither reasonable nor unreasonable, and 12 percent say that for their deductibles.

Most respondents feel their health plan “has their back,” protecting them when they need them most. When asked if they had a medical emergency and were required to go to the hospital, 75 percent of the respondents say their coverage would protect them from the majority of their medical costs, while 25 percent do not have confidence their plan would adequately protect them.

“Employer-provided coverage is a pillar of Americans’ health and financial security,” says AHIP’s president and CEO Marilyn Tavenner. “The results reaffirm that American workers and their families depend on their coverage to provide them with protection and peace of mind.”

“Employers and workers have good reason to be worried about rising healthcare costs,” writes HRDive, citing an Aon study that predicted health care cost increases will rise by 7.2 percent this year, up from 6.9 percent in 2017.

While the federal government has not been able to bend the cost curve, private companies are now trying to “transform the healthcare industry itself” – most notably Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway’s plans to form a joint healthcare company, HRDive writes.

“Details on the partnership are scarce at the moment, but the hope among industry leaders is that this and other private sector efforts will move the needle forward toward delivering savings to the average worker,” HRDive writes.

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5 Benefit Trends to Watch in 2018

The battle over the Affordable Care Act, the consumerization of benefits, and the gig economy were some of the major headlines grabbing the attention of benefits administrators, brokers, and business owners in 2017.

So which trends will dominate and continue to define the benefits landscape in 2018?

Here are few hot topics to watch in the new year.

Benefits: The not-so-secret weapon in the war for talent

With the unemployment rate at a 17-year low, business owners and HR leaders are scrambling to find and retain top talent. Today, it’s not a matter of whether,but how to use benefits offerings to lure and keep people engaged. According to a study by the ADP Research Institute®, the cost of a benefits package is one of the top three factors that impact job consideration.

Innovative companies are realizing the importance of tying their benefits to their talent strategy. Employees want to feel that that their employer understands what they need in their life at every stage, so offering benefits that appeal to a multi-generational workforce is vital.  For example, millennials may value student debt loan repayment, where Gen Xers may prefer help with fertility treatment payments, and baby boomers may prioritize health benefits for chronic conditions. You need to ensure that every employee sees their benefits as part of their total compensation, which ultimately can contribute to better talent retention and recruitment.

Using data to effectively market and communicate benefits

Benefits mean nothing if you aren’t marketing them to both candidates and employees in an effort to continuously differentiate your clients’ company from the competition. Do your clients’ career sites accurately reflect the benefits they offer? Many companies underutilize this extremely important asset that can make or break whether a candidate even gives a  company a second look. Collect and analyze data to find out what’s important to the people your clients are looking to recruit and then highlight those benefits in job postings.

Also, use the company’s internal data to target employees in real-time. Instead of sending a broad communication to an entire employee population via paper or email, push information to specific employees during the decision cycle to let them know what benefits people “like them” are selecting.

Mobile benefits enrollment picks up steam

People are already using their mobile devices for some of their most important tasks—handling their finances, finding a date, driving from one location to another—so why should benefits enrollment be any different? Now that more than 10,000 boomers are retiring from the workforce daily and being replaced by millennials and Gen Zers, mobile benefits enrollment will soon explode. While the technology has been available, companies have been reluctant to put the entire benefits shopping experience in the hands of employees so they can enroll anytime, anywhere. This will change as more employees demand the type of online, mobile shopping experience they encounter in all other areas of life.

“Alexa, tell me about my health plan options.”

Artificial intelligence (AI) has revolutionized mainstream consumer technology through friendly, everyday voice assistants like Alexa and Siri. AI assistants like them will eventually help employees make data-driven benefits decisions.

As AI voice assistant technology continues to evolve, it will eventually be able to send targeted benefits communications in real time. For example, using employee data, AI technology can reach to certain employees who have a high deductible health plan and ask, “Have you considered enrolling in an HSA?” In turn, the employee can inquire further, “What’s an HSA” and the system can explain more, and even share past years’ benefits data to help the employee make a better informed decision. While still in the early stages, this type of targeted, intelligent benefits communication will continue to emerge in the coming years. The user experience of the future will not just be about what software looks like, but ultimately how a piece of technology engages with employees to help guide their benefits choices.

New and novelty benefits

Last year, new, non-traditional benefits included things like “paw-ternity leave” and wedding reimbursements. This year, a number of new, novelty benefits have begun to crop up. Instead of offering retention bonuses, some employers are now using non-interest-bearing loans that can go toward housing down payments as a retention tool. For example, employers might offer a $20,000 loan, which is decremented a few thousand dollars every year the employee remains with the company. Other companies have begun to explore offering genetic testingbenefits as a wellness initiative, and identity theft protection amid increasingly common personal data breaches.

As employers consider broadening their benefits offerings this year, it’s always helpful to consult a broker or benefits technology provider. These resources can help them understand what benefits are missing from their basket and help them pick the right policies so they’re affordable to employees. Remember: Don’t underestimate the power of benefits when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. Benefits offerings can provide that extra boost needed to not only get top talent through the door, but keep them there.


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9 Best Practices to Increase Engagement in Wellness

January 1 – the day marked by fresh starts and resolutions to lose weight, stop smoking or live a healthier lifestyle. More businesses hoping to make these positive changes stick for their employees are investing in employee well-being programs. But, much like the resolutions themselves, businesses can’t just launch a program and expect it to maintain itself. It takes continued work and a strong commitment.

Workplace wellness is a $40 billion industry and growing, according to estimates from the Global Wellness Institute. This money is being invested in well-being programs, which are designed to encourage healthier lifestyles, curb preventable chronic diseases and ultimately reduce health-care costs for both the company, and individual employees.

Creating sustainable, positive changes through a well-being program can be a challenge. To ensure success, encourage greater engagement and achieve the desired ROI, you should follow these nine best practices identified in a peer-reviewed study conducted by StayWell:

1. Garner strong senior management support

Fifty-three percent of employees who don’t participate in wellness programs cite lack of management support, according to To succeed, employees at all levels – from the executive suite to the manufacturing floor – need to buy in to your program. When designing a program, you must make sure it supports management’s sincere interest in employee well-being and also meets larger goals of reducing health risks and health-care costs, which, in turn, improve productivity and engagement.

2. Design a comprehensive program

Overall employee participation increases with comprehensive programs because more employee interests are addressed, according to Kaiser Family Foundation. To make a difference, your program should offer something for the 70 percent of the employee population who may not be ready to change their behavior yet, and address all aspects of well-being, including stress management and change resiliency, as well as all stages of disease progression.

3. Integrate incentives

Participation rates increase with appropriate incentives, according to StayWell research. Incentives must be designed to drive strategically important outcomes. These can come in the form of short-term initiatives that guide employees along a path to long-term, sustainable intrinsic incentives. Or you can use non-financial incentives, such as recognition for reaching certain goals or games in which employees compete against each other.

4. Develop an integrated, comprehensive communication strategy

According to research, 69 percent of employees who don’t participate in wellness programs cite lack of awareness. A solid communications strategy – which addresses employees’ reasons for not participating, provides feedback and recognition for participation, and leverages data to determine the most appropriate communications channels – will drive greater participation.

5. Have dedicated onsite program management staff reports that 75 percent of employees participating in well-being programs say that a personalized, customized approach from on-site experts and coaches is important. Greater engagement will occur if you have dedicated, certified well-being staff onsite as part of the program, and those individuals are available at times that are convenient for employees.

6. Leverage multiple program modalities

While TechCrunch reports that U.S. adults spend an average of five hours per day on their smartphones, it’s important to realize that many employees – especially those over age 50 or earning under $50,000 annually – may not have a smartphone. While you’ll want to ensure that the program maximizes employee convenience by being available at any time, from any location, through an app, it is equally important to offer in-person, mail and telephone-based options to engage, as well.

7. Utilize population-based awareness-building activities

When population-based cultural activities are part of the well-being program, participation rates increase, StayWell research reveals. You will want to include activities that increase social connectedness, including the participation of colleagues and managers. Additionally, chances of a program’s success increase if activities are linked to your company’s greater purpose or enables participants to give back to larger communities and non-profits.

8. Offer biometric health screenings

Employers reported lowered health risk and savings in healthcare costs when screenings were incorporated into their corporate wellness program, according to the HERO Employee Health Management Best Practice Scorecard. You’ll want to consider whether the program encourages employees to see their primary care physicians for biometric testing and follow up, and whether those results are included in the program. Also important to continued success is having screenings that provide instant results and in-the-moment education.

9. Encourage vendor integration

Integrating across all vendors to support employee well-being increases convenience for employees. For example, can an employee’s activity tracker and device data be leveraged to personalize the program? Additionally, the program should encourage referrals and transfers to collaborating vendors to achieve strategic outcomes.

Implementing these best practices can result in tangible benefits. The StayWell research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reports health risks declining by 4.7 percent in companies that employed these best practices, compared to just a two percent decrease at organizations that did not. Beyond employee health risks, these best practices can help businesses achieve tangible results and achieve their goals of improved health management efforts, higher program participation and lower overall health-care costs.

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The Ashley Group Recognized as One of the Best Places to Work in Insurance

The Ashley Group today announced it has been named in the annual Best Places to Work in Insurance program, which recognizes employers for their outstanding performance in establishing workplaces where employees can thrive, enjoy their work and help their companies grow.

“We’re extremely proud of the team we’ve put together here at The Ashley Group,” says Ashley Group president Tim Paradiso. “Our employees are passionate about the work they do and it shows in the way they support one another and support the goals of the company. We owe our success as an agency to their dedication and hard work.”

“Being named to Business Insurance’s list of the Best Places to Work in Insurance for 2017 demonstrates that The Ashley Group has built a culture in which employees are supported and engaged, which benefits their customers and the employers’ financial performance,” says Business Insurance Publisher Peter Oxner.

The Ashley Group was founded in 2002 and has approximately 30 employees between three locations in Northern Ohio. In addition to providing an affordable and comprehensive benefit package, they maintain a fun and friendly workplace built on a supportive, team-focused culture that nurtures career growth and development for every individual.

Best Places to Work in Insurance is an annual sponsored content feature presented by the Custom Publishing unit of Business Insurance and Best Companies Group that lists the agents, brokers, insurance companies and other providers with the highest levels of employee engagement and satisfaction.

The ranking and profiles of the winning companies will be unveiled as a sponsored content supplement in the November issue of Business Insurance and online at Check our our Careers page for more information on open positions!

The Ashley Value: Hear Our Story Firsthand

The Ashley Group has partnered with Hanson Inc. to shoot and produce a brand video that provides a glimpse at who we are and what we do. We are proud to now invite you to watch and learn about our value and our unique approach employee benefits:

Hanson is a digital marketing agency now located in downtown Toledo, supporting the revitalization of the community. Check out their website to learn more about their creative and engaging digital marketing strategies:

How an ACA ‘repeal now, replace later’ strategy could benefit employers

President Trump recently revived calls to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a ready replacement, a move that could offer some upsides for employer-sponsored health plans.

While employer-backed insurance is not at the center of the fight over Obamacare, experts say that rolling back some of the law’s key provisions, including the employer mandate and related reporting requirements, would be helpful for large organizations.

“Repeal now and replace later is mostly positive for employers,” says Kim Monk, managing director at Capital Alpha Partners, a policy research firm.

The strategy, which Trump highlighted in a tweet on June 30, was backed by several lawmakers, including Sens. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and Rand Paul, R-Ky. The move is seen as an alternative, albeit an unlikely one, to the current Senate negotiations, should those ultimately flounder this summer. Lawmakers are set to pick the debate back up Monday as they return from the July 4 recess. Republicans previously considered a repeal-first strategy earlier this year.


How much benefit employers would see from a “repeal now, replace later” approach largely depends on whether conservatives could secure a complete roll back of the healthcare law, which may prove unfeasible in the current environment. Republicans are working to reform the ACA using a Senate process known as budget reconciliation, which requires just 51 votes for passage. But using that process also limits the types of changes that lawmakers can make to those that affect government spending or taxes.

Achieving a full repeal would likely require additional legislation under normal Senate rules, a difficult fight given the current makeup of the chamber and strong Democratic opposition to unwinding the ACA. Still, a clean repeal would provide employers with the greatest relief.

A central element of any Republican plan to repeal the ACA is the removal of both the individual mandate and the employer mandate. Businesses with 50-plus workers would no longer face penalties for failing to offer coverage or for offering coverage that does not meet certain minimum standards, which could save them billions of dollars annually. The CBO estimated last year that employers would face an estimated $21 billion in penalties for 2016.

One of the biggest boosts for employers would be the elimination of the Cadillac tax on high-priced health plans, set to go into effect in 2020, though currently both the House and Senate bills simply call for a delay of its implementation.

“Repealing the Cadillac tax would be a dream come true” for employers, Monk says.

Another major burden for employers under the ACA has been the law’s numerous reporting requirements tied to the employer mandate, which could be dramatically eased or removed as part of a broader repeal plan.

“Reporting requirements have been very costly and complex and time-consuming,” says Jim Klein, president of the American Benefits Council.

A full repeal of the law also would allow employers to remove certain plan features that are required under the ACA, including directives to cover dependent children until age 26, prohibitions on annual or lifetime caps and requirements around no-cost preventative services for workers. There would likely be greater variation both in plan pricing and design if the ACA were to be repealed with replacement to come later.

“If the mandates of the ACA went away and the concept of the essential health benefits list went away, there’s going to be more freedom for insurers and self-insurers to design their programs,” says Seth Safra, a partner in the employee benefits & executive compensation group at law firm Proskauer in Washington.

Christopher Beinecke, counsel in the employee benefits and executive compensation practice group at Haynes and Boone in Dallas, adds that some employers could possibly return, for example, to limited benefit offerings known as mini-med plans, a type of low-cost option that is now prohibited.

“If employers did something because they felt they had to under the ACA, they might peel some of that back,” he says.

At the same time, however, observers underscored that any changes to health plans would likely be gradual and modest system-wide, because health plans are often used to help companies attract and retain workers.

While the specific effects are more difficult to game out, it’s also possible that broader changes to the health system as part of an ACA rollback could in turn impact the employer-sponsored market. Washington-based think tank the Urban Institute, for example, has estimated that repeal without a replacement could increase the number of uninsured by 24 million by 2021, which could put upward pressure on overall system costs if people returned to using the emergency room for primary care. Those additional costs could then potentially be pushed on to employers and workers.

“That would be bad for people with employer-sponsored health insurance,” says James Gelfand, senior vice president of health policy for the ERISA Industry Committee, regarding the possibility of cost-shifting.

Still, Gelfand adds, a repeal of the ACA would offer numerous upsides for employers grappling with a host of new requirements and heightened standards under the reform law, even without a replacement plan at the ready.

“For us, repeal gets us part of the way we want to go,” he says. “Then [we hope] a replace would include some good stuff, but overall it’s not focused on us.”

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