Month: September 2014

Is it Time to Revisit [or Review?] Your PEO Arrangement?

By Peter Freska, MPH, CEBS
Benefits Advisor, The LBL Group
A United Benefit Advisors Partner Firm

describe the image

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is driving companies to look at many aspects of their organization more strategically. With an estimated 2.5 million people in Professional Employer Group (PEO) arrangements totaling $92 billion in annual revenue, the spotlight was cast on them (source: The questions related to the implications of PPACA on PEOs are many, and the law is still out for interpretation.

With this in mind, I have always said that there is a place for PEOs… and they sometimes make sense. However, in my opinion an organization that has grown from the average PEO size of 20 employees (source: to more than 100, likely has an administrative cost higher than a similarly situated organization with a true employer-employee relationship. Keep in mind that in most scenarios the point of a PEO is risk and cost mitigation, but as an organization grows, administrative personnel and functions such as payroll servicing, hiring & firing, training, etc. are still needed internally. Additionally, with companies in the 100 t
o 250 employee range, most health & welfare benefits are pooled, already reducing exposure to medical loss risk. As a company grows past the 250 employee range, cost may be mitigated in other forms such as employee well-being programs, self-funding arrangements, or participation in captives for a variety of insurances. So, if you are a company of more than 100 employees (which is a subject employer under PPACA), then here are seven easy steps to moving out of a PEO.

  1. Decide if it is the right choice for your organization by doing a cost analysis. The cost analysis should include a complete breakdown of everything from workers’ compensation, employment practices liability insurance (EPLI), all health & welfare benefits, retirement plans, human resources, and administrative costs. To best judge these costs and benefits, they should be benchmarked in some fashion. For the health & welfare benefits, the best option is a robust health plan and ancillary benefits survey such as the United Benefit Advisors (UBA) Annual Health Plan Survey and the UBA Ancillary Benefits Survey. Utilizing these tools, your UBA Partner can outline the most appropriate costs and benefit levels for your company based on industry, employer size, state, region, and how it compares to national data.

    Steps two, three, four, and five involve understanding what a company currently provides and what it would like to provide post-PEO.

  2. Payroll and HRIS. There are many choices in an ever growing sea of vendors. The best bet is to look for a payroll and Human Resources Information System (HRIS) partner. This would be a company that is looking to the future of technology and is willing to understand the organization’s unique needs. With cloud-based technology becoming the predominant option here, technology companies are really the answer over payroll processing companies. People want the ability to access their information at anytime, anywhere, securely, and on their mobile device. While there are many companies that say they can do this through a variety of looped and bandaged-together products, there are very few with truly cloud-based platforms that were designed from the ground up for today’s users. One worth looking at is Paylocity.

  3. Business insurance: This piece is a driver of many organizations to join a PEO. As stated earlier, risk mitigation (especially with workers’ compensation insurance) is great for small companies. However, requesting an experience modification worksheet from your PEO along with the last five years of loss runs can be an enlightening experience. Couple this with a loss control visit, and I would venture a guess that the PEO will change its tune. Also, according to the California Department of Industrial Relations: “The fact that you engage a PEO does not release you from liability. Employers have a responsibility to ensure their workers are covered by a valid workers’ compensation policy. So before you turn your vital programs like workers’ comp and payroll over to a third party, be sure you are dealing with a reputable, legally insured PEO.” (source:

  4. Retirement: Understanding the entire program that is currently offered to the co-employees (or leased employees within a PEO) can be difficult. A PEO should be able to outline the costs and assets allocated to the portion of the retirement plan that accounts for the company in question. When transitioning out of the PEO’s plan, it is important to schedule individual meetings with all employees in order to properly explain the new employer sponsored retirement plan and how to rollover any existing funds from the prior plan. These funds will be crucial in building up the retirement plan assets to reduce the costs applied.

  5. Health & Welfare: As previously mentioned, benchmarking your benefits is integral. Moving out of a PEO opens the company to the entire market of choices. Knowing what the right fit is for the company in question will allow the management team to allocate the proper funding type and contributions. Request for quotes, carrier negotiations, benefit modeling, decisions, implementation, and enrollment – all must come and be aligned with the latest health care reform rules, regulations and guidance, in order to avoid significant penalties to both the organization and potentially to the employees.

  6. HR Manager: While most companies with more than 100 employees will agree that they need an HR manager, they may have divergent opinions on when to bring them into the fold. One school of thought is that the HR manager to be hired should be part of the process, included in business partner decisions and selection. The second option is that the company team, with or without outside assistance, drives the process and implements each step. This culminates with the hiring of an HR manager to assist in the final enrollment and implementation pieces of the new startup programs. In either method, it is crucial that the company culture be outlined at all levels. While a company may have been in existence for many years, moving out of a PEO is much like starting a new company. Many of the same pieces must be played strategically in order to garner the best result for long-term sustainable growth that attracts and retains the best and brightest team members.

  7. The Final Step: Don’t forget to read the current PEO contract. Many organizations fall victim to termination guidelines and/or costs. Be savvy and aware of the pitfalls, and make sure that the PEO is duly notified in writing of the intention to dissolve the co-employment relationship as of the proper future date.

And that is all. With proper notification to the PEO, an organization can move out of a PEO relationship in just over one month. Generally speaking, it is ideal to move out before January 1 to reduce the payroll tax implications. Ultimately, partner with an advisory firm that can guide the company through the process and the first payroll will work out just right.

Can “Focused” Provider Networks really maintain lower premiums? (Part 1)

describe the imageFocused provider networks (aka skinny or narrow) are nothing new to the health insurance marketplace.  Insurance carriers have been using different sized provider networks in their HMO and PPO portfolios for many years now.

The concept is familiar to most of us.  If you offer a smaller provider network, you can offer the same plan at lower premiums than the plan offered with a carrier’s full HMO or PPO network.

The question is, how effective are they in reducing, or maintaining lower premiums?

In order for the insurance concept to work so that people pay as little in premiums as they can, you have to get as many people as possible to participate.  That way, when there are claims, the more people who are paying premiums translates into lower premiums for everyone who is participating.  It’s simple division; right?  A $10,000 claim divided among 100 people is $100/person vs. $50/person when the same claim is averaged among 200 people.

So, with insurance premiums on the rise up to 182% from 1999 to 2013 compared to inflation at 40% over that same time period*, how are the insurance carriers going to get people to participate in the marketplace exchanges so that health care reform can be successful?

Well, they have to start by making it affordable.  How did they do that?  Well, they increased the maximum out of pocket to the maximum allowed under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), reduced the network sizes, and gave the participating providers in the smaller networks a pay cut.

In February of this year, I watched a panel of experts discuss the state of the marketplace exchanges at an industry conference in Orlando, Florida.  One panelist made a comment stating that he felt the marketplace plans with the focused networks were going to essentially “blow up.”  He felt the narrow network strategy to keep lower premiums was going to backfire.

He cited that the participating providers were potentially of lower caliber than those that chose not to participate because they knew that they could not provide their standard quality of care for the lower rate of pay.  He believed that we were going to see more re-admissions to hospitals for patients who were either sent home too soon, or who suffered a relapse, secondary infection, etc. Doctors may be more inclined to see as many patients as possible, so they may not spend the time needed with each patient, and misdiagnose, or miss things altogether that could otherwise have been caught early, or even prevented entirely.

If we see a rise in claims due to re-admissions, and other factors cited above, the insurance carriers will have to increase the premiums for the next year in order to cover their losses if they did not collect enough premiums the previous year, and adjust the rates to cover the cost of projected claims for the next year based on the new data they have collected from 2014.  What do we think those increases will be – 5%, 10%, 25%? 

In May, I had the opportunity to ask an executive at Blue Shield of California what he thought about this statement made by the panelist.  I asked him if he felt they would see higher utilization than expected on these ‘focused’ networks due to the quality of the participating providers.  He got a little uncomfortable in his chair (whether because he did not like the question, or because he had not been asked it previously, I’m not sure), paused and then said that he did not know.  He said they did not have enough claims data at that time to really be able to give an answer.

A major insurance carrier mentioned at the UBA 2014 Fall Meeting & Expo in Rosemont, Illinois, that they had to submit rates to governing bodies for January 1, 2015, before the end of the second quarter of 2014, before they had most of their new enrollments from the first open enrollment period under PPACA and the marketplace exchanges processed.  This means that they had to submit rates based on projections and not actual claims data from 2014.  Therefore, they may not know if the narrow network strategy will indeed backfire for at least another year or more.

Some carriers have stated they have seen a higher utilization in the smaller networks this year, mostly due to the newly insured population.  One of those carriers reported that the population using the smaller networks  also require more administrative time for carriers to educate insureds about the plans and how to use to use the plans.

This makes me wonder how long the providers in the narrow networks will be able to keep up with the demand and the cost of seeing numerous patients for lower payments from the insurance carriers.  It costs the provider time/money for their staff to submit claims to the carrier for payment.  If they have a higher volume of patients, that means a higher administrative burden on the provider.  Will they be able to keep their costs under control with the current pay rates from the carriers?  Will they be able to maintain the current contract, or will they have to re-negotiate, or pull their contract altogether?

Another issue that we have been facing with the ‘focused’ provider networks is that most of the carriers did not have a handle on accurate provider network listings when the marketplaces opened.  In fact, Covered California had to take down their provider search tool from their site completely because it was not accurate and people were enrolling in plans in which their current providers could not accept. 

There were many cases where individuals have been going to see their providers, only to be turned away saying that they do not accept that plan.  Once this has been discovered, some individuals have been able to change plans under the “qualifying life events” outside of the open enrollment period, according to Tracy Seipel, a reporter at the San Jose Mercury News. 

While this is great for those who have discovered their current providers are not in-network due to a routine office visit, it might not be so easy for those who have to seek services due to an emergency.  While a claim in the emergency room due to a possible loss of life or limb will be covered as an in-network benefit at any provider, thanks to PPACA legislation, it does not mean that a subsequent in-patient hospital stay at the same facility will be covered.

Now that we are in September, and are coming up to the open enrollment period, I find myself wondering; did it work?  Are we going to see more people leave the marketplace exchanges in January when their renewal premiums skyrocket?  Or will they be able to maintain close to the current rates?

I guess we may have to wait another few weeks, or until open enrollment in 2016, to find out how the “focused” provider networks will impact premiums.

To benchmark your plan design and costs with other employers of your size, geography and industry, request a custom benchmarking report from your local UBA Partner firm.

*Source: Kaiser/HRET Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Benefits, 1999-2013.  Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Price Index, U.S. City Average of Annual Inflation (April to April), 1999-2013; Bureau of Labor Statistics, Seasonally Adjusted Data from the Current Employment Statistics Survey, 1999-2013 (April to April).

Universities Get Educated about PPACA

describe the imageIt is back to school time!  Universities and colleges across the nation have dedicated time and resources to course planning and curriculum evaluation, but have they prepared for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)?  Have they run the numbers, solved for unknown variables, and double-checked their answers?

PPACA requires applicable large employers – employers that employ fifty or more full-time and full-time equivalent employees during business days of the preceding calendar year – to offer full-time employees and their dependents affordable, minimum value coverage or pay penalties (Play or Pay) beginning in 2015 or 2016.  In general, a full-time employee means, with respect to a calendar month, an employee who is employed an average of at least thirty (30) hours of service per week, or one hundred thirty (130) hours of service per calendar month, with an employer.  An hour of service is each hour for which an employee is paid, or entitled to payment, for the performance of duties for the employer; and each hour for which an employee is paid, or entitled to payment by the employer for a period of time during which no duties are performed due to vacation, holiday, illness, incapacity (including disability), layoff, jury duty, military duty or leave of absence.  Excluded from the hours of service calculation include those hours which are performed by a bona fide volunteer, hours performed by students as part of a federal work-study program or a substantially similar state program, or any hour for services to the extent the compensation for those services constitutes income from sources outside the United States. 

Universities employ students in various capacities – tutors, bookstore and recreation center workers, graduate assistants, resident hall advisors, and recruitment team members.  Beginning with benefit year 2015, universities will have to offer student workers health insurance if they qualify as full-time employees, pursuant to Play or Pay.  With Play or Pay drawing nearer, universities should be well into the preparatory phase.  Preparation includes reviewing policies which should limit the number of hours students can work per week for each semester.  Universities should also ensure an enforcement mechanism is in place for such policies.  Educating supervisors and student workers about the maximum number of hours a student can work is integral.  For tutors, bookstore and recreation center workers, and graduate assistants, this all is pretty straight forward.  The formula is simple.  Students who “punch-in” for fewer than 30 hours per week are not full-time employees and do not have to be offered university group health insurance.   However, there are some student worker positions that present a more difficult set of circumstances, with latent variables, that must be addressed.  Answering incorrectly could result in penalties under Play or Pay and penalties under federal wage and hour laws.

Tracking hours of service for resident hall advisors and students part of recruitment teams, for example, involves more than “punching a time clock.”  On some campuses, resident hall advisors are students that live in on-campus dormitories and have a myriad of duties – attend mandatory employer-called meetings, resolve roommate disputes, organize dormitory and/or floor social gatherings, and offer general advice based on past experience.  Some universities give resident hall advisors stipends or pay them for a fixed amount of hours and may include housing as part of compensation.  Resident hall student employees could be “on-call” 24/7. 

Another group of student workers are students who are part of university recruitment teams whereby students travel to high schools or summer camps and recruit for the university.  A typical week of work would look something like: On Monday, student recruitment team members get in a university van and travel to a different location.  They spend the week with high school students in a camp-like environment, dining and sleeping in dormitories, hosting and participating in fellowship events.  On Friday, they get back in the university van and return home.  They could be paid for X number of hours per week plus meals and lodging during the time they are away.

How do universities track the hours of service for different student worker categories like the student recruitment team members or the resident hall advisors?  The preamble to the Play or Pay final regulations states that the definition of hour of service for purposes of crediting hours of service tracks the Department of Labor’s regulations under a qualified retirement plan, with certain modifications.  For employees paid on an hourly basis, an employer is required to calculate actual hours of service from records of hours worked and hours for which payment is made or due.  It would be prudent for universities to consult a wage and hour attorney for guidance, especially when addressing the intricacies of non-exempt employees, on-call employees, and situations that involve traveling away from home.  Leaving these variables unknown can result in penalties under both Play or Pay and wage and hour laws.

As a side note, the student worker issue does have the attention of some congressmen.  The Student Worker Exemption Act provides a blanket exemption for student workers who would be entitled to university-sponsored health insurance, thereby relieving universities of their obligation to offer student workers coverage as is required per PPACA.  Regardless of the traction, the wage and hour issues should still be examined – a problem that has costly consequences if it is answered incorrectly.

For more help in determining how many employees you have for various purposes under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, request UBA’s guide, “Counting Employees Under PPACA”.

Universities Get Educated about PPACA

It is back to school time! Universities and colleges across the nation have dedicated time and resources to course planning and curriculum evaluation, but have they prepared for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)? Have they run th…


Megro Benefits Company

Two Radnor Corporate Center
Suite 110
Radnor, PA 19087

Email Us