Member Update – April 2020

The month of April is usually celebrated for many things… the blossoming of nature around us, the return of the Red Sox to Fenway Park, the joyous renewal of faith at Easter and Passover, and of course, the Boston Marathon.  

This year, it feels like we are in a marathon of a different sort, all anxiously treading to get past Heartbreak Hill and reach the triumphant end of this pandemic. Here’s to the tireless efforts of our healthcare workers, research scientists and epidemiologists, who deliver compassionate care, medical treatment, innovation – and hopefully a vaccine in the not-too-distant future.     

Aside from the health of our family, friends and coworkers, we are all dealing with heightened concern for the health of our economy. According to this recent blog post from the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, business confidence has plummeted in the state. We know that the impact on our members is dramatic, as businesses lay off staff or shutter their offices indefinitely. All we can do at this time is to stay positive, stay informed, and stay connected.

To that end, please remember you have the resources of NAHU and MassAHU to help. What do you need?  How can we help you and your clients? Please let us know by calling or emailing us at info@massahu.org  or by contacting any of our board members – you can find us HERE on the MassAHU website.

Is Your MA Broker’s License Renewing?

If your license is currently up for renewal, you can still apply for renewal online and are encouraged to do so.  However, the state has announced it will extend renewal applications for 90 days due to the state’s COVID-19 response.  The state is also relaxing some of the CE requirements during this period. Here is the Division of Insurance Bulletin which has just been issued.

Beacon Hill Update

MassAHU lobbyist Jack Bartley shared some insights into Beacon HIll activities since the state’s shutdown.  The Legislature and the Administration continue to be laser focused on COVID-19 matters. The unresolved problem for the House Speaker and Senate President is how to remotely legislate. All the sessions since the pandemic have been in so-called “informal sessions” where a single legislator can object – meaning the Ds & Rs have to agree.

The immediate challenge is passing the annual budget. The House typically passes its budget during the last week of April, followed by the Senate in late May. The Senate has been holding Zoom conferences with its 20 member body; however, compare that  to the 160 members of the House and you can understand the conundrum the Speaker is dealing with.

Of course challenge is not only in how to effectively meet together, but how to create a budget in the face of such unprecedented disruption of business due to the pandemic. The members of the Joint Ways & Means Committee will meet this week with the Administration and several economists to discuss the future economy to help guide their efforts towards sound fiscal planning. 

Merged Market Advisory Council Update

As we’ve seen our state’s Covid-19 response eclipse many other concerns on a state level, it’s not surprising that the schedule for the Merged Market Advisory Council has been extended into late spring. Nonetheless, the important work of this council continues. At the last meeting held via teleconference on March 11th, Bela Gorman presented findings from her firm’s actuarial study of the individual and small group market in this presentation.  Questioning the significance of these findings, MassAHU is well represented by Mark Gaunya, past president of MassAHU and principal at Borislow Insurance.  In a summary of the meeting, lobbyist Jack Bartley reports, “Mark continues to shape the discussions by professionally challenging the findings that the state’s actuary puts forth.  It is fair to say that without that pushback, the state officials on the council and other members would not be aware that there could be other conclusions drawn  – such as why some employers change their health insurance coverage.”  You can read the recap of the March 11th meeting from our lobbyist’s office here.  

The next meeting of the MMAC is now rescheduled to April 22nd and will be held via teleconference, with additional meetings planned into May.  The MMAC website has not yet been updated with the revised meeting schedule and agenda, but we will keep you posted as details are published.  If you have comments, questions, or recommendations to share with MassAHU and with our council representatives, please let us know.

Capitol Hill Update 

Just a reminder to our members that NAHU’s Washington Update is sent to your email address every Friday afternoon.  It is a great summary of happenings on a federal level.  There are also frequent webinars offered to help members stay informed and advise their clients. If you are not getting the Washington Update, please check your member information on the NAHU website to make sure your email address is current. NAHU is requesting that members provide alternate email and phone contacts since many of our members have experienced a disruption in their normal business operations and are working from home.

With the loss of employer-based coverage for so many Americans due to layoffs and business closings, it is not surprising that there is and will continue to be renewed efforts to push for national health care.  MassAHU board member David Shore shared some projections on what the impact on the employer-based market may be.  “It is clear that the pandemic is going to translate into a major push to devolve employer-sponsored coverage and move toward a single-payer system, whether “Medicare for All” or any variant. According to recent analysis, if unemployment hits 25%, enrollment in employer-sponsored plans could drop to 128 million while Medicaid enrollment could reach upwards of 94 million. High unemployment would also increase the number of uninsured to 39 million – 40 million, estimates the report.” 

NAHU is a founding member of the Alliance to Fight for Health Care, a broad-based coalition that supports employer-sponsored health coverage. The Alliance sent a letter to Congress  urging them to provide: support for premium payments; federal subsidies to help pay for COBRA premiums; new funds or loans for businesses to preserve employee access to health benefits; and easy access to the individual insurance market.  

Compliance Update – Employer Filing for FFCRA Tax Credits

This month’s compliance update from Attorney Rick Szczebak focuses on the reporting requirements for employers filing for tax credits under FFCRA.  While it can be frustrating (and nearly impossible) to get answers from government entities, it is helpful to remember that Rick can be a great resource for your clients who have more complex needs that can’t be met with FAQs and written communications.  To get started with the basics of filing for tax credits, here is his Members-Only update for April.

New MA Paid Family Leave Guidance Released

Contrary to how things seem lately, there is more to think about beyond COVID-19.  The Massachusetts Paid Family Leave Act takes effect on January 1, 2021.  The MA Division of Insurance has just released guidance for insurance carriers providing private options.

Previously, insurance carriers issued a declaration for employers to use as proof of satisfying the paid family and medical leave requirements, which are to commence by 1/1/21 for medical leave and 7/1/21 for family leave benefits.  The new guidance includes a policy template which outlines the standard provisions to be included the private option.

NAHU Media Relations Request

We’re passing along a request from our national Media Relations team… 

WE NEED YOUR HELP PROMOTING the VALUE of AGENTS and the EMPLOYER MARKET during the Coronavirus Pandemic!  Please send us a short video or testimonial on the unique way you are helping your clients during the COVID-19 crisis. These stories will help promote your business as well as highlight the value of using agents and brokers during this global pandemic.  Members of Congress and the Media are looking for these stories NOW!

All you need is your cell phone.  It’s important to record no more than 90 seconds and to speak from your heart because genuine authenticity is what “sells.” Please share with us your unique way of helping your clients through these unprecedented times.   Please email your video message (or if you are camera-shy, an email testimonial) to NAHU’s SVP of Public Relations, Kelly Loussedes, at kloussedes@nahu.org.  Please also be sure to copy us in at info@massahu.org.  Thanks!

A final word to say Thank You…

We really appreciate the efforts put forth by our members and by our carrier-partners during this national crisis.  We especially want to acknowledge MassAHU’s 2020 Sponsors, including Platinum Partners Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care; Gold Sponsor Tufts Health Plan; Silver Sponsors Allways Health Plan and MA Health Connector; and Bronze Sponsor Health Services Administrators.  

Thank you ALL for your compassion towards others, your creative problem-solving, your sharing of information, and your continued support of our association… YOUR association!

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Member Update – March 2020

Like most of you, our email inboxes are filled with information, updates and webinar invitations to stay updated on COVID-19. We don’t want to duplicate any information you are already getting from within your own network of advisors, HR organizations, subscription services, etc. Many of you are also relying on state and federal government sites, SHRM, Associated Industries of MA (AIM), all of our health plans, and media organizations such as BenefitsPro – all good information to have on hand.

We want to remind you that MassAHU is also a resource you can rely on. Just email us at info@massahu.org and ask away. We will share what we know, direct you to sources of information you need, or give you suggestions based on our own individual experiences. One of the greatest benefits of membership in MassAHU is the ability to leverage the connections we have within our network of benefits specialists.

On a national level, NAHU is providing support to members with Compliance Corner webinars, podcasts, and reference links to federal agencies, etc. The next Compliance Corner broadcast is on April 1st at 1 pm. Register for this webinar HERE. Additional resources and recordings of previous events can be accessed by signing into the members-only section at www.nahu.org.

Follow MassAHU on LinkedIn

Also, please take a minute to look us up on LinkedIn, and ‘follow’ MassAHU. During this time of social distancing, digital connections are ever more important. We will be using LinkedIn to communicate and share information with you as an enhancement to our monthly email updates. You can find us HERE.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

With passage of this law on March 18th, implementation for providing paid family leave and sick leave to employees impacted by the Coronavirus is slated for April 1, 2020. Attorney Richard Szczebak outlines the provisions of FFCRA in his March monthly Compliance Update for MassAHU: A QUICK START GUIDE TO THE FAMILY FIRST CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE ACT FOR BROKERS

Additionally, we are sharing DOL resources on FFCRA. The Fact Sheet for Employees, Fact Sheet for Employers and Questions and Answers address critical questions, such as how an employer must count the number of their employees to determine coverage; how small businesses can obtain an exemption; how to count hours for part-time employees; and how to calculate the wages employees are entitled to under this law.

The DOL also released a Notice for Employees along with questions on distributing the notice. We will share additional guidance with you as we receive it.

Request for Premium Assistance for Employer Health Insurance Payments

MassAHU joined with MA-based health plans represented by the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans (MAHP) and Blue Cross, AIM, NFIB, and other business and industry groups to ask Congress to earmark specific dollars for premium assistance within the economic stimulus package for employers. While the economic stimulus package is expected to pass without specifically addressing this need, we will continue to work on behalf of our employer clients to address the loss of health insurance as employers struggle to keep their businesses afloat and their employees on payroll/benefits through forced closings.

MassAHU President Matt Shadrick and board members also met by teleconference with MAHP to raise concerns for health plan renewals coming in from the health plans on a ‘business as usual’ basis. Many employers are dangerously near closing their doors and laying off some or all of their staff, and any solutions we can offer require the collaborative help of federal and state governments, but also the health insurance industry.

Merged Market Advisory Council (MMAC)

So much of our usual operations and business focus have been overshadowed by COVID-19 that it’s easy to put aside other important but less urgent projects. The Merged Market Advisory Council is still charged with making recommendations to the Governor by April 30th to address the sustainability and affordability of health insurance in the Massachusetts merged market. MassAHU’s legislative team and board members are working on a document to outline the principles we feel need to be reflected in any changes to the merged market going forward.

Some of you may find that you have a little more time in the office during this period of social distancing. If you’d like to help us prepare our recommendations to the MMAC, or help with other legislative issues which we will need to respond to in this 2019-2020 legislative session, including behavioral health reform, please email Joe Lawler, our state legislative chair.

Benefest Update

Plans for Benefest 2020 were going well until we hit the pandemic… we had just confirmed our keynote speaker and were lining up sponsors and exhibitors when we made a decision to postpone our annual conference till the fall. Well, we have good news on that front. We’ve secured the Doubletree Hotel for a new date in September, and we’ve received word that our keynote speaker is able to come on that date. So mark your calendars and let’s look forward to meeting up IN PERSON on Tuesday, September 29th.

We know you will want to meet Avik Roy and hear his perspective on healthcare and the economy. The rest of our programming will be evolving as we see what comes out of the MMAC, the FY2021 budget, impact of COVID-19 on healthcare and healthcare financing, and of course, the approach to our presidential election.

Me Time…

The federal government defines our profession as “Essential Services” so be proud that you ARE playing an important role in helping your employer clients and their employees. Thank you for representing our profession so selflessly during this time, but don’t take any unnecessary risks to yourself and your loved ones. 

We know you may be suffering a loss of income even as you put time and expense into helping others. Hopefully we will see a strong return to economic health in the near future to the benefit of our clients and our own business. Until then, be smart, stay well, and take time to enjoy your family and a little downtime for yourself.

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