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The Benefits Buzz

Tracy Vicario shares helpful updates on benefits planning, industry news on the Affordable Care Act, health savings plans, and what you need to know about medical, dental and vision plans for your employees.

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Technology Association of Oregon Partners with BCI Group

Technology Association of Oregon (TAO) is excited to announce a complete healthcare benefit offering for member companies through our partnership with BCI Group (BCI).

BCI employs an experienced and dedicated consultant to help facilitate two unique benefit pathways (and coordinates all listed services) for each of our members.

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Tracy Vicario / / Benefits, Healthcare

House Republicans Withdraw AHCA, but Efforts to Repeal Continue

On Friday, March 24, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Speaker Paul Ryan pulled from the floor the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the proposed legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), once it was clear that the bill was short on votes to pass. Effectively, this means the AHCA will not survive to become law and, at this time, any future efforts to repeal and replace the ACA are uncertain. This may mean, as Speaker Ryan said shortly after the announcement that the bill was withdrawn, “Obamacare is the law of the land. We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.” However, as of March 28, there have been reports that the House Republican leaders and the Trump administration have started renegotiations on legislation to repeal the ACA. At this time, there are no details about what may be in any renewed repeal legislation or the timing of its release or a vote. 

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Tracy Vicario / / ACA, Benefits, Healthcare, Legislation

Affordable Care Act to Remain

Health care premiums and deductibles are high because medical care is very expensive in the United States. It’s far more costly than anywhere else in the world. Here’s what the new presidential administration and Republican Party have done to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act so far.

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Tracy Vicario / / ACA, Healthcare, Medicare

What's Happening to Medicaid?

As the Republican Party continues efforts to replace and repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), industry experts are examining reorientation of the Medicaid program. According to recent proposals, a block grant would allow states to decide how to apportion health care dollars for those who need it most.

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Tracy Vicario / / Benefits, Healthcare, Legislation, Medicare

Post Election: What Now For Obamacare?

The votes have been counted and Donald Trump is the president elect and the Republican Party control Congress. What does this mean for “Obamacare?” While it is impossible for anyone to predict the future, we undertake to make a short, best guess about the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

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Tracy Vicario / / ACA, Benefits, Healthcare, Legislation

7 Quick Tips to Avoid Household Germs

So you might have a guess or two about where germs tend to lurk in homes. See a few hot spots below — some may surprise you. Make a habit of regularly cleaning these items to reduce your exposure to germs, including those that can cause illness.

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Tracy Vicario /

What's Going On with Pharmaceutical Costs?

The costs are skyrocketing. I attended the Oregon Health Forum, an educational arm of The Lund Report. The forum provides a place where healthcare leaders can discuss pivotal issues and interact with their colleagues. I was enlightened by the information shared by five all-star panelists with a varied perspective based on their roles in the health care industry.

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Tracy Vicario / / ACA, Benefits, Consulting, Healthcare, Legislation

Wellness Advice: Coping With Stress

With the end of the year approaching, it’s helpful to remember relaxation techniques for dealing with stress.

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Jenny Winters /

5 Tips on Adopting & Enforcing a Time-Off Policy

Whether paid or unpaid, time-off is an important respite that allows employees to take vacations, attend to personal or family business, or simply rest and recharge.

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Tracy Vicario / / Benefits

BCI Group Awarded Grant Money to Help Oregonians Enroll in Health Insurance

BCI Group is working with the state of Oregon to help Oregonians enroll and receive health insurance through Oregon’s health insurance marketplace.

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Roberto Flores / / ACA

Leveraging Small Businesses with the OSBA Trust

There’s strength in numbers. As a small business, leveraging your purchasing power might feel like a constant struggle. With help from the Oregon Small Business Alliance (OSBA) Trust, small businesses in the information technology sector get the same purchasing power as large firms through association benefits plans that are often 13 percent below market rate.

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Tracy Vicario / / 401(k), Benefits, Healthcare

Pet Insurance and Bereavement? Employers Will Do Just About Anything to Retain Good Talent

In corporate America, the phrase “R&R” focuses less on rest and relaxation, and more on employee retention and recruitment. As the market gets a little bit healthier each cycle, industries across the nation are now struggling to find and keep great people — and they don’t just want to settle for good people.

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Tracy Vicario / / Benefits

My Mid-Year Innovation: Columbo, Mullets and Beyond

How about a mid-year check? May has been a very fulfilling month for me and my cup is overflowing. Passion. Goals. Innovation. Collaboration. Evolution.

I attended the Western Pension and Benefits Conference this month and Tim Sanders was the keynote speaker. Tim is a New York Times best-selling author and speaker. He offered some profound advice and

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Tracy Vicario / / Benefits, Consulting, Leadership

How Could the PACE Law Affect Employers?

On October 7, 2015, the Protecting Affordable Coverage for Employees (PACE) law was signed by President Barack Obama. This law was added to give further clarification and define the employers subject to the rule of the small group market under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

What does this REALLY mean?

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Tracy Vicario / / ACA, Benefits, Consulting, Healthcare, Legislation

3 Things for Employers to Know About Vacation Leave

With summer just around the corner, now is a great time to review existing vacation leave policies. Here are three things employers need to know about vacation leave.

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Tracy Vicario /

Final Overtime Rule Issued — How Will This Impact You?

Employees and employers across every industry and sector will be impacted. Most employers covered by the FLSA will need to analyze employee classifications and make changes by December 1, 2016.

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Tracy Vicario /

5 Ways to Challenge Employees During Health & Fitness Month

When you think about Employee Health & Fitness Month in May, you’re likely thinking “Great, here is another gimmick we are trying to use to boost our ‘culture.’” If that went through your mind—this post is for you.

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Jenny Winters / / Benefits, Consulting, Healthcare

Breaking News: LifeWise Health Plan of Oregon to exit market

We just learned that local insurance provider, LifeWise Health Plan of Oregon, will exit the market in Oregon at the end of the 2016 calendar year. After 30 years in business, LifeWise could no longer endure a downward financial trend.

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Tracy Vicario / / ACA, Benefits, Healthcare

Smart Finance Ideas for Investing Your Tax Return

Getting a tax refund? Congrats! Almost 40 million tax refunds worth nearly $125 billion were issued in 2015, with the average refund being $3,120.

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Tracy Vicario /

Moda Health: Breaking Down the Breaking News

WHAT HAPPENED? Lately, Moda Health is a topic in hallways, dining rooms and on social media. We’ve received a number of questions from our customers and thought it’d be helpful to break it down. Here’s the story.

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Tracy Vicario / / Benefits, Healthcare, Medicare

Four Financial Insights in a Changing Insurance Market

Our healthcare environment is undergoing its own climate change. New insurance companies are entering the market, others are being acquired and a few have had to close their doors right after they opened for business. 

Want to better understand the financial side of an unpredictable insurance market? Here are four concepts you should know about:

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Tracy Vicario / / ACA, Benefits, Healthcare, Legislation

Avoid These 3 Mistakes when Choosing an HR & Payroll System

Guest blog by Jennifer Reed of Electronic Commerce, Inc.

Without a doubt, implementing an HR & Payroll Software (often called an HCM) can improve your bottom line. Here are the top 3 mistakes to avoid when selecting a new software system.

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Tracy Vicario / / Benefits, Consulting

Ten Things Financial Professionals Should Know About the ACA

There are many more than 10 things financial professionals should know about the Affordable Care Act. Today I thought I would focus on five legislative topics we are working on today and five topics that pertain to how employers and the health care industry are changing based on the legislative changes.

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Tracy Vicario / / ACA, Benefits, Consulting, Healthcare, Legislation

Self-Funding—Now an Option for Smaller Companies

Guest blog by Roberto Flores, BCI Group’s Director of Benefits

Once limited mainly to large companies, self-funding is now becoming accessible to even smaller employer groups. This is big news and a great opportunity for smaller companies. 

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is changing the landscape of health insurance and options that once seemed very risky and unsuitable for small businesses, are now being considered ... 

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Tracy Vicario / / Benefits, Healthcare, Leadership

End of Summer Reading List

Guest blog by Executive Assistant Jenny Winters

Take a break in-between your summer adventures or just unwind and unplug with a book. Here’s our list of books that will help improve your financial literacy while relaxing on a nice summer’s day.

The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton

The Wealthy Barber is a fictional story of a young group of friends–all about 30 years old–who are just getting to the time in their life when they want to take their financial planning seriously. Their teacher is an unassuming local business man: a successful barber. As he takes a little off the top, the barber explains the keys to long-term financial stability. The barber’s strategy isn’t to get rich quick, but to accumulate and retain wealth over time and stay stable. The story may be fictional, but the barber’s advice is very real.

The Hard Hat: 21 Ways to Be a Great Teammate by Jon Gordon

The Hard Hat tells the true story of George Boiardi – a lacrosse player who was great leader because he was a great teammate…

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Tracy Vicario / / Benefits, Leadership

July 31: an Important Date for Many Employers Offering a Group Health Plan

PCORI Fees

Do you have a self-insured group medical plan?
Do you have a fully-insured health plan with a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA)?

Employers that sponsor self-insured group health plans including health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) should take note of the July 31, 2015 deadline for paying fees that fund the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). This was established as part of health care reform to conduct research to evaluate the effectiveness of medical treatments and will continue until 2019.

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Tracy Vicario / / ACA, Benefits, Legislation, Tax

King v. Burwell Supreme Court Ruling

In a 6-3 holding released today the United States Supreme Court upheld the availability of subsidies in exchanges maintained by the Federal Government.  Six members of the Court—Chief Justice Roberts, Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan)  agreed with the Obama Administration and voted to validate the Internal Revenue Service’s interpretation of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) that permits premium tax credits in both state- and federally-operated exchanges.  This means two things:  (i) some 7.5 million Americans will not lose their subsidies that help them to pay for health insurance and (ii) it is back to “business as normal” for the ACA—meaning all employers must continue to attend to their compliance efforts.

Background of King v. Burwell

Seven words lay at the heart of this case:  “through an Exchange established by the State.” That is how the ACA describes where premium tax credits are available.  

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Tracy Vicario / / ACA, Benefits, Legislation

How to Build a Successful Workplace Wellness Program

Guest blog by Account Manager Lisa Hartley

“Wellness” is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, but what is a workplace wellness program exactly?

A “wellness program” can be many things, from a simple biometric screening allowing employees to know their numbers and take control of their own health–to an elaborate plan that begins with screenings and includes ongoing education, activities, and financial incentives to help employees achieve their health goals. The goal of all these plans is the same: to make the workplace a healthier, happier environment for all. And happy and healthy employees mean a better business for you.

Naturally, employers are interested in premium cost reduction. It’s possible that wellness programs can achieve that, but the return on investment takes time. Employers will need to be fully committed, patient and engaged in the process in order to see results in the bottom line over the long-term…

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Tracy Vicario / / Benefits, Consulting, Leadership

Year-End Reporting: Top 10 Questions

The buzz in the HR community lately is “How is your company handling the required year-end reporting?” The Affordable Care Act Added Two New Sections to the IRS Code. Here are 10 facts about Sections 6055 and 6056 Reporting:

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Tracy Vicario / / ACA, Benefits, Consulting, Legislation

Guest Blog: EEOC Releases Proposed Rule on Employee Wellness Plans

By: Peter Marathas of Proskauer Rose

On April 16, 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a long-awaited proposed rule on employee wellness programs. The rule is designed to help companies structure such programs to meet their obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA prohibits medical exams that are not job-related and consistent with business necessity, but permits voluntary wellness programs. Common wellness program offerings, such as health risk assessments (designed to identify potential health risks such as high cholesterol or blood pressure so that employees can address those risks through preventative care) are “medical exams” within the meaning of the ADA…

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Tracy Vicario / / ACA, Benefits, Healthcare

Five Things for Employers to Know About Form I-9

As an employer, one of your most important responsibilities when hiring a new employee is to properly complete Form I-9. It sounds simple, but it can be easy to make a mistake. Here are five basic points to remember. 

1. All employers need to use Form I-9. 

All U.S. employers must verify the employment eligibility and identity of each employee hired to work in the United States by completing Form I-9 for every employee, including U.S. citizens. It is not required for independent contractors…

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Tracy Vicario / / Leadership, Legislation, Tax

What is King v. Burwell and why does it matter?

The King case is fairly straightforward. At issue is whether the IRS overstepped its authority when it drafted a rule to permit subsidies in federal exchanges. On its face, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) does not provide for subsidies on federal exchanges. At issue is whether the term “state exchange” includes “federal exchanges.”

Thirty-four of the 51 exchanges are run by the federal government. If the Court agrees with the petitioners, millions of individuals living in those 34 states…

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Tracy Vicario / / ACA, Benefits, Healthcare, Legislation

Employee or Independent Contractor?

Whether you are en employer trying to decide whether to hire an employee or an independent contractor or if you are a professional thinking about which option is the best for you, the IRS has guidelines defining each category.  

Independent Contractors offer their services to the general public and typically have an independent trade or business such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, contractors, etc. The payer has the right to control or direct the result of the work but not what will be done or how it will be done

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Tracy Vicario / / Benefits, Legislation, Tax

Five HR Compliance Resolutions for 2015

Now that we are past the holiday season, it’s a great time to take stock of your company’s compliance with important federal and state labor law requirements. Keep these resolutions in mind to help your company start the year off right and stay in shape for 2015…

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Tracy Vicario / / ACA, Benefits, Consulting

New Congress Gets to Work on ACA Amendments

The 114th Congress appears to be fulfilling its promise to take a fresh look at the Affordable Care Act (ACA), introducing two new bills in their first workweek: The Hire More Heroes Act of 2015 (Heroes Act) and the Save American Workers Act (40 Hours Act).

The Heroes Act

The Heroes Act, introduced January 6th, 2015, would amend the ACA to provide that veterans…

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Tracy Vicario / / ACA, Benefits, Healthcare

FSA Contribution Limit Rises to $2,550 for 2015

A Flexible Spending Account (FSA) is an account that is set up by an employer through a cafeteria plan. This tax-favored program allows an employee to set aside a portion of their earnings on a pre-tax basis to pay for qualified medical expenses such as prescriptions, medical, dental and vision copays and deductibles, eye glasses and dental expenses. A complete list of qualified medical expenses can be found on irs.gov.

Employers may make contributions to an employee’s FSA, but typically these accounts are funded by the employee only. The FSA limit for 2015 is…

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Tracy Vicario / / Benefits, FSA

Obama Modifies the Contraceptive Mandate

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there is a list of scheduled preventive services that are to be fully covered on a group health plan. As of August 2011, contraception was one of the items added to the list of preventive services that would be covered under the Affordable Care Act and patients would not have to pay a co-payment to cover some of the contraceptives.

In an effort to respect the concerns of non-profit religious organizations that object to contraceptive coverage…

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Tracy Vicario / / Benefits, Healthcare

Why Are Employers Required to Know if their Group Health Plan Prescription Drug Coverage is Creditable?

The Medicare fall open enrollment period is from October 15 through December 7. This is the time when people on Medicare can change their Medicare health plan and prescription drug coverage for 2014. Employers that sponsor a group health plan that includes prescription drug coverage are required to notify all Medicare-eligible individuals whether the coverage is creditable. This means that the coverage is expected to pay, on average, as much as the standard Medicare prescription drug coverage.

Medicare beneficiaries who have other sources of drug coverage, such as through an employer, may stay on that plan and…

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Tracy Vicario / / Benefits, Healthcare

What You Need to Know on the Small Business Premium Health Care Tax Credit

Are you eligible for a small business tax credit? Time is running out for 2014.

On June 30, 2014, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued a final rule on the employer health care tax credit. This new rule applies for taxable years beginning after 2013 and before 2015.

To be eligible, an employer must:

    1. have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs)

    2. pay average annual wages of less than…

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Tracy Vicario / / Benefits, Healthcare, Tax

The Ongoing National Discussion about ACA Continues

One thing for employers to watch this week is…

On July 22, 2014 two different federal courts came out on opposite sides of the same question.  In the morning, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit hit the Obama Administration with a decision that called into question the structural integrity of the “pay-or-play” mandates under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”).  Later in the day, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, sitting down the road in Richmond, came out on the other side of the question.

The Appeals Court came out and stated that…

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Tracy Vicario / / Benefits

10 Answers About the Affordable Care Act for Small Employers

1. What’s the ACA definition of ‘small employer’?

Essentially, when determining the rules insurance companies must follow for health plans,  full- and part-time employees are counted and companies with 50 or fewer total employees as small groups. In 2016, companies with 100 or fewer total employees will be…

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Tracy Vicario / / ACA, Benefits

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