Benefits news you may have missed: Nov. 16-20

From the importance of taking PTO to new data on ICHRAs, here are some of the week's top stories.
By: | November 20, 2020 • 3 min read

Mayer: Vacation’s all I ever wanted: It’s an understatement to say this isn’t the year I envisioned. Sure, COVID-19 has affected nearly every facet of my life, but it’s also changed the way I mark the time. As a travel fan, my years are often in part defined by the trips I take—and the anticipation and planning that goes into each one. This year, I was planning to cruise the British Isles. Go to Vegas with my family to celebrate a milestone birthday. Visit my parents in Boston. None of it, of course, happened. What’s that left me? Disgruntled, burned out and with several days of unused paid vacation time. I’m far from alone. Unused vacation time was already an issue among workers, but the year defined by the COVID-19 pandemic has made the problem far worse. Read more here.

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Employers who aren’t prioritizing mental health are ‘missing the boat’: Even before COVID, mental health was already a significant concern in the workplace. Many employees were facing threats to their emotional wellbeing while lacking significant help from their employer. “We were already behind the eight ball,” says Andrew Shatté, chief knowledge officer and co-founder of meQuilibrium, a digital coaching program that aims to build employees’ resilience. But COVID-19, social unrest, and election stress and uncertainty have significantly raised the stakes, causing a host of challenges for employees—and their employers. Read more here.

Managing the stress crisis with finesse, compassion: Everyone faces stress in their life, but the ripple effect of COVID-19 has caused new sources of financial, social and physical stress that go far beyond the norm. These stressors are lasting and pervasive, piling up to the point where they pose a significant threat to employee wellbeing if left ignored. According to a new MetLife mental health study, employees say their top stressors are financial issues (81%), job insecurity (77%), fear of catching the virus (60%) and social distancing (47%), followed by concerns about the presidential election, social justice and not having access to healthcare because of COVID-19. On top of this, separation of work/home life is increasingly blurring, especially for parents trying to juggle children at home. This is the perfect opportunity for employers to rethink their benefits approach to provide a better mix of tools for managing stress, burnout and depression. Read more here.

Employers express interest in ICHRAs: Individual coverage health reimbursement arrangements, a new employer-sponsored healthcare benefit program for active employees that became available this year, are drawing the attention of U.S. employers, according to a survey of nearly 400 employers from consulting firm Willis Towers Watson. Read more here.

What HR needs to know now about COVID-19 vaccine policy: As Pfizer and Moderna move closer to a COVID-19 vaccine with news that their early trials are widely effective, employers and employees alike remain hungry for a return to “normal.” Yet, until a vaccine is widely available, many businesses continue to manage a largely remote workforce. The hope is that a potential COVID-19 vaccination will usher employees back to work. But, recent polls have shown continued skepticism surrounding a potential COVID-19 vaccination. For employers depending on widespread COVID-19 vaccination as a precursor to a return to pre-pandemic, on-site operations, the potential resistance to a vaccine presents significant challenges. Read more here.

Here’s how much employees can contribute to their 401(k) next year: Retirement contribution limits will remain the same next year, with employees being able to defer up to $19,500 into a 401(k), 403(b) and most 457 plans at work, the IRS said. The limits also remain the same for employee catch-up contributions for those 50 and older: $6,500. Last year saw a $500 jump in the overall employee contribution limit for 2020 plus a $500 rise in the catch-up limit. Read more here.

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It’s time for employers to get more from the health insurance industry: The 2018 National Health Expenditures fact sheet from CMS showed a consistently distressing story: Healthcare spending was up 4.6% ($11,172 per person), out-of-pocket spending up 2.8%, prescription-drug spending up 2.5%. We all agree these are not sustainable increases, and yet the numbers continue to rise year after year. Read more here.

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.