Health care compliance concept"Which compliance topics do you watch most closely and howdo you communicate these changes to your clients? What tools andresources do you use to keep up?"

Covering all bases

In my role as senior compliance consultant, I am watching forbenefit news daily. I rely on information from the Employer Councilon Flexible Compensation (ECFC), BenefitsPRO, BenefitsLink, EBIAweekly and the International Foundation on Employee BenefitPlans.

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I have regularly participated in ECFC advocacy trips to CapitolHill to meet directly with members of Congress in an effort toexplain why tax-advantaged accounts like FSAs, HRAs and HSAs are soimportant to working Americans and the clients we serve. Expanding HRAs in 2020 and eliminating theCadillac tax will help employers continue to offer these taxadvantaged options to their employees to help them afford medicalcare.

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Our company communicates important benefit plan news to ourclients and broker partners through bulletins, webinars, socialmedia, our compliance blog and news center.

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We also provide a biweekly speed-read email to our brokerpartners. New information that impacts employee benefit planadministration is analyzed and passed along to our employer clientsand broker partners very quickly, as we are relied upon as acompliance leader in the industry.

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Susan Sieger, senior compliance consultant, EmployeeBenefits Corporation

Compliance sleuth

I constantly monitor federal and state changes to the employeebenefits world through a number of avenues. I love to listen tohearings (I just spent an hour and 46 minutes on the Texas vs. United States hearing) looking forclues, additional questions and insights to where the courts areheaded. I watch the federal register, review blogs and read onlinenews articles. In fact, I read at least 20 different feeds everymorning.

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In addition to the research part of the compliance job, I alsotake questions from all of our clients and sales folks. This keepsme on my toes and researching what is happening in the "realworld," not just in the regulatory world. This is my favorite partof the job! Listening to our customers' issues, and learning howthey are dealing with regulations and laws and communicating thatto their employees is really exciting.

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Misty Baker, director of compliance & governmentaffairs, BenefitMall

Insights to application

In my role, I have to keep up with all topics related to healthplan compliance. Like everyone else, I have been closely watchingthe Senate's vote to fully repeal the Cadillac tax. I'm also watching for rulesexpanding the use of HDHPs, electronic disclosure rules, the appealof the district court's ruling on the ACA and the expanded HRArules.

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I work with benefits consultants and account managers, so I tryto provide practical applications. In other words, as soon asanything happens, there's a ton of great information flooding yourinbox and LinkedIn. But information doesn't always translate toapplication. So, I like to communicate how this stuff actuallyworks in real life for an employer. There are so many excellentresources, including public blogs/info that the national brokeragesand law firms push out almost immediately. But the main onesinclude NAHU, EBIA, Health Affairs Blog, BenefitsLink and thedepartments' websites themselves.

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Sarah Borders, principal consultant, BenefitsCompliance Solutions, Inc.

A step ahead of the IRS

We are continually asked about the IRS Letter 226J, which threatens huge fines forimproperly filed 1094 & 1095-Cs. Often, the companies havecomplied with the employer mandate and offered coverage to everybenefit eligible employee, but had their payroll company oraccountant prepare the filings incorrectly.

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While the IRS will take employers money, they really want data.So if you get an IRS Letter 226-J, do not ignore it. Reach out toyour broker partner, and ask for a referral to a TPA thatspecializes in IRS Letter 226-J responses.

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Benjamin Davis, vice president, DiversifiedAdministration, Inc.

Some topics never change

My two big topics are health care and student debt relief. Student debt is a fairlynew benefit and watching how the IRS is going to encourage moreemployers to buy in will be very interesting.

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Health care is always a topic of compliance because despite allthe chatter, some basics of ACA have not changed. It will beinteresting to see over the next year or two how some of those inpower will change how the IRS monitors health care without amandate.

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For me, the best places to start (outside of BenefitsPRO) arethe daily newsletters from STAT, Washington Post, and Kaiser HealthNews.

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Tara Nichol, founder, Medical Billing AdvocacyGroup

Building in-flight

Here in Massachusetts, one of the items on the forefront is theMassachusetts Paid Family Medical Leave Act. We have been payingclose attention to that, along with other paid leave legislation that is popping up inConnecticut and Maine. We have been fielding a ton of questions onthis with no real clear direction from the state. I have oftencompared it to building a plane in-flight. They have put justenough thought into it to get it off the ground but have no realvision on how to land it. They have provided an opt-out provisionbut there are no plans in the marketplace yet that meet the state'scriteria.

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The two resources I go to most often are Zywave's BrokerBriefcase and a local attorney who specializes in regulatory andcompliance matters relating to employee benefit plans.

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Steve Corbin, account executive/employee benefitsmanager, The Dowd Agencies, LLC

Honing HIPAA

An issue that we are focusing on right now is HIPAA compliancefor employers with a self-funded group health benefit. Recentlythere have been more HIPAA fines assessed in connection withemployer HIPAA breaches. Any time an employer has a self-fundedbenefit plan, it becomes a covered entity under HIPAA, whichrequires it to have a number of written documents in place,tailored to its operations and data security, specifying how itwill safeguard protected health information belonging to the planparticipants.

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The main way we communicate to clients is through our monthlycompliance webinars that are conducted by our ERISA attorney. Wealso conduct face-to-face compliance meetings with clients at leastonce a year and go through a full compliance audit with them. Whenthere are changes in legislation, we email an alert and also postit on social media.

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Valerie Stremsterfer, president, IntrepidBenefits

Revised regs, revised strategies

I tend to focus my attention on compliance areas that aretargeted for revision by a given administration or legislativebody. At the federal level, I have been most interested in trackingthe ongoing congressional conversation regarding pricingtransparency on a variety of health care fronts, surprise balancebilling, and the repeal of the Cadillac tax.

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Additionally, the Trump administration has been active inissuing regulatory guidance that could potentially cause meaningfulshifts in the strategies we need to present to clients. TheAdministration's new rule that will allow employers to establishindividual coverage health reimbursement arrangements (ICHRAs) is agreat example of recent regulatory action that could have a notableimpact on strategies.

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Consultations tailored to a client's specific circumstances canreduce confusion. Following up a compliance consultation with anemail outlining what was covered is an important step to ensure theclient understood and has a clear understanding of the pathforward.

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Scott Wham, director of compliance services, KistlerTiffany Benefits

Managing the message

Arrow Benefits Group is in the "employee management business" –we analyze, prioritize and customize all aspects of the employeeexperience, from pre to post engagement. This means we helpnavigate the "seven C's" of employee relationships – compliance,communications, compensation, culture, coverage, community andcompassionate response to the emerging, varied and continuingdiverse needs of the company population.

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The first challenge, and the one that employers wish to avoidconsidering, is compliance, but without proper attention paid it isnot possible to move forward. Going further, we encourage employersto embrace the demands placed upon them by the many layers ofgovernmental authority–municipal, state and federal–and celebratethem in the spirit of providing employee protection and safety.

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While the material is dry, we do try to spice it up a bit withsome alliterative prose, humor, and the creation of the broadercontext within which it is all meant to operate. We are careful towalk the line that does not delve into political territory, butthat is not always so easy. Instead, we paint a broader picture ofthe atmosphere behind the changes and then show clients how to workthat within their culture using communications and conversation.After all, being in the business of employee management also meansmanaging the message, managing to smile through the frustrations,and managing, most of all, to make employees appreciate therelationship they have with management and the safety andprotection provided them.

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Jordan Shields, Arrow BenefitsGroup

True partnership

Today, the issues we most closely keep an eye on are those withan uncertain future. We also keep an eye on federal and statespecific regulations that may not be directly related to benefitsbut to HR, which we by default have a hand in. An example of thiswould be the new laws in Illinois regarding sexual harassment andharassment in the workplace. We have taken an active role inassisting our clients, specifically those in the public sector,with making sure they are in compliance with these changingrequirements. In regards to all else it's soldier on as usual. Wemust keep a thoughtful eye on all.

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Although this has been a challenge, I have found that the bestway to manage it is through diligence and organization. At ouragency, we rely on a combination of contracted complianceprofessionals, including those in the area of HR and legal, as wellas reputable online compliance tools, such as Zywave. We have foundthat putting a fluid annual compliance list together that includesa timeline of deadlines, etc., helps us internally stay on top ofit. In terms of how we communicate compliance needs to our clients,this depends on the particular compliance issue at hand and theclient. Many mandatory compliance matters are taken care of asstandard practice via our open enrollment materials and outsourcingof things such as COBRA. For others, a timely mass email with adescription and instructions are provided to impacted clients.

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With some, we find this isn't enough and compliance assistanceneeds to be made even more personal, specifically in regards toreporting and paying of fees. This is were a service-focused,client-specific overall philosophy comes into place. While you tryto structure a compliance game plan as much as possible, sometimesit needs to be personalized for your client or the complexity ofthe issue at hand. Has this added extra time and work for us? Youbet! However, it has also allowed us to be true partners to ourclients and that is worth every headache.

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Courtney Calabrese, benefits advisor, CorkillInsurance

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Paul Wilson

Paul Wilson is the editor-in-chief of BenefitsPRO Magazine and BenefitsPRO.com. He has covered the insurance industry for more than a decade, including stints at Retirement Advisor Magazine and ProducersWeb.