Congress enacted the Affordable Care Act in 2010 under unusual circumstances. Democrats began drafting the law when they had 60 votes in the Senate and a majority in the House. Senator Edward Kennedy’s passing changed that. Democrats turned to the budget reconciliation process to pass the ACA. However, this circumvented the legislative process we learned about on School House Rock. The law never went to a conference committee. Conference committees fine tune legislation, addressing details, nits and errors. Without these tweaks, laws are usually flawed.
Which meant that the ACA had problems. Whatever your personal opinion on the ACA, the reality is the legislation as passed needed refinement. Normally this problem would be remedied in follow-up legislation. But the politics of the ACA made significant fixes impossible. Republicans historically wanted to repeal Obamacare, not fix it. Democrats couldn’t implement many fixes on their own.
This year, however, the IRS stepped up to fix what is known as the Family Glitch. To oversimplify a bit, these are rules that determined whether a person was eligible for a premium tax credit. Family members of employees offered qualifying employer-sponsored coverage who could not afford the dependent premium were ineligible for subsidies when they obtained insurance through an ACA exchange.
The regulations apply to health plans with January 1, 2023 effective dates – even if those plans are sold before January 1st. For example, plans sold during this year’s open enrollment (November 1, 2022 through January 15, 2023).
Which means if you sell health insurance, understanding the Family Glitch fix is important. Fortunately, the folks at NAHU can help with that. They’ve published a Family Glitch FAQ that is required reading for benefit specialists. (Members of NAHU have access to compliance support that can provide even more assistance). You can view NAHU’s FAQ here.
That brokers (and other “Third Party Marketing Organizations — TPMOSs) need to record their calls with Medicare Advantage and Part D clients and prospects is overly burdensome for many. While there’s a concerted effort led by NAHU and others to bring some reasonable accommodations to the requirements, for now they’re here to stay.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) made that clear last week with a memorandum concerning best practices during the 2023 Annual Election Period.
CMS reviewed thousands of complaints, hundreds of audio calls, and done some secret shopping. They believe agents are “unduly pressuring beneficiaries” and failing to provide “accurate or enough information” to make sure consumers are making informed decisions. They promise to continue close monitoring during open enrollment this year and will take compliance action when they deem it appropriate.
Their memorandum implies their focus is on agencies advertising heavily, especially on television. We’ve all seen those commercials. Sometimes twice in one commercial break. Frankly, those kind of operations should be closely monitored. Does this mean more traditional agencies should feel safe from auditing? No. Even if CMS is after large fish that doesn’t mean their net won’t catch smaller ones as well. They no doubt will.
The CMS is calling on Medicare Advantage Organizations and Part D sponsors to police their sales organizations. The agency even lists best practices for this in their memorandum.
If you sell Medicare Advantage or Part D coverage, the lesson here is simple. Know the rules and abide by them. If an error occurs, address it. Until further notice, record your calls with both prospects and clients. Most VOIP systems can make the recording process straightforward (although still annoying). Agency management systems like NextAgency can help you organize and manage these recordings.
Make a good faith effort to comply. That’s not a “get out of jail free” card, but it can go a long way to getting you through this year’s AEP. Hopefully by next year there will be more accommodating rules and regulations.
Here’s the CMS memorandum.
Working from home is the new normal. And will be for some time. Yes, most states are re-opening after strict lock downs in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. But your staff may be worried about returning to the office full time. And the experts may be right: a second wave of the virus in the Fall could send us all back home.Besides, working from home can make your team more productive. Even when you don’t have to, you may want to have your team work remotely, at least part-time.
Managing remote workers can be a challenge. There are best practices, however. The folks at Staples, through Staples Connect, have gathered a number of helpful articles on remote work. One is aptly titled, Lessons Learned in Remote Team Management. The key takeaways include:
- Keep your team aligned.
- Show the work.
- Maintain the sense of team.
- Make quick decisions with clear directions.
- Look after your employees.
- Celebrate wins.
The full article is well worth your time.
One thing the article does not mention, but I would be remiss to ignore, is to provide your team with the right tools they need. For insurance agencies, that means the right software. You know, software like, NextAgency. NextAgency is an agency management system for life and health agents. We help you and your team stay aligned and organized. We also provide CRM, marketing and commission management tools.
Implementing best practices and using NextAgency can help your agency thrive no matter what the future holds.
The Coronavirus is going to change the way we do business, at least in the near term. That is simply a reality.
Our prior post, Thinking About Having Staff Work From Home?, was based on an email we sent out last week. It described how NextAgency can support your staff working remotely. Our message was that providing staff with flexibility could be good for your business. And that NextAgency was an important part of making remote work effective.
That email went out before health organizations and local governments began recommending that businesses let employees work from home. What a difference seven days can make.
That post also promoted many of you to ask a couple questions: Do my employees need to work from home? And how do I help my staff work from home?
As for the first question ….
Do My Employees Need to Work from Home?
In some parts of the country (sorry Seattle and New York), absolutely. Elsewhere, maybe not. At least not yet. However, the odds are you eventually will. The virus is spreading exponentially. Which means if it’s not in your neck of the woods yet, it is probably arriving soon.
Our previous post noted how enabling staff to work remotely can increase productivity and morale. The Coronavirus epidemic provides another reason to consider this step: employees working from home makes it harder for the virus to spread.
To be clear, working from home will not prevent you or your colleagues from getting the disease. That is always a possibility. But it could delay you getting it. And that means more time for health professionals to understand the disease and develop treatments.
There’s another reality. In certain Coronavirus hotspots you may not have a choice. We may soon see local governments requiring companies to permit telecommuting. In New York, the Governor today created a containment area that closes locations where large groups of people gather. This may include office buildings.
Whether voluntary or not, your office may need to close. Which leads to the second question.
How Can You Help Your Staff Work from Home?
Enabling your staff to work from home takes some thought and planning. You can’t just send folks home and ask them to “get to work.”
Fortunately, remote work has become relatively common in 2020. That means there are best practices available. Finding them is just an online search away. To get you started, here is a Fast Company magazine article with some worthwhile ideas.
Enabling your staff to work from home just requires some common sense. And remembering you are an insurance agency.
- HIPAA still applies. Your employees will need to secure personal health information they have at home. They need to make sure screen savers are enabled.
- Computers are mandatory. It’s hard to work from home without a computer. And you probably don’t want to have people using their home computer to store files. Of course, if they’re using cloud-based platforms like NextAgency, that’s not an issue. The key is to avoid having business (and PHI) stored on home computers.
- Keep connections secure. Make sure your team uses a reputable VPN. These can be used to enable colleagues to access your office servers. But even if you’re entirely in the cloud, a VPN can assure that communications are more provide. NordVPN is a good option, but there are others.
- Keep in touch. You may be working in different places, but you’re still a team. You need to continue to act like one. Agree on a video conference tool you’ll all use (e.g., Zoom or Skype, both of which are easy to use and have free versions). Hold regular web staff meetings to stay connected. And use these tools to reach out whenever you’d otherwise drop by their office.
- Enable secure access to information. This is where a modern, cloud-based agency management system like NextAgency comes in. NextAgency keeps all your data and forms handy. They enable you to assign and monitor tasks and client activity. You can upload your commissions, run reports to analyze your business, and even launch marketing campaigns. All from your home.
Make Your Office Safer, Too
Maybe thinking about remote work is premature for your situation. That doesn’t mean you should ignore what’s happening. You’re probably washing your hands more often than you have before. Pay attention to workplace hygiene, too. The Centers for Disease Control provides advice on keeping your office safe.
In addition, be sure to regularly clean shared surfaces. This includes copy machines, scanners, fax machines, and even the microwave in your breakroom.
This Wired magazine article describes how to clean your cell phone. It covers how to safely clean your computer, too. These methods apply to other office machines as well.
Keep up to date on the Coronavirus. Don’t, however, succumb to despair or panic. The Coronavirus epidemic is not a hoax. It is also not the apocalypse. There are simple, common sense steps you can take to protect yourself, your colleagues and your family. Take them.
You will hear a lot of nonsense, but there are resources that can help you separate facts from myths, too. For example, this information from the World Health Organization.
As insurance agencies we’re used to thinking about risk. This, however, is usually in the context of risks faced by our clients. Now is the time to prepare against the risks your business faces as well.
Here’s an interesting trend. Businesses large and small are encouraging employees to work from home. Reports show remote workers are as or more productive than those who working every day in an office. And their morale improves, as well. And these results happen whether employees work remotely all the time or just a day or two a week.
Enabling your team to work from home requires the right technology. Video conference tools like Zoom or Skype are critical. As important: a powerful, modern agency management system like NextAgency.
With NextAgency your office is wherever you have an internet connection. Need to see the latest notes about a client? It’s there. Same for carrier information and forms. Want to track a colleagues progress on an important task? It’s right there.
With NextAgency you can launch a newsletter, reach out to renewing groups, analyze sales and manage commissions wherever you are.
Learn more about how NextAgency can help your life or health agency at one of our weekly webinars. During the demonstrations you’ll see how NextAgency can save you time, money and clients.
You’ll discover how to sign-up for our no-risk 14-day free trial and receive a code to save 25% on our already affordable license fees.*
NextAgency helps you more effectively and efficiently run your business. We can also enable you increase staff productivity and morale by giving them the flexibility to work wherever they are.
*25% savings promotion in effect at time this email was sent. It is a limited time offer, subject to change.
This email was originally sent on 3/2/20