ACA Affordability Percentages Will Increase for 2019

The IRS recently issued a Revenue Procedure to index the contribution percentages used to determine the affordability of an employer’s plan under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

These updated affordability percentages are effective for taxable years and plan years beginning Jan. 1, 2019. They represent a significant increase from the affordability contribution percentages for 2018.

As a result, some employers may have additional flexibility with respect to their employee contributions for 2019 to meet the adjusted percentage.

Affordable Coverage Test

For plan years beginning in 2019, employer-sponsored coverage will be considered affordable if the employee’s required contribution for self-only coverage does not exceed:

  • 9.86 percent of the employee’s household income for the year, for purposes of both the pay or play rules and premium tax credit eligibility
  • 8.3 percent of the employee’s household income for the year, for purposes of an individual mandate exemption (adjusted under separate guidance)

This adjustment means that employer-sponsored coverage for the 2019 plan year will be considered affordable under the employer shared responsibility rules if the employee’s required contribution for self-only coverage does not exceed 9.86 percent of the employee’s household income for the tax year.

The 2018 affordability percentage for the pay or play rules and premium tax credit eligibility was 9.56 percent. The 2018 percentage for the individual mandate exemption was 8.05 percent.

For more guidance on this and other compliance topics, contact Arista Consulting Group.

IRS Announces HSA Limits for 2019

The IRS recently announced that limits for HSA contributions will increase for 2019. The HDHP maximum out-of-pocket limits will also increase for 2019. The HSA contribution limits will increase effective Jan. 1, 2019, while the HDHP limits will increase effective for plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2019.

HSA Contribution Limit

  • Family – $7,000
  • Single – $3,500

HDHP Maximum Out-of-pocket Expense Limit

  • Family – $13,500
  • Single – $6,750

Because the cost-sharing limits for HDHPs will change for 2019, employers that sponsor these plans may need to make plan design changes for plan years beginning in 2019.

Did You Know? 

The Trump administration unveiled an outline for potentially lowering the price of prescription drugs.

The blueprint identifies four key areas of focus:

1. Improved competition

2. Better negotiation

3. Incentives for lower list prices

4. Lowering out-of-pocket costs

Stay tuned for updates later in the year.

HR Q&A: Dental Benefits

Question: Should your company offer dental benefits? Why?

It is relatively inexpensive to include dental benefits in an employer’s benefits plan, and it may help the employer attract and retain highly skilled employees.

Because dental hygiene is associated with overall health, employees with dental plans are often healthier. Employees without dental benefits may postpone or forgo dentist visits in order to save money, and as a result, they can end up with more severe health problems. This may cost an employer more in the long run than if dental benefits were offered.

Various types of dental plans are available. An employer should select one that fits its budget and meets the needs of its employees. Besides traditional dental insurance plans such as managed care and fee-for-service, consumer-driven dental plans—such as dental flexible spending accounts—are becoming more popular.

Employers who are concerned about the cost of offering dental benefits may consider sharing the cost with employees through deductibles, coinsurance and by setting maximum amounts that the company will pay per individual in a specific time period. When designing a dental insurance plan, aim for a plan that is cost-effective and valuable to the company and its employees.

The decision to offer dental benefits is a business decision. Employers should consider their cultures and values as an organization and whether such benefits can help attract and retain valued employees. While dental benefits are an added expense, offering these benefits may save the employer money over time.

WHO Calls for Ban on Artificial Trans Fats

Click Here to Access ARISTA’s July Wellness Calendar

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that the artificially produced trans fats found in junk and fried foods contribute to more than 500,000 preventable deaths annually. That’s why the WHO has released REPLACE, a guide for governments to eliminate industrially produced trans fat in their countries. Their goal is to remove all artificially produced trans fats from the global food supply by 2023.

What exactly is trans fat?

Trans fat is vegetable fat that has been chemically altered by a process called hydrogenation. This process turns healthy fat into a solid, unhealthy fat that is worse for you than saturated fat. Trans fats boost low-density lipoprotein (LDL or bad cholesterol) levels and can increase your risk of heart disease by 21 percent.

What can you do to avoid eating and drinking trans fats?

The WHO’s campaign was launched mid-May 2018 and is in its early stages, which means it might take some time to see changes in the United States. In the meantime, you can read nutrition labels and look at the amount of saturated fat and trans fat per serving.

It’s also important to check the ingredient list, which is different from the nutritional label. Ingredient information is listed from greatest to smallest amounts, so if partially hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup are listed as the first few ingredients, choose another product.

To learn more about trans fats and their health effects, click here.

Healthy Recipe of the Month: Lemon Velvet Supreme!

2 cups fat-free vanilla yogurt

3 Tbsp. instant lemon pudding mix

4 graham crackers (crushed)

½ cup mandarin orange slices (drained)

Preparations

1. Combine vanilla yogurt and pudding mix. Stir until combined.

2. Layer bottom of serving dish with crushed graham crackers.

3. Immediately pour pudding mixture over cracker crumbs.

4. Top with mandarin oranges.

Makes: 6 servings

Strawberries Named Dirtiest Produce for 3rd Year in a Row by EWG

Click Here to Access ARISTA’s June Wellness Calendar

Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases a Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce report that details which fruits and veggies are the least—and most—contaminated by pesticides. The guide is designed to help you make healthy and informed choices and reduce your exposure to toxic pesticides.

For the third year in a row, strawberries top the “Dirty Dozen” list of the most pesticide-tainted produce, with one-third of all conventional strawberry samples containing 10 or more pesticides. One sample even contained 22 pesticide residues.

The other fruits and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen list are: spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, celery, sweet bell peppers, grapes, cherries, tomatoes and potatoes.While pesticides boost crop yields, multiple studies have linked pesticides in produce to conditions like asthma, cancer, fertility issues and brain conditions. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station recommends rinsing produce under water for 30 seconds to get rid of pesticide residues. For more information, visit EWG’s website.

Intermittent Fasting: What it is and Why People Are Doing it

Intermittent fasting is one of the latest health trends that has been gaining traction quickly. Intermittent fasting can look very different from person to person, but the two most popular approaches are:

  1. 5:2 approach: In this approach, you restrict your calorie consumption to 25 percent of your daily needs twice a week, and eat normally the remaining five days of the week.
  2. Eight-hour approach: In this approach, you fast for 16 hours a day, eating only during an eight-hour time period.

Studies have shown that intermittent fasting can have powerful benefits on your body and mind, and for weight control. Other studies state that it can also protect against Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

As with any diet plan, it’s important to talk with your doctor before you start. For more information on intermittent fasting, or its benefits and drawbacks, click here.

Over 200 Rare Antibiotic resistant Genes Found in 27 States Report Shows

A Vital Signs report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that more than 200 rare antibiotic-resistant genes were found in bacteria tested in 2017.

According to CDC principal deputy director, Dr. Anne Schuchat, 2 million Americans get sick from antibiotic resistance, and 23,000 die from such infections each year.

The CDC is now promoting an aggressive containment strategy that includes rapid detection tests and screening for reducing the spread of antibiotic resistance. They also ask that you take simple preventive measures like washing your hands and getting vaccinated. For more information, click here.

How to Make Fried Rice

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

3 cups brown rice (cooked)

1 carrot (cut into ¼-inch slices)

½ cup bell pepper (chopped)

½ cup onion (chopped)

½ cup broccoli (chopped)

2 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce

½ tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. garlic powder

2 medium eggs (beaten)

¾ cup chicken (cooked, chopped)

Preparations

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add rice and stir for 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in carrot, bell pepper, onion, broccoli, soy sauce, black pepper and garlic powder. Cook until vegetables are tender.
  4. Remove mixture from pan.
  5. Pour eggs into pan and scramble.
  6. Put vegetable mix and rice back in the pan and mix with scrambled eggs.
  7. Add chicken and cook until hot. Serve warm.

Makes: 6 servings