Heart Health: The Most Meaningful Valentine of All

Author Benjamin Percy once said, “Matters of the heart make your world worth occupying.” Around Valentine’s Day, that may have you thinking of your sweetheart, but we’re taking a more literal approach.

The heart matters, and that’s why every February we celebrate American Heart Month by raising awareness about heart health.

What is American Heart Month?

American Heart Month is a combined campaign from the American Heart Association and other health associations to raise awareness about heart disease, other ailments of the heart, and to raise general awareness about heart health and disease prevention. For 2019, the spotlight is on talking about cholesterol. Cholesterol is a major risk factor when it comes to heart disease and strokes.

To get to the heart of it all: your heart is essential.

The heart is responsible for pumping blood through our bodies and is a huge support to crucial functions performed by other organs. Did you know heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States? Our hearts are very vulnerable to risks: cardiac arrest, strokes, and high cholesterol to name a few.

Heart attacks are another common and deadly complication. It’s important to recognize the signs of a heart attack, such as:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness, nausea, or a cold sweat

What can you do to promote heart health?

Awareness is only half of the battle. It’s vital to take an active interest in your heart health and replace poor habits with healthy ones. Some examples of things you can do to improve your heart health include:

  • Eat a heart friendly diet.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Consume alcohol responsibly and in moderation.
  • Be diligent about managing stress.

Take heart and take care of your heart this February. It’s the best Valentine you can give yourself and the ones you love.

The Boon Blog is your source for updates in the healthcare and benefits industry and all things Boon! Make sure you follow us to keep up with the latest!

You can also find Boon on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Boon Buzz: 2019 in Benefits, So Far…

We might only be a few weeks into the new year, but 2019 hit the ground running in the world of benefits. Here are the highlights of what should already be on your 2019 radar:

  1. The IRS Has Started to Enforce 2016’s “Pay or Play”

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) began issuing enforcement letters regarding employer compliance with the shared responsibility rules under the Affordable Care Act, in late 2018.

Only Applicable Large Employers (ALEs) are sent these letters and the determination of whether an ALE may be liable for a penalty is based on the information in forms 1094-C and 1095-C.

If an ALE receives this enforcement letter, they must either agree with the IRS’s determination of  employer shared responsibility or formally disagree before the  penalty is assessed and payment is demanded. ALEs must respond within 30 days from the date of the letter.

  1. FSA Limit Increases in 2019

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has historically set a dollar limit on health flexible spending account (FSA) contributions. Typically, cost of living adjustments are a consideration in setting this limit and the limit may be increased each year.

The same will be true in 2019. As of November 2018 the FSA contribution limit was increased from $2650 to $2700, effective with the 2019 tax year. This contribution limit increase is par for the course and in step with similar increases made over the past few years.

It’s important for employers that offer FSA’s to their employees to communicate the new 2019 limit during the open enrollment process.

It would appear that the word of 2019 is “Compliance.” At Boon, Compliance is our middle name; it’s also part of our New Year’s Resolution to keep providing competitive benefits solutions for government contractors.

The Boon Blog is your source for the latest in industry updates and all things Boon! Give us a follow and get the highlights of the industry, direct to your inbox. You can also keep up with us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn!

Posted in ACA, ACA reporting, compliance, employee benefits, IRS | Leave a comment

Boon Buzz: Data Privacy and You

In our technology-driven world, there is nothing more important than respectful and thorough protection of online privacy, keeping your data secure and safe, and enabling trust. In January, we celebrate Data Privacy Day in an effort to educate and empower individuals and businesses to take action and protect their online data.

What is data privacy?

Data privacy, also known as data protection, is the relationship between the collection and distribution of data, as well as the technology, public expectation of privacy, and legal and political issues related to the protection of personal and company data.

Why is data privacy so important?

Your personal information or business information is just as valuable as the money in your bank account and it needs to be protected!

Think about your personal information. What would you be comfortable with a total stranger knowing? Your name and workplace? Maybe. Your address and personal phone number? Hold on a minute. How about your social security number and bank information? Stop right there!

For businesses, not only is all of that personal employee information at risk, but your client lists and important financial information associated with your business can also be exposed. In the wrong hands, your data can lead to devastation.

Check out this blog post for more examples of how cybercriminals hunt for and exploit data.

Data Privacy in the Workplace

It’s imperative employees understand that they play a key role in protecting company data. Here are a few examples of ways your employees can create a data friendly and safe environment:

  • Stay up-to-date and aware of all company privacy and technology policies.
  • Keep work computer updated with the latest security software and operating systems.
  • Exercise caution when working remotely and accessing work information on a personal device.
  • Practice caution when it comes to potential spam emails and be sure to report.

Personal Data Privacy

On average, 1.49 billion people log onto and use Facebook daily. That’s just one social media platform!

Consider that the average internet user is on multiple social media platforms. Factor in that many people are active in online forums and other communities. That says nothing of the online shoppers, entering valuable information and entrusting it to a host of sites. What about the app you downloaded so you could get your horoscope?

That’s a lot of data flying around! Here are some of the top ways to make sure your information is staying safe:

  • Be aware of how websites and apps are collecting and using your information. Read the user agreements.
  • When posting on social media, be mindful of what a post reveals and who could possibly see it.
  • Routinely check security and privacy settings on your favorite apps, devices, and accounts.
  • Only use secure networks when making online purchases.
  • Share information and awareness on how to protect your data.

Stay safe online!

The Boon Blog is your source for industry updates and news and all things Boon! Follow us to get the best of Boon and catch up with us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mentor-Protégé Programs: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know

We can all think of one time or another when we needed a little guidance. When someone wiser (or maybe just bigger and tougher) than us had to come through and lend a helping hand. Or maybe you’ve been that person.

We often tend to think of business as cutthroat and competitive to a fault, and often it is. But the SBA’s Mentor-Protégé program is an opportunity to get back to the basics of just being a boon to your peers and to learn from those who are making it happen.

The purpose of the Mentor-Protégé program is to develop stronger small firms (the protégés) through business development assistance provided by mentors. It allows smaller businesses to tap into the expertise and capital of larger firms. The overarching goal being that, when a larger firm takes a smaller firm under their wing, it will help that smaller firm compete for (and win!) government contracts.

The Department of Defense provides incentives to their major contractors to furnish these disadvantaged smaller firms with this assistance.

These big fish firms that are taking part in these Mentor-Protégé programs have resources, numbers, and the know-how to help a smaller firm grow their business. Some areas where mentor-provided assistance can be a boon are: Financial Assistance, Trade Education, Business Development Assistance, Contracting Assistance, and General Administrative Assistance.

Whether you need to build up your human resources, discover your market, or build up your business strategy while pursuing contracting and partnership opportunities, mentor firms are out there.

A Mentor-Protégé program allows the two firms to sign a teaming agreement to partner together and compete for contracts.

So how does one become a mentor or a protégé?

For protégés, size matters. In particular, it begs the question “are you a small business concern”?

To be eligible for assistance, small businesses must be organized for profit, operate primarily within the United States, have a place of business located in the United States, and make significant contributions to the economy of the United Statements (via your taxes or through your use of American products and labor).

How do you know if you’re a small business?

The SBA will count the number of employees and receipts for your business, and any of your affiliates whether they’re foreign or domestic.

In the case of mentors, it’s really just as simple as being ready, willing, and able. Any business, large or small, that desires to assist small businesses may act as a mentor and receive benefits. The SBA will review a mentor’s tax returns, financial statements, and any SEC filings to determine whether or not the mentor is financially fit and able to take on the responsibility of mentoring. Generally, mentors will only work with one protégé, at a time, though there are some exceptions to this rule.

The nuts and bolts of the Mentor-Protégé program are as follows:

  • There must be a written agreement, acknowledging the protégé’s needs and setting forth a detailed description and timeline for the mentor’s commitments to the protégé and how those needs are going to be addressed.
  • Ensure that the mentor will provide the required assistance to the protégé for at least one year
  • Provide that either party may terminate the agreement with 30 days advance notice to the other party and to the SBA

When you succeed with the mentor-protégé program, we will be there for the job of matching benefits between companies.

Follow the Boon Blog for the latest in industry news and all things Boon! You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Boon Buzz: Final Forms for 2018 ACA Reporting Released

The final forms and instructions for 2018 Affordable Care Act (ACA) reporting under Sections 6055 and 6056 are now available.

Overall, these final forms are  similar to the final versions from 2017 with one major change. In the revised version of the Form 1095-C, it’s stated that the “Plan Start Month” entry in Part II will remain optional in 2018 after some discussion about possibly making it a mandatory field to complete.

What are these forms for?

Internal Revenue Service Code Sections 6055 and 6056 created the reporting requirements for the Affordable Care Act. Under the rules laid out in these sections, certain employers are required to provide information to the IRS about health plan coverage they do, or do not, offer to their employees. Forms 1094-C and 1095-C are used for reporting under Section 6056 by applicable large employers.

Each reporting employer must file the forms annually with the IRS. Specifically, the employer must file:

  • Form 1095-B or Form 1095-C: A separate statement for each individual that is provided with minimum essential coverage or each full-time employee. Section 6055 applies to employers that offer minimum essential coverage, while Section 6056 is for applicable large employers with full-time employees.
  • A transmittal form for all returns filed in a given calendar year. This is in Form 1094-B or Form 1094-C.

What do these filing forms mean for employers? 

It is important for employers to familiarize themselves with these forms in preparation for using them to report for 2018.

The IRS claims that information returns under Sections 6055 and 6056 can still be filed after the filing deadline.  They also claim that employers who miss the filing deadlines should continue to make the effort to get their returns in as soon as possible. This is true for both paper and electronic methods of filing.

Important dates to remember

On January 31, 2019, individual statements for 2018 must be furnished to employees and IRS returns for 2018 must be filed by February 28, 2019. If these forms are filed electronically, the deadline is extended to April 1, 2019.

The Boon Blog is your resource for the latest news and updates from within the healthcare industry. Follow the Boon Blog to keep up with these developing stories! You can also keep up with Boon on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Competitive and Cost-Conscious Contracting: The Importance of Fringe Benefits

This article was originally written by Boon president, Taylor Boon, and Content Marketing Specialist, Caitlin Kennedy, and published in the Professional Service Counsel’s “Service Contractor” Fall 2018 magazine.

Federal government contracting is constantly evolving and presenting new challenges for contractors competing to support government missions. There are three primary objectives that companies operating under the McNamara O’Hara Service Contract Act of 1965 and the construction-related Davis-Bacon Act of 1935 are striving for: contract compliance, cost-effectiveness that is profitable to the company bottom line, and – most importantly – being competitive to win the work.

One of the provisions in both laws provides built-in cost savings opportunity for the contractor. A contractor can provide “bona fide” fringe benefits where mandated by contract provisions, thus putting the contractor at a cost-saving advantage over the competition that is not providing fringe benefits.

However, these fringe benefit contract requirement under the Service Contract Act and the Davis-Bacon Act present contractors with a challenge. Similar to wage determinations, specific fringe benefits requirements to be paid on an hourly basis, although the fringe rates vary under both acts. Employees working under contracts governed by a particular Act that has a specified fringe rate must receive that fringe rate either as cash paid out or as the benefit equivalent, always in excess of their base wages.

For example, the contractor can pay the designated fringe rate into bona fide fringe benefits. Health and welfare benefits such as group health plans, dental plans, additional sick leave days, or retirement options are some examples of these “bona fide” fringe benefits.

A common method of properly discharging fringe dollars is the “hours worked” method. Under this mode the contractor is responsible for reporting employee hours worked and must pay the designated hourly fringe rate accordingly. Most of the time, contractors address the fringe benefit obligation by paying the fringe dollars to the employee, in cash. Seems like the right choice because it’s a simple process and calculation, right? Wrong.

The contractor that is paying the fringe into a bona fide fringe benefit maintains a competitive financial tax advantage over a contractor that is paying fringe dollars into cash. Additionally, the contractor may choose a number of different options that satisfy the federal requirements.

When contractors utilize those fringe dollars to provide employee benefits, the advantages go way beyond cost-effectiveness; employee fringe benefit plans often translate to a healthier workforce and reduced absenteeism, in addition to increased employee satisfaction and productivity.

Regardless of the method, the specific fringe benefit payments must be accounted for separately to ensure compliance.

You might ask, “Why would a contractor choose to provide benefits, instead of the more direct cash payout?” While different situations provide for different company needs, it is not uncommon for groups that pay cash in lieu of benefits do so in order to meet local wage demands. Paying the fringe into bona fide benefits plans provides a boon to the employee while also providing the contractor with a small advantage over the competition.

When the contractor elects to pay cash in lieu of benefits, the contractor takes on additional payroll tax burdens. This usually manifests in the form of increased premiums for workers compensation and an increase in FICA and state taxes. Contractors working under the Acts that decide to pay the fringe rate in cash will have an additional burden that their competitor, who pays the obligated fringe as a “bona fide” fringe benefit, simply does not.

Our recommendation? Outsource fringe benefits via a third party that provides benefits for the employees working the contract.

Contractors could always handle the administration themselves, but that would require the expertise and resources to properly track and account for those fringe dollars at the individual employee level. That level of accounting is mandatory for contractor compliance and, frankly, many employers just don’t have the juice.

But there are many companies that develop benefit plans that are designed to meet the specific needs of government contractors.

In the federal contracting world, there are clear winners and losers. What separates the two could be a very small dollar differential. In this arena, it will be the competitive and cost-conscious contractor that succeeds.

The Boon Blog is your source for the latest in industry news. You can keep up with the world of healthcare, industry updates, and all things Boon on our FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How the Healthcare Industry is Responding to the U.S. Opioid Crisis

The U.S. Opioid Crisis is massively impacting this country. The reach of this problem is extending well beyond health policy with greater and greater increases in opioid addiction and abuse related deaths. The issue is widespread and every corner of the nation has been impacted. The healthcare industry is reeling as a barrage of political responses rush to resolve the crisis. We previously covered the impact of the Opioid Crisis, now read on to learn more about how the nation is responding and how it may impact healthcare.

Despite a political landscape that currently has Republicans and Democrats locking horns, addressing the U.S. Opioid Crisis seems to be the issue that is uniting Congress in action. Four committees in the House and the Senate held hearings on numerous bills that were all seeking a means of battling the opioid epidemic with an ultimate goal of passing a large opioids bill by Memorial Day. A top contender for this large-and-in-charge bill was a proposal meant to improve the ability of various organizations in addressing the opioid crisis. Some of the provisions of this bill include:

  • Prioritizing the development of non-addictive painkillers
  • Clarify FDA authority to require packaging options for certain drugs that encourage responsible use
  • Authorize CDC research through grants
  • Allow hospice programs to safely and properly dispose of unnecessary controlled substances to reduce the risk of misuse and distribution

This proposal would gain traction and in October 2018 the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act was signed into law, a joint effort from parties on both sides of the aisle. While senators recognize that the opioid crisis is far from over, under this legislation there is hope for providing help to families and communities impacted by the crisis.

In his address at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in April 2017, Secretary Price detailed the strategy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources in addressing the opioid crisis. In particular, HHS has prioritized these five strategies:

  1. Improving access to treatment and recovery services
  2. Promoting use of overdose-reversing drugs
  3. Strengthening understanding of the epidemic through public health surveillance
  4. Providing support for research on pain and addiction
  5. Advancing better practices for pain management

Aspects of this strategy have already been implemented with $485 million in grants being sent to state governors for use in treatment and prevention facilities.

The U.S. opioid crisis is just as hotly debated at the state level. In Minnesota, a signature but controversial effort to fight back against opioids suggests a “penny-a-pill” fee. This is the latest in a string of legislation. In 2014, Steve’s Law granted immunity to persons who called 911 to help someone who was overdosing on opioids, even if they themselves were users. From this have stemmed numerous other proposals in Minnesota: funneling money into preventative measures, equipping law enforcement with an overdose-reversing drug, and more. The issue arises from the fact that the state hopes to accomplish this via fees placed on every opioid sold by a drug company; an action greatly opposed by Big Pharma.

Other states, like New York, have moved forward with measures that slap a fee on opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Whether or not such measures catch on, pharmaceutical companies are being taken to task for their role in the opioid crisis. Executives with pharmaceutical distributors accused of flooding communities with powerful prescription painkillers were summoned to testify before Congress at a hearing held on May 8, 2018. This marks a watershed moment in the healthcare industry as these companies were questioned on their practice of pushing such a high volume of highly addictive pain pills into several states. The case at hand is especially austere as disclosed data from this hearing committee showed that millions of pills were shipped to small communities in states exhibiting the highest rate of drug overdose deaths.

During that May hearing, one pharmaceutical company admitted that it had distributed  about 151 million doses  of oxycodone and hydrocodone in West Virginia between 2007 and 2012, which is a mere fraction of the totals from other companies that were distributing in the area during that time period. However, four of the five executives testified that their companies did not have a role in fueling a public health crisis, despite a committee report revealing the massive amounts of painkillers sent to the area.

The major takeaway? The efforts of the committee will continue to strive to enact new laws and new programs to combat the crisis and will continue the yearlong investigation.

Massive changes are on the horizon and The Boon Group is just as dedicated to keeping you informed as we are to keeping you competitive and compliant! Follow the Boon Blog for updates on the U.S. Opioid Crisis and other industry news.

You can also keep up with Boon on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment