As technology has developed, so has people’s ability to overcome the traditional communication barriers of time and distance. The practice of telemedicine is a step forward in the health care industry to use telecommunication to bridge the gap of time, distance and affordability to reach patients in need of medical attention.
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine uses technology to facilitate communication, whether real-time or delayed, between a doctor and patient who are not in the same physical location for the purpose of medical evaluation, diagnosis and treatment. Advances in telecommunication allow the exchange of medical information from one site to another to serve patients in a clinical setting.
Telemedicine offers numerous benefits for both doctors and patients. Following are a few of the advantages of using telemedicine:
Communicating remotely with a doctor is a primary function of telemedicine. With this technology, doctors can reach patients in remote, rural and underserved areas where there might not be an available doctor or hospital. Through telemedicine, patients can access doctors for routine visits, emergency care or diagnostics from a specialist.
Another benefit of telemedicine is increased access to specialists. Even when patients live in urban areas with numerous doctors and hospitals, specialists for rare health conditions may not practice in the area. Telemedicine enables patients in both rural and urban areas to connect with specialists who may be hundreds of miles away.
Reduction in cost is another major benefit of telemedicine. Patients save money for routine and specialist care because they don’t have to pay travel expenses for distant doctors and don’t have to take excessive time off work to travel and then sit in a waiting room. Doctors are also more efficient in the number of patients they can see in a day, which can help reduce overhead and related costs. In addition, remote monitoring can help lessen the much larger cost of long hospitalizations or in-home nursing, and it may reduce the cost of managing chronic conditions. Remote monitoring can also help prevent hospital readmission by properly supervising care following a patient’s discharge from the hospital.
For some patients, the comfort and convenience of consulting with a doctor from the safety of their own homes is a tremendous advantage. The convenience can also improve care. For example, whereas patients might forget to bring medications with them to a traditional office visit, when patients are at home they have ready access to the information necessary for the doctor to diagnose and prescribe. Also, because the patient is at home, it is often easier to take notes or even include a family member who can help retain important information from the doctor.
The Role of Telemedicine
Fueled by technological advances and answering the clamor for consumer-convenient care, telemedicine delivers many advantages. Although not the same as sitting in an actual doctor’s office, a telemedicine visit with a doctor can prove beneficial by warding off further illness or disease, stabilizing a condition until a patient is able to reach a hospital or monitoring a patient at home. Telemedicine is not a complete replacement for face-to-face health care, but it can be a tremendously helpful supplement and even a temporary substitute for traditional medical care.
Many employee benefits are subject to annual dollar limits that are periodically increased for inflation. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently announced cost-of-living adjustments to the annual dollar limits for various welfare and retirement plan limits for 2018. Although some of the limits will remain the same, many of the limits will increase for 2018.
The annual limits for the following commonly offered employee benefits will increase for 2018:
- High deductible health plans (HDHPs) and health savings accounts (HSAs);
- Health flexible spending accounts (FSAs);
- Transportation fringe benefit plans; and
- 401(k) plans.
Employers should update their benefit plan designs for the new limits and also make sure that their plan administration will be consistent with the new limits in 2018. Employers may also want to communicate the new benefit plan limits to employees in connection with annual open enrollment.
HSA and HDHP Limits
|HSA Contribution Limit|
|Self-only HDHP coverage||$3,400||$3,450||Up $50|
|Family HDHP coverage||$6,750||$6,900||Up $150|
|Catch-up contributions*||$1,000||$1,000||No change|
*Not adjusted for inflation
|Minimum deductible||Self-only coverage||$1,300||$1,350||Up $50|
|Family coverage||$2,600||$2,700||Up $100|
|Maximum out-of-pocket||Self-only coverage||$6,550||$6,650||Up $100|
|Family coverage||$13,100||$13,300||Up $200|
|Health FSA (limit on employees’ pre-tax contributions)||$2,600||$2,650||Up $50|
|Dependent care FSA (tax exclusion)*||$5,000 ($2,500 if married and filing taxes separately)||$5,000 ($2,500 if married and filing taxes separately)||No change|
*Not adjusted for inflation
Transportation Fringe Benefits
|Limit (monthly limits)||2017||2018||Change|
|Transit pass and vanpooling (combined)||$255||$260||Up $5|
Adoption Assistance Benefits
|Tax exclusion (employer-provided assistance)||$13,570||$13,840||Up $270|
Qualified Small Employer HRA (QSEHRA)
|Payments and Reimbursements||Employee-only coverage||$4,950||$5,050||Up $100|
|Family coverage||$10,000||$10,250||Up $250|
|Employee elective deferrals||$18,000||$18,500||Up $500|
|Catch-up contributions||$6,000||$6,000||No change|
Click Here to download: IRS Announces Benefit Plan Limits for 2018
|The Section 6055 and Section 6056 Reporting Workbooks for 2017 reporting are now available. Employers that are required to report in 2017 must furnish statements to individuals by Jan. 31, 2018, and must file forms with the IRS by Feb. 28, 2018, or April 2, 2018, if filing electronically (since March 31, 2018 is a Saturday).
The Section 6055 Reporting Workbook is intended to be used by smaller employers that sponsor self-insured plans. This Workbook can help those employers track and record the information that is needed to satisfy the Section 6055 reporting requirements only.
The Section 6056 Reporting Workbook is intended to be used by applicable large employers (ALEs) subject to the ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules (those that had, on average, 50 or more full-time and full-time equivalent employees during the prior calendar year). This Workbook can help ALEs track and record the information that is needed to satisfy the Section 6056 reporting requirements. It also includes a section for combined reporting, which can be used by ALEs that are also subject to the Section 6055 reporting requirements.
Click on the links below to download the reporting workbooks and instructions.
On Sept. 28, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released final 2017 forms for reporting under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Sections 6055 and 6056.
- 2017 Forms 1094-C and 1095-C (and related instructions) are used by applicable large employers (ALEs) to report under Section 6056, as well as for combined Section 6055 and 6056 reporting by ALEs who sponsor self-insured plans.
- 2017 Forms 1094-B and 1095-B (and related instructions) are used by entities reporting under Section 6055, including self-insured plan sponsors that are not ALEs.
Final instructions for 2017 were released in early October. The 2017 forms are substantially similar to the 2016 versions, except that sections related to expired Section 4980H Transition Relief were removed.
Employers should become familiar with the revisions to the forms, and prepare to file these final versions in early 2018.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) created reporting requirements under Code Sections 6055 and 6056. Under these rules, certain employers must provide information to the IRS about the health plan coverage they offer (or do not offer) or provide to their employees. Each reporting entity must annually file all of the following with the IRS:
- A separate statement (Form 1095-B or Form 1095-C) for each individual who is provided with minimum essential coverage (for providers reporting under Section 6055), or for each full-time employee (for ALEs reporting under Section 6056); and
- A transmittal form (Form 1094-B or Form 1094-C) for all of the returns filed for a given calendar year.
Reporting entities must also furnish related statements (Form 1095-B or 1095-C, or a substitute form) to individuals.
Forms must generally be filed with the IRS no later than Feb. 28 (March 31, if filed electronically) of the year following the calendar year to which the return relates. Individual statements must be furnished to individuals on or before Jan. 31 of the year immediately following the calendar year to which the statements relate.
2017 Forms and Instructions
The 2017 forms and instructions are substantially similar to the 2016 versions. However, note the following changes:
- Section 4980H Transition Relief. Several forms of transition relief were available to some employers under Section 4980H for the 2015 plan year (including any portion of the 2015 plan year that fell in 2016). However, no Section 4980H transition relief is available for 2017. As a result, the 2017 instructions for Forms 1094-C and 1095-C were revised to remove references to Section 4980H transition relief. In addition, Form 1094-C has been revised to remove references to this transition relief. Specifically, the following two sections on Form 1094-C related to this transition relief have been designated as “Reserved” and should not be used: Part II, in the “Certifications of Eligibility” Section on Line 22, Box C; and Part III, in the “ALE Member Information – Monthly” table, column (e).
- Instructions for Recipient. Both individual statements (Forms 1095-B and 1095-C) include an “Instructions for Recipient” section. On both of the 2017 Forms 1095-B and 1095-C, the following paragraph was added: “Additional information. For additional information about the tax provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including the individual shared responsibility provisions, the premium tax credit, and the employer shared responsibility provisions, see www.irs.gov/Affordable-Care-Act/Individuals-and-Families or call the IRS Healthcare Hotline for ACA questions (1-800-919-0452).”
- Updated Penalty Amounts. Both sets of 2017 instructions include updated penalty amounts for failures to file returns and furnish statements in 2017. The adjusted penalty amount is $260 per violation, with an annual maximum of $3,218,500 (up from a maximum of $3,193,000, for 2016).
- Code Series 2 (Section 4980H Safe Harbor Codes and Other Relief). The 2017 instructions for Forms 1094-C and 1095-C clarify that there is no specific code to enter on line 16 to indicate that a full-time employee who was offered coverage either did not enroll or waived the coverage.
- Corrected Forms 1095-C. The 2017 instructions for Forms 1094-C and 1095-C include additional information for employers that have errors on Forms 1095-C. Specifically, the instructions indicate that Forms 1095-C filed with incorrect dollar amounts on line 15, Employee Required Contribution, may fall under a safe harbor for certain de minimis The safe harbor generally applies if no single amount in error differs from the correct amount by more than $100. If the safe harbor applies, employers will not have to correct Form 1095-C to avoid penalties. However, if the recipient elects for the safe harbor not to apply, the employer may have to issue a corrected Form 1095-C to avoid penalties. For more information, see Notice 2017-9.
- Reporting Catastrophic Coverage for 2017. The 2017 instructions for Forms 1094-B and 1095-B clarify that reporting for catastrophic coverage enrolled in through the Exchange remains optional for 2017. It was expected that health insurance issuers and carriers would be required to report this coverage beginning in 2017. However, the instructions clarify that reporting of catastrophic coverage enrolled in through the Exchange will remain optional for coverage in 2017 (filing in 2018).
- Formatting Returns Filed with the IRS. Both sets of 2017 instructions clarify that all returns filed with the IRS must be printed in landscape format.
In addition, a prior draft version of Form 1095-C for 2017 clarified that the “Plan Start Month” box in Part II of Form 1095-C will remain optional for 2017. The instructions for Forms 1094-C and 1095-C indicate that this box may be mandatory for the 2018 Form 1095-C.
The 2016 versions of these forms are also available on the IRS website:
- Form 1094-B and Form 1095-B (and related instructions); and
- Form 1094-C and Form 1095-C (and related instructions).
These forms must have been filed with the IRS no later than Feb. 28, 2017 (March 31, 2017, if filing electronically). However, the IRS extended the due date for furnishing individual statements for 2016 an extra 30 days, from Jan. 31, 2017, to March 2, 2017. The IRS does not anticipate extending the filing or furnishing deadlines for 2017 reporting.
According to the IRS, information returns under Sections 6055 and 6056 may continue to be filed after the filing deadline (both on paper and electronically). Employers that missed the filing deadline should continue to make efforts to file their returns as soon as possible.
The IRS also previously released:
- Q&As on Section 6055 and Q&As on Section 6056; and
- A separate set of Q&As on Employer Reporting using Form 1094-C and Form 1095-C.
Please contact Clark & Associates of Nevada, Inc. for more information on reporting under Code Sections 6055 and 6056.
Hurricane Harvey is the strongest storm to make landfall in the United States since Hurricane Charley in 2004. News of the damage it has caused to southeastern Texas is prompting people to help in whatever ways they can. Unfortunately, there are dishonest people who prey upon people’s good intentions, creating fake charity campaigns to exploit victims and take advantage of those who want to help.
How to Avoid Scams
Despite the sense of urgency to help when disaster strikes, it is important to do some research before donating. Consider the following best practices to ensure that your resources go to a legitimate charity with experience in disaster relief:
- Never wire money to someone who claims to be a charity. Legitimate charities do not ask for wire transfers. Once you wire the money, you’ll probably never get it back.
- Be cautious about bloggers and social media posts that provide charity suggestions. Don’t assume that the person recommending the charity has fully researched the organization’s credibility.
- Only donate through a charity’s official website, never through emails. Scammers have a knack for creating fake email accounts that seem legitimate.
- Ensure that the charity explains on its website how your money will be used.
- Be wary of charities that claim to give 100 percent of donations to victims. That is often a false claim, as well-structured organizations need to use some of their donations to cover administrative costs.
- Never offer unnecessary personal information, such as your Social Security number or a copy of your driver’s license. However, it is common for legitimate charities to ask for your mailing address, and it is safe for you to provide it.
How to Choose a Charity
Even legitimate charities need to be considered with care. The Federal Trade Commission suggests avoiding new charities because, despite their legitimacy, they may not have the resources needed to get your money to its intended recipients.
Donors looking for a worthy charity can access an unbiased, objective list on a website called Charity Navigator. The site receives a Form 990 for all of its charities directly from the IRS, so it knows exactly how the charities spend their money and use their donations. It also rates charities based on their location, tax status, length of operation, accountability, transparency and public support.
Gaining popularity for charitable donations is a crowdfunding website called GoFundMe, which allows people to raise money for a wide variety of circumstances. Despite its popularity, visitors to the site should be cautious about the campaigns to which they donate. Visitors can report suspicious campaigns directly to GoFundMe via its official website or to their state’s consumer protection hotline.
The following national organizations have long-standing reputations for providing disaster relief and accepting donations:
- The American Red Cross provides shelter, food, emotional support and other necessities to people affected by disasters.
- AmeriCares takes medicine and supplies to survivors.
- Catholic Charities USA supports disaster response and recovery efforts that include direct assistance, rebuilding and health care services.
- The Salvation Army provides shelter and emergency services to displaced individuals.
Remember that there are other ways to provide disaster relief that don’t involve monetary donations, especially if you live near the affected area. Local food banks and blood centers commonly ask for donations during relief efforts.
Many people struggle with financial planning. Surveys reveal that as many as two-thirds of employees admit that worrying about their personal financial situations negatively affects their health. Stepping in with financial planning assistance as a voluntary benefit for your employees can help ease their stress, contributing to higher employee morale and productivity.
What Are Financial Planning Assistance Benefits?
Financial planning assistance benefits help employees better manage their finances, and this assistance can be offered in various formats:
- Educational materials
- Group seminar or presentation (in person or online)
- Online class
- Personalized advice through one-on-one counseling
- Financial software
- Financial calculators or budget templates
Financial planning assistance may be delivered individually or in a group setting. Advice and financial tools can be presented over the phone, in person or online.
There are different advantages for each type of financial planning assistance. Online classes, printed materials and group sessions are typically broadly applicable and could be a more efficient use of your company’s time and money.
However, individualized assistance may provide more value to your employees; when an employee sits down with a counselor in an individual meeting, the employee can receive information and advice specifically for his or her situation. Additionally, individual settings allow employees to ask personal financial questions without co-workers listening in.
How Do Financial Planning Assistance Benefits Work?
You can choose to provide financial planning assistance benefits from internal human resource or finance department personnel, or you could bring in experts from another organization. Third-party experts may be paid consultants, affiliates of your company or agents from a financial institution that agrees to provide counseling or seminars in exchange for the opportunity to promote their own services.
Consider having employees sign a statement that absolves you of any legal liability concerning advice given by the contracted financial planner. You don’t want to be liable if an employee loses money on an investment suggested by an advisor you provided access to.
Why Offer Financial Planning Assistance?
Easing the financial worries of your employees has multiple positive outcomes. By helping your employees with a major source of stress, you can increase morale. Further, studies suggest that financial worries can affect employees’ health and productivity, so you may gain healthier, more focused employees, saving money on lost or inefficient work time. Additionally, providing financial planning assistance benefits can contribute to your company’s corporate image.
Contact Clark & Associates of Nevada, Inc. for more information on offering your employees financial planning assistance as a voluntary benefit.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Office of Chief Counsel has recently issued several information letters regarding the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual and employer mandate penalties. These letters clarify that:
- Employer shared responsibility penalties continue to apply for applicable large employers (ALEs) that fail to offer acceptable health coverage to their full-time employees (and dependents); and
- Individual mandate penalties continue to apply for individuals that do not obtain acceptable health coverage (if they do not qualify for an exemption).
These letters were issued in response to confusion over President Donald Trump’s executive order directing federal agencies to provide relief from the burdens of the ACA.
These information letters clarify that the ACA’s individual and employer mandate penalties still apply. Individuals and ALEs must continue to comply with these ACA requirements, including paying any penalties that may be owed.
The ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules require ALEs to offer affordable, minimum value health coverage to their full-time employees or pay a penalty. These rules, also known as the “employer mandate” or “pay or play” rules, only apply to ALEs, which are employers with, on average, at least 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees (FTEs), during the preceding calendar year. An ALE may be subject to a penalty only if one or more full-time employees obtain an Exchange subsidy (either because the ALE does not offer health coverage, or offers coverage that is unaffordable or does not provide minimum value).
The ACA’s individual mandate, which took effect in 2014, requires most individuals to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage for themselves and their family members or pay a penalty. The individual mandate is enforced each year on individual federal tax returns. Individuals filing a tax return for the previous tax year will indicate, by checking a box on their individual tax return, which members of their family (including themselves) had health insurance coverage for the year (or qualified for an exemption from the individual mandate). Based on this information, the IRS will then assess a penalty for each nonexempt family member who doesn’t have coverage.
On Jan. 20, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order intended to “to minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens” of the ACA until the law can be repealed and eventually replaced. The executive order broadly directs the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies to waive, delay or grant exemptions from ACA requirements that may impose a financial burden. However, the executive order does not include specific guidance regarding any particular ACA requirement or provision, and does not change any existing regulations.
IRS Information Letters
Office of Chief Counsel issued a series of information letters clarifying that the ACA’s individual and employer mandate penalties continue to apply.
- Letter numbers 2017-0010 and 2017-0013 address the employer shared responsibility rules.
- Letter number 2017-0017 addresses the individual mandate.
|According to these letters, the executive order does not change the law. The ACA’s provisions are still effective until changed by Congress, and taxpayers are still required to follow the law, including paying any applicable penalties.|
For additional information on the ACA Executive Order and the current tax filing season, please visit www.irs.gov/tax-professionals/aca-information-center-for-tax-professionals.
What is Snap Map?
Introduced in a June 2017 update, Snap Map allows users to share their exact location with friends within the Snapchat app. Snap Map gathers location data using a smartphone’s GPS sensor and displays the time of day an individual is at a specific location and his or her speed of travel. This information is shown on a map that can be accessed when a user first opens Snapchat and pinches the screen to zoom out.
While Snapchat users can choose to share their location with selected friends, any posts users share on Snapchat’s “Our Story” feature will appear on the global map regardless of their privacy or location settings.
Broadcasting one’s personal location might seem harmless, but there are potentially dangerous implications for your organization. Consider that many employees might use this feature in a way that compromises your business and take steps to mitigate this risk.
Employees shouldn’t use social media to post when they’re leaving for vacation, as this could leave their home vulnerable to robbery. The same risks are at play if employees use Snap Map to advertise their absence from work. Malicious individuals could seize the opportunity to steal or otherwise damage company property because they know it is unattended.
Employees who post on social media during business hours have tremendous control over your company’s reputation. Their thoughts and opinions are projected through the lens of the company, since they are on company—not personal—time. Even if employees do not mention your organization, their physical locations will be broadcast, offering that information anyway. Likewise, anywhere employees travel will be broadcast when they post, which could be compromising if they go to places that could make the company look bad.
Employees should be reminded of your company’s social media policy. Clearly lay out your organization’s expectations in the policy and communicate the potential dangers of this new social media feature.
Share the following tip with employees or consider including it in your company’s social media policy.
- Edit location settings. Click the gear icon in the Snapchat app. From there, scroll down to the “See My Location” tab and turn on “Ghost Mode.” This will prevent others from seeing your location.
For more information on how to protect your business on social media, contact Clark & Associates of Nevada, Inc. today.
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