Benefits changes begin this month

Employees picked up information on benefits at the annual Benefits Fair in October.

With the new year come changes to benefits packages for most employees of Georgia Health Sciences University, and the university’s Department of Human Resources reports that they have encountered some areas of confusion.

“Policy language can be dense and full of jargon, but we’re always happy to help make sense of it,” said Patricia Riley, Georgia Health Sciences University Director of Benefits/Data Management.

Some of the services about which university employees have reported misunderstandings are, long-term disability benefits, how to fund a health savings account and what procedures to follow when eligibility changes for a spouse or dependent.

Changes in eligibility are the responsibility of the university employee to bring to the attention of their Human Resources representative within 30 days of the change. Common changes include marriage, divorce, birth and death (see sidebar), but there are many reasons one’s eligibility for benefits coverage may change. These changes impact more than medical coverage.

“Your deductions ultimately affect your net income Once the premium payments leave the university, and 90 days pass, it’s impossible for us to retrieve those premiums. We don’t want university employees to make payments on a plan for which they are not eligible,” Riley said.

But even when an employee is properly enrolled in a medical plan, misunderstanding the system causes confusion. For example, a number of university employees signed up for the Health Savings Account that accompanies the High Deductible policy and deposited only one cent.

“That probably stemmed from a previous year when the state offered seed money for HSAs in order to encourage university employees to start one,” Riley said.

Seed money is no longer offered. In order for an employee to receive any university system monies into their health savings account, they have to contribute. The university system will match an employee’s monthly contributions up to $375 per year for an individual and up to $750 for two or more people on the plan. An employee who contributes $300 a month and is enrolled in the high deductible plan with two or more covered individuals would have the full matching contribution in three months. An employee who contributes $62.50 per month and has two or more covered individuals will not receive the system’s entire match until the final month of the year.

In addition, two benefits have been moved to an after-tax payment status: supplemental life insurance and long-term disability. This simplifies the supplemental life insurance procedures by alleviating the need for imputed income on an employee’s annual W-2. For those enrolled in the long-term disability benefit, it means that the benefits will not be taxable.

“In the event that an employee should receive long-term disability benefits, this will put more money in his or her pocket,” Riley said. But currently enrolled university employees should anticipate a three-year wait, beginning with January 2012, before the benefits they would receive upon becoming disabled are totally non-taxable.

Riley recommends that university employees thoroughly review the language in their policies every year during open enrollment. “We’re here to answer any questions.”

The most common status changes that prompt eligibility changes are:

  • Marriage, divorce, or legal separation
  • Birth or adoption
  • Change in your or your spouse’s work status that affects your benefits or an eligible dependent’s benefits
  • Change in health coverage due to your spouse’s annual open enrollment period
  • Changes in dependent eligibility status
  • Change in eligibility for you or a dependent for Medicaid or Medicare
  • Receipt of a Qualified Medical Child Support Order, or other court order
  • Death of a spouse or child

When one of these things happens, you must:

  • Notify Human Resources
  • Provide proof of life status event
  • Complete and submit your enrollment or election change
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