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Rebecca Green | SBJ

A Conversation With ... Jeff Kennedy

Employee Benefits Specialist, Nixon & Lindstrom Insurance

Posted online

You recently were selected by the National Association of Health Underwriters as president of the statewide association. What does the organization do?
It’s our industry association, probably the premier industry association for agents and brokers across the country – specifically working on the employee benefits and health insurance, dental, vision, life, short-term/long-term disability, those lines of coverage that you would expect to receive from your employer. And then also representing agents who work in the senior markets with Medicare, individual health insurance and other direct lines of coverage direct to consumer. The association itself is broken up into chapters across the country – at least one association in every state. Inside of that state association, there’s individual chapters. I facilitate the state association as president of the board, as well as our Springfield chapter.

What are your goals as board president?
We advocate on a national and state level, and even regionally, for legislative directives that affect our clients. Really the most recent issue is this family glitch. The family glitch refers to, in essence, a spouse or dependent accessing health insurance on the exchange when maybe the spouse has access to a group plan. Currently, the way the law is written is if you are offered a health plan and it’s deemed affordable for you – meaning the employee-only premium that you would have to pay is affordable by calculating less than 9.5% of your annual household income – by law, the employer has done their duty in providing you an affordable health plan. But also that makes your dependents ineligible for any tax credits if they were to purchase health insurance on the exchange for themselves. In other words, just because your employer does offer group health and it does (offer) health coverage to your spouse or dependents, it may be pretty expensive to add dependents on most group health plans these days. The law was really not written with that in mind. Now, that language has changed to clear up some gaps. If to add your spouse or kids to your plan is deemed unaffordable, those individuals now can purchase health insurance on the exchange and potentially qualify for subsidized tax credits. The advanced tax credits on the exchange would basically, in essence, subsidize the premium on a monthly basis for your health insurance, making it much more affordable for some who were previously either going uninsured or paying a lot for that group coverage.

The Society for Human Resource Management’s 2022 employee benefits survey put health-related benefits, retirement and financial planning benefits, and leave benefits as the top three highest-ranked benefits. Is that consistent with the Springfield area?
Most employers when we meet with them and do an evaluation up front to see what their benefit package looks like currently, what they’re looking to accomplish; those three are usually at the top. Here in our region, especially, we do see a lot of employers offering disability. Many of these lines of coverage are offered on a voluntary basis. Employers that may want to offer it but don’t have it in their budget are providing a great benefit for their employee at a much more reasonable cost. A lot of times clients don’t realize that. They think if I offer it, I have to pay for it. There’s some truth to that in a lot of the lines of coverage that are built into employee benefit packages, but quite honestly, putting together a robust offering and allowing your employees to choose what’s important to them is almost as important as any of it.

With a possible recession on the horizon, businesses might be looking for expense reductions. Should they touch benefits?
Most of my clients are preparing or planning around a recession-like time period. However, a lot of the clients that I’m seeing have had really strong years. One of those key pieces is their workforce; the ability to retain those employees through this downturn has been probably one of their No. 1 priorities. My clients aren’t looking to chip away at their employee benefits in most cases. I’ve had employers reach out to me asking how we can further bolster it. A lot of times if we’ve got all those lines of coverage, we’ll look at changing policies, procedures or culture shifts to encourage maybe some growth on the employee culture side of things. That PTO schedule, flexible leave, remote work opportunities, those sorts of things. A lot of them have reevaluated their physical structures, the real estate that they’re in. Do they need the space that they have? Is there a better use of space? I think what we’re seeing is not necessarily a push to get rid of benefits, but maybe to make our dollar go further.

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