Health Savings Accounts – One Key to a More Comfortable Retirement

Posted on September 30th, 2019

Here’s what your employees need to know about health savings accounts

Most people know that a 401(k) plan is a valuable retirement tool. It’s less well-known that a health savings account (HSA) also is a valuable retirement tool. Not only is an HSA a great way to save for medical expenses while employed, but the same savings account also can be used during retirement.

An HSA is a tax-advantaged savings account that employees can use to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses. HSAs always are paired with qualified high-deductible health plans (HDHPs). Qualified HDHPs have low premiums but high deductibles and when HSAs are used for qualified medical expenses, HSAs have a triple tax-free benefit: pre-tax contributions; tax-free growth; and tax-free withdrawals for qualified medical expenses.

If you offer an HDHP at your company, make sure your employees understand that HSAs also have some great retirement benefits. According to Fidelity Investments’ Retirement Health Care Cost survey, the cost of health care for the average couple throughout retirement is $280,000. Even with Medicare coverage, retirees should expect to pay for premiums, co-pays, some drugs and other expenses not covered by insurance. Money deposited in an HSA and saved for retirement can help cover these costs.

Here’s what your employees need to know:

Who Can Open an HSA? Any employee may open an HSA if they participate in a company HDHP and have no other health insurance; are not enrolled in Medicare; and cannot be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.

Benefits of an HSA. An employee’s account balance grows tax-free and any interest, dividends or capital gains earned are nontaxable, unless withdrawn for non-medical expenses. Also, any contributions you make to an employee’s account are not counted as part of their taxable income.

Unlike a flexible spending account (FSA), the balance can be carried over from year to year. Employees also take their HSA with them if they accept a position with another company or when they retire.

How HDHPs Work. In 2019, a qualified HDHP must have a deductible of at least $1,350 for self-only coverage and $2,700 for family coverage. Depending on the type of coverage offered, an employee’s annual out-of-pocket expenses in 2019 could run as high as $6,750 for individual coverage — or $13,500 for family coverage.

High health care expenses are one reason HSA plans are most popular with healthy individuals who can afford the risk and would receive benefits from the tax breaks. However, a low-deductible plan such as a PPO could cost individuals more than $2,000 annually in higher premiums regardless of whether they need medical attention. With an HDHP, spending more closely matches actual health care needs. In addition, HDHPs usually cover some preventive care services.

HSA Contributions. There are limits to how much individuals can contribute. For self coverage, the 2019 limit is $3,500 annually while the family coverage limit is $7,000. Account holders who are 55 or older at the end of the current tax year can contribute an additional $1,000 annually as a “catch-up contribution”. If you are married and both you and your spouse have separate HSA accounts, each of you are eligible for the $1,000 catch-up contribution. Contribution limits are adjusted annually for inflation.

Investing is Easy. Employees can contribute up to the maximum regardless of their income through payroll deduction or from their own funds until they reach age 65, even when they’re self-employed or not working.

While the employer chooses the administrator, the decision of where to put the money is subject to the employee’s preference. Encourage your employees to shop around for high-quality, low-cost investment options. Some providers only offer low interest-bearing investments, such as money market funds, that generally are very safe: while some HSAs offer multiple mutual funds that may provide higher expected returns over time but are riskier. In addition, some HSAs require a minimum contribution before investing the contributions into mutual funds within the HSA.

Here’s an example of how saving money in an HSA and getting a good rate of return can pay off. If a 21-year-old makes the maximum allowable contribution every year to a self-only plan until age 65 and they earn an average annual return of eight percent on a plan with no fees, they will have $1.2 million by the time they retire. For those who start saving later in life, a 40-year-old who saves $100 per month and earns an average annual return of three percent could have as much as $45,000 by retirement.

Qualified Expenses. Employees can take distributions from their HSAs before or during retirement. After retirement, HSA withdrawals get taxed in a way similar to Traditional IRA withdrawals, if retirees take distributions for non-medical expenses, but income tax-free if for medical expenses before retirement. If they take distributions on qualified medical expenses, the proceeds are not taxable. If they spend the money on anything else before they turn 65, they will pay a 20 percent penalty and also will pay income tax.

Qualified payments for which tax-free HSA withdrawals can be made include:

•    Doctor office-visit co-payments

•    Health insurance deductibles

•    Dental expenses

•    Vision care (eye exams and eyeglasses)

•    Prescription drugs and insulin

•    Medicare premiums

•    A portion of the premiums for a tax-qualified long-term care insurance policy

•    Hearing aids

•    Hospital and physical therapy bills

•    Wheelchairs and walkers

•    X-rays

When an employee retires, they also can use their HSA funds to pay for expenses that will help with their long-term needs, such as in-home nursing care, retirement community fees, long-term care services and nursing home fees. Withdrawals also can be taken for the cost of meals and lodging when seeking medical care away from home and modifications to a home, such as ramps, grab bars and handrails.

For more information about HSAs, please contact us at info@aleragroup.com.

Pros and Cons of Excluding Owners and Officers from Workers’ Comp Coverage

Posted on September 26th, 2019

Some businesses decide owners and officers workers’ compensation coverage is unnecessary, but the potential savings need to be weighed against the risk of not having it.

Although employers in most states are required to provide workers’ compensation insurance to employees, including owners and officers of the company under the policy is usually optional. However, coverage is usually automatic and requires making an exemption from coverage.

In fact, many states require owners and officers to sign and file specific state inclusion or exclusion forms depending on how the business is organized.

The main reason to exclude owners and officers is to save the company premium dollars. It is also often assumed that owners and officers would not need to file a workers’ comp claim anyway.

These are the main arguments in favor of excluding officers and owners: 

    As a person in charge of the company, owners and officers may feel less susceptible to getting hurt on the job.

    Owners may feel that if they do get hurt on the job, their own health insurance will pay for the incident.

    An owner or officer may feel reluctant to file a claim against their own company out of a sense of loyalty.

While these may seem like sensible reasons for saving premium dollars they don’t hold up well under scrutiny.

Owners Not Invincible

It’s frankly naïve for owners not to expect to get injured on the job just because they sit at a desk all day or don’t work in the trenches. What about those times when they are out on the work floor and decide to show someone how it’s done? Or pick up a box or trip over a pallet — or even get carpal tunnel pushing paper at their desk?  

Health Insurance

Health insurance specifically excludes work-related injuries unless the policy has been endorsed to add business coverage. Also, health insurance does not cover disability in the same way as workers’ compensation insurance. Unless there is a separate disability insurance policy, an injury could be costly. While a lot of employers in white-collar industries are not likely to get injured or file a claim, their rates are often so inexpensive that it makes more sense to include themselves for coverage rather than elect to be excluded.

Owners and officers in higher-risk industries often elect to be excluded from coverage to save on premiums. But even then, unless these excluded owners have proper medical coverage or disability income elsewhere, the result can be much worse than the cost of coverage. It’s also likely the cost of providing them workers’ compensation insurance would be less than these kinds of workaround solutions.

New Rule Offers New HRA Options

Posted on September 23rd, 2019

Business owners now have a way to help their employees get individual health care coverage.

The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services; Labor; and Treasury released a new rule in June that allows employers to contribute to Individual Coverage Health Reimbursement Arrangements (ICHRA) as an alternative to traditional group health plan coverage.

An ICHRA is a way to provide employees with tax-preferred funds to pay for personal health care expenses, including the cost of health insurance coverage purchased in the individual market, as well as Medicare. Money employers contribute to these tax-free accounts also is tax-deductible.

The rule will take effect January 2020 and is available to businesses of all sizes. Allowances within the same class must be the same size but employers can make distinctions based on the employee’s age or family size. Employer annual contributions for ICHRAs are not limited.

Businesses can offer the individual HRA to all types of employees, including full-time; part-time; seasonal; salaried; hourly; temporary employees working for a staffing firm; employees covered under a collective bargaining agreement; employees in a waiting period; foreign employees who work abroad; employees working in different locations; and a combination of two or more of the above. In order for employees to be eligible for ICHRA reimbursements, they must have coverage under an individual health insurance policy.

The rule also allows employers to set up an Excepted-Benefit HRA (EBHRA), which allows reimbursement of expenses other than premiums (e.g., copays, deductibles, or other expenses not covered by the primary plan) and COBRA, dental and vision premiums. Accounts can be funded up to $1,800 per year and employees are allowed to participate even if they decline enrollment in the company’s traditional group health plan.

There are also a myriad of other rules concerning HRAs so check with your advisor for full details.

History

Standard HRAs — offered in addition to standard health coverage plans — are used to reimburse employees for qualified medical expenses and, in some cases, group health insurance premiums. Employers can claim a tax deduction for the reimbursements and reimbursement dollars received by employees generally are tax free.

In 2013, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued a notice that limited employers’ ability to offer HRAs and prevented employees from using the HRAs to pay for individual health coverage. In 2016, Congress created the qualified small employer HRA which allowed small employers with fewer than 50 employees to offer an HRA integrated with individual health insurance – although there were many restrictions.

The Future

Some observers have concerns that employees, who are used to having their employer choose their health care coverage, will not be happy about choosing their own insurance. Others worry that only small employers will offer this option.

One of the reasons the Trump administration is interested in expanding the use of HRAs is that as health costs and insurance premiums have risen, employers have had to shift more of the costs to employees through higher premiums or larger deductibles. High insurance costs have particularly been hard on small employers who have 100 or fewer employees because they have less bargaining power. Proponents hope that the rule will allow employees to shop for coverage that is a better fit for them and their families, instead of one-size-fits-all group plans. The White House believes that more than 11 million workers may benefit from the rule change, including about 800,000 who would otherwise go uninsured.

Experts believe small employers will like this new option because an HRA is a fixed cost from year to year. It’s also an economical way for businesses that previously have not offered coverage to now provide coverage.

Again, there are a lot of rules and conditions pertinent to these new HRA options, so be sure to contact your broker or reach out to us at info@aleragroup.com to get connected. 

Why You Always Need an Umbrella — Even When It Isn’t Raining

Posted on September 19th, 2019

Bad things happen: that’s why people buy auto and homeowners insurance policies. But America’s love affair with lawsuits means your coverage could fall short. That’s where umbrella insurance policies come in. They provide a convenient and surprisingly affordable extra layer of protection for your key assets.

What happens if you are sued for causing an auto accident or your neighbor slips and falls on your property? If you are found liable for causing serious injury, the sky-high cost of medical treatment, lost work time and possibly pain and suffering damages could quickly exhaust the coverage limits on those policies. For instance, say you are found liable for $1 million in damages and your policy limit is $500,000. Your insurer would pay $500,000, but you would be on the hook for the rest. Virtually everything you own would be available to pay off the debt.

That’s where umbrella policies come in. The coverage begins once you reach the limit of your underlying auto or homeowners policy (whichever applies), up to the policy limit, usually $1 million or $2 million. In the example above, your homeowners insurance would pay out $500,000 and your umbrella policy would pay the remainder.

Premiums usually cost between $200 to $300 a year for $1 million of coverage. Your actual cost depends on such criteria as the amount of coverage, the insurance company issuing the policy and your own “personal risk factors,” such as the number of traffic tickets you’ve gotten in the past few years, and possibly your credit report.

Tips for Buying an Umbrella

Because umbrella insurance works with your auto and homeowners policies, it’s a good idea to buy all three from the same company. Not only will you likely enjoy a discount, you will also eliminate the potential hassles of dealing with different insurance companies if a claim occurs.

One of the big pitfalls with umbrella policies is that even when people do buy coverage, they often don’t buy enough. An individual’s appetite for risk often determines coverage levels. For example, if you have $1 million in assets, you may be satisfied with a $1 million policy. But you should also bear in mind that if you are found liable for an amount greater than that, say $2 million, you could still lose all of your assets and end up having to use your future income to make settlement payments.

What Limits Should You Buy?

What factors determine how much coverage you need? If you drive your car rarely and don’t often have visitors to your home, you may decide that your need for the extra umbrella insurance is limited. However, if you live in a wealthy town, where people just love to sue, if you drive a lot in congested areas or if you operate a home-based business and have employees or clients coming to your home on a regular basis, your liability risks may justify a larger policy. Three more reasons to get higher limits:

•    If you entertain frequently, especially if you serve alcohol, you have a higher liability exposures. A personal umbrella can protect you if an inebriated guest causes an accident.

•    If you own a swimming pool. Swimming pools are considered an “attractive nuisance,” which increases your liability exposures.

•    If you own lakefront or oceanfront property, you are exposed to risks of serious accidents or drowning.

Umbrella policies have some limits. Most will cover you for liability arising from your service on the board of a civic, charitable or religious organization. But they won’t cover you for intentional acts that cause damage, for liability arising from a business you run or for punitive damages. In most other cases, however, it pays to have that extra layer of liability protection.

For information on personal liability umbrellas or a review of your existing coverage and exposures, please contact us.

9 Ways to Improve Your Workers’ Comp Program and Save Money

Posted on September 16th, 2019

The key is advance planning.

1   Make sure your employee classifications are correct. There are 500 to 600 job classifications to choose from, and getting the best fit possible can mean getting the lowest rate possible. Sometimes employees whose duties are only clerical get included in much more costly job classifications when those are the business’s primary classifications. For example, a bookkeeper/administrative assistant in an auto body shop should not be classified as a body shop worker.

2   Develop relationships with medical providers who specialize in occupational medicine. Injured employees will often go to their personal doctor or use a walk-in facility when an injury occurs. When this happens, employees do not get optimal treatment and you incur higher costs. Your agent can help you identify physicians who have the right training and who will get to know your business, the type of work performed and the best treatments for your workers.

3   Have a system in place to make sure injured employees get immediate medical care. In many instances, injured employees are simply sent home or let go for the day so they can go to their own physician or go to an emergency room. Your goal should be to make sure injured employees get immediate medical attention so they can get the care they need and return to the job as soon as possible.

4   Use data to control losses. Review your workers’ comp loss runs and OSHA logs regularly with your broker to assess ways to improve your systems, processes, training and other factors that can reduce future losses. Also, pay attention to data about the kinds of accidents that are typical for your type of business and develop ways to foresee and mitigate claims before they occur. Here are the 10 most common workers’ compensation claims:

•   Overexertion (results in pulled muscles or flagging attention)

•   Slips, trips and falls

•   Falls to lower level (such as falling off a ladder or a roof or down a flight of stairs)

•   Bodily reaction (such as a fall avoided that causes injury as a result of the avoidance)

•   Struck by object

•   Struck against an object

•   Highway incident

•   Machinery accidents

•   Repetitive motion (carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis, for example)

•   Workplace violence

5   Be prepared for your annual workers’ comp premium audit. To make things go as smooth as possible with your audit, have a list of all employees, their hours, duties, payroll classifications and payroll. You should also list all job descriptions and differentiate clearly between employees and independent contractors. Your agent can help you review and prepare for your audit.

6   Review your company’s Annual Unit Statistical Report. The Unit Statistical Report is the evaluation of losses and other information your insurance company submits to its rating bureau each year. The report will include the premiums you’ve paid and the paid and reserved losses occurring during the reporting period. It’s important to review this data carefully because if the insurance company sets a very high reserve on any of your claims or keeps open claims that should have been closed, your experience modification factor will go up, costing you more in premium.

7   Develop a “light duty” or “recovery at work” program for injured employees. If an employee returns to work before lost-time wages start, this can create a significant cost savings and reduce the impact on your experience factor. More importantly, injured workers recover faster if they remain working, even if they are doing work that is less critical or demanding than their regular job. The important thing is to keep them engaged in their work. By consulting your company physician, you can design work activities appropriate for the employee.

8   Check whether a claim might be eligible for second injury funds. More than 20 states have “second injury funds” that pay benefits to workers when an injury aggravates a pre-existing permanent health condition. Over half of all injured workers have a pre-existing condition, according to one expert. When you have an employee with a permanent impairment who suffers a second injury, you are responsible for compensating only the most recent injury. Many employers fail to realize this, often spending thousands of dollars more than they need to.

When a worker with a pre-existing injury or condition files a claim, the employer should make the claims adjuster aware of the pre-existing injury or condition. The adjuster will calculate the settlement value of the claim, and/or file the claim with the second injury fund. Submitting a claim to a second injury fund can help employers with experience-rated workers’ compensation policies avoid a big premium increase. It can also make it more appealing to hire former military service persons, many of whom have service-related disabilities

9   Remember to ask your agent for help. Your agent is your best asset for help implementing any of these loss control and premium saving ideas. Your agent can also help explain anything about your policy or the many intricacies of workers’ comp insurance. Your agent is also your advocate and will help you get the best possible coverage and rates from your insurance company. 

Alera Group Acquires Makro Enterprises

Posted on September 12th, 2019

Local firm joins Alera Group through GLB Insurance

Alera Group, an independent national insurance brokerage and wealth management firm, today announced that it has acquired Makro Enterprises (Makro), effective September 1, 2019. Makro will join Alera Group through local firm GLB Insurance.

Makro offers employee benefits and insurance services for clients throughout Las Vegas and the surrounding region. Makro was formerly the insurance arm of ManagedPay, a Las Vegas payroll company.

“The expertise of Scott Edlin and his team expands the regional offerings of Alera Group in Nevada.  They are a strong expansion of our expertise in employee benefits, and we are excited to welcome them to Alera Group,” said Alan Levitz, CEO of Alera Group.

“We are thrilled to join Alera Group and, locally, the GLB team,” said Scott Edlin, Managing Partner of Makro. “The national scope of resources will be hugely valuable as we continue to serve our clients with excellence, and we look forward to collaborating with other Alera Group firms across the country.”

The Makro service team will continue serving clients in their current roles. Additionally, all payroll services through ManagedPay will continue going forward through that organization. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

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About Alera Group
Based in Deerfield, IL, Alera Group’s over 1,500 employees serve thousands of clients nationally in employee benefits, property and casualty, risk management and wealth management. Alera Group is the 15th largest independent insurance agency in the country. For more information, visit www.jmjwebconsulting.com or follow Alera Group on Twitter: @AleraGroupUS

Media Contacts: 
Alera Group: Rob Lieblein, Chief Development Officer, 717-329-2451, rob.lieblein@aleragroup.com

How to Understand an Insurance Policy

Posted on September 12th, 2019

Most people would rather go to the dentist than try to read an insurance policy. Like most things that seem intimidating at first, though, when you break it down, it makes a lot more sense.

There are four basic parts to every insurance policy:

   Declarations

   Insuring agreement

   Exclusions

   Conditions

Declarations: The declarations introduce your coverage. They identify the insurer, the insured and policy number. They also identify the properties or risks the policy covers, and for how long (the policy period). They outline the financial considerations of the contract, including premiums you will pay, limits and deductibles.

Here are some of the things you can find out about your coverage in the Declarations section. Check and make sure they are accurate:

   Check that the name of the insured matches the entity’s legal name, spelled correctly.

   Check that the policy lists the addresses of all the business premises you want to cover (for a business property policy).

   For an auto policy, verify information on make, model and VIN numbers for covered vehicles.

   For a liability policy, verify the declarations accurately describe the type of coverage you want.

   Check the policy start (inception) and termination dates. This is your coverage period. If you are replacing an existing policy, will this create any coverage gaps? Some claims-made liability policies provide coverage for accidents that occur before the current policy term, the retroactive period. Check the retroactive date — the date on a renewal claims-made liability policy should match the date on your first policy, otherwise you will have a coverage gap.

   Policy limits are the most the insurer will pay under the policy. Some policies also have separate, lower sublimits for specific types of claims. Will these limits provide enough coverage?

   The declarations page will also list the premiums you pay, along with any deductibles you will have to pay before the insurer begins to pay on a claim. To lower your premiums, can you afford higher deductibles?

   Some policies include separate schedules, or itemized lists of covered property. They might also include endorsements, which are separate documents that modify terms of coverage under a policy. The declarations should list these — check that they are correct.

Insuring agreement: This section summarizes the insurer’s agreement to pay covered claims. For a property policy, it will state the property covered and types of perils, or causes of loss, the policy covers. In a liability policy, the insuring agreement describes the types of activities covered. For a commercial general liability policy, the insurer agrees to any money the insured is legally obligated to pay for bodily injury or property damage claims covered by the policy. The insurer also agrees to provide the insured’s legal defense for liability claims that might be covered by the policy.

Action item: For a property policy, determine whether you have a “named perils” or “all-risk” policy. A named perils policy will list the specific perils that the policy covers. Any peril not named is not covered. The so-called “all-risk” policy offers broader coverage, covering losses caused by any peril, except for those specifically excluded in the policy. If you have a named perils policy, do you have any significant risk exposures that are not covered?

Exclusions: Exclusions limit your coverage by stating the types of activities or losses the policy will not cover.

Action item: To avoid significant coverage gaps, list the exclusions included in all your liability policies. Most general liability policies exclude liability for pollution and design error, among other things. If you need coverage for these exposures, you will need to buy separate, specialized insurance.

Most businesses have a second layer of liability protection through an umbrella or excess policy. This pays claims that exceed the limits of the primary liability policies. Often an umbrella policy will provide broader coverage (that is, cover more perils) than your primary policies. If not, and you have significant risk exposures excluded in your primary policies, please contact us so we can tailor a coverage solution for you.

Conditions: The conditions describe the obligations of each party to the contract. Conditions can appear in the basic policy, the standard form and (if you have them) in your policy endorsements.

Conditions include the policy’s cancellation provision. They also describe how the insurer will proceed if other coverage applies to a loss, and reserve the insurer’s right to subrogate a claim, or seek recovery from another party after it has paid a claim on your behalf.

The conditions also outline your obligations to the insurer. They spell out when and how you must notify the insurer of an accident or claim that might be covered by a liability policy, your obligation to protect covered property after a loss, and your obligation to cooperate during the company’s investigation or defense of a liability lawsuit.

Action items: Read policy conditions carefully, because failure to fulfill your obligations to the insurer could nullify your coverage!

To ensure you have time to find other coverage, look for a cancellation provision that requires the insurer to provide at least 30 days’ notice before cancelling your policy for reasons other than non-payment. For difficult to place coverage, you may want as many as 90 days’ notice.

If you need help reviewing a policy or understanding policy provisions, please contact us. 

Your Hurricane Survival Checklist

Posted on September 10th, 2019

Already responsible for an estimated $1.5 to $3 billion of property damage in the Caribbean, once Category 5 hurricane, now post-tropical cyclone Dorian has caused damage spanning from the Bahamas, to Nova Scotia, and throughout the Atlantic coast.  If you are facing property loss and the resulting insurance claims, there are several things to keep in mind.

After the wind has subsided and the waters have recessed, you will need to begin the process of reporting your claim to your independent insurance agent and your insurance company. It is important to stay engaged with your agent and the insurance company adjuster as you work through the claim adjustment process.

The following checklist will assist you in gathering the necessary information your insurance carrier will require in order to process your claim in a timely manner.

  1. Document your damage with photos or videos as soon as possible.
  2. Protect your property from further damage and make temporary repairs, if possible. Your policy requires you to make every effort to protect the property from suffering additional damage but do not begin permanent repairs. This may mean placing a tarp over the roof or boarding up broken windows and doors.
  3. If the property is structurally unsound or unsafe you must report this to your local police and fire department.
  4. Contact a professional and capable mitigation company to abate any water and/or smoke damage. Your insurance agent will be able to recommend a resource for you.
  5. Secure the property as necessary.
  6. Maintain a record of all expenses incurred in protecting the property and provide this information to your insurance adjuster.
  7. Separate damaged from undamaged business personal property if at all possible. Do not discard of any damaged property as your insurance adjuster will want to inspect these items.
  8. Prepare an inventory of the damaged Business Personal Property. Provide a detailed description of the damaged items, list the quantity and your estimated value of the damaged items. Include any available bills, receipts, appraisals and any related documents that will support your valuation.
  9. Do not dispose of the damaged property until your claims adjuster approves of the disposal. The adjuster will need to inspect the property and determine if there is any salvage value for the items.
  10. Be prepared to provide additional information requested by your claims adjuster.

A majority of the property damage caused by Hurricane Dorian will be caused by flooding. Flood damage is typically excluded by most property insurance policies, so you will want to carefully review your particular policy with your agent to determine if Flood is a covered cause of loss.  If your property policy affords flood coverage, follow the guide above to manage your claim with your insurance carrier.

If you have purchased a Flood Insurance Policy through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), FEMA has a specific Flood Claims Process outlined on their website: https://www.fema.gov/nfip-file-your-claim

To successfully navigate the property claims process, it is vital that you work closely with your independent insurance agent and the insurance adjuster assigned by your insurance carrier.

Be sure to be in contact with your independent insurance agent to review your Commercial Property and Inland Marine coverage forms. Your insurance program may include enhancement endorsements that provide additional limits of insurance that can be applied to your loss, so ask your insurance agent to review these coverage terms with you as well.

The havoc wreaked by Hurricane Dorian is an important reminder to business owners that unexpected loss and damage can occur at any time, particularly by external forces that can’t be controlled. Having an emergency plan in place to combat unexpected loss and damage is key to remaining successful in the face of disaster.

If you have any questions about how to get covered, please contact info@aleragroup.com.

10 Tips for Reducing Cyber Liability Threats

Posted on September 9th, 2019

These 10 steps will help safeguard you from threats posed by a potential cyber attack. Want more tips and tricks? Simply reach out to info@aleragroup.com to get connected with a cyber liability expert!  

1.   Protect against viruses, spyware, and other malicious code. Make sure all computers are equipped with antivirus software and anti-spyware and updated regularly.

2.   Secure your networks: Safeguard your Internet connection by using a firewall and encrypting information. Make sure your Wi-Fi network is secure and hidden.

3.   Establish security practices and policies to protect sensitive information: Establish policies on how employees should handle and protect personally identifiable information and other sensitive data.

4.   Educate employees about cyberthreats and hold them accountable: Deter employees from introducing competitors to sensitive details about your firm’s internal business by informing them about how to post online in a way that does not reveal any trade secrets to the public or competing businesses.

5.   Require employees to use strong passwords and to change them often: Consider implementing multifactor authentication that requires additional information beyond a password to gain entry.

6.   Employ best practices on payment cards: Work with your banks or card processors to ensure the most trusted and validated tools and anti-fraud services are being used. Do not use the same computer to process payments and surf the Internet.

7.  Make backup copies of important business data and information: Regularly back up critical data on all computers and store in the cloud or offsite. 

8.   Control physical access to computers and network components: Prevent access or use of business computers by unauthorized individuals. Make sure a separate user account is created for each employee and require strong passwords.

9.  Create a mobile device action plan: Mobile devices can create significant security and management challenges, especially if they hold confidential information or can access the corporate network

10. Protect all pages on your public-facing websites, not just the checkout and sign-up pages.

As an additional precaution, you may want to consider cyber liability insurance.  Please reach out to info@aleragroup.com to get connected with an Alera Group cyber liability expert!  

 

Source U.S. Small Business Administration (for the complete description, see https://www.sba.gov/managing-business/cybersecurity/top-ten-cybersecurity-tips

The Confusing World of Cannabis Regulation and Insurance

Posted on September 6th, 2019

Although 33 states and the District of Columbia passed laws legalizing marijuana in some form, don’t assume your group health insurance covers the use of medical marijuana (cannabis) or CBD oil. CBD oil is a chemical compound of cannabis that does not have the same psychoactive properties as marijuana.

Medical marijuana often is used to treat conditions such as epilepsy, and CBD oil is used to treat conditions such as chronic pain or anxiety. The reason these substances may not be covered is because federal and state laws conflict, leaving insurance carriers wondering what they can legally cover.

Cannabis refers to a group of three plants with psychoactive properties. The federal government’s Controlled Substances Act (CSA) classifies cannabis (marijuana and CDB oil) as an illegal Schedule I drug that has no accepted medical use (the same as heroin and LSD). Recently, CBD medicines that have been FDA approved and have no more than 0.1 percent THC content have been moved to Schedule 5 drug status.

The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances, so the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) no longer considers hemp-derived cannabinoid (CBD) a controlled substance subject to CSA regulations.

The Federal Drug Administration has not approved cannabis, yet it has approved three CBD medicines for the treatment of epilepsy; though not for any other conditions.

On the state level, 11 states have adopted laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Vermont’s law allows for adults age 21 and older to grow and possess small amounts of cannabis, but it does not permit the sale of nonmedical cannabis. A number of states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, while other states allow for limited use of medical marijuana under certain circumstances. Louisiana, West Virginia and a few other states allow only cannabis-infused products, such as oils or pills.

For now, neither medical marijuana nor CDB oil are covered by health insurance. This may change if federal and state laws fall into sync someday.  

Please reach out to us if you have any questions and we'll put you in touch with the right experts. 

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