It’s a moment of panic for drivers: You suddenly notice the warning light on your fuel gauge, but you don’t know when it came on or how close you are to the nearest gas station.
Now, imagine you drive a compressed or liquefied natural gas-powered vehicle. The Pittsburgh region, for example, has only five natural gas fueling stations. That scarcity is a barrier to more people adopting cleaner, more fuel-efficient natural gas vehicles that could also reduce dependence on foreign oil.
Three professors at Robert Morris University have developed a mathematical model that determines the optimal locations for natural gas fueling stations in Pittsburgh, based on existing traffic flow and traffic density. The paper, authored by Tony Kerzmann, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; Gavin Buxton, associate professor of physics; and Jonathan Preisser, assistant professor of mathematics, predicts the optimal locations for up to 128 fueling stations in Pittsburgh. The paper is being published in the journal Sustainable Energy Technology and Assessments.
A step toward energy independence
According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, 14.8 million natural gas vehicles operate worldwide but only 112,000, including buses and trucks, operate in the United States.
Yet as the RMU professors note in their paper, while the U.S. imports 45 percent of its total petroleum consumption, the nation produces nearly 90 percent of the natural gas it consumes.
“A transportation sector dominated by natural gas vehicles would provide a huge step toward energy independence, but this is not the only advantage of natural gas vehicles,” the authors write. “Natural gas vehicles significantly lower carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, non-methane hydrocarbon, particulate matter and greenhouse gas emissions.”
Taking a look at the model
As a first pass, the authors considered the total vehicle miles traveled through each location as the numerical variable with which to optimize the distribution of natural gas fueling stations. The fueling stations are treated in the model as wandering around, trying to find the regions with the higher numerical variable.
The computer model finds the optimum locations for a large number of natural gas fueling stations simultaneously, while penalizing the overlapping of natural fueling station locations — fueling stations that are close enough to one another that potential customers will be divided, and use both.
However, the numerical variable used to optimize the distribution of natural gas fueling stations is at present too crude. The authors, therefore, are looking at the socioeconomic factors that might make a given location a sound investment for placing a natural gas fueling station.
“Say you are BP and you wanted to change some of your existing gas stations to supply natural gas. Our computer program could tell you where to distribute the natural gas stations that would make the most sense, that would increase the likelihood of customers switching over to natural gas vehicles,” Buxton says.
The typical customer of a natural gas-powered vehicle might prefer to see natural gas fueling stations near his or her neighborhood, where he or she is likely to be refueling his or her vehicle, than in areas of high vehicle traffic. Therefore, while vehicle miles traveled through a given location may be an important variable, it is not the only variable to consider.
The number of residents in a given neighborhood might influence the decision of where to place a natural gas fueling station, along with the average household income — with customers from more affluent neighborhoods being more likely to purchase a new vehicle.
Furthermore, the typical political persuasion within a neighborhood might also influence the customers’ likelihood to purchase a natural gas-powered vehicle. For example, might it be possible to consider the type of customers that are more likely to buy a more environmentally-friendly vehicle, or a vehicle that reduces our dependence on foreign fuel?
The presence of existing gasoline fueling stations that could be converted to also provide natural gas refueling capabilities would be another influencing factor. For example, currently no gas stations are located in downtown Pittsburgh, making the Golden Triangle an unlikely destination for natural gas fueling stations.
However, it’s important to remember that ultimately a robust network of natural gas fueling stations could ease the transition to even cleaner hydrogen fuels. The infrastructure that we invest in now to transition to natural gas-powered vehicles is the same infrastructure required to store and transport hydrogen for hydrogen-fueled vehicles. ●
Natural gas basics
Natural gas is an odorless, nontoxic, gaseous mixture of hydrocarbons — predominantly methane. Because of the gaseous nature of this fuel, when stored onboard a vehicle, it must be in either a compressed gaseous (CNG) or liquefied (LNG) state. Both CNG and LNG are clean burning, domestically produced, relatively low priced and widely available for fuel vehicles.
› There are three types of natural gas vehicles:
- Dedicated vehicles are designed to run only on natural gas.
- Bi-fuel vehicles have two separate fueling systems that enable them to run on either natural gas or gasoline.
- Dual-fuel vehicles, traditionally limited to heavy-duty applications, have fuel systems that run on natural gas and use diesel fuel for ignition assistance
› Natural gas accounts for about a quarter of the energy used in the United States.
› About one-third goes to residential and commercial uses, such as heating and cooking; one-third to industrial uses; and one-third to electric power production.
› Only about one-tenth of 1 percent is used for transportation fuel.
Source: Alternative Fuels Data Center, part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program
In recent years there has been an increase in the number of claims filed against employers arising out of employment practice disputes. Many claims have no legal basis, but employers are still forced to defend themselves — spending time and money.
“Businesses are more likely to have an employment practices claim than a property claim,” says Marc McTeague, executive vice president at SeibertKeck. “There are over 100,000 charges filed annually against employers under statutes imposed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The majority of these claims target smaller businesses. However, no business is exempt.”
Smart Business spoke with McTeague about understanding employment practices liability coverage.
What’s important to know about employment practice claims?
Employment law has grown at an incredible pace since passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, among others. Ambiguities in these laws allow the widest possible interpretation, which in turn opens the door for litigation.
The most frequent types of claims made against an employer are discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful termination and retaliation. There’s also been an uptick in wage and hour lawsuits. Claims can come from potential hires, former and current employees, clients, suppliers or vendors.
Discrimination can be defined as the termination of an employee, demotion, refusal to hire or promote due to race, color, religion, age, sex, physical or mental disabilities or handicaps, pregnancy or national origin. Think about the times you or someone in the office told an off-color or racy joke to a new employee or client. It’s only a matter of time until this comes back as a claim.
The average claim costs an employer $50,000, and defense costs represent about two-thirds of the total settlement. Without a mechanism to transfer risk, these costs could cripple smaller businesses, or at least damage their reputation. For larger businesses, one uninsured claim can lead to potential shareholder lawsuits.
How does employment practices liability coverage mitigate this risk?
Businesses can purchase a policy that provides coverage for a wide spectrum of employment-related claims and offers risk management services to help minimize the risk of getting sued. This policy protects the corporation, directors and officers, employees (including leased and temporary), volunteers, and in some cases can be endorsed to include independent contractors (when working for the employer).
The definition of a claim includes arbitration, regulatory and administrative proceedings, and EEOC and Department of Labor investigations.
Limits can range from $500,000 up to $10 million or higher. As your business assets grow, so should your limits. Settlement costs and legal fees are typically included in the policy limits. However, some carriers will provide separate limits for these costs.
It’s important, however, to be aware of the varying contracts and differences in coverage and exclusions from one policy to another. There is no standard form. Sitting down with your trusted insurance adviser will help with this process.
Beyond buying insurance, what preventive measures lower claim risk?
Minimize the possibility of costly claims by:
- Creating an employee handbook detailing company policies and procedures.
- Educating employees on sexual harassment and discrimination, and offering sensitivity training.
- Establishing a procedure for handling employee complaints.
- Developing job descriptions with clear expectations of skills and performance.
- Conducting periodic performance reviews.
- Creating an effective record-keeping system to document employee issues, and what was done to resolve them.
- Instituting at-will employment.
- Implementing procedures for hiring, firing and disciplining employees.
Many carriers offer free risk management services. Online resources provide best practices training modules for addressing sexual harassment, discrimination, investigations and termination, while providing links to HR websites. ●
Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by SeibertKeck
Effective communication is a vital aspect of the employer-employee relationship regardless of industry and geography, says Renay Gontis, communications coordinator at JRG Advisors.
“The opportunity for quality dialogue demonstrates to employees that they are valued by the company. Conversely, a lack of value placed on communication can make them feel underappreciated, fostering discontentment and low morale,” Gontis says.
Smart Business spoke with Gontis about how to utilize the many channels for communication to supply employees with timely and accurate company news and information.
What tools can be used to communicate?
In today’s technological environment, employers have a variety of communication tools. And the majority of these tools are free. Consider the options available and how to best interface these tools with your current communication style. Emails, videos, blogs, newsletters and bulletin boards can all streamline the process and make it easier to communicate more frequently and effectively. Of course, face-to-face communication should remain an integral part of the communication process.
When should you communicate with your employees?
A formalized communication campaign and schedule will vary by business and company structure.
Items such as holiday schedules, recurring meetings and office hours can be efficiently introduced annually and reinforced on a company intranet or bulletin board, for example.
Other news such as that which impacts the overall company structure, success and progress should be communicated immediately, and in person even if that requires a Web interface for remote office locations or off-site employees. For example, if your company is considering a merger or reorganization, employees should be notified. Nothing diminishes morale and loyalty more than when employees hear about significant changes secondhand.
Other updates such as company goals, financial initiatives and benefit changes should be communicated on a quarterly or annual basis. If you engage employees in workplace wellness, you should communicate information about initiatives and results on a monthly basis.
How can you best engage employees?
It is important to encourage and solicit two-way communication so employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions with management. Sharing information with employees is essential; however, it is equally as important, if not more critical, to listen to their thoughts, concerns and ideas. This will bring additional value to the employees, while providing the employer with excellent feedback for future changes and improvements.
Employees do best when they feel engaged, informed and acknowledged, and are working for a company that cares about their individual needs. Quality and ongoing communication using a variety of tools and methods will improve employee morale and productivity.
Should employee demographics be considered?
Absolutely, consider demographics. A younger workforce will typically be more receptive to modern communication strategies such as blogs, social media tools, company intranets and other electronic communications. An older demographic may still prefer face-to-face and printed communication tools.
It is important to understand your employee comfort levels in regards to technology. Employers may consider surveying their employees to determine what forms of communication they prefer and what types of information they would prefer the company share with them on a regular basis. An employee survey will provide the insight needed to tailor a communication campaign, schedule and methods of delivery that will resonate with the workforce.
Ask your advisor today to identify communication options and how they can help you implement them for your employees. Consistent communication is a critical component for success. ●
Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by JRG Advisors
When it comes to telemedicine and telehealth, the future is most definitely now. Advances in technology have spurred advances in telemedicine and carry with it the potential to increase access to care, improve quality and reduce costs.
“Telehealth solutions have the capacity to improve the quality of care, improve access to care and reduce the cost of delivering care,” says Dr. Stephen Perkins, vice president of Medical Affairs for UPMC Health Plan. “It has the potential to reduce costs for both physicians and patients.”
Smart Business spoke with Perkins about telemedicine and telehealth and their potential to improve care and reduce costs.
What is the difference between telehealth and telemedicine?
Telehealth is a general term describing the delivery of health-related services and information by the use of telecommunication technology. It can include phone calls between physicians, videoconferencing or even robotic technology.
Telemedicine has a narrower definition: The specific use of medical information that is exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications for the health and education of a patient or a health care provider for the purpose of improving patient care. It includes consultative, diagnostic and treatment services.
Historically, hospitals and health systems in rural areas have been most closely connected with telemedicine, as travel times and a lack of specialty physicians has made telemedicine more attractive. However, the entire health care industry, urban and rural, national and even international, could benefit from its widespread use.
What are the most significant benefits from telehealth and telemedicine?
Certainly, the top benefit would be increased access both for patients and physicians.
Persons who live in remote areas have not always had access to the latest medical advances. With telemedicine, there is the capacity for specialists to evaluate a patient’s condition from afar. Homebound patients could have their conditions monitored and reduce the number of trips they need to make to a physician’s office.
With telemonitoring technology, a physician can oversee the progress of a patient and help the patient avoid problems. Telehealth technology breaks down many barriers to access to care.
What technologies are used in telehealth?
Many different technologies can be used. Among them are: videoconferencing, the Internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, terrestrial communications and wireless communications.
What are some examples of telehealth?
Telehealth can mean e-visits, whereby patients do not have to come into their physician’s office for a routine problem, but correspond via Internet and may even get a prescription for their condition, if needed. This way, routine matters do not tie up a physician’s time, and patients do not need to miss work or arrange for day care in order to get medical advice for minor matters.
In some instances when someone has a chronic condition requiring consistent monitoring, or they are homebound with a stroke, a telestroke program allows them to be seen by a specialist.
Are there barriers to telehealth becoming more widespread?
Telemedicine implementation can be expensive and time consuming, which may make it difficult for health system executives to see the value, especially since not all patients will use the services.
In addition, with telehealth’s ability to transcend state boundaries, there may be issues regarding licensing and certification. Policies regarding telehealth licensing vary greatly between states.
How will this impact health care costs?
While the initial cost of the technology may be high, the overall impact should be to reduce costs. If monitoring a condition becomes easier because of telehealth access to patients, that should improve preventive care and reduce the number of emergencies, which will help to hold down costs. If telehealth advances can bring specialist care to places where it has never been before, that, too, should mean more effective treatments and, ultimately, lower costs. ●
Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan
Founder and CEO
Delta Energy Services LLC
The past year has been a time of significant change at Delta Energy Services LLC. The company sold the natural gas commodity portion of its business and acquired a Canadian company in the spring, changes that resulted in a head-count reduction of almost 30 percent. It would have been easy to accept that with fewer people there wouldn’t be enough time or manpower to do a lot of work in the community.
It was just the opposite under the leadership of Sheri Tackett, the company’s founder and CEO.
There was an understanding that the company’s financial contributions might shrink, but an emphasis on volunteerism resulted in many wonderful stories of help and support to organizations across the area.
Homeless Families Foundation, Welcome Warehouse, The Salvation Army, Down Syndrome Achieves and the Ronald McDonald House of Central Ohio are just a few of the organizations that benefit from Delta Energy volunteerism.
Financial support was still there, too. The company’s longest running charity program is the Jeans Day Fund. Employees are given the option to wear jeans on Fridays in exchange for a $2 donation. The funds are matched 100 percent by the company and at the end of the year, the money raised is donated to a handful of charities nominated and voted upon by Delta employees.
There is a similar program called the Soda Fund, in which employees make a 25-cent donation if they take a beverage from the company refrigerator. Donations made this past year totaled $53,000. ●
It’s something every business owner fears — the phone rings or you get a letter or email from your bank. They don’t want you as a customer/borrower anymore. What do you do from that point?
The most important thing is not to panic, says Charles W. Ormsby, Jr., managing member at Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC. The situation is often not as bad or bleak as the bank originally presents it.
“They make it seem awful, but it can actually turn out pretty well when it’s all done,” Ormsby says.
Smart Business spoke with Ormsby about how to handle this type of problem with your lender.
When might a business owner hear from the bank about a problem?
In many cases, the business owner has defaulted on his or her loan. Perhaps they haven’t made a payment or are in violation of financial covenants. But it could also be due to the internal machinations of the bank. Maybe they want to get out of lending to your particular industry. Let’s say a bank is skittish about chemical manufacturing. It might call you up and say, ‘Look, we have the right to discontinue this relationship and that’s what we’re doing.’
Other times, a bank may want to clean up its balance sheet. If the bank is trying to sell or merge, it could need to get certain loans off its books. In addition, a loan can be classified as troubled without a business owner’s knowledge. If you’re getting more attention than normal — more communication and requests for information — that’s a red flag they are concerned about something.
What is the first step after that initial phone call, email or letter?
Take a deep breath, and then immediately contact your attorney and your accountant, who are hopefully experienced in this area. Having advisers who are experienced in dealing with, and standing up to, banks will end up paying big dividends — but only if you follow their advice.
Where do business owners make mistakes when negotiating with the bank about a troubled loan?
Never sign or promise anything without your attorney and accountant being involved. The bank is going to demand things, and in the absence of somebody who is experienced at advising a borrower, the borrower or business owner may feel compelled to comply. They might try to get you to waive rights, contribute cash, provide additional collateral or give personal guarantees.
You need to evaluate where the bank stands, in terms of the collateral they already have, including personal guarantees. Don’t just accept what the bank is dictating to you. You may have considerably more leverage than you originally thought. As the saying goes, ‘Whoever has the money has the power,’ and you, as the borrower, have the money. Keep in mind banks ultimately don’t want your business, they want their money.
For example, I recently had a client whose bank called his loan and told him he had to put $1 million cash into his business. However, by the end of the negotiations the bank ended up loaning a multiple of that million dollars to my client. One of the things people find remarkable in these situations is how often banks will advance more money to keep you afloat.
One of the great fears for the bank is that you’re going to sit at the negotiating table — and I’ve done this on occasion — and slide the keys across the table and say, ‘Why don’t you run the business now.’ That’s the last thing they want. More often than not, their best chance of recovering as much money as possible is for the business owner, who has the relationship with his or her customers, employees and vendors, to stay involved.
Banks very rarely will precipitously shut you down. They will shut you down, however, if they start to feel you’re being deceitful. Its not a great strategy to play hide the ball with your bank. You want to be very clear and upfront with them. Banks don’t like surprises. If you are forthright with them, and get strong, you’ll get a better result. ●
Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC
The advantages of an electronic health record (EHR) for individuals are readily apparent to many physicians. According to the most recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control, 75 percent of physicians who have adopted EHR say the technology has led to better care.
But, for any number of reasons, that message has not quite gotten through to the general population. Privacy and security concerns are the major reasons cited by the public for its unease, and the main factors keeping many people from embracing the concept, even as the nation becomes more “digitized” in other areas.
“The general public doesn’t know much about electronic health records, and so there is some unease about the concept,” says Dr. Stephen Perkins, vice president of Medical Affairs for UPMC Health Plan. “It will take an educational effort to get more people to see what the positive impact of EHRs can be.”
Smart Business spoke with Perkins about the advantages of EHRs and the impact it can have on health care.
What are electronic health records?
EHRs are an electronic record of information that reflects all of the health care that was delivered to a specific patient in various locales over the years. The information can include patient demographics, progress notes, medications, vital signs, medical history, immunizations, laboratory data and radiology reports. Ideally, an EHR gives a physician a streamlined look at a patient’s complete health record and should make the delivery of health care more efficient and effective.
Why is there resistance to EHRs?
In a Harris Interactive survey taken in 2012, only about one quarter of the respondents said they wanted their records to be transferred from paper to an electronic version, and 85 percent of respondents expressed some kind of concern about EHRs. The survey also revealed that only 40 percent of people think that EHRs would help doctors deliver better, more efficient care, which is actually a slight decrease from previous years.
The reasons for the resistance include a fear of records being stolen by computer hackers, the potential for misuse of the personal information stored, and even the fact that physicians might not be able to access a patient’s record during a power or computer outage.
Even some physicians see a downside to EHRs. In a recent study by the American Medical Association, some physicians complained that EHRs increase their data entry responsibilities and requires them to perform added, time-consuming tasks.
What are the advantages of EHRs?
With EHRs, the chance of medical errors should be reduced because the accuracy and clarity of medical records is improved. When a vast amount of patient information is available in one place, it also should reduce test duplication, in turn reducing treatment delays and helping patients be better informed to make better decisions.
Other advantages of EHRs range from conservation of storage space to the fact that EHRs make patient information accessible from remote sites to many people at the same time. EHRs can make communication between health care providers easier and better, and the information is less likely to be lost or destroyed.
Are there any disadvantages to EHRs?
Disadvantages would include the initial expense, the unwillingness of employees to adapt to the new technology and the need for additional maintenance. The cost of starting an EHR system can be excessive, especially during a time when health care organizations are extremely concerned about higher prices. But it also can be argued that EHRs will ultimately reduce costs and improve quality by helping providers and patients be better informed, by eliminating costly and unnecessary duplicate tests and by helping to better coordinate care.
How can resistance be overcome?
Basically, patients need to be educated to the fact that EHRs will not replace their personal physician. EHRs just help their physician do a better job. Nothing can replace the critical thinking ability of a physician. What a well-designed EHR system can do is collect and disseminate information and assist in decision-making. ●
Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan
Relocation can be a challenge, but careful planning can be the difference between a move that’s difficult and one that’s smooth.
“When managing an office move, a move consultant’s objective is to minimize disruption in the workplace and quickly return the office to a normal workflow,” says Patricia Meyers, marketing manager at SMC Consulting, LLC.
“No two moves are exactly the same. However, there are basic activities that need to take place to ensure an effortless transition,” she says.
Smart Business spoke with Meyers about how to effectively manage a move from one office to another.
What does a move management consultant do?
Whether you are moving an entire office, co-locating a cross-functional group or just reorganizing an office, a move management consultant can provide the appropriate plan and execution. An effective move management consultant will streamline the move process to ensure a successful relocation with minimal organizational disruptions, relieving the burden of coordination and implementation of the move while saving the customer time and money.
Move consultants simply enjoy the challenge of putting puzzles together. A move, like a puzzle, requires a process in order to execute the plan. You look at the whole picture — or in the case of a move, the old and new floor plans — then look at each small piece to find out where and how each needs placed to complete the picture.
What unique services can a move management consultant provide?
Experienced move consultants prioritize and manage a move by creating detailed plans and timelines for each of its phases, then communicate that plan to the customer and all associated vendors. Coordination, communication and scheduling all pre- and post-move activities will ensure a successful move.
Move management consultants might also be known as change managers. Change is not always viewed in a positive manner. Making the transition from an old, secure office space to a new, unfamiliar one is sometimes difficult and stressful for employees. The move management consultants will communicate on a regular basis to keep everyone informed as to progress and expectations. Employees who feel they are informed tend to embrace change, making the move less agonizing.
What do companies need to plan for when relocating?
There are many components to consider when relocating. Expect to have a solid and well thought-out plan of attack, and a move consultant who can execute that plan. Coordination and planning of movers, furniture, computers, phones, employee communication, office supplies and even the vending is critical to success.
As companies decide how they’ll execute a move, they should also consider:
- Consultant’s time vs. employees’ time — Put the move in the consultant’s hands leaving time for your employees to handle the day-to-day business.
- Experience — Productive processes and no loss of time.
- Programming — Collaborating with all involved to assemble the puzzle.
- Strategic planning — Making sure all parts fit together and knowing how to execute.
- Execution — Implementing the strategic plan and managing every detail to ensure a successful move.
- Attention to detail — Taking inventory of existing equipment, disposing of old and unused equipment, satisfying lease close out requirements.
A move consultant will help your company achieve cost savings by providing you with one point of contact who can reduce risk, time, cost and employee downtime. Ultimately, you want your employees to leave their old office on Friday and enter their new office on Monday ready to begin work with minimal disruption. ●
Insights Facilities is brought to you by SMC Consulting, LLC
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) made sweeping changes to the insurance industry landscape.
“Business owners and HR professionals will need to be in compliance with the rules and regulations set forth by PPACA. And, individuals will have increased questions about the health insurance marketplaces, individual mandate and underwriting,” says Michael Galardini, sales executive at JRG Advisors, the management arm of ChamberChoice. “As a result, employee benefits professionals will be asked to help guide both businesses and individuals through the changing marketplace.”
Smart Business spoke with Galardini about employee benefits trends small and large employers can expect to see in 2014.
What changes will small employers face?
Small employers, categorized as any employer with fewer than 50 full-time employees, will see a drastic change in 2014 in the way health insurance rates are developed for each group. Before PPACA, insurance companies could develop rates based on gender, industry, group size, health status and medical history. Post PPACA, small group rates are no longer rated, and small group insurers will only be able to vary premiums by family size, geography, tobacco use and age.
With the changes in underwriting, there also will be changes to the plan designs being offered to small employers. The establishment of Health Insurance Marketplaces and their product offerings has created a change in product design. The plan designs being offered are 90 percent, 80 percent, 70 percent and 60 percent coinsurance plans, which share the financial responsibility with the employees. These plans create larger out-of-pocket costs that most individuals are not accustomed to paying. Particularly in Western Pennsylvania, the population as a whole is most familiar with rich plan designs with no coinsurance, low deductibles and copays.
Explaining these product differences with a one-on-one approach is important to help each individual understand how his or her plan works. The business owner and/or HR professional as well as an outside advisor need to engage each employee to ensure everyone properly understands the available solutions.
What can large employers expect to see?
Large employers or those with 50 or more full-time employees also will notice significant changes in the future.
Beginning in 2015, large employers will be required to offer coverage to employees working 30 hours or more a week. There also are requirements to the type of plan that must be offered to these individuals as well as a contribution limit. The plan design must be at least a 60 percent coinsurance plan, and the employee’s contribution cannot be more than 9.5 percent of his or her household income. There are two fines an employer could receive:
- Penalty A: Employers that do not offer coverage to full-time employees (working 30 hours or more a week) will be subject to a penalty equal to $2,000 per full-time employee minus the first 30.
- Penalty B: Employers that offer coverage that is not of minimum value or not affordable (or both) will be subject to a penalty equal to $3,000 for every employee who receives subsidized coverage through the marketplace.
Large employers should be talking to their advisor in 2014 to determine if they will meet these guidelines.
Are there any other upcoming changes?
Lastly, and probably most significantly, is the individual mandate. Individuals are required by March 31, 2014, to have a qualified health insurance plan or pay a fine. The fine for 2014 is the greater of $95 or 1 percent of income. Individuals can purchase insurance through the marketplace or directly from an insurance company. The marketplace could offer a subsidy based on an individual’s income to help pay for premiums.
A qualified advisor will be well versed on the products available to individuals and business owners. The changes due to PPACA provide more options to purchase health insurance products, but the marketplace for health insurance is ever changing. Business owners and HR professionals need to be aware of when these changes occur and how they can impact their business. ●
Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by ChamberChoice
Most business owners rely on their computer systems and technology to keep their companies humming. When technology stops working, the business stops working. Even a relatively “simple” problem or question could involve hours of troubleshooting, resulting in unplanned downtime and expenses.
Proper management of technology can not only minimize pesky tech issues that drag down productivity and drive up costs, it can maximize productivity and help a business grow. But the time and financial resources necessary to manage IT in-house are making outsourcing increasingly attractive and beneficial.
“Also known as a Managed Services Provider (MSP), an outside IT provider can take over the day-to-day management of your IT needs,” says Kevin Conmy, regional vice president of Business Services at Comcast Business. “A good provider can offer set-up, maintenance and proactive IT management, as well as troubleshooting for questions or problems whenever they arise.”
Smart Business spoke with Conmy about key questions to ask when choosing a MSP.
Do they understand your business and technology?
You want a provider who already works with businesses like yours — who knows the technology, software and hardware. Be specific about your set-up, and ask directly: Does the provider understand networked printing? Are they familiar with the programs you work with? Can they work with PCs, with Macs, with servers? What about mobile devices or combinations of printers, scanners and routers?
Can they support you remotely?
It may seem comforting to have a technician come to your office, but the convenience and speed of remote service and support is invaluable as it’s often faster and more efficient. For example, if you’re experiencing a problem and your provider can talk an employee through diagnostics, resets or other procedures on the spot, it often resolves issues without an in-person visit.
In other cases, a provider can use the Internet to access your systems and networks remotely, with permission, to reset routers, change network settings, scan systems for viruses and malware, or reinstall software and handle many other problems in far less time.
That said, there will be times when you need on-site support, such as when you’re setting up new equipment, resolving physical issues with networks or moving equipment. You need a provider who can deploy on-site technicians promptly, to any of your locations.
Do they work nights and weekends?
When do you most need service and help? If you are in retail, hospitality, transportation or any other industry where 9-to-5 doesn’t apply, you need a provider who is 24/7. Or, maybe the only time you can stop for service is outside of your working hours. A provider who is daylight-only may increase prices for after-hours and holiday support. They may provide limited services or slower response after regular business hours. That can hamper — and cost — you.
Do they offer preventive, proactive help?
It’s best to have a prior relationship with an IT provider. When your network crashes or computers go dark, that’s not the time to start hunting for help. You want a resource you know, and who knows you.
Second, ask what preventive services an IT provider has to help spot potential problems before something breaks. This can involve scanning your computers for rogue code, and troubleshooting and testing your network for performance issues.
How do they charge?
It may seem prudent to arrange for support on an a la carte basis, but when something breaks that practice can be unpredictable and costly. And it’s especially irritating when the problem could have been prevented.
A better option is an all-inclusive monthly subscription fee — either per user or for the entire business. This fee can include the immediate services that may be required, along with some combination of proactive and preventive services, data back up, hosting, etc. The costs are more predictable no matter what occurs, and it’s easier to predict the costs of adding more users, and computers. As your business grows, you need a solution that can scale with you. ●
Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business