How to encourage medication adherence to decrease health costs

Chronis Manolis, RPh, vice president of pharmacy, UPMC Health Plan

Chronis Manolis, RPh, vice president of pharmacy, UPMC Health Plan

It was the late C. Everett Koop, a former U.S. surgeon general, who once famously said: “Drugs don’t work in patients who don’t take them.” That’s a simple way to look at a costly and complex problem — medication non-adherence — where the failure to take drugs on time in the dosages prescribed is both dangerous for patients and costly to the health care system.

“There are a number of reasons that people either don’t take their medication or stop taking it before they should,” says Chronis Manolis, RPh, vice president of pharmacy for UPMC Health Plan. “But what it often comes down to is a lack of understanding of the disease and a lack of respect for the condition.”

Smart Business spoke with Manolis about the problem of medication non-adherence and the ways it can be addressed.

What does medication non-adherence cost?

This problem impacts the cost of health care in many ways. According to the Express Scripts Drug Trend Report, $329 billion was spent on avoidable medical and pharmacy expenses as a result of patients not being adherent to medication treatments. Approximately 50 percent of patients do not take their medication as prescribed, which results in increases in the overall cost of treating chronic conditions and increases the number of hospitalizations and emergency department visits.

Why is medication non-adherence a persistent problem?

Clearly, there are a number of reasons why people may not take their medicine as directed by their physician. Consider, for example, people who have asymptomatic conditions such as high blood pressure, cholesterol disease and Type 2 diabetes. For them, taking medication may have no immediate effect on the way they feel. And, when medicine does not make you feel better, some don’t understand why they need to take it. As a consequence, many do not.

What are other factors that contribute to medication non-adherence?

Well, first, there’s the cost of the prescription. If there’s no generic available, it can be expensive, and a patient may simply choose not to purchase it. Then, there’s forgetfulness, which is a factor for older patients, but also for others as well. Some patients may avoid taking medicine because they fear the possible side effects. Others may not take it because they do not believe that the medication is truly effective.

But, what is often the underlying cause is a basic lack of understanding of their condition. Many patients do not realize they are taking medicine now in order to stay healthy in the years to come and to avoid a more serious condition 10, 20 or 30 years later when it will be too late to treat it with medication. For some, that’s a hard concept to grasp.

What kinds of solutions would help promote medication adherence?

Solving the problem of medication non-adherence is complex because there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. A comprehensive, multi-pronged solution is needed to improve medication adherence.

These include promoting the need for more conversation between physicians and patients concerning the importance of medication in the overall treatment plan. There also needs to be a way to involve pharmacists more. Pharmacists are uniquely positioned to reinforce the message regarding the importance of medication. This can include encouraging patients to use their medication as prescribed and asking patients if they understand why they are taking a drug and if they understand the condition that it’s being used for.

Health plans can play a role as well because they can determine if patients are refilling their prescriptions in a timely manner. Health plan pharmacists can reach out to non-adherent patients and provide customized solutions and tools for patients to improve adherence. Additionally, health plan pharmacists can help triage specific patient adherence issues to other members of the health plan’s team including care managers and health coaches. For example, if cost is a factor, often less expensive generics are available. If forgetfulness is a problem, pillboxes or enrolling in refill reminder programs could work. Or, finding a substitute for the medication or changing dosing and/or frequency of the medication can eliminate side effects.

Chronis Manolis, RPh, is a vice president of pharmacy at UPMC Health Plan. Reach him at (412) 454-7642 or [email protected]

Save the date: Join UPMC WorkPartners for an upcoming webinar, “Best Practices for Return-to-Work,” at 10 a.m. Aug. 6. To register, contact Lauren Formato at [email protected] or (412) 454-8838.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

How to use service plans to gain control over commercial insurance

James Misselwitz, CPCU, vice president, ECBM

James Misselwitz, CPCU, vice president, ECBM

When it comes to insurance, many customers feel they have no control over their price, product, how incidents happen, losses, etc. A properly constructed service plan mitigates this frustration.

James Misselwitz, CPCU, vice president at ECBM, says a service plan is something business owners should be asking their broker about upfront.

“They should say, ‘OK, you’ve given me this spiel on all the wonderful things you’re going to do. Now show me how you’re going to deliver it to me,’” he says. “‘Show me how you deliver it to your existing customers, and show me what happens when something doesn’t get done. Give me that blueprint, so I know I can depend on you.’

“There’s no question that somebody who doesn’t follow an active service plan with a broker will ultimately pay the highest premium out in the marketplace.”

Smart Business spoke with Misselwitz about effective service plans that help manage risk.

How do service plans create fail-safe procedures?

Although most brokers use some version of a service plan, many do not monitor and control it. A service plan is a client-driven method where business owners determine, along with a broker or agent, what services they need, how often they need it and who is responsible for delivering it to them.

Some services might be a review of market conditions before renewal; a review of the loss experience and current claim activity; a review of the outstanding reserves on claims that have already occurred; a review of information for the renewal like the current automobile schedule or payroll; and a tentative experience modification factor review that shows the impact of workers’ compensation on your renewal.

The service plan helps manage the insurance throughout each cycle of the policy. Both the company and broker know the expectations, and the plan can operate as a safeguard. When the broker doesn’t complete a claim review at six months, for example, a fully automated, computerized service plan notifies the underwriter by triggering an alert at the brokerage firm. At the same time, executives have a copy of the plan and can ask the broker about it.

What happens when service plans aren’t properly executed?

Things fall through the cracks. The insurance business is a deluge of paper and electronic messages, so it’s easy to lose a due date or report that needs to be run. If companies don’t actively manage insurance with the help of their brokers, they give up control of pricing, coverage, and losses to the whims and vagaries of the insurance companies and marketplace.

For instance, if your company doesn’t have a regular claim review on workers’ compensation activity, you could have a few large claims on reserves. You might not be working on action plans to mitigate those claims. So your renewal comes up, and it’s running a temperature with a poor loss ratio. Your insurer might ask for 40 percent more to underwrite the risk or send out a notification of cancellation. Now, you and your broker are scrambling to put together a response that will allow the underwriter to stay on a reasonable price.

With what types of insurance is a service plan most important?

With a commercial account, service plan diligence is most critical with insurance lines that have loss activity and when there is anticipated change. You want to automatically stay in control of critical items like losses, payroll, premiums, sales, etc.

Also, you need a service plan if there’s an anticipated change, such as a merger or expansion. It’s important to have the right coverage at the inception, as well as coordinating existing coverage so you’re not being overcharged because of overlap.

Why is flexibility key?

As a commercial insurance purchaser, it is important to develop a system with your broker that will deliver the service that you want and need. A service plan is one such system that can help you control costs and deal effectively with change, both in your operations and in the insurance marketplace. While flexibility is the key to tailoring a service plan for each business owner, it is the ability of the broker to audit the process that seems to be the critical element in making the program work extremely well.

James Misselwitz, CPCU, is a vice president at ECBM. Reach him at (888) 313-3226, ext. 1278, or [email protected]

Visit our blog, for more information about risk management.

Insights Risk Management is brought to you by ECBM

How to avoid some common pitfalls when doing business online

Christina D. Frangiosa, attorney, Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC

Christina D. Frangiosa, attorney, Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC

Anything published online lasts forever, so it is important to set the right tone for your company’s online communications and to mean what you say from the outset. You might try to retract or amend these public statements, but it is relatively easy to find prior versions, thus causing embarrassing or false statements to not truly disappear, says Christina D. Frangiosa, an attorney at Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC.

“It’s safer to wait to publish materials to the Web until you have confirmed they are accurate, not misleading and not based on someone else’s intellectual property rights,” she says. “False statements about either your company’s products or about a competitor or its products could lead to lawsuits claiming false advertising, unfair competition or commercial disparagement. Misuse of the company’s or a competitor’s intellectual property can result in a loss of rights, or even, perhaps, an injunction or damages.”

Smart Business spoke with Frangiosa about avoiding legal mistakes on the Internet.

How should you handle statements about your competitors and their products?

Avoid knowingly making false statements about a competitor or the quality of its products. Publishing statements about them without appropriate due diligence could result in negative publicity for your company, corrective advertising costs or monetary damages.

How does cutting and pasting content from other websites create copyright concerns?

Many users have a common misconception: If they can find ‘free’ content on the Internet, then they must be able to use that content for any purpose. Just because content may be freely accessible does not mean that you have a right to use it. Copyright holders have exclusive rights, including the ability to choose to publish or not to publish their works; posting something on a public website constitutes publication. Copying and pasting someone else’s images, text or video into your company’s website without permission could expose the company to copyright or trademark infringement suits, among other claims.

How might misuse in social media undermine company trademarks?

Companies today use their websites and social media to communicate about their products or services. Specific employees may be assigned to prepare and/or post content. These employees should be informed about how to use the company’s trademarks to further develop the brand and maintain existing rights. If employees misuse these trademarks on the company’s sites, they may unknowingly undermine the value of the brand, and perhaps cause problems for trademark renewals or other filings.

Some employees may also use the company’s marks on personal social media. For example, an executive might use a company logo rather than a headshot on his or her Facebook page. Any statement made on these pages about company business could be seen as a formal company representation, and perhaps cause problems for the company with the Securities and Exchange Commission or other governing bodies.

What can you do to protect against these pitfalls?

  • Create your own content, rather than relying on design elements you see on other sites. This may have a higher upfront cost but could reduce your litigation exposure in the long run.
  • Seek a license to use any content in which you are interested, and pay the appropriate royalty fee for its use. There are organizations that accept those royalty payments on behalf of content owners.
  • Obtain images, videos or other content from a valid image collection service, authorized by the copyright owner.
  • Ensure employees understand the source of the content they plan to use before they upload it to the company’s site. They should be trained to avoid the impulse to right-click, ‘save as’ and then upload.
  • Avoid using a competitor’s trademarks to advertise your own goods or services.
  • Ensure employees understand the appropriate use of trademarks.
  • Establish a social media policy that includes explanations of limits on use of the company’s trademarks.


Christina D. Frangiosa is an attorney at Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC. Reach her at (215) 887-0200 or [email protected]

Find about more about privacy and intellectual property law on Christina’s blog.

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC

Joe Kuklis: Lobbying for your business

Many CEOs, CFOs, investors and executives do not realize the impact federal, state and local government have on their organization, or the importance of maintaining a comprehensive government affairs strategy as part of their annual business planning process.

As a lobbyist, I act as a professional guide for my clients to a variety of federal, state and local elected officials. When businesses choose to interface with the government, many consider hiring a lobbying professional who can help develop a government affairs plan — just as you would hire an accountant for an Internal Revenue Service audit or a lawyer for a court case.

If you choose to start the process on your own, it is imperative that you determine what you want to accomplish as a business. Do you want to become an eligible vendor with a specific government agency? Are you looking to expand your business or are you seeking public incentives to help you with hiring new employees or training your workforce?

Maybe you just want government “not” to do something that may negatively impact your day-to-day operations. You must identify what it is that you want and be clear about it when meeting with agents of government.

Here are some tips for lobbying the government:

Identify your targets

First, make a list of legislators who could aid in your effort. Start by looking at the local officials who represent you, your business and your business’ employees geographically. They have the greatest reason for supporting your requests. They want to see your business succeed and hire more of their constituents as you grow, so they should be your Tier 1 targets.

Your Tier 2 targets should include legislators who are on the committees that have oversight of your issues, legislators who are in leadership positions and who may have a little more political gravity than most, and legislators who have expressed a public interest in your activities.

These champions will help augment your efforts with letters of support, calls into agencies to help arrange meetings, and inquiries to secretaries and agency directors when you are not getting the answers you want from government.

Arrange a meeting

Once you have a meeting with a legislator, arrive prepared and practiced. Usually, meetings only last between 10 and 20 minutes, so make sure you and your group are aware of the issues you need to cover and stick to them. Know your facts.

However, if a legislator or their staff asks a question for which you do not have the answer, don’t make something up on the fly. Take note of it and get back to them. And, if a legislator challenges you on something, answer the question honestly, but not argumentatively.

Know who you are meeting with, their goals and where they stand on the issues before your meeting.

For example, not all legislators support drilling for Marcellus Shale gas and if you are a driller walking into their office, you may be in for a hard time. Make sure your requests are realistic for each of your visits and always remain professional.

Lobbying is a contact sport. The more you contact a legislator and develop a rapport with them, the more inclined they will be to help. Realize that in doing this you are not working alone.

At the end of the day, the lobbying industry acts as a forum for conflict resolution among divergent interests. Whether you decided to go it alone, or hire a firm, know that an honest, succinct, positive and respectful approach will be effective. And remember that a successful lobbying effort takes time, resources and preparation.


Joe Kuklis is a political lobbyist and head of Duane Morris Government Strategies. He has built a successful career lobbying for organizations and businesses of all sizes and has helped raise $500 million for clients ranging from Fortune 500 corporations to one-person startups. His book, “The Robin Hood of D.C.,” is an insider’s guide to the government marketplace for small, mid-sized and large businesses. Visit for more information.

How a tailor-made space plan will drive your company to success

Sam McWilliams, managing partner, SMC Consulting, LLC

Sam McWilliams, managing partner, SMC Consulting, LLC

A space plan is a made-to-order layout of your office space. If well designed, it will be flexible enough to accommodate future changes in your organization, such as staffing additions or managerial promotions, without the need for major interior renovation.

“An efficient space plan will increase productivity, efficiency and employee morale by maximizing the capabilities of your space,” says Sam McWilliams, managing partner at SMC Consulting, LLC.

As companies grow and reorganize, space can become fragmented, which challenges departmental and personnel adjacencies.

“These are common challenges that come with organizational change and growth, but can be addressed with proper planning,” says McWilliams.

Smart Business spoke with McWilliams about how a space plan can help you get the most out of your office space.

How is a space plan developed?

Determine what your current and future needs are, then reach out to a professional space planner or designer. He or she can evaluate your existing space plan and determine whether it can be reconfigured to accommodate those needs, or requires additional space.

Architects are not always required for interior planning. By hiring a designer/space planner, you will be able to keep your professional fees to a minimum.

What should be expected from a designer?

The interior design professional should be knowledgeable about building codes and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements to ensure that your space is properly designed.
Expect the designer to conduct site surveys and perform employee interviews to identify company goals. It is important to understand what challenges employees and companies are facing with their current space to understand why a company is looking to make a change. This process is called programming and is a critical step in developing a space plan that will make the best use of the space available.

What are the next steps?

The designer will generate a space plan that reflects the compilation of details gathered from programming. Generating these drawings should be a collaborative effort between you and your designer.

Departmental adjacencies and alignments will be identified, that can create ‘neighborhoods’ of groups that need to collaborate and interact with one another on a daily basis. Workspaces will be designed to accommodate work processes that allow daily activities to be performed more efficiently. By developing a standard footprint for an open plan environment, your new space plan can promote collaboration, increase productivity and reduce real estate costs.

How much flexibility does a space plan offer?

A flexible space plan allows companies to preserve space for future use by utilizing temporary space via ‘hotelling,’ a method that allocates unassigned space for visitors, field personnel or huddle rooms for small meetings. These temporary areas can be easily converted to more permanent workspaces without interruption or loss of existing space allocations.

Incorporating an open environment in your space plan can increase space allocation. Designing workstations in modular size will allow for easy reconfiguration in the future. Workstation ‘typicals’ can be easily reconfigured using the same panels to create smaller or larger workstations depending on your needs.

How will implementing this space plan render measurable results?

By utilizing the appropriate square footage, you can reduce overhead costs and increase workplace efficiency and productivity by:

  • Implementing company standards.
  • Workstation and office design.
  • Defining and improving adjacencies.
  • Reducing or eliminating architectural fees.
  • Proper allocation of square footage.
  • Eliminating wasted space.
  • Alternative work solutions.
  • Improving IT infrastructure.

Change can be a challenging but rewarding process. Developing your space plan may take time, but the effort is worthwhile when you see the impact it has on your company.

Sam McWilliams is a managing partner at SMC Consulting, LLC. Reach her at (724) 728-8625 or [email protected]

Insights Furnishings is brought to you by SMC Consulting, LLC

How buying ads on Google can give small companies big results

Yi He, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Marketing & Entrepreneurship, College of Business and Economics, California State University, East Bay

Yi He, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Marketing & Entrepreneurship, College of Business and Economics, California State University, East Bay

With a Google search, there are two sets of results — paid and organic.

Yi He, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Marketing & Entrepreneurship, College of Business and Economics, at California State University, East Bay, says her advertising management students were surprised to see how many people click on the paid ads.

Her students participate in the Google Online Marketing Challenge, where they are given $250 to run a three-week online advertising campaign for a business or non-profit, which is developed using Google AdWords and Google+.

This type of search engine marketing (SEM) truly benefits small companies.

“For smaller companies, in the past, there was no way to compete in the conventional media with big companies. Now, they can differentiate themselves using SEM, just by spending their advertising dollars in a relatively cautious manner,” she says.

Smart Business spoke with He about why small companies are turning to SEM.

Why is SEM so important today?

Most Internet users don’t want to remember a website URL. Eighty-five to 90 percent of people are guided to websites by search engines, such as Google. Also, people usually just look at the first five or 10 search results, and many of those are advertisements. So, once you start running ads, you generate more ways to reach Internet users.

How are SEM and conventional advertising different?

With conventional advertising, print and broadcast, it’s hard to measure whether your ad campaign was effective. However, everything is measurable with SEM — you can calculate how much ROI is generated from every advertising dollar spent.

Conventional advertising also requires a specific set of skills. But a business owner can run a SEM campaign by opening a Google AdWords account and be up within minutes. It may not be a great campaign, but it’s not like creating a TV commercial.

How does SEM differ from Facebook ads?

With SEM, the only way to target ads is geographically. So, a San Jose restaurant owner can specify that he or she only wants the ad to show up for a ‘Thai food’ search in a 15-mile radius from the downtown San Jose area. Google doesn’t charge for the number of times the ad shows up, or the impression, but by cost-per-click. With Facebook display ads, ads can be targeted by age, gender, marital status, interests, education level, etc., and are charged by both the click and impression.

On average, of the 10,000 times a Facebook ad shows up, only five people click on it, because in a social environment you don’t want to be interrupted to buy something. With a search engine, people are looking for a solution to a problem. A search result, whether organic or paid, is like you’re in a retail store and someone offers a helpful recommendation. With Google’s marketing challenge, my students can get a click through rate (CTR) that is 100 times higher than the Facebook average.

Why is SEM more useful for small business?

Smaller businesses typically aren’t as visible on the organic results or with the extremely popular keywords. But they can run a SEM campaign to generate Internet traffic and increase visibility. There’s no entry barrier, too, so they can get started right away.

SEM also can help figure out demand. For example, one student ran two ad campaigns for a local Chinese restaurant and discovered that ‘Chinese dining’ was not popular in either impressions or CTR. However, ‘Chinese takeout’ led to more people clicking the restaurant’s website and calling, which increased takeout orders dramatically.

What ethical concerns come up with SEM?

We don’t know exactly what data companies have on consumers, and what they do with it. All impressions, clicks through and transactions can be tracked. For example, you might go to a website to look at a few items but not purchase anything, and over the next few days you see similar items on your Internet pages. In addition, some argue that precisely targeted results deprive people of the total available information.

Public policymakers have been pushing to protect consumer information with something like the ‘do not call’ list. A ‘do not track’ list would enable people to sign up to keep their Internet Protocol addresses from being recorded.

Yi He, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Marketing & Entrepreneurship, College of Business and Economics, at the California State University, East Bay. Reach her at (510) 885-3534 or [email protected]

Insights Executive Education is brought to you by California State University, East Bay

How to minimize your product liability and exposure through insurance

Shane Moran, vice president, ECBM

Shane Moran, vice president, ECBM

If a manufacturer, distributor or merchant incurs a loss from your product, you need product liability insurance to protect your business. Product liability is generally considered a “strict liability offense” — if your product has a defect, you’re liable.

“Like most things, the devil is in the details. From an insurance perspective, it’s important to look at all of the terms and conditions of your general liability policy,” says Shane Moran, vice president at ECBM.

Smart Business spoke with Moran about the facts of product liability insurance.

What are some product liability claims?

Product claims typically fall into three categories, claims arising from:

  • The manufacturing or production process — opening a can of soup and finding a piece of metal in it.
  • A design failure or hazard — a chair designed with one of its legs significantly shorter than the others.
  • A product that is not adequately labeled as to the potential hazard of the product — the label on a cigarette pack or a warning label on prescription medicine.

Who should have product liability coverage?

Manufacturers are not the only companies with product liability exposure — every company from the manufacturer of the components down to the retailer can be brought into a suit, and potentially has an exposure. A retailer may have an exposure if it assembled or installed the product and didn’t follow the manufacturer’s instructions properly. The retailer also would have a duty to the buyer to test the product for safety.

What possible damages could be awarded?

Your company can be legally obligated for damages to a third party that your product causes. These damages range from bodily injury to property and economic damage, with punitive damages potentially awarded.

You also can sustain loses in terms of recall cost, further product testing, advertising cost to prevent damage to your reputation, and business income and extra expense loss.

Why do some policies cover economic damages, but not punitive or statutory damages?  

When policies cover economic damages, they mean compensation for a verifiable monetary loss, which can include loss of future earnings, loss of business opportunities, loss of use of the property, cost of repair or replacement, loss of employment and even medical expenses.

Punitive damages are awarded for the purpose of punishment, or to deter a reckless decision or action. Typically, they are used when compensatory damages are deemed inadequate. Punitive damage is a tricky area for insurance, as most jurisdictions have ruled that it is uninsurable. You need to examine your commercial general liability policy’s terms and conditions to see whether you have coverage. In most cases, you will find a punitive damages exclusion included.

Why is it a bad idea to underreport sales volume to lower your premium costs?

Most general liability policies are auditable. While an owner may want to use a lower exposure base to keep upfront premiums low, at the end of the day that same owner runs the risk of a large additional premium payment with the audited exposure.

Right after the policy expires, the audit occurs, which coincides with when the deposit premiums are paid. Deposit premiums are usually 25 percent of the total premium, so without using the proper exposure base at the beginning, a company could be looking at a very large outlay of cash in a short time period. This cash flow crunch could cause the cancellation of a company’s insurance for nonpayment.

Most carriers also lower their rates as the exposure base increases. So, by understating your exposure, you could be causing your company to have a higher rate and premium.

What other mistakes do companies make in this arena?

Many business owners think their insurance covers everything. But, for example, you may or may not have a product recall exclusion. The cost associated with recalling a product can be enormous, and you don’t want to find out that you have no coverage when faced with a claim.

If you’re unsure of your coverage, contact your insurance broker and/or risk manager to review the language.

Shane Moran is a vice president at ECBM. Reach him at (610) 668-7100, ext. 1237, or [email protected]

For more information about risk management, see ECBM’s blog.


Insights Risk Management is brought to you by ECBM

How banks stay involved after closing a deal

Jeffrey M. Whalen, senior vice president, Specialty Markets, Bridge Bank

Jeffrey M. Whalen, senior vice president, Specialty Markets, Bridge Bank

“Relationship” might be the most overused word in banking these days, but it sums up the difference between providing a commodity and truly serving a customer’s needs.

“It really is about having a relationship with someone who comes to know and trust you,” says Jeffrey M. Whalen, senior vice president in the Specialty Markets division at Bridge Bank. “What we do in this industry is serve the needs of clients.”

Smart Business spoke with Whalen about how banks stay involved with clients and build mutually beneficial relationships.

Where should price fit into the decision when choosing a bank?

Most business owners say that, when it comes to choosing a bank, developing a long-term relationship in which owners feel empowered to achieve their goals is their highest priority.

Sole proprietors, closely held corporations and family owned businesses in particular want to get to know their banker, and they want their banker to know them and the ups and downs of their industry. They still want a competitive price, but more often than not, they are seeking a partner who can add real, tangible value to their business in the form of sector expertise, advisory services, etc.

Certainly there are business owners who do prioritize pricing above other aspects of a banking relationship, but in those instances, the owners shouldn’t be surprised if the relationship with their banker doesn’t yield much in terms of value-added services.

By nature, some businesses are very transactional and may not require value-added services. In those cases, business owners may look to other criteria to evaluate a potential banking relationship, such as how active the bank is in supporting their industry or business ecosystem, or how the bank’s core values align with theirs.

Some also want to deal with independent banks, as opposed to larger national banks, because they often have direct access to decision-makers. At a large bank, your account might be managed from a region far from your own, and local representatives can’t help you if there is a problem. For example, if you want to increase a line of credit or need help optimizing cash flows, a regional or independent bank may be able to respond faster because of its locale and relationship with you.

How can banking relationships provide additional benefits to the customer?

Relationship benefits depend in large part on what kind of bank you have chosen to partner with. Banks with a broad range of capabilities can, for example, accommodate an equally broad range of needs a business owner might have as his or her company moves throughout the business cycle. And banks with broad sector knowledge can bring a unique and valuable perspective to the table when helping a business owner evaluate options for growth and expansion, for example. Also, a bank should be able to bring forward a network of professional service providers who can help the owner with other issues that inevitably arise, such as how to establish an employee stock option plan, tax audit and preparation, etc.

So, the right relationship can yield a multitude of additional benefits, and it is important that these conversations are held prior to committing to a bank.

How frequently should bank personnel and clients meet?

It should be every month for larger, more complex client relationships and at least every quarter for smaller ones. Those guidelines, however, are general. Every business should be viewed as unique — because it is.

Therefore, the frequency of interactions with a banker should be driven by the needs of the client, and the dynamics of its business. It’s important for clients to know that a bank should have their best interests at heart and is there to solve problems. Sometimes a client might have problems it isn’t even aware of, but if its banker has the right experience and perspective, and if the communication in the relationship is frequent, the banker should be able to catch these problems before they impact the client’s business.

Communication in the relationship, combined with expertise on the side of the banker, is the key to getting the most in terms of value for the business owner. It really becomes a strong partnership if that can be achieved.

Jeffrey M. Whalen is a senior vice president, Specialty Markets, at Bridge Bank. Reach him at (408) 556-8614 or [email protected]

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Bridge Bank

How to defend against discrimination, wrongful termination and other claims

Derek M. Hoch, president, Leverity Insurance Group

Derek M. Hoch, president, Leverity Insurance Group

Lawsuits can pose a considerable threat to businesses, and actions related to employment practices should be a particular area of concern to business owners. According to researchers, about 60 percent of employers can expect to be sued by a prospective, current or former employee.

“It’s the increasingly litigious nature of our society,” says Derek M. Hoch, president of Leverity Insurance Group. “These lawsuits really started to trend upward when the market plummeted to its lowest point in combination with the state of the economy over the past four to five years. Desperate times can sometimes lead to desperate actions. When people couldn’t find employment, they filed suits against employers who let them go during that period of recession.”

Smart Business spoke with Hoch about how employment practices liability (EPL) insurance can help businesses manage risks associated with such lawsuits.

What are the most widely recognized types of employment-related lawsuits?

  • Wrongful termination — Discharging an employee for invalid reasons.
  • Discrimination — Denial of equal treatment to employees of a protected class.
  • Sexual harassment — Workers subject to unwelcome sexual advances, or obscene or offensive remarks.

Lawsuits can also be based on things such as wrongful failure to employ or promote, wrongful discipline and religious discrimination.

How can EPL insurance protect employers?

More than half of all claims for employment-related liabilities are against businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Claims can be costly, especially if a case has the ability to go on for an extended period of time. The average cost of an employment lawsuit exceeds $270,000. Even if the lawsuit is frivolous, it still takes time away from operating your business.

An EPL policy will help to pick up these defense costs and any judgments or claims assessed against your business. In some instances, these cases are settled before they even go to court; EPL will pay for settlement costs as well.

EPL also covers claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In 2012, the EEOC reported 99,947 charges for harassment, and costs of resolving these claims were $364.6 million.

Why is purchasing third-party EPL insurance so important?

Third-party EPL addresses the coverage gap that leaves employers vulnerable to discrimination and harassment lawsuits from customers, clients, vendors and suppliers. Standard EPL policies only cover actions related to employees or prospective employees, and most general liability policies specifically exclude harassment and discrimination.

More insurance carriers are including third-party coverage as part of EPL policies because every company is at risk. It’s vital for any business that deals with customers on a daily basis.

Other than insurance, what approaches can companies take to protect themselves?

Have a legal professional review your employee handbook to ensure it contains all the necessary information, including policies covering sexual harassment, discrimination, equal opportunity, grievances, discipline, termination, performance evaluations, Internet usage, pregnancy leave, hiring and employment at-will. Then make sure employees sign off that they’ve read it.

If you don’t have a handbook, you may not be able to secure EPL insurance because insurance carriers take this very seriously. They want to see that you’ve taken proper steps in terms of risk management and providing a safe workplace.

You can protect yourself even more by making sure you’re following proper procedures regarding hiring, firing, performance reviews and even interviewing prior to hiring someone.
Taking these steps also reduces risk, which will generally translate into lower insurance premiums. EPL insurance works hand-in-hand with your internal employment practices to provide necessary resources to defend your company against a lawsuit or claim.

Derek M. Hoch is the president at Leverity Insurance Group. Reach him at (216) 861-2727 or [email protected]

Request a quote on employment practices liability insurance or any other corporate coverage.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Leverity Insurance Group

How defined contribution plans can help ease the rising cost of health care

John Mills, senior director, Consumer Products, Product & Consumer Innovation, UPMC Health Plan

John Mills, senior director, Consumer Products, Product & Consumer Innovation, UPMC Health Plan

Historically, defined benefit plans have held a dominant position in the health care market since they were first introduced in the middle of the 20th century. Because the contributions were tax-deductible for employers and pre-tax for the employees, it was a popular way to increase employee benefits without raising wages.

But over the years, the rising cost of health care has caused employers to re-examine how much they pay for insuring their employees and caused them to think more about defined contribution plans.

“With a defined contribution plan, an employer can decide exactly how much they want to contribute to an employee’s health insurance and have a certainty about the cost,” says John Mills, senior director, Consumer Products, Product & Consumer Innovation at UPMC Health Plan. “And a defined contribution plan can be offered by a company of any size.”

Smart Business spoke with Mills about defined contribution plans and their increasing popularity with employers.

What is a defined contribution plan?

Technically speaking, a defined contribution plan is not any specific kind of health plan. Instead, it is a concept that can be applied to different approaches that employers can use to manage health care for employees.

With a defined contribution plan, a company gives each employee a fixed dollar amount that the employees can use to purchase health insurance and dental and vision benefits.Some employers will allow employees to put any money not spent on these benefits into a flexible spending account or to take as a cash benefit.

Why are these plans becoming so popular?

Certainly, the rising cost of health insurance is a major factor in the increased popularity of defined contribution plans. Any plan that can place some kind of limit on health care expenses, or provide some certainty about how much money will be paid, will get close scrutiny by those companies concerned about the bottom line.

But defined contribution plans also touch on areas that are becoming more important to both employers and employees than was possible under managed care. These include:

  • The consumer’s desire to have more choice and involvement in health care.
  • Concern about quality.
  • Increased information.
  • More freedom for providers.

What are some common characteristics of defined contribution plans?

The most common characteristic is choice. Defined contribution plans are intended to give members greater flexibility in benefit decisions. The choices include: plan choices, care choices and the ability to opt out.

Other common characteristics include increased cost sharing between the employer and the member, as well as greater knowledge and engagement in management of health care by members.

What do employers like about defined contribution plans?

One popular feature is that there is no limit on the amount of money an employer can contribute to an employee’s defined contribution health plan. Also, there is no minimum contribution requirement. That allows the employer to set the amount that makes the most sense for the company.

Employers also can give employees different contribution amounts based on classes of employees. The combination of cost management and decreased employer involvement makes defined contribution plans very attractive.

What other factors are driving the growing popularity of defined contribution plans?

Rising costs of premiums are a factor, as is the desire of providers to regain control over decisions concerning patient care. At minimum, they want a greater ability to advise patients who will make the final decision.

Concerns about quality are another factor. There is evidence that defined contribution plans will enhance the quality of care and also increase the amount of information available on the quality of health care, which makes them popular when there is such a focus on quality. And, small businesses find that with defined contribution plans they can have a feasible way to provide some kind of health insurance for their employees.

John Mills is a senior director, Consumer Products, Product & Consumer Innovation, at UPMC Health Plan. Reach him at (412) 454-8821 or [email protected]

For more information about defined contribution plans available through UPMC Health Plan.


Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan