House Ways & Means Committee Sets Its Sights on Modifying Obamacare


Employers with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees may soon get some relief from the ACA penalties for either not offering coverage or for not offering coverage that meets the minimum value and affordability standards.

Healthcare News from Washington came out this past week when the House Ways and Means Committee approved legislation aimed at weakening Obamacare, including a measure that would temporarily repeal the law's employer mandate. 

The bill would suspend penalties for the employer mandate for 2015 through 2019, while also delaying the implementation of the tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health plans until 2022 (the Cadillac Tax).  Congress had repealed the employer individual mandate penalty last year, which is supposed to go into effect in 2019.

"I think it's fair, if we relieve the burden for individuals, that we stand with our small and mid-sized companies," said GOP representative Mike Kelly, who sponsored the bill along with David Nunes (R-Calif.)

Powerful small business lobbying groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have pushed for a repeal of the employer mandate and are pleased with the outcome.

A second measure, sponsored by Reps. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) and Michael Burgess (R-Texas), would allow the use of Obamacare's tax credits for plans outside of the exchanges in the individual market, while allowing anyone to purchase a catastrophic plan — which are significantly less costly but offer less coverage and only available for individuals age 30 or less.

The bill "provides a much needed offramp for pressure people are feeling right now in terms of premium increases and limited choices," Roskam said.

Democrats opposed the bills, saying they would cost too much and destabilize Obamacare but both bills passed on party line votes and will proceed.

Packing Your Own Lunch: Here's our Hummus & Veggie Sandwich Recipe

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As a society we tend to burn the candle at both ends, and our bodies often suffer as a result.  Whether it’s lack of quality sleep and substantial exercise, or taking the time to fuel our bodies with the proper fresh, balanced nutrition, it’s time we all spend a moment taking stock of our approach to wellness.  While it’s hard to stop being busy, making ourselves a priority is crucial.  Our good health is our most precious and important possession.

One of the ways to stay on top of our health is by packing our own lunches instead of reaching for what’s quick and processed.  When we pack our own food for work, we are directly controlling our nutrition, which is ultimately better for our health.  But sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what to pack, and we find ourselves eating the same thing over and over.  Just like workouts, it’s important to mix things up to give your body the right nourishment and care.  Solution?  Eat the rainbow!  Change up the veggies and fruits that you have on the side, and pack in some protein while you’re at it. 

Here’s a good choice that is simple to pack and keeps well---we give you our hummus and veggie sandwich. Great for the office or sending with the kids to school, this quick and fresh meal is a delicious and easy way to get plenty of healthy nutrition and protein for your busy day.

Here’s the recipe (serves 2):

4 slices whole-grain bread (preferably organic and with seeds for extra nutrition)

1/2 cup White Bean Hummus (recipe below or use any store-bought hummus)

1/2 ripe avocado, thinly sliced

1 small tomato, sliced

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

1 cup lettuce

2 cups baby carrots (or cucumber slices or whatever veggie slides you’d like to throw in)


1. Toast the bread.

2. Spread 2 Tbsp. White Bean Hummus on each slice of toast. Divide the avocado, tomato, and red onion, and lettuce evenly between the 4 toasts.

3. To serve, place 2 open-faced sandwich halves and 1 cup baby carrots on each plate.


White Bean Hummus

2 (15 oz.) cans cannellini beans (we recommend low-sodium beans, rinsed and drained well before use)

3 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. lemon juice (plus zest of 1 lemon, if you’re looking for an extra burst of flavor)

2 Tbsp. water

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/4 tsp. salt

2 tsp. ground cumin

2 to 3 cloves garlic (roast or sauté the garlic beforehand in olive oil for a milder garlic flavor)

Add all of the ingredients to the base of a food processer. Process until smooth and enjoy!  It should keep in the refrigerator for about a week.

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Have a great week!

Prevention for a Healthy Heart


By far, the best weapon to fight off cardiovascular disease is a healthy lifestyle full of nutritious foods and plenty of exercise.  Did you know your heart is a muscle just like your bicep?  And just like your bicep, you need to give your heart some form of a workout every day to keep it healthy and strong.  Regardless of the intensity level, every bit of exercise helps keep your heart in shape to fight off high blood pressure, high cholesterol and weight gain, which are some of the leading causes of heart disease.   

Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, more women die each year from heart disease than from all forms of cancer combined!  Heart disease is especially dangerous for women because there are so few outward symptoms, leaving you to guess about your risk. So, how do you avoid letting heart disease creep up on.  By understanding the risks and symptoms before you experience them first hand.

Let’s start by focusing on the easiest risk factor to diagnose: high blood pressure. Through a simple, pain free blood pressure test at your annual physical (don’t forget to make your appointment!) you will know if you are at risk for heart disease! The top reading (systolic pressure) measures pressure when the heart is contracting, and the bottom reading (diastolic pressure) measures pressure when your heart is relaxed; the doctor looks at both.  Although there is still debate on the exact definition of “normal”, a normal reading for systolic pressure is less than 120 and a normal reading for diastolic pressure is less than 80.Readings of 130-139 (systolic) and/or 80-89 (diastolic) are considered mild hypertension.   Most annual physicals include a blood pressure check.  If you aren’t getting this test at your annual physical, be sure to ask for it! 

According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure is a serious risk factor for both heart attacks and strokes.  If you do have high blood pressure, one of the best ways to bring it down, is through regular exercise. So, let’s get moving to keep our hearts healthy!  

Here are a few additional tips:

·       Eat more heart-healthy foods, including fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, cheese and skim or low-fat milk.  

·          If you drink alcohol, limit your intake to no more than one drink a day.  

·          If you smoke, it's high time to quit this deadly habit!  

·          Get your cholesterol checked at regular intervals.  

·          Start exercising on a regular basis — even 20 minutes will do the trick.  

Be sure to talk to your doctor about your personal heart-health history and genetic risks. Do everything you can to prevent cardiovascular disease and share this lifesaving advice with your friends, sisters, daughters, and other women in your life. You'll be glad you did! 

Department of Labor Finalizes Plans to Expand Access to Association Health Plans


Last week the Department of Labor announced a final rule to expand access to Association Health Plans (AHPs) through a new, more flexible “Commonality of Interest” requirement.  This could be good news for small businesses and consultants who, in theory, will now be able to receive health insurance options that are comparable to larger group plans with lower premiums and including some of the better parts of the Affordable Care Act, as access to preventive care without any out of pocket costs and allowing people to keep their children on the plan until age 26.  AHPs are, however, still subject to state rules that oversee multiple employer welfare arrangements (MEWAs) and other federal mandates pertaining to annual limits on certain benefits and coverage of mental health benefits. And it’s still unclear how broad a range of benefits will be offered in the AHPs.

What are AHPs?  Association Health Plans (AHPs) allow business groups and certain trade associations to band together to purchase health insurance coverage if a group or association meets certain requirements.  Members of these associations, under former and current rules must have one, or more, “substantial business purpose” that is unrelated to health coverage to exist, and they must have an organized structure with official by-laws and a governing body.   Self-employed individuals or contractors are also allowed to participate in these AHP groups under the new ruling, providing that these individuals work an average of 20 hours per week and their related wages are equal to or greater than the cost of AHP coverage.

What now constitutes Commonality of Interest?  Commonality of Interest indicates that businesses who group together for these AHPs are bonded together by either industry (same trade, line of business, profession) or geography (same state or metropolitan area).  Previously, AHPs had to have both of these boxes checked in order to qualify; now one or the other will suffice.  In theory, this will allow a much greater number of possible businesses to fall under these qualifications, potentially allowing more employers to participate, assuming they fall under these specific guidelines within state and federal law when forming their AHPs.  However, states will still have the authority to impose their own individual laws when it comes to AHPs and insurance laws.

This final ruling comes in response to Executive Presidential Order 13813, issued by President Trump in October of 2017, directing the DOL to reassess and expand the use of AHPs.  In response to this order, the Department of Labor released its proposed changes in January of 2018, while also stating a lack of confidence in the proposal’s effectiveness.  These concerns by the DOL resulted in nine states taking individual action to shield their insurance markets from the new rule, with proposals having been advanced in Washington, California, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia.  In May, New Jersey created its own version of the Affordable Care Act to try and stabilize its state health insurance market.  Meanwhile, attorneys in New York and Massachusetts have threatened lawsuits with concerns that the final rule will undercut consumer health protections that are imposed by the ACA.

For fully insured AHPs, they may begin to offer coverage as of September 1, 2018. For existing AHPs with self-insured members, this new rule could go into effect as soon as January 1, 2019.  For newly self-insured AHPs who are looking to form under the new standards, they may do so after April 1, 2019.

Questions?  For these and other compliance rules, give us a call.

We are here for you.


The MIND is a Recipe for Brain Health


Our memory is a precious entity.  As we age, protecting our mind and memory becomes increasingly important.  But how do we do that?  It may be as simple as changing your diet.  Recent studies have shown that what you eat plays a very important role in protecting our brain’s health.  

There are too many diets out there to count, but researchers have found two diets in particular that are connected to brain benefits -  the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.  While both have qualities that can protect both our memory and cognition, a hybrid of the two proves to be even better. We give you the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, otherwise known as the MIND diet.

The MIND diet takes the best parts of both the Mediterranean and DASH diets and merges them into one, specifically focusing on foods that impact brain health.   A 2015 study showed the MIND Diet had a much higher success rate of preventing cognitive decline than the Mediterranean and Dash eating plans on their own.  Results were based on studying Alzheimer’s free adults between the ages of 58-98.  Those who strictly adhered to the MIND diet showed a 53% less chance of developing Alzheimer’s, and even those who only moderately followed the diet showed a 35% less chance of Alzheimer’s.  The longer people followed the MIND diet, the less chance they had of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s.

The MIND diet encourages eating anti-inflammatory foods rich in antioxidants to help protect you from cognitive decline. 

Want to give it a shot?  The MIND diet focuses on the following elements:

-       Green leafy vegetables – 6 servings a week of kale, spinach, cooked greens and salads

-       Other vegetables – 1 serving per day

-       Berries –  2 or more servings a week

-       Nuts –  5 servings a week

-       Olive Oil – use this as your main cooking oil

-       Whole grains – 3 or more servings a week of grains such as oatmeal, 100% whole wheat bread, quinoa, brown rice and whole wheat pasta

-       Fish – at least 1 serving a week.  Fatty fish is best because provides higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.  Avoid fried!

-       Beans – at least 3 servings a week

-       Poultry – at least 2 servings a week.  Avoid fried!

-       Wine – one optional glass a day

Studies have shown that eating foods high in saturated fats and trans fats can increase your risk for Alzheimer’s.  The MIND diet suggests avoiding the following food groups to help prevent that:

-       Butter and margarine

-       Red meat

-       Cheese

-       Pastries and sweets

-       Fried food – especially fast food!

It’s never too late to start the prevention process.  Choose healthier options with the MIND diet, a recipe for optimal brain health.

Bon Appetit!

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IRS Releases 2019 HSA contribution limits


Americans continue to embrace Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). According to AHIP, high-deductible health plan and health savings account enrollment reached 21 million members in 2017 and is expected to continue to grow.

The appeal is that contributions to HSAs are made on a pre-tax basis, and withdrawals are not taxed as long as they are used to pay for qualifying health expenses.  Additionally, the HSA belongs to the enrollee, and any leftover funds not used for qualifying medical expenses remain in the account and continue to grow, tax free. The HSA is only available to those enrolled in a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP).

2019 HSA Contribution Limits are as follows:

Individual: $3,500 ($50 increase over 2018) 

Family: $7,000 ($100 increase over 2018)

Catch-up contributions for workers over age 55 will remain at $1,000.

2019 HDHP definition:

A plan with at least a $1,350 deductible for individuals and $2,700 deductible for family. This is the same as the current 2018 amounts.


Signs of Employee Depression & How You Can Help

                      Anthony Bourdain

                     Anthony Bourdain

What we show on the outside isn’t always what’s happening on the inside. As
we globally mourn the recent deaths of fashion icon and designer Kate Spade
and now the loss of celebrity chef and trailblazer Anthony Bourdain, two
seemingly unstoppable individuals who each revolutionized their given industries,
this has never been more apparent. Like the geode, we may appear solid as a
rock on the outside, but, when broken, we realize that there are so many fragile,
complicated and beautiful pieces that comprise each and every one of us. 
Many who suffer from depression aren’t brave enough to raise their hands and
seek help, and even if they do, it may well be an ongoing struggle in their lives.

Singer Mariah Carey recently opened up about her personal struggles with Bipolar Disorder, also known as Manic Depression, a mental disorder that is marked by periods of intense emotional highs and bouts of depression.  Her bravery to come out and share her experiences has been applauded by mental health professionals, and as more people in the public eye open up about such personal issues, the stigma surrounding mental health disorders such as clinical depression is starting to dissipate.


Clinical depression is on the rise in the United States, but few people are willing to talk about it.  Globally, over 300 million people suffer from depression and 80 percent of them don’t have the emotional fortitude, or perhaps even the energy, to find help.  We are comfortable talking about physical ailments, even those that are less than sexy, but the stigma surrounding the acknowledgement of mental health issues can make it difficult to diagnose and to treat.  In the workplace, employees with depression can negatively affect staff morale and their own productivity, as well as become more argumentative and fatigued, causing larger issues impacting office culture and the bottom line. 


In fact, according to Mental Health America, Clinical depression has become one of America's most costly illnesses. Left untreated, depression is as costly as heart disease or AIDS to the US economy, costing over $51 billion in absenteeism from work and lost productivity and $26 billion in direct treatment costs. Depression tends to affect people in their prime working years and may last a lifetime if untreated. More than 80 percent of people with clinical depression can be successfully treated. With early recognition, intervention, and support, most employees can overcome clinical depression and pick up where they left off.”


What can employers do to help?

As an employer, you can be a valuable resource to employees suffering from depression.  First, learn to recognize the symptoms of clinical depression and educate employees on how to spot these symptoms both in themselves and in others. Individuals are often unaware that they are suffering from depression. Consider distributing information regarding the symptoms to your staff in a way that is non-threatening and doesn’t single anyone out.  Having a variety of wellness challenge fliers available for employees to explore is an easy way to go about this. Or, you may want to offer a lunchtime wellness seminar series with different topics each month, and one month could feature recognizing and diagnosing the symptoms of depression in yourself or your loved ones.  By offering this information in a non-threatening, group-lecture setting, you can raise awareness of the disease, while helping employees recognize the symptoms of depression, and seek treatment confidentially, in a safe environment.


Some symptoms to recognize:



-Changes in weight and eating habits

-Anxiousness and irritability

-Loss in concentration, inability to make decisions

-Thoughts of suicide


Early detection and treatment is the best prevention and, as with anything, admitting it is the first step in seeking treatment.


How to get help:

-       Provide employees with an understanding of their options when it comes to their benefits surrounding mental health treatment

-       Encourage them to take a personal day to go and see their doctor to discuss their symptoms

-       Make sure to have information available to employees so they know where they can get help.  Creating a supportive environment will help employees diagnose and treat the problem, as well as foster a culture that nurtures your employees’ overall wellbeing; all helpful with retention and morale.

-       Provide employees with a list of local, in-network resources they can call


Need assistance with reviewing your mental health benefits, or want to explore new plans? Give us a call.  We are here to help you with the distribution of information and have many customizable resources to share with you that we can customize for your needs.  Call us at (877) 559-9922 ext.1402 or email us at

Skinny Chicken Enchiladas


Think all enchiladas are made the same?  Think again.  These hearty but skinny chicken enchiladas are high in protein and lower in fat while never lacking in deliciousness.  Check it out...

1 Tbsp. canola or grapeseed oil
1 small onion, diced
1 Tbsp. chili powder (use half ancho chili powder for a smokier flavor)
2 tsp. ground cumin
3/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
1 (15 oz) can no-salt-added tomato sauce
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups cooked skinless boneless chicken breast, shredded
3 cups loosely packed spinach, roughly chopped
8 organic corn tortillas
1 cup (4 oz.) shredded reduced-fat cheese
1/2 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
2 scallions, thinly sliced

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with oil spray.
2. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat.
3. Add the onion and cook until translucent and very soft, about 7 minutes.
4. Add the chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, oregano, and cayenne and cook for 1 minute.
5. Add the tomato sauce, broth, and salt and cook until hot, 3 to 5 minutes.
6. Reserve 3/4 cup of the sauce. Add the chicken and spinach to the remaining sauce and cook until the spinach is wilted, 2 to 3 minutes.
7. Wrap the tortillas in damp paper towels and microwave for 30 to 60 seconds to heat through.
8. Divide the chicken filling evenly between the 8 tortillas. Roll the tortillas and arrange them seam sides down in the baking dish.
9. Spread the reserved 3/4 cup sauce evenly over the tortillas and top with the cheese.
10. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and broil the top for 3 to 5 minutes to brown the cheese.
11. Top each serving (2 enchiladas) with 2 Tbsp. Greek yogurt and scallions.

Makes 4 servings (serving size = 2 enchiladas with toppings)

CVS Pharmacy Announces Rx Savings Finder Program to Save Patients Money


CVS Pharmacy recently announced the launch of the CVS Pharmacy Rx Savings Finder Program, a new software tool that will allow its 30,000 pharmacists to explore less expensive options when filling patient prescriptions. 

While pharmacists have been offering patients generic brand options in place of brand name options for a number of years, this new software will flag less expensive drugs that are a therapeutic equivalent but may be a different drug or alternative therapy to what the doctor has prescribed.  When this happens, the pharmacist will alert the patient and then ask permission from their doctor to switch over to the alternative solution. This new prescription management tool will also be made available directly to consumers through the CVS Caremark app. 

In recent years, big pharmaceutical companies and those in the business of negotiating these benefits have come under scrutiny for the pricing of prescription drugs. There is also concern about multiple consolidations of big pharma in recent years, including CVS, who recently bought the health insurance company Aetna for $69 billion. The White House also weighed in, with the Trump administration voicing its concern regarding these mergers and calling for possible change.

With each insurance plan differing in their level of coverage and the amount of cost pushed back to the patient, CVS is hoping that this new tool will help patients, pharmacists and doctors to save money.

CVS’s Kevin Hourican, executive vice president of retail for the pharmacy, said that the coverage will account for these specific insurance coverage levels and offer solutions that vary from patient to patient, based on how the insurance plans have built their lists of covered drugs.  This will save time for the pharmacist spent searching for alternatives, with the solutions being right at their fingertips.

The medical world, traditionally filled with paper files, has become increasingly digitized in recent years, though fewer than 10,000 doctors are using electronic health records when writing a prescription at this time, according to CVS.  While there will be a learning curve, it is expected that many doctors will find this new software useful. Patients using this new software during the testing period were saving an average of $75 on new prescriptions and were allowing doctors greater transparency as to the costs that patients are incurring when filling a prescription. 

Do you have questions about your health insurance coverage?  Give us a call or email us at



Simple Ways Our Pets Help to Relieve Stress


Animals bring out the kid in all of us.  The relationships are simple and fulfilling, packed with unconditional love, belly rubs, and joy.  Whether at home, at work, or at play, having a furry sidekick alongside always takes the fun up a notch, and that’s great for our stress levels, too.

While we’re focused on the love they bring to our lives, did you know that our pets are secretly also keeping us healthy?  So, in honor of Stress Awareness Month, we wanted to celebrate our furry and feathery friends by exploring the healthier benefits of these unique friendships.

Are dog owners generally healthier people? 

A study from Harvard Medical School explored that theory and found that, yes, dog owners are often healthier, at least psychologically.  Dogs are in tune with our emotions, offering a sense of acceptance, and this can be empowering, improving our psychological wellbeing and even our self-esteem.  And because they require a lot of exercise, they get us up and moving, which is also great for our physical wellbeing.

Some studies have even claimed that smelling their fur releases endorphins that lower cortisol, the hormone associated with stress and anxiety, which also helps to decrease blood pressure. Go figure!

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

-Poet Eden Ahbez

Love is something that just can’t be prescribed in a pill  

Therapy animals will often fill a void for people who can use an extra dose of hope and compassion.  Let’s face it, human relationships can be complicated.  Animals, on the other hand, bring acceptance, a sense of being needed, love and joy.  For cancer patients, therapy dogs don’t look at them with pity--they offer uncomplicated hope and playful giggles--moments that offer patients an escape and a sense of freedom from the heavy burden of battling a disease.  For Alzheimer patients, animals are a simple reminder of childlike happiness, bringing with them a sense of being needed in a world that can otherwise feel a little overwhelming and scary.

Dogs in the workplace

Dogs are becoming increasingly welcomed into the workplace, too, offering a sense of home, enriching office culture and bringing a morale-boosting distraction to our otherwise busy days. 

“Dog friendly” is an added benefit listed on job postings, giving employers a competitive edge with recruitment.  This extra perk also allows pet-owner employees the freedom to stay a little later, as they don’t have to rush home to their dog, which brings an increase in productivity.  Employers have found that allowing dogs in the workplace also helps with retention, as people who work in a dog-friendly atmosphere are more likely to stay put. Allowing their pet to be with them during the day increases morale while also enriching relationships between co-workers who might swing by more if Fido is by your side. 

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If you’re thinking of opening the dog gates to invite pets into your workplace, you may consider putting some doggy-etiquette guidelines in place.  A few to consider:

1.   Make sure everyone is okay with it.  If allergies are a concern, this can pose a problem for employees with dander-related reactions.  So, make sure that your pet-friendly environment is indeed friendly for everyone.

2.   Make sure you're covered.  Insurance policies may be adjusted to ensure you’re covered should anything happen behaviorally, including acting out against other animals, people or property should Rover decide to chew up a desk.

3.   Come up with a pet-owner waiver.  If your employee wants to participate in bringing their pet to work, have them sign a waiver to make sure that they’re on board with the rules.

4.   Make sure the space is safe.  Do you have anything around the office that isn’t safe for dogs?  Just as if you’d baby proof a house before bringing home a child, make sure that your office is dog-proofed so that everyone is secure.

5.   Socialize.  It’s good to make sure that dogs that are invited to join their humans at work are good with other people and dogs, otherwise they can be put on a naughty list.  Consider having a naughty list clause in your pet policy that gives owners a warning should there be issues with behavior. This provides grounds to ask them to please leave their buddy home, should the issues occur more than once.

Ready to jump in?  If you need help reviewing your insurance policy or updating your coverage to allow for a pet-friendly workplace, we are here to help get the dog party started.

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Compliance Alert: New Rules for Disability Claim Regulations Go Into Effect April 1st


The final rule for the Department of Labor’s disability claims procedures will go into effect this week, applying to new claims filed after April 1st on all employee sponsored disability plans that are subject to ERISA.  Originally issued on December 19, 2016, the new rules impose procedural standards similar to that which applies to benefit determinations on ERISA health plan claims, as per ACA rules.  It will ensure that employees with claims cannot be hired, promoted, terminated or compensated based on the pending status of their claims, or the probability of a denied claim, and that claimants will be given a full and clear explanation for any claims that are denied.

Included in the rule are most long-term disability plans (LTDs) and those short-term disability (STD) programs that do not fall under the Department of Labor’s payroll practice exemption.  If an STD plan is insured, then it is subject to ERISA and therefore the new rules will apply here, as well.

Originally slated to go into effect on January 1, 2017, these regulations were delayed in response to President Trump’s Executive Order 13777 allowing time for further review.  The Department of Labor later issued a statement saying that it had been determined that the rules “did not establish that the regulations impose unnecessary burdens or significantly impair workers’ access to disability benefits” and confirmed the revised date for these rules to go into effect is April 1, 2018.  For the full release with the statement from the Department of Labor click here.

To help guide the compliance process, employers should do the following:

1.    Review the language of your short-term disability plan summaries.

2.    Review and update any documents such as employee handbooks, insurance certificates and benefit plan books to include a description of these new rules.

Most companies depend on their insurance carriers and claim administrators to oversee the claims process for disability coverage and this will not change with these new regulations.  If you’re concerned about how this claims process works, give us a call and we can walk you through these changes and/or guide the claims process to determine how the rules apply to your employee disability claims. 

For the full statement from Federal Registry detailing claims procedures surrounding the new regulations click here.

Please Note:  The information in this post is not meant to be legal advice.  You should consult your attorney should you have specific legal questions surrounding these new laws.

Recipe for Overnight Chia Pudding

 Overnight Chia Pudding

Overnight Chia Pudding

With their high concentrate of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, antioxidants, and calcium, chia seeds are one of the most celebrated superfoods around. These tiny seeds pack a nutritious punch punch of nutrition. They are high in fiber but are also high in fat, so you don’t want to get too crazy. One ounce of chia seeds (about 2 tablespoons) contains about 139 calories, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat, 12 grams carbohydrates and 11 grams of fiber, plus vitamins and minerals.

You can find chia seeds in all sorts of dishes from muffins to kombuchas, but one of our favorite recipes is chia pudding. This sweet, delicious treat can be served as a snack or as a showstopper for your guests at brunch. Chia pudding may look like a dessert, but if you’re a parent, this is a healthy way for kids to start the day without you having to fuss in the morning, as it’s an easy prep the night before.

Here’s how you do it…

(Per single serving)
2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk (or skim or soy milk)
2 Tbsp chia seeds
2 tsp honey (or maple syrup)
¼ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup of blueberries (or ½ cup of any preferred fresh fruit)
2 Tbsp unsweetened dried coconut, toasted
2 Tbsp toasted slivered almonds

In a bowl or plastic storage container, stir together the milk, chia seeds, honey and vanilla. Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight to thicken. Before serving the next morning, spoon into serving dishes and top with blueberries, coconut and toasted almonds.

Tip: You can put these right into the individual serving dishes overnight and save one step! If you use glass dish ware like the ones pictured here, then they’ll look like delicious ice cream sundaes.


DOL Announces the PAID Program


The Wage & Hour Division of the Department of Labor announced a new pilot program this month called PAID:  the Payroll Audit Independent Determination Program.  According to the DOL, PAID will help ensure that employees receive 100% of any owed back wages, in compliance with the labor standards rules as laid out by the Fair Labor Standards Act, helping businesses and employees to determine what is owed in any back pay or overtime disputes without litigation or attorney’s fees.

This pilot program will roll out nationally over the next six months, culminating in a program audit to determine its effectiveness.

The PAID program is available to all FLSA covered employees, except those employees or businesses who are currently in litigation over wage disputes.  For those employers choosing to participate, the Wage & Hour Division will not impose any type of penalties or damages to finalize any subsequent settlements; they will simply oversee the resolution of potential violations by determining the sum of any due wages and supervising the subsequent payment of said wages.

Covered violations include failures to pay overtime at the time-and-a-half rate, misclassification of FLSA exempt employees looking for a change in status, and cases of alleged “off the clock” work.

For a list of frequently asked questions regarding the PAID program, click here.

For a better understanding of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) click here.

For the full press release from the DOL click here.

Questions?  We are here to help.  Email us at

11 Ways to Introduce Kindness into Your Work, Home & Life

Kindness matters.


While it sounds like a hashtag that can be thrown around, the simple beauty of kindness stands out in a world where we’re often faced with the depressing reality of online bullying, less human interaction and faces buried in screens.  Simple kindness is increasingly valued and appreciated, often coming as a surprise instead of something that is to be expected of us.  And when we value and appreciate kindness, it naturally breeds even more kindness.  And kind human interaction is great for mental health.  A kinder workplace makes for a happier, healthier workplace.

So, here at GPA we are throwing down the kindness gauntlet in the form of a challenge to each of you; plant small seeds of kindness in the world around you.  During this coming week, how many kind acts are you able to perform?  Let’s be fearless and embark on a few together.  Here are some simple suggestions:

1.    Smile at a stranger on the street.  Bravely make eye contact and offer up a smile.  You don’t know people’s stories, and this may be the catalyst that starts positive change surrounding their whole day.

2.    Open the door for someone.  Whether you know them or not, let them go first.  Showing each other patience and respect will breed that behavior in others.

3.    Let others enter or exit the elevator first.  We promise that you won’t be any later, and it’s going to make you feel great.

4.    Let someone in when vying for a position in traffic.  Especially here in Southern California, it gets so frustrating to squeeze in when changing lanes amidst busy traffic.  Instead of inching ahead, help with the merging process and everyone will speed up together.

5.    Ask a new employee to lunch or coffee.  Make a new connection, ask them questions about themselves and take time to genuinely listen.  You never know what someone new has to offer, or what you might have in common.

6.    Leave a simple love note for a family member.  Appreciation goes a long way, and it’s often at home where we take each other for granted.  Give the gift of thanks and leave a quick sticky-note on the bathroom mirror to make someone’s day.

7.    Notice something that a coworker did and take time to compliment and thank them.  Maybe they cleaned up after someone else, maybe they killed it in a meeting, or maybe they’re just doing their job on a regular day.  Think about the actions of others and take a moment to offer up a genuine compliment to lift their spirits.  Positive breeds positive.

8.    Bring some fruit, muffins or a special type of coffee creamer to your next morning staff meeting. Mix things up and have a little fun with each other.  Small, thoughtful gestures injected into the day make for a happier, healthier workplace.

9.    Bring a flower or plant from your garden to a friend to brighten their desk and their day.  Have an old jar and some scissors?  Clip off a few branches, tie some twine around it and viola; instant cheer. Bring one for yourself, too!  Having a plant on your desk has been shown to reduce stress and improve office air quality!

10. Leave a thank you note and a box of cookies for the night custodian who cleans the office.  It’s often a thankless job that doesn’t pay well.  Make them love their job, even just for one day, by leaving a kind note or gift of thanks.

11. Leave a bottle of water or healthy snack for the UPS or FedEx delivery person at the reception desk with a note of thanks.  Our relationships with each other are built upon numerous small actions.  It takes courage to be kind to a stranger.  Let’s cause a chain reaction that will spread kindness to others.

Spreading kindness keeps the serotonin flowing, improving your overall health. Strong minds make for stronger bodies, and stronger bodies typically mean lower health insurance premiums!  Prevention is the best medicine.

If you were able to perform some of the acts above, we want to hear from you.  How did they react to your kindness?  Leave your experiences in the comments below or tag us on social media @garnettpowers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIN.

Have a great week, everyone!


The Benefits of Corporate Wellness

We all live very busy lives.  Trying to find the balance between our work life and personal life is a juggle, particularly for working parents with busy families. 

At GPA, we spend our days working on finding the best healthcare solutions for our clients.  We also find it important to walk the walk when it comes to our health and wellness, even in the workplace.  We, too, are working to try and find balance in our lives, so while we are focused on your health, it’s also important that we focus on our own. 

Corporate wellness is a benefit that employers can provide to their staff members that not only makes for happier and healthier employees but can increase productivity overall.  Offering regular wellness classes or encouraging your employees to step away for a few minutes shows them that you care about their wellbeing, and a happy, healthy workplace will lead to longer employee retention, increased productivity and a more positive workplace culture.  Taking the time to pause, stretch, get the heart rate going for a lunch or mid-afternoon walk, or simply just taking the time to stand up for a while is crucial. Sitting for often 8 hours a day can take a toll on our health.

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Working at stand-up desks to keep us moving and shifting throughout the day and keeping water handy to stay hydrated are two simple ways we try and support the ongoing health of our own team.  Another thing we practice is Boardroom Yoga, a class that our employees look forward to each month. We find a space outside or gather in the conference room with a yoga instructor who guides us through stretching and offers us tips on wellness that can be applied during the work day.  With special breathing exercises, stretches, meditation and nutrition tips, we leave these sessions revitalized and ready to continue to provide the services that help you care for your employees. 

Here’s a peek at one of our recent Boardroom Yoga sessions.

Do you have some other ideas as to how to bring more mindful wellness into your office culture?  Share them with us in the comments below.

For more tips on corporate wellness, click here.

Drink to Your Health

Health Benefits of Fruits, Veggies and Nutritional Additives in Joan’s Smoothie:

My healthy, delicious (if I do say so myself!) breakfast smoothies contain a combination of several fruits and vegetables, as well as other additions that are good for your body. Listed below are the usual suspects from which I choose to make my smoothie each morning, along with the benefits of consuming these wonders of nature.

1) Blueberries: They offer an arsenal of healthy components. Blueberries contain antioxidants as pterostilbene and resveratrol, and are rich in proanthocyanidins. Blueberries are a very good source of vitamin K, vitamin C, and manganese. These blue gems are also a good source of fiber and copper while being low in calories.

What they can do for your body:

  • Reverse damage done by toxins and free radicals.
  • Reverse inflammation in the body, now thought to be the root cause of most diseases, like cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
  • Neuro-protective agents in blueberries, known as phenols, protect our brains from oxidative stress and degeneration.
  • Give your heart a healthy boost: An article published in Circulation regarding a study of 93,600 women between the ages of 25 to 42, showed that eating strawberries and blueberries together has a positive effect that actually decreases your risk of heart attack by up to 33 percent.
  • Combat cancer: Clinical studies have even discovered that, unlike radiation and chemotherapy strategies, gallic acid-rich foods like blueberries can kill cancer without harming healthy cells! For instance, the Journal of Biochemical and Molecular Toxicology  published a study evaluating the anticancer effects gallic acid has on breast cancer cells. Like countless studies before, researchers discovered that blueberries and gallic acid slow and even destroy breast cancer.

2) Blackberries: These delicious nutritional powerhouses deliver so many benefits! They are rich in vitamins A, B, C and K, as well as antioxidants as zeaxanthin and lutein, known for their ability to help vision and control the onset of macular degeneration.  Blackberries are low in calories (1/2 cup is 43 calories and very filling) and are a great source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, with ½ cup supplying 5.3 grams of fiber.

What they can do for your body:

  • Maintain healthy blood pressure:  Blackberries have a high content of potassium, with one cup providing 114 milligrams of the mineral, helping blood vessels relax and function properly for blood pressure control.
  • Might help maintain bone health: Due to their vitamin K content, which functions in keeping calcium in the bone, consuming blackberries could prevent osteoporosis.
  • Protect your skin from sun damage: Blackberries contain ellagic acid, which is considered a phytonutrient that may defend the skin from ultraviolet (UV) damage. According to a research article published in the Journal of Experimental Dermatology, ellagic acid slowed down the toxicity of UV-B in skin cells. UV-B is the main cause of skin reddening and sunburn when a person exposes skin in the sun for too long a time. UV-B affects the development of skin cancer and is thought to cause premature skin aging.
  • May help improve digestive health: We know we need to keep our bowel movements regular for optimum health, and blackberries contain a high amount of fiber, which prevents constipation. The daily dietary fiber intake recommended for men is 38 grams and for women is 25 grams.
  • Gut bacteria are now known to play an important role in our health. A diet rich in blackberries could also change the composition of your gut bacteria. A study, published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information suggested that berries have an important role in retaining gut health in the small intestine, due to their prebiotic content.
  • Help fight infection: One cup of blackberries contains 24 percent of the vitamin C daily requirements. The ellagic acid in blackberries, mentioned earlier for its healthful properties, can also rapidly stymie the growth of certain types of bacteria and fungi in the body.

3) Strawberries: Tasty, and so full of health benefits, these red beauties have a powerful effect on the body. Strawberries offer an astonishing 129 percent of the daily value for vitamin C, but manganese, folate and potassium are also among the nutrients provided. Strawberries are naturally low in fat and calories - a big plus - and are a source of anthocyanins, flavonols, terpenoids. And like their cousins, blackberries and blueberries, they contain ellagic acids and phytonutrients for an anti-inflammatory blast. Carbon, iron and iodine are also in abundance, as well as copper which promotes the healthy development of red blood cells.

What they can do for your body:

  • Contribute to fighting atherosclerosis: Strawberries contain folate (folic acid) which not only fights atherosclerosis, but helps in preventing a decline in cognitive function. 
  • May control blood pressure: One cup of these amazing powerhouses contains more than 100 percent of the daily recommended vitamin C.
  • Recent studies show that when vitamin C is consumed during times of stress, it actually has the ability to decrease our blood pressure to a normal level, preventing the development of hypertension — especially in kids.
  • May reduce the signs of aging: Vitamin C also is crucial to the production of collagen, which provides the skin its elasticity and resilience. Eating strawberries with such high vitamin C content could enhance the ability to have younger, healthier looking skin.
  • Provide a great source of fiber: Like their other berry cousins, strawberries can keep the ‘pipes moving’!

4) Pineapple: This beautiful specimen of the bromeliad family (same family as Spanish Moss) has an enormous amount of healthy qualities. Pineapples contain bromelain, vitamin C, as well as high amounts of thiamin, a B vitamin that the body uses for energy production. 

What it can do for your body:

  • Keeps your bones strong: Pineapple may help you keep standing tall and strong. The fruit contains nearly 75 percent of the daily-recommended value of the mineral manganese, which is essential in developing strong bones and connective tissue, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. One 1994 study suggested that manganese, along with other trace minerals, may be helpful in preventing osteoporosis in post-menopausal women.
  • Helps heal wounds: Vitamin C is known for its role in creating collagen. It is the most plentiful protein found in the body. Collagen is essential as a building block, or base, of bones, skin, blood vessels, muscles, tendons and ligaments.
  • Strengthens gums and teeth: The antioxidant compounds found in pineapple actually contain astringent properties that help tone the gums and body to avoid hair/tooth loss and skin loosening.

5) Bananas: They are such a popular fruit, not only because they taste good but also because they are full of healthful properties. They contain fiber, but are great sources of potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, magnesium and manganese.

What they can do for your body:

  • May improve digestive health: Due to the fiber in bananas, with a medium banana containing about 3 grams, bananas can aid digestion. There are two types of fiber in bananas, which are pectin and resistant starch, both found in larger quantities in unripe bananas. Some studies suggest that pectin may help protect the body against colon cancer. Resistant starch is not digested and becomes food for beneficial gut bacteria when it ends up on the large intestine.
  • May promote weight loss: Bananas contain few calories, with a medium banana containing 105 calories. If we reach for a banana instead of a candy bar during an afternoon slump, we can stave off the fat calories and eat something nutritious and filling.
  • Promote heart health: A medium sized banana contains 9% of the RDI of postassium, an essential mineralin helping lower blood pressure.  People who consume a potassium-rich diets have a 27% lower risk of heart disease.
  • Might improve kidney health: Again, due to their high potassium content, bananas may play a role in keeping your kidneys healthy. A study showed that women who ate bananas 2-3 times a week were 33% less likely to develop kidney disease.

6) Kale: It’s the ultimate green health food. Kale is often referred to as the King of the Veggie World, and research is bearing truth to that claim. It is packed with vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, K, C, B6, manganese, calcium, copper, potassium and magnesium, with a one cup serving providing over the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) for vitamins A, K and C.

What it can do for your body:

  • Promotes blood clotting: The vitamin K in kale activates certain proteins and gives them the ability to bind calcium. Being one of the best sources of vitamin K, it contains 6-7 times the recommended daily amount. Vitamin K has also been recognized as an agent that helps the absorption of vitamin D. In fact, vitamin K is being touted as being the ‘next vitamin D’ referring to its importance to the body, in particular, keeping blood vessels from calcifying, and helping your bones retain calcium.
  • Fights cancer: Kale has compounds believed to have defensive effects against cancer. One of those compounds, sulforphane, has been shown to assist in preventing cancer from taking hold at the molecular level.
  • Protects eyesight: Once again, like its rich berry friends, we see the benefits of consuming kale high in lutein and zeaxanthin. These nutrients are linked to a reduced risk of macular degeneration, as well as cataracts.

7) Spinach: This is a longtime nutritional favorite. Spinach contains vitamin A and folate, which is actually known scientifically as vitamin B9, as well as magnesium, calcium and the component Popeye made famous, iron.

What it can do for your body:

  • Due to its high potassium content, spinach is helpful for people with high blood pressure. Not consuming enough potassium could be just as harmful as high sodium intake.
  • Helps manage diabetes: Spinach contains an antioxidant, alpha-lipoic acid, which has been shown to lower glucose levels. It may even increase insulin sensitivity.
  • Prevents asthma: Spinach is an excellent source of beta-carotene, which is thought to reduce the risk for developing asthma, especially for people who eat a high amount of certain nutrients.

8) Dandelion Greens: Though many think of this as just a weed, this is a nutritious green that is rich in iron, antioxidants, minerals, B vitamins, vitamin K and fiber, while being low in calories.

What they can do for your body:

  • Help shed waste: This is due to their high fiber content.
  • Detoxify the liver: Due to its natural diuretic effect, increasing the amount of urine your body makes, dandelion greens promote the swift elimination of toxins from the liver.
  • May fight the development of Alzheimer’s disease: Dandelion greens provide 535 percent of the Recommended Daily Amount of vitamin K, which may limit neuron damage to the brain.

9) Broccoli: Another veggie superstar, broccoli is filled with such beneficial substances such as dietary fiber, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin E. Plus, it contains protein, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids.

What it can do for your body:

  • Provide mood-centering benefits to help sleep: Broccoli contains tryptophan, an amino acid from which serotonin, known as the ‘happiness hormone’ is made.
  • Lower inflammation: Consuming broccoli can actually assist your body in avoiding dibilitating auto-immune diseases like arthritis. Foods like broccoli ward off the body’s inflammatory response that can lead to disease.
  • Keep your heart healthy: Broccoli is high in vitamin E, important for heart health as well as protecting cellular membranes from breaking down.

10) Cauliflower: Similar to its cruciferous cousin, broccoli, cauliflower is high in fiber, as well as a good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, protein, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, fiber, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, potassium, and manganese.

What it can do for your body:

  • Kill cancer cells: Cauliflower contains sulforaphane, a sulfur compound that has also been shown to kill cancer stem cells, consequently slowing tumor growth. Due to the research being conducted on the benefits of this compound, some researchers consider that eliminating cancer stem cells may be key to controlling cancer.
  • May diminish age-related decline: Cauliflower contains choline, a B vitamin known for its role in brain development. Choline acts as an anti-aging neurotransmitter and is essential for nerve function and muscle movement.
  • Aid digestion: Members of the cruciferous family are beneficial for digestion and detoxification because of their rich supply of sulfur containing compounds called glucosinolates, which support proper nutrient absorption and toxin/ waste removal from the body.

11) Arugula: Rich in flavonols, this green contains vitamin A, beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, and is also rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium.

What it can do for your body:

  • Helps maintain healthy blood pressure: Arugula is a heart-healthy food due to the calcium, magnesium and potassium content that play a part in controlling and normalizing blood pressure.
  • Helps fight cancer: As a member of the cruciferous family, and as an excellent source of glucosinolates. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, high intake of glucosinolates has been associated with a reduced risk for many cancers, such as those affecting the lungs, breast, bladder, colon and ovaries.

12) Flax seed: This is an excellent source of omega 3 alpha-linolenic acid, as well as dietary fiber and magnesium.

What it can do for your body:

  • Helps eliminate waste: Flax seed contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, which aids in digestion and helps keep bowel movements regular.
  • Provides “good fat” for the body with the delivery of omega-3 essential fatty acids. This helps the heart functioning well and healthy.
  • May keep ‘bad cholesterol’ at bay: A study of menopausal women showed a decrease in LDL levels after the women ate 4 tablespoons of ground flax seed each day for a year.

13) Chia seeds: Once thought to only be useful to grow on novelty planters, studies have shown these seeds to be packed with nutrition, containing healthy doses of fiber, protein, calcium, manganese, magnesium and phosphorous. In addition, they are packed with omega-3s and protein.

What they can do for your body:

  • Keep you feeling full longer: Chia seeds form a gel when wet, which could explain why they promote weight loss, since when we feel full, we eat less.
  • Provides “good fat” for the body with the delivery of omega-3 essential fatty acids.
  • Fight the production of free radicals: The antioxidants in chia seeds fight these invaders which can damage molecules in cells and contribute to aging and diseases like cancer.

14) Hemp seeds: Indeed, they are from the same species as cannabis (marijuana). However, they only contain trace amounts of the compound THC which is the “high” component of cannabis. Hemp seeds are exceedingly nutritious and rich in healthy fats, protein and various minerals. They are a great source of vitamin E and minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron and zinc.

What they can do for your body:

  • Keep your heart healthy: Hemp seeds contain an amino acid named arginine. Increased arginine intake was linked to decreased levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in a study of more than 13,000 people. CRP is an inflammatory marker that is linked to heart disease.
  • May benefit skin disorders: Research is showing that fatty acids may affect immune responses in the body in a positive way. Hemp seeds contain a healthy balance of omega-6 and omega 3 fatty acids. Hemp seed oil has been known to help people suffering with eczema, and to also relieve the itchiness of dry skin.

15) Nuts: I use a variety of nuts in my smoothies, primarily for the omega-3 fatty acids and for the protein. I generally use almonds, walnuts or brazil nuts. A small handful of mixed nuts can provide a good portion of the recommended daily intake for copper, manganese, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorous and selenium.

What they can do for your body:

  • Protect your cells: Research has shown that the antioxidants in walnuts and almonds can protect the delicate fats in your cells from being damaged by oxidation.
  • Protect against cancer, thyroid problems and cognitive decline: The selenium in nuts, particularly in brazil nuts, is thought to be a powerful antioxidant that can offer protection against cancer, and in particular, breast and prostate cancers.
  • Nuts contain antioxidants known as polyphenols, which may protect LDL cholesterol from damage.

Cheers to you and your good health!

Prop 64: Understanding the Adult Use of Marijuana Act in the Workplace

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In November of 2016, California voters passed the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, also known as Proposition 64, legalizing recreational cannabis use for adults 21 years of age and older. The law went into affect on January 1st of this year, allowing adults over 21 to possess, transport, and share up to an ounce of cannabis and eight grams of cannabis concentrate, as well as grow as many as six plants at home. 

What does this mean for you as an employer?

For most businesses, the rules won’t change too much. Just as with alcohol use, the new law doesn’t give anyone a pass to show up to work intoxicated.  Employees cannot consume it in the workplace nor can they consume it in their car (as DUI and open container laws apply here, too). And as with cigarettes, there’s no consuming it in public anywhere indoors, including in bars.  If your company has a zero-tolerance approach when it comes to drugs in the workplace, that is still acceptable under the current laws, which is of particular interest to those companies who work with heavy machinery and may have specific safety concerns.

What about medicinal consumption? 

Medical marijuana has been legal in California for some time, but is subject to its own sets of rules and regulations.  In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act, allowing the possession, use and cultivation of cannabis for patients looking to treat cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraines or “any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.” This vague wording was later clarified by the Medical Marijuana Program Act of 2003, which established an identification card system for patients with these prescriptions. Despite the new January rules taking effect, those patients under the age of 21 with medicinal marijuana cards will still be able to access marijuana medicinally.

Can we do drug testing? 

California holds very specific laws when it comes to privacy rights and much of it stems from the employer’s rationale behind ordering a drug test.  Was it pre-employment testing? If an employer is requiring new hires to pass a drug test as a condition of hiring them, then this is generally allowed.  Was it random testing of existing employees?  This falls into a very grey area when it comes to privacy and it is not legal unless the individual’s job falls under the category of public safety.

How do the protocols surrounding medicinal and adult-use differ from one another?

In June of 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill regulating both adult-use and medicinal marijuana under the same standards, however, cannabis-industry businesses, both growers and retailers, will be categorized under either an A license for adult-use or an M license for medical use. 

Medicinal licenses for dispensaries are separate from adult-use licenses, and the two are separated into silos, even at a single dispensary.  While it is possible to apply for dual licenses, most cannabis retailers aren’t allowed to possess both licenses as the businesses are treated separately, each with its own set of separate books and records. 

The cannabis industry in California is big business, but it’s tricky.  With the federal government laws making marijuana sales illegal, it’s been challenging for cannabis businesses to run their financials through federal banks, therefore most of them operate in cash. Then there’s the issue of taxation, and the sales tax percentages differ by region.  In Los Angeles, for example, adult-use consumers will be subject to a 15% city sales tax along with 9.5% county sales tax, but patients holding a valid medical card will be exempt from state and local sales tax. State revenue projections from these tax fees were to exceed $50 million in the first year, but whether it’s pacing that way so far remains to be seen. Existing medicinal businesses are finding their way with temporary license laws while emerging cannabis industry start-ups are jockeying for position. State and local law enforcement are navigating these new waters, as well. Along with developing protocols and standards for criminalization laws, funds from the taxation proceeds will go toward medicinal cannabis research, drug education, treatment and prevention, and the CHPs efforts for developing new DUI protocols.

Time will tell how these various changes will ultimately play out in terms of the culture of consumption.  Will company happy hours be replaced with cannabis?  Probably not.  But you may want to rewrite your corporate handbook to reflect your own policies toward cannabis in the workplace.

Click here for more information on cannabis laws and policies, courtesy of the California Bureau of Cannabis Control.

GPA will offer complimentary handbook review and development for our clients depending on the size of the group. Please contact us to learn if your company qualifies.

Department of Labor Proposes Expansion of Association Health Plans for Small Businesses

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently announced changes to the expansion of Association Health Plans or Small Business Health Plans, releasing an official Notice of Proposed Rulemaking or NPRM.  This announcement follows an executive order issued by President Donald Trump instructing regulators to discuss new options for small businesses to form groups for the sake of purchasing larger health insurance plans, thus allowing them to qualify as Association Health Plans (AHPs).  In theory, joining together in expanded associations would allow small businesses and sole proprietors to provide expanded coverage, including essential health benefits, by allowing reduced costs through the economies of scale, larger AHPs would achieve. But it will all depend greatly on the fine print. The specific details regarding the amount of flexibility these newly expanded AHPs will be given to avoid state laws and regulations will be crucial. So, who would qualify for this and how would it be implemented?  At this point, the minutiae is still under discussion and no actual regulatory changes will be going into effect until further guidance is issued. However, the NPRM does provide some key details of what is likely to go into effect.

First, the proposed expansion would modify the current definition of “employer” to qualify for a “commonality of interest.”  To meet the current conditions, interested employers must first pass a narrow “commonality of interest” test to form an AHP. The rules to qualify are strict and very few groups are able to meet them.

Employers offering benefits through most existing association plans are currently subject to the small group or individual health insurance rules of that particular employer. The DOL is proposing to expand the definition of “commonality of interest” so that more employers would be able to form large group AHPs. The NPRM offers two new AHPs-- those who share common industries or those residing in the same metropolitan area. Sole proprietors and independent contractors who qualify would also be allowed to join an AHP, even without other employees.

Current rules require that an association across multiple businesses must already exist for other business purposes before it can sponsor a health plan for its members. The newly proposed rules would allow such an association to exist solely for the purpose of offering health coverage. However, those associations that are formed for this purpose would require employers to have a formal organizational structure, including a governing body and a set of bylaws.

Under the proposed rules, individual states will continue to regulate self-insured AHPs as Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangements (MEWAs). State insurance laws differ by state and the newly formed AHPs will need to abide by these applicable state insurance laws, including the state’s right to regulate self-insured MEWAs. These regulations in many states include specific financial and state reporting requirements for these plans, making it challenging for the self-insured.

From now until March 6th, the Department of Labor is discussing options regarding the fine print, including exceptions to the rules to help AHPs avoid state-mandated MEWA regulations. These modifications will be important for those AHPs looking to provide benefits through a self-insured plan.

Existing HIPAA and ACA health nondiscrimination rules would also still apply to AHPs. Membership to an AHP cannot be denied due to a pre-existing condition, and nondiscrimination rules regarding eligibility, special enrollments, premiums, and other factors would still apply. The rules would also prohibit these associations from treating the separate employers differently from one another, so individual employers will be limited in their abilities to customize employer-by-employer underwriting or rating.

If the proposed new rules are finalized, formal guidance will need to be issued to allow small businesses the time to explore these new options with their employees, form alliances and sift through the effects. These expansions may allow employers increased health insurance options for their employees, but much will vary state by state for those that qualify. The DOL review period continues through March 6th and they will be providing further guidance in the latter part of the year.

Questions?  We are here to help. Give us a call at 949-583-2925 or via email at

To view the full NPRM, click here.


Beginners Guide to Using Essential Oils for Health

Beginners Guide to Using Essential Oils for Health

Gone are the days when essential oils were found solely in grandma’s purse and the odd medicine cabinet. These aromatic, calming oils have grown especially popular with the younger crowd, thanks to magazines and bloggers sharing their experience with trendy diffusers. And while lavender and eucalyptus oils can fill a room with a calming scent to create a relaxing atmosphere, these oils are much more than natural fragrances. Not only can you use essential oils to clean your home, they also provide various health benefits. 

Essential Oils 101

Essential oils originate in different areas of sweet-smelling plants, like flowers, leaves and even seeds.  They help...