Employers that want to “reimburse” their employees for health insurance

In years past, employers would set up agreements with their employees where they would “reimburse” the employees for health insurance that they purchased on their own….basically bypassing the employer from obtaining a Group Health Plan as required by law.  These employers may be subject to a $100/day excise tax per applicable employee (which is $36,500 per year, per employee) under section 4980D of the Internal Revenue Code.  I don’t write this to scare anyone into purchasing a Group Health Plan from us, but to educate them on the fairly new rules of the IRS.  I’ve known a couple of employers that have been caught doing this.  The penalties were not as stiff as the ones described here, but not cheap either.

Employers can bring on a Group Health Plan, with very little employees enrolling

Once a year, the ACA allows businesses to put together a Group Health Plan with no regard for the number of employees that enroll.  There can be 99 employees and if ONE of them wants to enroll, we’re all good!  That once a year time is during the month of November, for a January 1 effective date.  Many of our groups have taken advantage of this little secret, and are now enjoying the benefits of complying with the law AND being able to deduct this as a business expense.  Call us for more details

Other benefits to having a Group Health Plan with an employer

Another benefit to having a Group Health Plan in place is that anything that an employEE spends on Employee Benefits, can be paid for with pre-taxed money.  With the simple installation of a POP Section 125 plan, the employee saves tax money on what they spend and the employer gets to reduce his Workers Comp liability by lowering the taxable income of employees.  A win-win.  A second benefit to a Group Health Plan is that the benefits are usually much better with a Group Health Plan vs. an Individual or Personal Health Plan, and there are much more plans and carriers available to choose from.

At Brauer Insurance, use us as a resource.  I will answer any of your Employee Benefit questions with NO expectation of doing business.


If you are one of the unlucky employers that are looking at a huge increase in your Kaiser Group Health Insurance for this year, or even Anthem Blue Cross Group Health Insurance, CalChoice Group Health Insurance or any of the other ones, you are not alone.  The rating system has changed for employers with between 50-99 employees and how they are charged.  Kaiser Group Health Insurance for these groups used to be a composite rating, meaning there was one price for a single employee regardless of age.  Now everything is age rated, so a 20 something is cheap and a 50+ is super expensive.  So what do you do now?  That depends on how strategic you want to be.

Group Health Insurance strategies for Kaiser, Anthem, HealthNet, CalChoice, Aetna, Blue Shield groups

To be strategic in the Group Health Insurance marketplace you have to be willing to be a little flexible and think outside the box.  There are Self Funded plans, Partially Self funded plans and even strategies you can put together for you and your employees with a normal Kaiser Group Health Plan.  Education for these, for the employees, is the key.  If you are used to a very robust and/or expensive, all inclusive plan, moving to something else may be a problem.  It sometimes feels like a take away by the employees.  Not exactly what you’re looking for, I get it.

When you are strategic with Anthem, Kaiser, Blue Shield Group Health Insurance plans, you must be careful

The last thing you want to do with your Group Health Plan is for your employees to feel like you’re taking something away from them, or they’re being cheated.  That’s why the education portion of doing all of this is very important.  The employees MAY have to spend a little more than they’re used to.  That happens all the time, but educating them about the changes is crucial.  At Brauer Insurance, we are a very hands on agency.  We personally come out to our groups and explain the plans, changes and how it can benefit employees.  It seems simple, but you’d be surprised at how many brokers only email their renewals over once a year and make no effort to speak about Kaiser Group Health Insurance plans with employers


Did your head explode when you saw your renewal for 2016?

If you are an employer with over 50 employees you will, or probably just got, a huge increase in your premium for the renewal this year.  Your rating method just changed as part of ObamaCare and I’m sure you took a big hit.  We’ve had groups with 50-70% increases for just this year.  Well…there is a way to battle that….maybe.  More importantly, how are you doing with all of the compliance mandates starting this year?  Between the ERISA documents you MUST have on file now, WRAP documents, SBC paperwork and more, its almost a full time job just getting compliant.  Oh yeah, the waiting period for many groups have changed too and they may or may not have informed you.   Hey, if you have a broker on top of it, keep them, there are not many around that know what they are doing.

Having a broker that is dialed in to the ACA mandates is critical to your business

Like I said…if your broker has you set straight with your WRAP document and SBCs, you’re in good shape.  If you are reading this and thinking what the hell is a WRAP….there’s a problem.  Call us, we are open to talking about it with NO expectation of doing business.  I’ve only been in the dysfunctional insurance industry for about 12 years now.  After 25 years of Police Work…I’d had enough.  I will say that there are a ton of clowns that do insurance.  They are either lazy, dumb or don’t know what they are doing.  Don’t get me wrong…there are really good people in this industry, but too many of us should be doing something else, not meddling with something this important.

Brokers come in all shapes and sizes and capabilities

I’ve said this a million times..if your broker has you compliant with the DOL and IRS, is showing you a strategy for your maximum savings, and meets with you periodically to keep you updated, keep them, we have nothing to talk about.  If not, maybe we should have a conversation.  Our services are free, so why not have an expert working with you.  At Brauer Insurance we ONLY do Employee Benefits and Health Insurance for businesses. When we started, I tried to do various lines of insurance.  I quickly realized that I would never become an expert at anything if I didn’t specialize, so here we are.


With the best of intentions many employers craft, edit and perfect culture statements full of noble principles, only to then have them ignored or used as the butt of ongoing jokes. Why?

There are a variety of reasons. Some of them include:

Employees know the HR consultant wrote it. Senior management hasn’t really bought in and won’t play by the same rules.
The values promoted don’t transfer into actual behaviors employees have seen in action.
Employees whose workplace behaviors fall short of the cultural ideal get rewarded with bonuses and promotions anyway.

What to do? Start by making sure your values are framed in terms of well-defined behaviors. For example one company has the Core Value “Embrace Change.” In behavioral terms this could be phrased “Deals successfully with ambiguity and change.”

To be sure your values are put into action, make sure all performance feedback includes implementation of core values and behaviors. Then, don’t reward performers who aren’t walking the cultural talk.

Finally, develop your culture statement within your management team with input from a task force of employees. If you just slap standards designed by an outsider into your handbook, it is often received with skepticism—as it should be. It doesn’t take a lot of time to develop a cultural behavioral statement, so why not put in a couple of hours to have a culture your employees will respect?


Offering Company Benefits can be a daunting task for an employer.  Company Benefits are expensive and very confusing.  Employers don’t know who to believe when they’re looking for sound advice on Company Benefits or Employee Benefits for Companies.  Having a broker that knows Health Insurance and Company Benefits is golden.  There are tons of brokers and agents that can sell you Health Insurance, but only a few that specialize in Company Benefits and Employee Benefits.  Good advice: Get a specialist, not a generalist.  Benefit brokers get paid by the insurance company….the price is the same for the employer, no matter who your Company Benefits broker is.  Its like getting the services of a Cardiologist, when you have a heart issue and not seeing a General Practitioner.

Company Benefits are a big deal when it comes to the employee’s health care

Not only are Company Benefits expensive, but if they are not done right, your employees suffer.  When I started this back in 2003, I never realized how important Company Benefits are.  If you screw something up, its a huge deal.  We are a family agency, with my kids and I making up the brokers in the office.  We take things personally.  When you are a Health Insurance Broker, you have all of the employee’s healthcare in your hands, if you make a mistake it could mean someone’s child doesn’t get care, or could cost the employee a ton of money.

Check the broker’s website, reviews, etc, to make sure they are the right fit for your Company Benefits

When you are thinking about your Company Benefits, I would do some due diligence and check out the broker and their agency.  That means looking at their reviews on Google, Yelp and other sources.  If there’s nothing there or you have some issues, you’ll see it pretty clearly…AND you’ll also see if they are a Specialist or a Generalist.  It makes a huge difference.  Make sure you get the representation you deserve.  Hey, you’re paying a ton of money each month for Company Benefits, you should expect the best.


If you are an employer struggling with figuring out Group Health Insurance for companies, you are not alone.  Group Health Insurance is confusing, frustrating and expensive.  Having a broker that knows what they are doing is critical.  Even more critical is finding a broker that specializes in Group Health Insurance.  Anyone can be a “jack of all trades” and a Generalist.  It takes some skill and knowledge to be a Specialist.  Group Health Insurance is a niche product.  I can’t even begin to tell you all of the mistakes I’ve made in the last 13 years figuring out what I did not know.  There is NO way that a broker can advise people on Group Health Insurance, and do it part time, or even alongside other lines of insurance.  There is just not enough hours in the day to learn this industry.

Having a Group Health Insurance expert is the key

Many brokers claim they know Group Health and Health Insurance.  I recommend people do their homework…Yelp them, check out their website.  How are their Google reviews?  You’ll get a sense of what they are all about pretty quick.  Being an expert in the Group Health industry means making sure each group is compliant with all of the mandates of the Affordable Care Act.  Are they supplying your group with all of the ERISA documents that you will need in case the Dept of Labor comes knocking.  Do you have a WRAP document or the SBC’s for your Group Health Plans?  If not, there’s a problem

Compliance is the name of the game with Group Health Insurance

It’s not hard to get compliant.  You just have to know how to do it.  Your broker should know.  If they don’t…..call us, we do.  Whether it’s Federal Cobra or any ERISA documents, the responsibility to have those documents in order and administered belongs solely to the EMPLOYER.  Any penalties associated with not having them will be paid by the employer.  The question I always ask employers is, “would you send a relative (that you like) with a heart problem to a General Practitioner or a Cardiologist”.  Kind of an extreme example, but you get the point.  Our services are free, not matter who represents you.


If you are an employer that is confused with what exactly to offer employees, what it will cost and the tons of mandates that are in place now….you are not alone.  Group Benefits and Small Group Benefits are not only confusing, they’re expensive.  We specialize in Group Benefits and Small Group Benefits for companies, but there are millions of agents that can help you…but buyer beware.  Just because someone has an insurance license, does not mean they are fit to give you advice on Group Health Benefits for your company.  Group Health Insurance is a VERY niche product.  There are many pitfalls and things to be careful of.  Many of which insurance “generalists” don’t know about.  Here’s my advice….if you have a broker that specializes in Group Health Benefits, they have you compliant with all the ERISA documents you have to have for the Dept of Labor, AND they’ve strategized your Group Benefits so that you’re not going broke…keep them.  There are not many of us around anymore

Having a Group Benefits expert is free to employers, our commission is built into the premium

No matter who is representing you as your broker, the cost to employers is the same.  Our commission is built into the premium of the Group Benefits product that you have.  It’s like having a heart problem and having your choice of seeing a General Practitioner or a Cardiologist for the same price…kind of a no brainer, huh!  We have been doing Small Group Benefits for companies for 13 years now.  When I started this in 2003, I quickly learned that I could not be an expert at everything and had to choose a specialty.  This is before things blew up with ObamaCare, but surprisingly, because we only do Group Benefits, we’ve thrived since the inception of ObamaCare.  Mostly because we understand it and can translate it for employers.

We translate ObamaCare into English for Group Benefit employers

Besides being expensive, Group Health Benefits and Small Group Benefits are confusing.  So confusing that many agents that don’t specialize in Group Benefits and Health Insurance come to us for advice on their own book of business.  Besides being featured on KPIX Channel 5, on their ObamaCare segments, I’ve taught Group Benefits and Employee Benefits at UC Santa Cruz Extension in Santa Clara.


Last piece of advice….find yourself an expert, whether its us or someone else, use the expertise of someone that knows what they’re doing to help you navigate the crazy waters of Group Benefits and Small Group Insurance.


Steve Brauer-Principal, Brauer Insurance Services LLC (408) 421-5555


Don’t be tricked by phony health insurance offers

The old adage of “you get what you pay for” is very true when it comes to Health Insurance.  Whether you are talking about Group Health Insurance or Individual Health Insurance, if the pricing is considerably lower than what you are used to, there is probably a good reason.  I’m contacted weekly by people that ask my opinion about offers of insurance that are ridiculously low.  The person, or business owner, is contacted by an “agent” that is offering coverage for a couple of hundred dollars a month per person, no matter what the age.  Right there, red flags should be flying high and bells going off.  If the agent is not quoting you a major insurance company, like Kaiser, Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Aetna, HealthNet, or Cigna, its most likely a scam.  The companies I just mentioned are fully insured, health plans.  Anything less is not worth purchasing

Health Insurance for your business should not be left to chance

One thing is clear….nothing is cheap anymore.  The days of inexpensive Health Insurance, maybe with super high deductibles or without maternity coverage are long gone.  Thank you ObamaCare and the ACA (Affordable Care Act).  Just a few years ago, we were able to purchase a fully insured Health Insurance plan that maybe did not have all of the bells and whistles.  Some of them even had pretty high deductibles.  All of that went out the window with Obama and the NOT Affordable Care Act.  Basically it mandates that insurance companies had to have certain coverages within each of their policies, no matter what the consumers wanted.

ObamaCare did away with Health Insurance that was affordable

Let’s say you’re a male, in his 40’s, wanting to purchase a Health Insurance policy.  The policy NOW has to have maternity coverage, pediatric dental coverage (even though you don’t have any children), and limits the deductible amount.  Oh and by the way, the difference in price between someone 18 and someone in their 60’s, cannot be more than a factor of 3.  That means that the 60 year old’s price cannot be more than 3 times the price of the 18 year old.  On the surface, it doesn’t sound that bad.  But limiting the ability of insurance companies like this makes pricing increase…tremendously.


Poor Manager/Employee Communications: Is HBR Poll a Wake Up Call?

A recent Harvard Business Review article revealed the results of a Harris Poll that showed sixty-nine percent (69%) of managers feel “uncomfortable communicating with employees.”

I am sure this is no surprise to most people — since as employees, managers or human resources professionals we’ve all experienced one or both sides of an awkward, ineffective interaction.

The question is, what are you doing to address this seemingly pervasive problem?

Instead of shrugging your shoulders and attributing the problem to human nature, here are a few suggestions that are proven to help your managers become more effective communicators:

  1. Train your managers to give in-the-moment behavioral feedback. Many managers only know how to give criticism in 1:1 meetings or worse yet in annual performance reviews. The trend, especially with millennials, is to give feedback on the spot.

In the training, show how to give immediate feedback either in face-to-face conversations, text messages or by email with practical suggestions such as:

  • Feedback in person might be “Your creativity made all the difference!”
  • A text message with the ever-effective “Great job!” is generally appreciated.
  • Negative feed back in an email could read. “Your failure to show up at the team meeting this morning hurt the team.”
  1. Encourage senior management to lead by example. If in-the-moment feedback is going to be part of your culture, top management needs to learn, it, apply it and reward it.
  1. Teach managers to focus on top performers– I am sure you’ve noted that most top performers take critical feedback to heart. Your management time is better spent with your best performers who will often thrive on suggestions and challenges for professional and personal growth.
  1. Consider letting go of performers who don’t respond favorably to feedback. At-will employment means that you can fire poor performers without giving warnings and improvement plans. Make sure your employee handbook doesn’t make unnecessary promises of performance improvement steps prior to termination. Before termination, review your facts with a human resources attorney who may suggest offering a few weeks of separation pay in exchange for a release or may recommend a different approach if there is risk of a discrimination claim.


Kaiser plans for businesses, Bay Area, CA

Kaiser is one of the leading health insurance plans for businesses in CA.  Kaiser plans for businesses can be affordable and very comprehensive.  The Kaiser health insurance business plan is probably one of the cheapest ways to help insure your employees.  Kaiser is considered a “one stop shop”, when it comes to health insurance and being able to offer it to your employees.  Most of Kaiser’s services are at one location and easy for people to navigate their healthcare.  That is attractive to many people.

Kaiser insurance is highly rated and affordable for many people

If you are an employer that is paying for part of the Kaiser health plan for your employee, the employee has to pay for the other part themselves.  The more affordable the coverage, the less that the employee is required to contribute.  The amount that employees pay towards their insurance can be done on a pre-taxed basis and the employer saves money on their worker’s comp amount.  When the employee contributes towards their Kaiser Group Health Plan, they are paying less and saving taxes on that money

Kaiser Health Insurance plans are comprehensive

When you are a Kaiser health insurance member, there are yearly preventative services that are performed for free.  Kaiser is great at reminding their members to keep them on the preventative track.  Not so with the other carriers.  I’ve been a Kaiser member for a long time and realize that Kaiser has its drawbacks, but overall its been pretty good.  One of the things that people don’t like about Kaiser plans for businesses is that many times employees have to get a referral to see a specialist.  With PPOs, most times you can self refer and sidestep having to ask permission from your primary car physician.  Some people think that you cannot choose your own doctor with Kaiser Health Insurance.  Not so…you can choose one, but it has to be one of their doctors in their network

Overall, Kaiser is a pretty good value.  There is no such thing as a cheap health plan anymore…thanks ObamaCare for that.  Kaiser Health Plan for employees is affordable and super comprehensive though.


Steve Brauer, Principal, Brauer Insurance Services LLC, San Jose, CA