To help employers prepare for the new Massachusetts PFML y Connecticut Paid Leave programs that begin on January 1, 2021, we sat down with Grant Van Der Beken, Regional Sales Director for New England, and Meghan Pistritto, Director of Product Management to gain some insight into steps employers need to take to meet the state’s requirements.
Laura: Hi everyone and welcome to another edition of the Line on Leave podcast. I’m Laura Marzi, the Chief Marketing Officer for Group Benefits at The Hartford.
Today we’re going to talk about the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which gave millions of Americans access to Paid Leave. We know that’s temporary – and that law is supposed to sunset at the end of 2020. But there are two new state Paid Leave programs that will soon launch and they’re right here in New England.
So today we thought we’d talk about Paid Family and Medical Leave specifically in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Here with us to give an update on the status of those new programs are two experts from The Hartford: Grant Van Der Beken, who’s our Regional Sales Director for New England, as well as Meghan Pistritto, who’s Director of Product Management here at The Hartford.
Welcome Grant and Meghan! So Grant, I thought we’d start with you, and let’s start with MA PFML since that is fast approaching. Can you tell us the top three most common questions you are hearing from your clients and brokers?
Grant: Yeah, Laura thank you, and by the way, thank you for considering me to be an expert – I consider myself to be sitting amongst experts in MA Paid Family and Medical Leave, but in three words, MA PFML can be summed as, what happens next. There are three areas I want to discuss:
Implementation. For customers going with The Hartford’s private plan, we’ve made the implementation process very easy on the customer, and we’re working on getting sold case materials out to those customers.
2021 Exemptions. Meanwhile, customers do need to file a 2021 declaration with the state for their exemption and that is different than their 2019/2020 declaration. So customers that are going with The Hartford, you will be hearing from us in terms of the 2021 declaration that needs to be signed and submitted.
And lastly, Laura, it really is claim process – whether you with the state or with The Hartford – how does MA PFML integrate with current STD, LTD plans?
Whether with the state or with The Hartford, how does MA PFML integrate with current STD/LTD plans. Fortunately at The Hartford, if you’re with us for a private plan exemption, we use a single handler model, which means we’ll adjudicate the Short-Term Disability (STD), the PFML and the Leave Management all under one roof. So for a lot of our customers there’s full integration with their current programs.
Laura: So Meghan, are those questions different for CT? And what are you hearing from your expert sources within the industry?
Meghan: Yeah so I think the questions are a little different Laura, and that’s because CT is at a different stage than MA. A lot of the things that we’re hearing in CT are really around how employers are supposed to register with the state, how that opt-out process will look like, and what are they supposed to be thinking about and doing right now. Unlike MA where all employers defaulted to the MA state, in CT every employer has to take action. So the Authority, who is responsible for administering the program here in CT, has stood up a portal and every employer in the state of CT has to go to that portal and register with the state. So you have to register whether you’re going with the state or if you choose to go with private, so that’s a little bit of difference, and I know the Authority’s done a great job with education to employers around that step.
Additionally, another big question that we are receiving is around that opt-out process, and what exactly is required. Similar to MA, there will be a Declaration of Insurance that has to be signed and filed with the Authority. And there’s also going to be a voting process and this is very different than most, if any, states, and we’re still learning what that will look like. What we do know is that in CT an employer must get 50% + 1 of all CT employees to agree to a private plan. The Authority is right now working on a bunch of materials that employers will be able to use with that process. Again, we’re still learning a lot in terms of what that will look like – so that’s really a lot of the questions that we’re getting around how do I register and what are my options.
Laura: Got it – and Meghan, in your opinion, are both programs on track to begin paying benefits? Our understanding is that MA needs to be ready paying by the first of 2021, and CT by early 2022, right?
Meghan: That’s right, and as we know, both states are on track, which is great given everything that happened with COVID obviously. Not just employers and employee were impacted by COVID, but states were impacted as well. Even given everything they were up against, both states seem to be on track.
Laura: So, if we go back to trends in MA – Grant – can you tell us about information about early plan trends that you’ve seen, and based on the information you folks were just sharing with us, are more employers opting to use the state program, a private plan, or are they going to self fund – what do you think?
Grant: Yeah, so Laura, if no trend is a trend, than you are in the right place with MA PFML. So every customer’s situation is a little bit different. So some employers have a small population in MA, some have a very large population, some employers have a plan in place today and others do not.
So what we’re doing here at The Hartford, is that no two customers are the same or identical. And our Product and Service teams have been doing a really great job making sure our recommendations at the customer level are specific to that customer. Anyone that we insure, we are double checking that they are in the appropriate spot that makes sense for them.
In terms of funding of the program, many customers know and understand their claims costs and claim incidence under a traditional Short-Term Disability plan, which would be very similar to the medical portion of MA PFML. One of the unknowns is about Family Leave, so how it that claim incidence and claim cost impacted.
So as a result, because of the unknown with the Family program and claim costs, we have a lot of customers that are going with us for a fully insurance program as a way for them to manage and budget their costs for at least year one. The exception are the customers that feel that due to their demographics or their claims experience, they feel like a self-funded model might be a financial advantage for them.
Laura: OK got it. So as we mentioned earlier, the FFCRA has given Paid Leave access to employees who work for companies with under 500 lives. Have you seen this give employers more perspective and more experience with the concept and how to administrate PFML?
Grant: Maybe less around the mechanics of how to provide benefits and adjust schedules, but what we’ve seen is more empathy for individuals. Speaking personally, COVID has given me an appreciation for the people in my life and the people I work with – and all of us have blurred the lines between work and home and adjusted quickly to changes in our business. So what I look for in employers, is the empathy COVID has helped us adjust to. And it really has underscored the need for empathy in our society towards individuals. And PFML plans that are going into effect, it really heightens the sense of empathy that we should be feeling in our society.
Laura: Totally agree, in fact we just did some proprietary research at The Hartford, and we’ve seen so many statistics in what I call the rise of the compassionate workplace where everyone is really trying to understand what it means to bring your whole self to work. And I think these Leave laws actually really underscore that to your point.
Meghan, if we can pivot back to CT, we know that CT PFML law has a private plan option but employers can only offer a private plan if majority of employees vote in favor. So to break that down, does this put a greater focus on the importance of effective employee education and outreach? What do you think?
Meghan: Yeah, absolutely. Education is always important, but it’s even more so important now. These are extremely complex benefits, to Grant’s point around the empathy with COVID and the value we see now with these PFML benefits – it’s becoming more prevalent in the industry. It may ne new for them, but it’s not new for us. We are definitely responsible to make sure that education is happening and not just at employer level, but definitely at the employee level.
It’s always been important, but when you have an employee vote, it highlights that as well. As I said before in CT, in terms of the vote, employers have to receive 50% + 1 of employees to agree to opt-out of the state plan in order to move forward. So The Hartford has created both employee and employer education material that is available on our website – if you’ve not been out there, it’s thehartford.com/pfml, and we are experts in this Paid Family and Medical Leave space – we’ve been doing this for years, and we make sure we’re available at every step of the process to help our customers. And our customers not just being the employers, but the employees as well.
With that, there is education – a ton of education – out there, and one of the biggest things we want to highlight as well is the timing around the education. As we know in CT, benefits don’t start until January of 2022, but deductions start in January of 2021, so starting to educate your employees now is extremely important.
We’ve also been working very closely with the Authority – like I said earlier, the Authority is the department in CT that’s responsible for the administration of the PFML program. And what they’ve done is created what’s called a plain language document which really simplifies and puts in simpler terms what exactly a PFML program in CT is going to look like. This document will be available to all state employers. And if you are looking to opt-out of the state plan, this document must be provided to all employees two weeks prior to the employee vote. So this is also highlighting that the Authority is putting a great emphasis on education as well because they are really in lock step with carriers helping to create material that can be provided to employees what they are voting on, and the benefits for opting-out.
Laura: Perfect, thank you Meghan. I wanted to ask one more question today while I have both of you on the podcast. Maybe we’ll start with you Grant. Can you tell us any lessons you’ve learned from prior state rollouts, and I’m thinking specifically about WA and NY – Grant, what do you think?
Grant: Expertise. I think we at The Hartford has done an excellent job rolling out a thoughtful approach to MA PFML. And I think that’s built on being an industry leader in statutory. Behind the scenes we have some of the best people – and one of the best people I know of is the second guest on this podcast, Meghan Pistritto. People like Meghan have been working over 24 months to bring a holistic solution to clients. So, a lot of its based on the customer feedback. And Laura, with the number of clients that are trusting us, I think it’s working pretty well, so I’m very pleased with our expertise.
Laura: Great, Meghan, what do you think, just to close us out? What are some lessons you’ve learned?
Meghan: Well first of all thank you Grant – that was very nice of you. My biggest advice and lessons learned is to start early. As I’ve mentioned beforehand, CT for instance, the benefits don’t begin until January 2022, but deductions start January 1, 2021, and that is literally months away at this point. And if you’re looking to opt-out and looking at a private plan option, all of that education needs to start now. So don’t wait – don’t think this is something that’s coming a year down the pipeline, it’s here, and you need to start early. So that is my biggest advice for an employer who has any employees in these states that are passed, or pay attention, there are states that are looking to pass. Pay attention to the dates, and it’s not just the dates that benefits start, but really around that opt-out and deduction period. That’s my biggest advice – start early and don’t wait.
Laura: Perfect, OK, well thank you Grant, thank you Meghan. I’m glad we had a moment to catch up on both of these state programs. Thank you all for listening. If you like what you hear, we’ve talked a lot about the expertise of The Hartford and where you can get information. We’d love for you to subscribe to our podcast to get some best practices on managing workforce Absence. And if you do want more information on the MA and CT PFML programs, please visit our Resource Center and that’s very easily accessible at thehartford.com/pfml. Thank you all for listening today.