Recently, researchers at Talos—a cyber intelligence unit of Cisco—warned consumers of malware (malicious software) that specifically targets networking devices. The malware, which is known as VPNFilter, impacts an estimated 500,000 routers worldwide, particularly targeting devices from the following manufacturers:
Once on your equipment, the malware could stop your router from working, collect information from any systems that run through it and even block network traffic. Experts are concerned over the scope of the attack, as anyone owning a router from the affected manufacturers could be at risk, including businesses and individuals.
Agencies like the FBI have also expressed concern over VPNFilter, as this particular brand of malware can be used in espionage attacks on military, security and other government organizations.
Reduce Your Risk by Resetting Your Router
Unfortunately, there’s no simple way to tell if your router is infected. To protect yourself, it is recommended that you:
If you’ve had a fire, water damage or another unfortunate event in your home, don’t fret. We have all the information that you need to get your claim underway so you can get your life back to normal.
When you have a homeowners insurance claim, your actions can make all the difference. Here’s how to maneuver through the claims process with ease:
Let us help you throughout the process—contact TWFG Insurance - Voiron Insurance Services, LLC if you have questions or concerns.
As a means to reduce rising health care costs, innovative solutions are rising to the surface. One such solution is known as direct primary care (DPC).
What is DPC?
In this model, physicians, pediatricians and internists charge a monthly membership fee that covers most of what the average patient needs, including visits and drugs at lower prices, instead of accepting insurance for routine visits. As a result, DPC can provide substantial savings to patients. Consider the following:
Because they don’t operate under the typical fee-for-service model, many DPC providers are able to spend more time with their patients. Research shows that patients who have a good relationship with their doctor receive better care and are happier with the care they receive.
Does DPC replace the need for health insurance?
No, in fact, DPC providers recommend that their patients have some form of insurance to protect themselves in the event of an emergency. Remember, DPC is for primary care. It will not take care of catastrophic injuries, surgeries or trips to the emergency room.
How popular is DPC?
DPC is emerging as a way to combat rising health care costs and maintain a high quality of care. Those who partner with the right providers may find great success with this type of health care model. While DPC has grown steadily in the past few years, the market is still slow. Despite this, DPC providers and supporters are optimistic about its future.
As health care costs continue to climb and the prevalence of expensive chronic conditions increases, the importance of choosing the right doctor and type of care is exemplified. DPC presents a way for employees to receive more personalized health care while containing their health care costs. Moreover, DPC can be an attractive option for employees with high deductible health plans and health savings accounts, as it would provide them with the option of receiving care without paying high out-of-pocket costs.
It may be worth it for you to further investigate this model and evaluate if it’s right for your organization. For more information on DPC, please contact us today.
Fun in the sun is even better when you have a swimming pool in your backyard to stay cool on hot, summer days. Despite all the entertainment that a swimming pool offers, there are also homeowner liabilities. To help you minimize your risk, we’ve gathered some safety tips to keep you in the know as you swim.
To Minimize Drowning Risks:
As the homeowner, you are liable for the safety of all swimmers. To ensure that you can adequately protect people on your property, consider taking life-guarding, CPR and first aid courses so you know what to do in an emergency.
Chances are you are under insured and could benefit from umbrella coverage if you:
Liability comes in many forms. Here are a few of the ways you may be responsible for damages beyond what your current home and auto policies cover.
It’s no secret that distracted driving accidents, fatalities, and the resulting medical care costs are on the rise, making higher limits more important than ever. Even relatively minor accidents can incur substantial medical bills. If an accident involves disability or death, the costs can be hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars. Those with teenage drivers incur greater risk as teens are more likely to have a serious crash.
Do you have children?
Those with children, teen and adult children living with them can benefit from an umbrella policy, as you could be liable for injuries to others’ children during carpooling, a playdate or babysitting. Even if your child attends a party where there is an injury or death, you can be sued, even if your child did nothing wrong.
Do you entertain at home?
If so, you could be liable for everything from trip/fall hazards, to food poisoning, to someone drinking alcohol at your house and getting in a car accident on their way home. A homeowner’s policy worth $300,000 won’t go very far if the courts award a $500,000 judgement against you.
What about pets?
While dog bites only comprise a third of all homeowner’s liability, according to the Insurance Information Institute, even friendly dogs can frighten or knock down elderly or youthful guests and cause injury.
Personal injury and personal offense liability.
Gossip can be hurtful. It can also result in painful lawsuits. People can be sued for embellishing an embarrassing story about someone, writing a bad review of a business, re-posting material subject to copyright laws, or even a rant on social media. In short, anyone can sue another person for any reason, frivolous or not. Regardless of the validity of the suit, you must respond.
Drop down protection. Do you travel overseas?
You may be at risk without realizing it. For instance, if you rent a car and have an accident, your home or auto policy probably won’t cover it. Likewise, if you rent a boat while on vacation, you are likely without protection. But an umbrella policy may provide primary liability in both situations. Further, if you are sued personally, the umbrella may cover your legal defense. A good attorney starts at $250 an hour, but with personal umbrella insurance, you could receive extended protection for less than a dollar a day.
You don’t have to be rich to be sued like it.
Some people assume that since they aren’t rich, they can’t get sued since they don’t have the money to pay. However, the courts disagree. If a person is held responsible, or even partially responsible, for an accident, their wages can be garnished, their savings taken, and in some states their home and other assets seized. While financial responsibility rules vary from state to state, not having umbrella insurance exposes you to a lot of risk.
A personal umbrella policy is an inexpensive hedge against such risks. Many times, umbrella insurance is available for around a dollar a day. In short, bad things happen to good people. The key is to do a thorough interview with your agent about your family, your lifestyle, and hobbies. He or she can use that information to determine if your risk is tangible so you can make a more informed decision about liability and umbrella insurance.
Article from 2/26/18 Insurance Journal - insider-tips-for-increasing-umbrella-sales
Written by Brook McGuire is the Strategy Lead for Specialty Products at Safeco Insurance.
Workers on a shift schedule tend to have poor eating habits and lack regular exercise, which can contribute to sleep problems, fatigue and stress. Read this article to learn how shift workers can fight fatigue.
Minding Your Mental Health
For some, work can be a major source of stress due to heavy workloads, pressure to perform at a high level, job insecurity, long work hours, excessive travel and conflicts with co-workers. Read on to learn when you should consider speaking to your manager about your mental health.
For shift workers, unconventional schedules can take a toll on health and safety. In fact, research shows that people who sleep during the day often struggle with getting an adequate amount of rest.
What’s more, workers on a shift schedule tend to have poor eating habits and lack regular exercise, which can contribute to fatigue and stress. To combat these adverse health factors, shift workers should consider doing the following:
It’s important to be mindful about your scheduling, and avoid permanent or consecutive night shifts whenever possible. In addition, employees should be allowed to gradually change from night shifts to normal shifts, as this gives the body time to recover and adapt to a new schedule.
Fatigue due to poor quality or lack of sleep can affect every aspect of an individual’s life, and can severely hamper one’s ability to perform at work. Speak to a doctor if you are concerned about the quality of your sleep or want more general health tips.
For some, work can be a major source of stress due to heavy workloads, pressure to perform at a high level, job insecurity, long work hours, excessive travel and conflicts with co-workers.
Over time, this level of stress can lead to insomnia, anxiety, depression, low morale and drastic mood swings. Overcoming these symptoms isn’t always easy, but knowing when to step back and evaluate your mental health can help.
Evaluating your mental health is incredibly useful when it comes to decompressing and alleviating stress caused by workplace factors.
While mental health and workplace stress can vary on an individual basis, the following are some examples of when speaking with a manager can help reduce workplace stress:
Employers with group health plans must generally extend coverage to the children of an employee when a state court or agency issues a qualified medical child support order. A National Medical Support Notice (NMSN) is the standardized document that state agencies use for the medical child support order.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently issued frequently asked questions (FAQs) for employers about NMSNs. These FAQs address a variety of topics related to NMSNs, including how to administer the notice and coverage requirements.
Employers with group health plans may sometimes receive medical child support orders, requiring them to extend coverage to an employee’s children. These FAQs are helpful because they answer common questions about NMSNs.
Employers should also be aware that there are additional requirements that apply under ERISA when an employer receives a medical child support order, such as a requirement to notify the employee about the order.
HHS has provided the following FAQs for employers on the NMSN:
When is the NMSN sent to the employer?
Child support agencies send the NMSN to employers when appropriate. Specifically, when:
• A new child support order is issued requiring a parent to provide medical coverage;
• An existing order is modified;
• The parent(s) ordered to provide health care coverage has a change in employment; or
• It is not clear that the parent is complying with an existing order to provide coverage.
The NMSN is divided into two parts, Part A and Part B. Part A is a Notice to Withhold for Health Care Coverage and includes the employer response and instructions. Part B is a Medical Support Notice to the Plan Administrator and includes the plan administrator response and instructions.
Does the release of private medical information in response to the NMSN violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)?
No. The Privacy Rule at 45 CFR 164.512(f) permits a health plan to respond to a request for information by a child support agency that issued a NMSN. The Privacy Rule allows a medical plan administrator to disclose protected health information in response to the NMSN.
Do I enforce the NMSN to cover the child(ren) of a recently terminated employee if the employee elected self-only COBRA coverage?
Yes. A child covered by a group health plan is a beneficiary under the plan. The covered child is a qualified beneficiary with the right to elect continued coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) if the plan is subject to COBRA and if the child loses coverage because of a qualifying event.
Can the plan administrator change the employee’s coverage to a different option even if it affects the employee’s premiums?
Yes. The plan administrator may take whatever steps necessary to enroll the children named in the NMSN if coverage is available and the premiums can be deducted within the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) limits.
What should I do if the employee is no longer eligible for employer-sponsored medical insurance coverage?
You should notify the child support agency that sent the NMSN.
What should I do if the medical insurance provider changes?
You should notify the child support agency that sent the NMSN.
What should I do if the employee no longer makes enough money to continue employer-sponsored medical insurance coverage?
You should stop withholding premiums if your employee cannot make the payments within the CCPA limits and notify the child support agency.
What should the employee do if he or she does not make enough money to cover the medical insurance premiums?
Your employee should look at other options to provide medical insurance coverage, such as:
• Enroll in the Health Insurance Marketplace;
• Obtain private coverage; or
• Enroll his or her child in a state Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The employee should also notify the child support agency to modify the medical support order.
Are withholdings for medical support subject to the CCPA limits?
Yes. In most states, payments deducted from an employee’s pay for medical support are subject to CCPA limits. However, some states require that medical support premiums be withheld before computing the maximum to withhold under the CCPA. See HHS’ Income Withholding Requirements Matrix for information on state withholding priorities and other withholding information.
Does withholding for medical support have a higher priority than child support?
Not usually. Most states give priority to current child support. However, state law governs the priority given to ongoing child support and medical support, so please refer to the Income Withholding Requirements Matrix for information on priorities and withholding information.
Who can I contact with questions about the NMSN?
You should contact the state child support agency that issued the NMSN. The contact information is in the top box on Page 1. You can also find each state’s point of contact on HHS’ State Medical Support Contacts and Program Information Matrix.
Who completes Part A of the NMSN?
The employer completes Part A if the employee:
• Is not eligible for health insurance;
• Has been terminated; or
• Does not have enough disposable income to cover the health care premiums.
If any of the above applies, the employer must complete Part A and return it to the child support agency and discard Part B. If the employer determines that the employee is eligible to provide coverage, the employer forwards Part B to the plan administrator.
Who completes Part B of the NMSN?
The plan administrator completes Part B and returns it to the child support agency. The plan administrator may enroll the child in existing coverage or notify the child support agency about other coverage options available to the parent(s). Once the child is enrolled in a plan, the plan administrator will let the employer know how much to deduct for the insurance premium. The employer may determine whether the premium and ongoing child support exceed the CCPA limits under the state priority for withholding. If so, the employer will notify the child support agency using Part A of the NMSN – the Employer Response.
Must I determine if the cost of medical support coverage is reasonable?
No. The child support agency generally determines if the cost to cover the children is reasonable.
Must I determine which parent meets the Affordable Care Act (ACA) affordability test before enrolling the children?
No. If a child support agency sends the NMSN, the employer has to use the child support definition of reasonable cost, not the ACA’s affordability test.
TWFG Insurance Tony Voiron
Governor John Bel Edwards has declared the week of February 18th to February 24th to be “Severe Weather Awareness Week” in Louisiana. The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP), the National Weather Service (NWS) and other partners encourage the public to Get A Game Plan to protect themselves, their families and their homes in the event of severe weather.
“Severe weather can happen anywhere in the state and during any season,” said GOHSEP Director James Waskom. “Dangerous conditions develop quickly and having your personal emergency plans in place can save lives. Use the information provided this week and GOHSEP’s Get A Game Plan resources to help protect your family, your home and your business. Be aware of the risks you face when severe weather strikes. GOHSEP and our partners will be sharing important safety information through social media each day for Severe Weather Awareness Week.”
Meteorologist-in-Charge National Weather Service Ken Graham said, "We can see severe weather any time of the year in Louisiana. Now is the time to review your severe weather plans and practice them well before the next weather warning. Our meteorologists are on duty 24 hours a day and when we issue a warning, it is time for action since every second counts. Remember a WATCH means conditions are favorable for severe weather or flooding. A WARNING means we detected severe weather on radar or received a report of severe weather."
GET A GAME PLAN:
This kit should include, among other supplies: flashlights, extra batteries, a battery-powered radio and lantern, a first aid kit, canned food and a non-electric can opener, special medical items for any members of the family with special needs, high energy foods like peanut butter and jelly, crackers and granola bars, a utility knife, plastic sheeting, protective clothing and rain wear, a change of clothes for each family member and at least three gallons of water per person and pet.
Gathering supplies in one place will help families locate them in the event of a power outage. If a family must leave its home, the kit can go with them.
IRS Issues New Tables for 2018 Tax Withholding
Starting Feb. 15, 2018, employers must use new tables to determine how much income tax to withhold from their employees’ paychecks. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued the required new tables, in Notice 1036, on Jan. 9, 2018. The notice contains early release copies of the “Percentage Method Tables for Income Tax Withholding” that will appear in IRS Publication 15 (“Employer’s Tax Guide”).
According to the IRS, Notice 1036 is the first in a series of steps that the agency will take to help employers improve the accuracy of their tax withholdings under changes made by a new tax reform law, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, enacted on Dec. 22, 2017.
Employers should become familiar with the new tables and begin using them as soon as possible, but no later than Feb. 15, 2018. Employers should also monitor the IRS’s Notice 1036 website for future guidance regarding income-tax withholding under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
BackgroundThe Tax Cuts and Jobs Act made several changes to the tax code that will affect individual taxpayers in 2018. For example, the new law:
New Tables Work with Existing Forms
W-4 for 2018The new tables in Notice 1036 are designed to work with the Forms W-4 that employees have already filed with their employers to claim withholding allowances for 2018. Thus, employers do not need to obtain updated Forms W-4 from their employees to start using the new tables.
For 2019, however, the IRS is revising Form W-4 to more fully reflect the new law and to help individuals determine whether to adjust their withholding. Once released, the revised Form W-4 can be used in 2018 by employees starting a new job and by existing employees who wish to update their withholding in response to the new law or changes in their personal circumstances. Until the revised Form W-4 is released, employees and employers should continue to use the 2017 Form W-4.
Future GuidanceIn addition to the Form W-4 updates in progress, the IRS is currently revising its online tax-withholding calculator to help individuals determine their withholding under the new tax law. The IRS anticipates that the new calculator will be available by the end of February, 2018, and encourages taxpayers to use it to adjust their withholding as soon as it is released. According to the IRS, the Form W-4 and calculator revisions will reflect additional changes made by the new tax law, including:
Changes in available itemized deductions;
The IRS also indicated that it will include more detailed guidance on tax withholding, along with the information in Notice 1036, in Publication 15 and related publications in early 2018.
Cyber security researchers recently announced the discovery of two major security flaws that could allow hackers to bypass regular security measures and obtain normally inaccessible data. The flaws, referred to as Meltdown and Spectre, are both caused by design flaws found in nearly all modern processors. These vulnerabilities can be exploited to access all of the data found in personal computers, servers, cloud computing services and mobile devices.
Because Meltdown and Spectre are both caused by design flaws, experts believe that they will be harder to fix than traditional security exploits. Additionally, software patches that have already been released to help address the vulnerabilities can cause computer systems to slow down significantly, which may impact their ability to perform regular tasks.
Researchers believe that Meltdown and Spectre may be limited to processors manufactured by different companies, but also warn that the design flaws that contribute to Meltdown and Spectre have been present for years. Here are some key details about each flaw:
When Meltdown and Spectre were originally discovered in 2017, researchers immediately reported them to major hardware and software companies so work on security fixes could begin without alerting hackers. As a result, services and applications offered by companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple and Amazon have already been updated to help defend against the flaws. However, you shouldn’t rely solely on a software patch to protect against these vulnerabilities. Here are some steps you can take to protect your computer systems and devices from Meltdown and Spectre: