All posts by Kristen Frasch

Death to the HR Business Partner?

Someone recently shared this post on LinkedIn by Tom Rommens, who describes himself as “Passionate about HR.” I guess passion, then, would explain his headline: Would Somebody Please Kill the HR Business Partner?

His point, which I thought interesting enough to share, is that calling the HR leader of an organization a “business partner” doesn’t support the notion that “HR has become or will have to become part of the business itself. So,” he writes,

“we will have to kill the HR business partner … as a concept; please don’t hurt the actual people.”

Rommens mentions Dave Ulrich, Rensis Likert Professor of Business at the University of Michigan and a partner at The RBL Group in Provo, Utah, a good bit, primarily because he coined the term HR Business Partner in his long-running argument that HR professionals enable the business strategy through human resources. As Rommens puts it,

“I know it’s all semantics, but words do have their influence. I think it’s not accurate to call them partners. A partner is somebody who has a — positive, even interwoven — relationship with someone else but stands next to that other. Nobody calls the CEO a business partner; we don’t even consider the top IT guy to be one. [So why HR?]”

I reached out to Susan R. Meisinger, former president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, HR speaker and consultant, and HRE‘s HR Leadership columnist, for her take on this. Semantics, she says, is precisely what’s at issue. “Ah, another debate about semantics and HR,” she told me. She went on:

“It reminds me of the almost theological debate on whether the profession was ‘personnel’ or ‘human resources,’ followed by ‘people and/or ‘human capital.’ While I know that words can matter, I think sometimes there’s too much debate and focus on the words, rather than the concepts and information the words are trying to convey.

“In short, I don’t feel strongly about the debate — I do agree that the focus should be on HR’s role as an integral part of the business, without worrying about the label of ‘business partner.’ While [Ulrich] uses the term, he does it while describing a role that’s an integral part of the business. That’s where I’d rather see the focus.”

How strongly does Meisinger feel about the overuse of semantics arguments and buzz phrases in the HR profession? You be the judge. In her words:

“To the extent that it gives some HR professionals a greater sense of status — ‘I’m a partner in this endeavor, and my input/contribution is just as important’ — it might be helpful.

“But please, if they tell me they have to be a full ‘business partner’ to be sure they get ‘a seat at the table,’ I’ll go running and screaming into the night!”

401(k) Creators Lament Creation

A most interesting regret highlighted in the Wall Street Journal on Monday! (Subscription required.) Seems the handful of champions of the 401(k) retirement-savings vehicle now see the errors of their ways. Or the vehicle’s ways, anyway.

None of those mentioned and quoted in the compelling piece foresaw that the 401(k) would essentially replace pensions. And they see this as quintessential to the demise of the overall retirement picture in this country, and employees’ inabilities to save what they need.

We’ve certainly written our fair share of stories raising major red flags about the state of retirement and workers’ diminishing abilities to retire at all — both here on this HRE Daily site and in our magazine and on its website, HREOnline.com. But this is the first time any of us have heard from the horses’ mouths — the authors and early promoters of the savings vehicle — that they had no intention to launch and herald it as the nation’s sole retirement receptacle, if you will.

Ted Benna, a benefits consultant with the Johnson Cos. and one of the first to propose the vehicle back in 1980 — ergo his nickname, the father of the 401(k) — puts it this way in the piece:

“I helped open the door for Wall Street to make even more money than they were already making. That is one thing I do regret.”

Herbert Whitehouse, a former human resource executive for Johnson & Johnson and one of the earliest proponents of the 401(k) for employees, tells the WSJ that he and others were hoping and assuming back in 1981 that the savings approach would be a kind of supplement to company pensions.

What he and his co-horts didn’t imagine, he says, is that the idea would actually replace pensions as employers looked to cut costs and survive during subsequent downturns. As he puts it in the story:

“We weren’t social visionaries.”

The story is also rife with recommendations from today’s experts on how best to fix the problem and help employees save for retirement according to what they will actually need.

But as Benna tells WSJ,  he doubts “any system currently in existence” will be effectual for the majority of Americans.

A sad treatise, and no sadder than for those millions of Americans still in the workforce who can’t retire.

Empty Nesters’ Emptying Coffers

Full disclosure: I’m a softy when it comes to helping my grown kids. I frequently find myself opening my wallet more than I should, especially during this “giving” holiday. Not that they ask for it, just that I see needs in these lives I cherish, always have, and am probably quicker than most to contribute to the cause.

So I’ve been nagged ever since I came across this release from the SUM180 site about this study by the Boston College Center for Retirement ResearchDo Households Save More When the Kids Leave Home?

The answer to that question appears to be, in the words of SUM180, “not as much as you might think.”

Carla Dearing, the online financial-planning service’s CEO, doesn’t mince words in suggesting why empty nesters are only able to sock away 0.3 percent to 0.7 percent more than they were able to when they had much bigger bills and children in school.

“Among the explanations [are] empty nesters’ continued financial support of adult children,” she says. “Picking up their grown kids’ expenses — student loans, insurance, auto payments, smartphone bills — is a generosity those who have not yet saved enough for retirement can ill-afford.” She goes on to stress that:

“Those in their 50s — typically — are ideally positioned to accelerate their retirement savings: They’re at the peak of their earnings, the mortgage is paid and the kids are finished with college and out of the house. As this is possibly their final chance to ensure their retirement is financially stress-free, directing more into retirement savings must be their top priority.”

OK, I get that. I have been upping my 401(k) contributions fairly regularly. And I’m not picking up my grown kids’ living expenses as a matter of course. But oh is it ever hard to turn my back on those unforeseen needs in their stressed-out lives and the little lives they’re now raising. Yet that’s what Dearing is telling me to do. Get more selfish about my own survival. As her release says:

“Think of it as putting the oxygen mask on your face first. It may feel counter-intuitive, but, after all, your security in retirement is something your children want for you, too.”

I don’t think I’m alone in this baby-boomer weakness, fallacy, foible … call it what you will. And I do think it’s a problem specific to us boomers, not just because of where we are in our lives as parents, but because of where our heads are as parents as well. We’ve always wanted everything for our kids. We’ve always been willing to do everything in our power to see them not just make it, but succeed. How can we now dial this back and take better care of our own retirements? And is there something HR leaders can do to help this along in the workforce?

I put these questions to Dearing. She had some suggestions and observations worth sharing and thinking about:

“Too many boomer parents have a hard time drawing the line when it comes to helping their grown kinds financially, even when their own financial security is at stake. Helping your employees address this issue can have a big impact on their financial wellness, but it’s tricky. Dealing with money is always emotional; this is particularly true when family is involved.

“From an HR leader’s perspective, the challenge is to help employees make decisions about money and their children from a place of clarity and strength, rather than uncertainty and emotion.”

Here’s what she suggests, not just for boomers, but as talking points for the employers trying to help them:

“First, break through the emotional fog with real information. Give employees access to tools that help them get a handle on their own financial situation. You can encourage your employees to read books or attend workshops about communication and boundaries, you can keep trying to ‘educate’ parents about the importance of saving for retirement versus supporting grown kids financially, but in my experience, nothing beats real information for helping parents draw the line with their adult kids financially.

“The truth is, ‘putting on your own oxygen mask first’ is much easier when your eyes are wide open about your own financial shortfalls. When employees have a clear understanding of what they, themselves, need to regain control of financially, their priorities can naturally self-correct. Real information takes the guesswork out of the question, eases the emotional pressure and gives parents a rational framework for deciding whether they can truly afford to help.

“Second, bring the language of business to conversations with grown children about money. Chances are, your employees already know how to navigate business conversations with skill, tact and resolve. Show them that they can apply the same principles to financial conversations with their kids, and that this can go a long way toward defusing the emotion involved and arriving at sound decisions as a family. Some specific tactics worth sharing:

  • If a child wants to borrow money, the parent or parents should set up a meeting dedicated to discussing the loan and nothing else. Keep the meeting free of distractions such as household chores or family activities.

  • The parent or parents should maintain a businesslike tone and attitude throughout the conversation. If a child wants a loan, the parents should require a repayment schedule and an interest rate that they can be happy with.

  • Practice makes perfect. Saying no to one’s kids may never get easy, but it will get easier as they get used to approaching financial conversations in a rational, businesslike way.

“Let me close with a story that I think illustrates these two points. My client, a woman age 49, had a business that was doing fine, but not great. As we worked on her financial plan together, she realized two things: 1) Looking hard and honestly at WHY her business was underperforming, she was forced to admit that her son, the business’ controller, was not the best person for the job, and 2) She had a limited window of opportunity — 10 more years — to save and prepare for retirement. These realizations gave her the push she needed to finally give her son 12 months’ notice. Her son received plenty of time to transition elsewhere and she was able to start growing her business into the source of retirement income she needed it to be.”

Though I’m not running a business, therefore thankfully don’t have to think about firing one of my own kids, I do think having more resolve to “just say no” when my giving spirt goes into overdrive needs to be a New Year’s resolution. Or maybe it’s time to sit down and have that financial talk with them (though I think I’ll wait till after the holidays).

After all, I’ll be handing my retirement reality over to them one day. We should all be on the same page.

Amex Joins Parental-Leave Parade

American Express is the latest to board the parental-leave bandwagon. It is announcing today a significant step up in its 510042321-parents-newbornbenefits, not just to new moms and dads, but to those wishing to be.

The company will be making all of its 21,000 U.S.-based regular full-time and part-time employees (the company has 54,800 employees worldwide) eligible for 20 weeks of paid parental leave beginning on Jan. 1, 2017. In addition, it will be increasing its employee benefits for fertility, surrogacy, adoption and lactation.

Kevin Cox, Amex’s chief human resources officer, calls the step a reflection of the organization’s “continued investment in the overall well-being of our employees and their families.”

The new policy covers women and men welcoming a child through birth, adoption and surrogacy. In addition to the 20 weeks of paid parental leave, birthing mothers will be eligible to receive paid, medically-necessary leave related to the birth of their child, which is generally six to eight additional weeks.

In the words of David Kasiarz, senior vice president of global total rewards and learning at Amex, who I recently reached out to about the reasoning and motivation behind this move:

“In creating our new policy, we took a thoughtful approach. We looked at a variety of published research studies and gathered our employees’ overall thoughts on our current programs. We aimed to be inclusive of the needs of our diverse employee base. Most importantly, we wanted both women and men to feel like they can take the time they need to care for their families and bond with their children.”

He continues:

“Research shows that an increase in paid parental leave has a far-reaching, positive impact on the mental and physical health of employees and their families, as well as women’s career advancement. Better health for our employees and their families is good for them and it’s good for us.”

As mentioned above, “to help ensure employees feel supported from the moment they decide to become parents through their return to work and beyond,” as its release states, Amex is also increasing a variety of existing family benefits. Beginning Jan. 1, U.S.-based employees will be eligible for:

  • Benefits worth up to $35,000 per adoption or surrogacy event (up to a maximum of two events per employee) to help with the cost of surrogacy or adoption;
  • A lifetime maximum of $35,000 for infertility treatment, including advanced reproductive technology procedures, available under the company’s health plans;
  • Free 24-hour access to board-certified lactation consultants; and
  • Free breast-milk shipping while traveling on company business.

Added to all of the above, beginning in January, expectant parents will have access to a parent concierge, who will help employees understand and navigate parental leave and the wide array of parental resources and programs available to them.

Says Kasiarz:

“We have a long history of offering benefits to support [all employees] and continually invest in their overall well-being — it’s our signature cause. We believe these changes to our parental-leave policy are the next steps forward in our journey.”

Amex is certainly not the first to enter the parental-leave fray. A search of this site and our HREOnline.com site features numerous predecessors — “new-economy” companies (such as Microsoft, Amazon and Netflix) and older ones (such as Dow Chemical, Johnson & Johnson, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs). IKEA announced its expansion just last week.

Both searches also offer insights into the challenges still plaguing new working parents and the growing need for companies to find new and better ways to retain them.

As Kasiarz puts it:

” … parenting has changed — traditional parenting responsibilities have evolved and more LGBTQ families are having children. We feel the new policy strikes the right balance between our employees’ and our business’ needs.”

I anticipate — well, certainly hope — we’ll see more and more employers thinking along these lines.

Disability Stigma Alive and Well

Came across this post on LinkedIn the other day, reminding us all about the importance of giving disabled Americans the chance to 512903522-disabilityprove themselves in the workplace.

Included in the general reminder by Amber Fritsch, a talent-management consultant, were other reminders for employers — including  the new provisions regarding leave as a reasonable accommodation — the Employer-Provided Leave and the Americans with Disabilities Act — released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission earlier this year. Would be nice to think we’re moving in the right direction toward giving the more than 56 million Americans with disabilities a fair shake in corporate America.

But then I harked back to something I had come across earlier in the year — a mention of a movie I can’t say I’ve seen and can’t say I want to: Me Before You.

According to this recent post by Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbilityUSA.org, the film is “the latest Hollywood movie to end with the assisted suicide or euthanasia of the lead character with a disability.”

She calls it “yet another case of ‘ableism’ — prejudice that people with disabilities are somehow less human, less valuable, less capable than others — and should simply die.”

Pretty grim description, but not too far removed from the stigma disabled job candidates still face, she says. The latest research from Mizrahi’s organization shows the numbers of working disabled Americans is still woefully low.

It cites findings that only one-in-three Americans with a disability has a job today and, of those who do, 400,000 work in sheltered workshops, also known as “enclaves” or “crews.” These institutions literally and legally can and frequently do pay people with disabilities sub-minimum wages, says Mizrahi. She adds:

“The lack of opportunity for people with disabilities leads to poverty, prison and, as we see in the fictionalized true story behind Me Before You, even death.”

In a follow-up conversation, Mizrahi cited a Kessler Foundation study showing 70 percent of people with disabilities are working age and currently striving for work. Only 34 percent have any job, however. From her vantage point …

“There has been NO improvement in the labor-force-participation rate in decades for people with disabilities. Zippo. And because other groups made progress and we did not, the gap in [those] rates between people with and those without disabilities has increased substantially.” 

She thinks a serious, systemic and ongoing communications campaign highlighting the benefits of inclusive hiring and self-employment is needed in this country so “people with disabilities can achieve the American dream, just like anyone else.”

Not sure why this hasn’t happened yet. Also not sure what the underlying problem is. And it’s not like we haven’t probed the matter. This recent HREOnline news analysis shows problems of recognizable bias in the hiring process still in existence at a majority of companies.

As Paula Brantner, executive director of Workplace Fairness in Silver Spring, Md., says in that story:

“You start with the adherence to the law [i.e., the Americans with Disabilities Act], but until you get to where people can actually work side-by-side with someone who has a disability, it’s going to be hard to overcome some of those deeply held biases that are really unfounded in reality.

“HR needs to send the message that this is a company that welcomes workers with disabilities and then facilitate that process every step of the way.”

HRE Editor David Shadovitz’s more-positive HRE Daily post last year at least cites some evidence that disabled workers and job applicants are starting to overcome some of these barriers.

The post includes statistics from John O’Neill, director of employment and disability research at the Kessler Foundation, showing that roughly 16 percent of those with disabilities say they’ve experienced barriers resulting from supervisors’ attitudes and about the same proportion experienced barriers resulting from co-workers’ attitudes.

But when you ask them about their ability to overcome those barriers, about 41 percent of the former said they were able to do that and 54 percent of the latter said the same.

So there’s hope. But the overcoming efforts shouldn’t rest on the shoulders of disabled workers alone.

A Bad-Behavior Hiring Predictor

Assessing job candidates for honesty and integrity is nothing new in hiring and HR. Employers have been concerned about who exactly is 103579486-executive-in-handcuffsworking for them — their moral fiber, if you will — long before the Bernie Madoff and Enron scandals rocked corporate America. A quick rundown of a search on HREOnline for “honesty” proves the topic has been around for quite some time.

But this release about a new tool that can help employers in the financial sector and their hiring managers predict whether a prospective hire might compromise a company’s reputation by engaging in fraud, deceit or some other type of errant behavior seemed new and different enough to catch my eye.

Veris Benchmarks created the tool and claims in its release that, by applying it to all job candidates, a company can “improve its hiring process in 15 minutes and help to protect its image and reputation.”

To develop the test, Veris sent its chief scientist, George Paajanen, an expert in the area of psychometrics, into the American prison system to build a tool that identifies the character traits manifested in currently incarcerated white-collar felons. David Shulman, Veris’ CEO and founder, and a Wall Street veteran who’s spent more than 30 years in the institutional-financial-services industry, describes his motivation behind creating the tool:

“Veris Benchmarks was really inspired by the Madoff scandal. After family members and friends were directly impacted by the corrupt scheme, I became consumed with trying to determine precisely what firms were doing to better understand those being hired to act in a fiduciary capacity.

“Executives now have the responsibility to take advantage of new methods to help protect their companies, their shareholders and, even more importantly, their customers. What are companies doing to better understand how their employee would respond when faced with situations of moral gray?”

Of course, fraud and theft are not isolated to the financial industry. Cheating and moral breakdowns happen everywhere. As the release states, “from embezzlement at the dentist’s office, to the PTA, to the retail space and beyond, employee theft amounts to billions of dollars of losses annually.”

As Shulman muses:

“Issues of impropriety have burdened industries and businesses for centuries. What if companies could detect potential malice and the likelihood of theft before the key players were ever hired?”

“What if,” indeed.

Of course, this is but one tool out there. My hunch is there will be more like this to come — tools specific to predicting bad behavior before it ever enters your doors.

Trump Win Good for Biz Women??

Not one for post-election posting here, but this LinkedIn piece by Sallie Krawcheck caught my eye. As a woman watching and dv496065aweathering the campaign, and now the transition to a Trump presidency, I wanted to make sure as many women — and men — as possible saw it too.

Her premise that “Donald Trump as president of the United States could just be the best thing that has happened to professional women in a long time … huh? what?” is right in Krawcheck’s wheelhouse. She’s the CEO of Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women; chair of Ellevate Network, a global professional women’s network; and author of Own It: The Power of Women at Work, to be released in January. As she puts it,

“We’re awake now. That’s because it’s all out in the open: the Billy Bush conversation, the recent New York Times OpEd on “bro talk on Wall Street,” even the light sentence for Brock Turner.  And while as a mother and an aunt, I hate it, I hate it, I hate it that we haven’t made more progress for younger women, this does represent an odd form of forward motion: We can’t really deal with an issue until we fully understand the issue.”

It’s a compelling piece and worth the read, whatever your gender or persuasion, political or otherwise. This new Trump era, ushered in by stepped-up conversations about the treatment of women, comes with “some proof that we can’t rely on others to fight this battle for us, and so we must redouble our efforts,” Krawcheck says. “… I’m hearing from more and more women that we must ‘put on our big-girl pants’ and do this ourselves..”

And it’s not like women don’t have the resources, she adds. “[W]e control $5 trillion of investable assets, we direct 80 percent of consumer spending, we’re more than half of the workforce. We’ve got a lot of power.”

Krawcheck’s list of what to do to claim and use that power is impressively detailed, and long. Just some of her many suggestions — some we’ve heard and written about, some we haven’t — include mentoring and sponsoring other women, amplifying what other women say in meetings, pointing out to others when they interrupt other women or ignore them in meetings, pointing out when the words they use to compliment men (“aggressive” or “go-getter”) are used to put down women and refusing to work at the company that doesn’t “get it” on making the work environment one in which you can be successful.

She also bangs the political drum some, post-election, suggesting women start donating to female candidates whose views line up with theirs, and start running for office and encourage other women to run for office.

And the financial-independence drum:

“[D]oing all that we can to be in financial control feels more important today than it did [before the election]. It’s important that we break the old gender norms of ‘the man manages the money; I manage the household.’ That leaves us retiring with two-thirds the money of men … but living five-plus years longer than they do. …

“[P]lease get yourself a financial plan and invest.”

All politics and election furor aside, Krawcheck gave me some serious things to think about. If any of this gets you thinking about new approaches to help the women in your organization claim their power and succeed, then all the better.

Yet More to Know About Millennials

We’ve certainly seen our share of divergent reports about millennials in the workplace.

483717656-blue-collar-millennialWe’ve all seen and read the ones suggesting they’re a privileged generation with a less-than-stellar work ethic and an eagerness to jump ship on the smallest of provocations.

More recently, we’ve seen research that disputes those reports, such as one study from Project Time Off, mentioned in an HREOnline story on this demographic by Senior Editor Jack Robinson just last month. That study finds many millennials not only want to contribute and stay with their companies, but are putting in extra time — some even being referred to as work martyrs — to prove themselves as committed, loyal employees.

As Katie Denis, a senior director of the U.S. Travel Association, puts it in that story:

“People really do have this deeply ingrained assumption that it is an entitled generation, [but] if you look at the totality of their experience, you see something very different. Millennials do have a desire to grab a job, hold a job, prove themselves.”

Just late last month, an emailed release from the newly launched Levo Institute, a website run by and dedicated to millennials, introduced me to another often-overlooked faction of millennials: blue-collar millennials — more than 80 percent of whom say their employers are not providing them with the tools needed to appropriately scale their careers.

They want very much to work and stay with their companies; they just need help.

“As blue-collar workers make up 20 percent of the U.S. workforce,” the report states, “Levo’s study found that nearly 15 percent of its respondents are actively working as full-time blue-collar employees,” which is significant considering millennials will make up 75 percent of global talent over the next seven years. It goes on:

“Additionally, while nearly 60 percent of the millennial generation graduated from a four-year college, the perception is often that hiring a younger worker means lack of core professional skills, such as [energy and commitment], communicating effectively and working in teams.

“As the economy has continued to add [blue-collar] jobs in construction, manufacturing and transportation over the years, these findings are particularly important, especially as millennials [in these jobs] are not experiencing companies taking a vested interest in their development.”

In many cases, millennials are saying no to four-year college degrees altogether to avoid the miseries of having to pay off huge student loans for a significant chunk of their working lives, according to this story in the New York Post. They’re also pulling down some of the biggest salaries and best benefits while their fellow four-year graduates take up residence in their parents’ basements.

And there are plenty of four-year graduates turning to trades too. According to the Post, there were an estimated 1,000 who got in line in July in New York City for applications as apprentice plumbers.

Answering the Cancer Call

It’s nice to see efforts continuing at a healthy pace to help employers and employees deal with one of the scariest threats to corporate 508254750-cancerhealth — the growth of cancer in our aging workforce.

The latest initiative is an impressive one, a program introduced recently by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York through which it now collaborates with employers to simplify the whole process for their working cancer patients to get the help they need. New as the program is, it already has six employers signed on for this collaboration, including CBS Corp. and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Through the program, called MSK Direct, each collaborative partnership is customized to the individual employer’s and its employees’ needs. A customized menu might include initial evaluations or second opinions, the options to immediately begin cancer treatment and support services such as counseling.

“Cancer care is extraordinarily difficult to go through, but accessing it in a time of distress shouldn’t be,” says Wendy Perchick, senior vice president of strategy and innovation at MSK. “MSK Direct is a prime example of our commitment to our mission, which includes making all aspects of our experience, care and services more accessible, seamless and beneficial to as many people as possible. In the face of a cancer diagnosis, we want patients, their family members and their employers to feel certain they are in caring and highly capable hands.”

Let’s face it, she and others say: The number of cancer diagnoses among working Americans is only going to climb as baby boomers continue to keep working out of a sense of purpose, but also out of necessity, whatever the cost to health, welfare and sanity may be.

As this story in HRE by Julie Cook Ramirez less than a year ago confirms, the number of people continuing to work with cancer diagnoses is now close to 15 million. And though there are a lot of positives around that for those employees (a sense of purpose, distraction away from their diagnosis, the list goes on), there are many challenges they bring to work as well, including diminished physical capabilities and stamina, and some mental impairments as they undergo chemotherapy.

The story also details things HR professionals can do to make such a devastating time for an employee a little more navigable, such as reworking their schedules, making a special effort to go over all benefits till they’re sure the patient understands and basically just being there to answer all the questions they may have.

As the numbers grow, so grow the costs. This post by me in 2014 put the price tag for employers at about $19,000 annually per 100 employees in lost work time and medical treatments, according to research from the Integrated Benefits Institute. (IBI President Tom Parry confirmed for me that these are still the latest figures.)

Numbers aside, let’s face it, there are a whole lot of us baby boomers in the workplace probably in a good bit of denial about what lies ahead. Many of these boomers’ employers might also be happily sharing in that denial as they continue reaping the benefits of older employees’ work ethics and knowledge.

But let’s also face the inevitability. None of us are getting any younger. And as workers age, health problems at work grow. As one friend, a seemingly ageless practicing family doctor in Seattle who likes to backpack, power walk, participate in medical missions abroad … and who’s just been diagnosed with breast cancer … put it, “No one ever told us boomers that life after 50 becomes a journey of loss — loss of our own health and loss of loved ones to the loss of their health. They should have told us this.” (And she’s a doctor!)

At least some employers are now facing this reality with their unstoppable boomers and helping them through the obstacle course that is cancer, however they want to be helped.

For some tips on how this might be done at your organization, and some immediate steps you can take to increase the value of cancer-care benefits and services you’re providing, consider this report — High Value Cancer Care: Guidance for Employers — that the Northeast Business Group on Health put out just last week. Here’s the news statement as well.

Roughly, as Dr. Jeremy Nobel, executive director of NEBGH’s Solutions Center, lays it out:

“Understanding what high-value services to look for when evaluating sites of care; making sure patients have access and coverage for seeking expert second opinions whether via health-plan-recommended specialists, a Center of Excellence or third-party second-opinion services; and encouraging employees to educate themselves about the benefits of palliative care and to request it early in the treatment process are all important steps employers can take right now.”

I guess I might only add that leaving them in the driver’s seat on directions to go and care to pursue, honoring their journey with the dignity they deserve, is a must.

Spooky Report on ACA Filings

I was trying to think of a good, scary post to share on Halloween when this alert from Tango Health came across my screen.

72967148-moneyIt includes an article published recently by the National Law Review, noting that the Internal Revenue Service expects to generate $228 billion in revenue from the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate between 2017 and 2026. I don’t need to tell you that’s a scary lotta penalty money.

(The NLR report also includes this rather cold warning that “the good-faith standard of compliance, and the potential [i.e., leeway] for inaccuracies, is no longer available.”)

This huge boost to the IRS pot is expected to be coming from the 2016 ACA reporting filings due from you in 2017. The fines for failing to file these on time and provide them to employees, as you no doubt know, are steep. According to the NLR, “currently large businesses are subject to a penalty of $260 per return up to a maximum of $3,178,500; this is not tax-deductible.”

Scarier still, and more potentially costly, is the IRS’ ability to detect discrepancies and contradictory data — on both individual employee forms and across multiple employees — through its use of big data algorithms, something it’s been getting better at as it “increasingly works in conjunction with other federal agencies,” the report states. “For example,” it says,

“In the March 2016 Congressional Budget Office report concerning the federal subsidies for health-insurance coverage for people under the age of 65, the government has already estimated that 3 million people will pay the individual mandate penalty in 2016.  In 2014, 7.9 million taxpayers paid approximately $1.6 billion in individual-mandate penalties.”

The report provides a checklist for ACA reporting that includes understanding this use of big data to find anomalies and issue fines, providing accurate data to reduce fine exposure (like making sure worker classifications, names and Social Security numbers are correct), meeting the new 95-percent employer-mandate threshold and reducing audit risks.

It also suggests, in case you haven’t thought of this already, establishing an ACA information-reporting team, “designating a specific individual or team to address these disclosures [and] examine data-collection and integrity issues so that any mistakes from last year are not repeated.”

I realize you have all been contending with the deadlines and rules of the ACA for some time, but the IRS’ projected income off the backs of your potential mistakes and the big-data machine in place to find them seemed alarming enough to share.

Especially on the scariest day of the year.