Category Archives: benefits

Money Running Out for Retirees?

The Early Retirement Insurance Program, which is part of the healthcare-reform act that encourages employers to provide health coverage to retirees, may not have enough funding to fulfill its mission until the rest of the law kicks in, in 2014, according to this post from Reason magazine’s Hit & Run blog.

It notes that a report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates that the program’s funds will dry up in the next two years.

Just one more reason affirming why 56 percent of voters support repeal of the reform bill (with 46 percent of them strongly supporting repeal) and 54 percent saying the law is bad for the country.

Wellne$$

Remember C. Everett Koop, the distinguished-looking gentleman with the Amish-style beard who served as the U.S. Surgeon General during the Reagan administration? Well, there’s an award named after him—the C. Everett Koop National Health Award, administered by The Health Project, a Washington-based nonprofit that works to bring about “critical attitudinal and behavioral changes in the American health care system.”

Three employers have been selected to receive this year’s Koop Award, it was announced today: Medical Mutual of Ohio, Pfizer Corp and the Volvo Group of North America, for their efforts to improve employee health and reduce costs.

 Medical Mutual of Ohio was cited for its comprehensive health promotion program that includes health assessments, biometric screenings and “building a healthy company culture.” Pfizer was lauded for health promotion programs that include full coverage for preventative services and “multi-channel marketing and communication.” Finally, Volvo’s union-endorsed “Health for Life” program was praised its use of incentives and leadership support to encourage employee participation.

 All three companies were able to demonstrate that their programs cut costs and improved the health of participating employees (Volvo says its program cut its annual medical cost trend in half, from 10 percent to 5 percent). Something to consider, given that there’s a fair amount of head scratching going on in the business community today about how (and whether to) measure the ROI of wellness programs. It’s a topic we’ll be addressing in an upcoming issue of the magazine, and in other forums as well.

Healthcare Reform via Video

Charleston, S.C.-based Benefitfocus just announced at the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2010 conference a pretty straight and simple way for employees to understand how healthcare reform will affect them — without bugging their HR executives.

It’s called the Healthcare Reform Certification Program, but don’t let the name fool you. It’s more about education than certification — though visitors to the site can actually become “certified” by passing certain quizzes to test the knowledge they just acquired.

In a nutshell, the new offering is a simple collection of bare-bones information and a series of videos, professionally created in the company’s high-definition studio in Charleston, to guide everyone — including those under 30, who are still trying to get their arms around the benefits morass — through HDHCs, HMOs, PPOs, HSAs, FSAs, you name it.

The videos are designed to transform complex concepts into short, easy-to-understand sound bites. Each segment communicates a different provision of the law, using chalkboard animation to bring the legislation to life. Visitors can view the videos as many times as needed.

The Benefitfocus platform is a Software-as-a-Service model, available for a monthly fee to companies; the certification program is free, with no codes or customization work needed. “We’re calling this video-as-a-service,” says Jim Kelly, vice president of employer sales. “It basically answers the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question — ‘What does healthcare reform mean for me?’ We think it changes the game dramatically.”

Repeal of Healthcare Reform Unlikely

As unpopular as the healthcare-reform bill is with a majority of the public, it’s unlikely it will be repealed, says Mike Aiten, director of governmental affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management.

He says some technical changes may occur through the regulatory process to deal “with some of the challenges,” but that, no matter how well the Republicans do in the mid-term elections, it’s doubtful they will garner enough seats to override a presidential veto if they go ahead and repeal the law.

At the same time, SHRM’s polls of HR professionals found that only 2 percent of employers plan to drop their healthcare  coverage as a result of the new law. Nearly half (46 percent) of those surveyed said coverage would not be dropped — and of them, one-third made that decision without even doing any analysis.

Deb Cohen, SHRM’s vice president of knowledge development, says the knee-jerk decision was due to employer fears of lower morale and lower job satisfaction, the need to be competitive with other employers and an unwillingness to have workers think that their employers are not concerned about their health.

Possible Fallout from CVS Caremark-Walgreens Split

If you haven’t heard the news about CVS Caremark and Walgreens yet, you’ve either been asleep or back-packing in some remote forest. Bottom line, the honeymoon between Walgreens and CVS Caremark (post-CVS-Caremark-merger three years ago) — is very much over, if there ever was a honeymoon at all.

For those who have been sleeping or camping, here’s the gist: In a Monday, June 7, letter, Walgreens announces it won’t participate in any new and renewed prescription-drug plans awarded to the CVS Caremark pharmacy-benefit manager because of the way its forces chronic patients to use CVS stores, switches plans to differently priced networks without notification and is unpredictable in how it reimburses Walgreens.

That’s followed by CVS Caremark’s Wednesday, June 9, announcement that the PBM will simply remove Walgreens altogether from its network and start transitioning pharmacy care for all its participants who used Walgreens stores to other participating providers. Youch.

A few other statements follow (you can read the testiness of the whole situation between the lines), such as this statement from Kermit Crawford, executive vice president of pharmacy for Walgreens, assuring the public his company’s move was unavoidable and done in such a way as to hurt the least number of participants possible. (If it’s not still at the top of the news site, scroll down; it’s there.)

And then there’s this comment from the National Community Pharmacists Association, siding with Walgreens and condemning the merger altogether. If you want to check other postings out, just Google the two pharmacy chains. This drama has gone viral.

And it won’t end here, says Michael Polzin, a spokesman for Walgreens. In the next 30 days, “millions of Walgreens customers” will be getting letters telling them they have to find other neighborhood pharmacies to get their CVS Caremark PBM drugs. HR and benefits professionals will be impacted when they come running to them for advice, he adds. Polzin hopes they’ll (you’ll) tell them this wasn’t Walgreens’ fault, that it tried to make “a very necessary move as painless as possible by hanging on to all existing PBM customers,” but that CVS has changed the game. In fact, he says, the relationship between Walgreens and the Caremark PBM (pre-merger) was just fine, thank you, but has “become much more competitive with Walgreens in the last three years.”

CVS, on the other hand, says the impact won’t be that significant since only 7,000 of its (now former) Walgreens stores were among its 64,000 participating pharmacies — and that “when Walgreens is included in the CVS Caremark network, 85.9 percent of members have access to a network pharmacy within three miles of their homes” yet that number only changes to 85.7 percent “when Walgreens is excluded.”

A spokesperson from CVS told me late Friday the PBM “did not make this decision lightly, but [has a] responsibility to our clients and their plan members to balance providing consumer access with managing cost and delivering their pharmacy benefit.” Take note of CVS’ earlier announcement above (I call it the Walgreens head-chop), saying Walgreens was simply making a hard-ball move for more money.

I could — very obviously — go on and on. But I won’t. I could also spend some of your valuable time giving you my spin on the words between the lines and the writing on the walls. I’ll let you do that with all of this.

All I can safely say is this fracas is, by no means, over and I can guarantee you a whole lot of employees are going to have a whole lot of questions in a very short time, and you might want to start thinking about what you’re gonna say.

New Target-Date Fund Guidance

In case you didn’t see this latest guidance from the federal government on target-date funds, also known as life-cycle funds, take a look and bookmark!

The guidance, issued jointly by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Security Administration and the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission, is intended to help investors and plan participants understand the operations and risks of target-date fund investments.

For all the new ways the current administration seems to be adding to HR leaders’ administrative responsibilities (double-use of word intended), this guidance truly does appear to make your job a little easier by supplying, in one place, the information you need to help your retirement-plan participants navigate some complicated territory.

Workers are Wearing Your Health on Their Sleeves

Probably pretty intuitive, but definitive nonetheless. A new study from Gallup-Healthways shows people working for employers that are in a hiring mode tend to have brighter outlooks on their own personal lives than those working for companies in the midst of layoffs.

No duh, right? Fair enough. But when you consider that as many as two-thirds (68 percent) of the 20,000 employed adults polled who were working at growing companies said they were thriving in their personal lives versus less than half (49 percent) working at downsizing organizations, it does cause pause to wonder: Is there something more HR can and should be doing during layoffs to help the survivors stave off depression? Translated: absence, loss of productivity, possible long-term disability?? (The ratings, by the way, were based on the Cantril Scale, which many organizations use to determine individual well-being.)

Granted, there’s not a whole lot HR leaders can do with this except maybe drum up even more satisfaction detectors and morale boosters than you already have in place to counter the layoff-survivor blues — or get some going if you have nothing at this point.

But consider this too: Even the simple fact that a reorganizing company is spending time, energy and money to ensure the survivors don’t go into emotional tailspins carries the subliminal message that things there can’t be that bad. Right?

Total Rewards with a Twist of Customization

Two studies released Monday at the WorldatWork’s Total Reward 2010 Conference in Dallas, Texas shed light on what employers might want to do differently as they begin to staff up again.

During a session on the conference’s opening day, researchers from Texas A&M University shared the findings of a recent study of accounting students that found the influence of particular rewards and benefits frequently depended on the outcomes being sought (i.e. attraction, motivation or retention). The study, “The Relative Influence of Total Rewards Elements on Attraction, Motivation and Retention,” found that career development was especially important to students pursuing a career in accounting. Meanwhile, work/life benefits and performance recognition were much more important to those who ended up employed at one of the Big Four account firms for several months. (Response rates of the different groups studied over the several year period ranged from 159 to 232.)

Similarly, a study entitled “Beyond Compensation: How Employees Prioritize Total Rewards at Various Life Stages” found that respondents valued different rewards at different stages of their lives, with development significantly more important for employees under 40 and benefits much more important to breadwinners, especially female breadwinners. (The study of 678 adults was conducted by Next Generation Consulting and Dieringer Research Group.)

Most HR leaders aren’t going to be terribly surprised by the studies’ conclusions. Indeed, both seem to be in line with the findings of earlier research projects. But if there continues to be any doubting Thomases out there who still think they can get away with a one-size-fits-all approach to total rewards—and one suspects there are—then perhaps these findings will give them reason to pause and reconsider.

Rebecca Ryan, CEO of Next Generation Consulting, suggested to attendees that employers might be well served by stealing a lesson from Starbucks’ playbook and the way it was able to build its business by customizing coffee and latte drinks—as in “I’ll have a triple decaf Grande Latte with skim”—when it comes to designing their total-reward programs.

Meanwhile, Mercer Senior Partner Steve Gross is scheduled to share the findings of a third survey on Tuesday that found companies continue to invest in their total-reward programs during the economic downturn and modify the elements of “total rewards.”

The study revealed that 50 percent of the 741 responding multinational companies responding consider “work-life initiatives” a staple of total rewards, while four in 10 reported they either enhanced or added wellness programs during the past 12 months.

All three studies were sponsored by WorldatWork. The Total Rewards 2010 Conference runs through this Wednesday and is expected to attract around 1,500 attendees.

Get Your Wellness Kicks on Route 66

Hey, yet another wellness initiative — this one from a company called Health Enhancement Systems; and this time, on a highway I traveled as a Southern California kid and miss to this day. Have long been yearning a return for a road trip; never really considered walking it. Wonder, though, as these wellness programs take employees further and further away from their work for longer and longer periods, if some HR leaders aren’t getting just a little more apprehensive about looking into them. Just wondering.