Category Archives: benefits

Survey Shows Workers Don’t Trust their DB Plans

The economy may be picking up some, but you wouldn’t know it from the latest Mercer Workplace Survey. Issued by Mercer’s outsourcing business, it found only 19 percent of participants with employer-sponsored defined-benefit plans are very confident that they will receive income from their pension plan in retirement. That figure is down from 24 percent in 2008.

Conversely, just under half of the participants are “somewhat confident” (35 percent) or “not at all confident” (11 percent) that they will receive some DB pension income. (The link in the paragraph above, by the way, explains the study a little and includes another link at the top right of the page to the complete and free PDF download).

Andrew Yerre, Mercer’s U.S. business leader, says the findings “should cause concern for any plan sponsor who offers a pension plan.”

“Clearly,” he says, the past two years of economic volatility have caused participants to become very anxious about all aspects of their retirement readiness, including pension benefits.”

Yerre says the anxiety points to a general lack of knowledge about these plans by employees. “As we know,” he says, “these types of plans can be expensive and complicated to offer and administer, and the fact that participants have such little confidence may point to a lack of understanding, trust and engagement.”

He says the findings “further suggest that DB-plan sponsors need to better educate participants around their entire retirement-plan offerings. “There is a real strategic opportunity,” he says, “for plan sponsors to not just promote the existence of DB plans, but to also highlight their long-term value as part of a total rewards and comprehensive retirement-planning program that could include a 401(k), IRA or other investments.”

Strange, for all the stories we’ve been writing in the last few years about employers implementing better and more focused communication strategies around their retirement offerings, I guess this survey suggests there are still a whole lot out there that aren’t quite there yet. Hey, no time like the present, considering the “win-win” piece to it all.

Honoring Veterans by Giving Them the Day Off

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears Iowa will be the only state honoring all veterans this Veterans Day — Nov. 11, 2010 — by requiring every one of its employers, public and private, to grant veterans holiday time off if they would otherwise be required to work that day.

Iowa’s Veterans Day law, House File 2197, was signed by Gov. Chet Culver on April 27 and a scan of the Internet and a call to the Veteran’s Administration indicates it’s the only of its kind so far. Under it, the veteran must provide the employer with at least one month’s notice of the intent to take the day off, along with a federally certified proof of honorable release or discharge from active duty.

Culver did another nice thing for Iowan vets and their families by signing House File 2110, the “trailing spouses” bill, on March 16, allowing military spouses to receive unemployment benefits if they have to leave a job to follow a spouse on military assignment. Both bills seem only fair to me, considering what vets have done for us. Especially the former.

I’d even be in favor of making Veterans Day our first true national holiday. I’d be for everyone taking it off, like Memorial Day and Fourth of July — especially if it would inspire us all to do something nice for a vet that day, or at least impress upon our children the importance of their sacrifice.

In my Veterans Day web sojourn, I came across this interesting blog post by Daniel Schwartz, a Connecticut attorney, from a couple years ago. He poses the question: Should more employers and all public schools be closed on Veterans Day? Federal and state laws grant all federal and state workers days off on legal holidays, such as Veterans Day, but not private-sector workers. Legal holidays simply dictate what the government is going to do; “how the rest of the country (i.e., private-sector employers) chooses to follow the holiday is up to them,” he writes. And to date, unlike other countries, the United States has no national holiday.

I don’t know, it just seems wrong to me — especially in a time of war — that a veteran has to clock in on his or her day of honor and a state or federal worker gets to lounge on a couch with popcorn and beer.

Even if your state’s governor isn’t quite ready to go Culver’s route, it’s probably still worth bringing up with your CEO and board of directors. Just a thought.

More Help Given by Early Retiree Reinsurance Program

Wanted to make sure as many people saw this as possible. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services just announced yesterday that it’s accepted an additional (almost) 1,000 employers and unions into its Early Retiree Reinsurance Program. The agency’s announcement says the total has reached almost 3,000 organizations now.

The program, created by the Affordable Care Act as a bridge to the new health-insurance exchanges coming in 2014, provdes $5 billion in financial help to employers and unions to help them maintain coverage for early retirees, ages 55 and older, who aren’t yet eligible for Medicare.

Organizations accepted into the program receive reimbursement for medical claims of their early retirees and their spouses, surviving spouses and dependents. The program ends when the exchanges begin.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in making the announcement that she’s “incredibly pleased to see so many employers embrace this important new program to maintain coverage for people who often have a difficult time finding affordable coverage.”

 Strikes me as a win-win for retirees and employers alike. In case you’re interested, applications are still being accepted at the program’s website.

Unhealthy Outlook

Confidence in the future availability of employment-based health benefits fell following passage of the healthcare-reform law, according to a new survey by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington.

In 2010, 52 percent of individuals with employment-based coverage reported they were extremely or very confident that their (or their spouse’s) employer or union would continue to offer health insurance. That’s down from 59 percent in 2009. 

Paul Fronstin, director of EBRI’s health research and education program, says that “people do see the law as detrimental to employment-based health coverage, which is where most Americans currently obtain their health insurance coverage.”

EBRI notes that the weak economy may be contributing to that decline.

Another interesting finding from the survey is that Americans rate their own health plans as generally favorable, with 58 percent of those with health insurance coverage being extremely or very satisfied with their current plan. Three in 10 (30 percent) are somewhat satisfied. 

At the same time, the study finds that a majority of Americans rate the healthcare system as poor (27 percent) or fair (31 percent).

Washington ‘Fencing’ with Insurers over Premiums

Just last week, I posted here about employers passing a sharply higher healthcare buck onto employees (scroll down to Sept. 8). The sentiment on the part of employers seemed to be they had no other choice but to raise employee premiums significantly in light of current economic conditions.

Now, it appears, the insurance companies are doing the same thing, raising premiums by nearly 20 percent in September, according to a story Friday in the Wall Street Journal. Only this time, they’ve taken the blame game a step further — to the steps of the White House and the Obama Administration’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, i.e., the healthcare-reform law.

This posting today on HRMorning.com mentions not only how some insurance companies are blaming their increases on the mandates of the health-reform law, but how unhappy the president and his secretary of health and human services are about this finger-pointing.

In a counterpunch — or counterattack if you’re fencing, which this resembles more — the White House has announced that insurance companies enacting “unjustified” rate hikes linked to the healthcare-reform law will not be able to participate in the new state-run insurance exchanges that millions of people are expected to use to buy coverage beginning in 2014. Ouch!

Kathleen Sebelius, HHS secretary, confims in the HRMorning post that some insurance companies have started notifying enrollees their premiums will be going up as a result of the PPACA — “an action that will not be tolerated,” according to the post.

I realize there’s not a whole lot you can do with this, but you might as well be armed with all the latest fits, starts, blows and counter-blows as you head into open enrollment.

Employers Passing the Buck to Employees

A recently released survey shows employers passed healthcare costs onto employees at a sharply higher rate this year over last. According to the survey by Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust, employee premiums rose an average of 13.7 percent this year, while employer contributions fell by 0.9 percent.

The survey also shows company premiums grew more slowly than they have in the last 10 years and companies are still paying nearly three-quarters of their workers’ premiums.

James Gelfand, director of health policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told the Wall Street Journal the increase is “no surprise, since businesses are struggling to keep their doors open.”

“The premium increase may have been modest,” he said, “but it’s still a premium increase and businesses can’t absorb those costs.”

Kaiser Family Foundation President Drew Altman told the Washington Post that many employers “looked into their recession survival kits and seem to have concluded that one way to make it through the recession and hang on to as many employees as possible was to pass on their health premium increases to their employees this year.”

  

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.