Category Archives: benefits

Most Read Stories on HREOnline™

Last week’s most popular articles on HREOnline™  — See what you may have missed:

* Bill Kutik’s latest column: When Will They Ever Learn?

The learning management vendors, now solidly selling talent management, are bubbling these days. Cornerstone OnDemand has announced its intention to go public; Plateau has shucked off its heritage of selling installed systems in favor of SaaS; and Saba (already public) is pioneering collaboration tools for corporate use.

* Chilling Worker Speech on Facebook

The NLRB’s case against an ambulance company that fired an employee for a posting on Facebook really boils down to traditional labor law, experts say. Can a worker be fired for bad-mouthing a supervisor who denied them access to union representation? The decision will have implications for company policies on social-media use.

* A New Era for HR Perks?

Increased public scrutiny has probably contributed to the leveling off of executive perquisites, but a recent analysis shows that two-thirds of HR executives receive some form of perk. The larger the company, the more likely HR leaders would receive perks, although there were industry differences.

* HR’s Role in ERISA Regulation

New regulations have been handed down from the U.S. Department of Labor related to fiduciary requirements for fee disclosures in retirement accounts, including 401(k)s. HR can play a key role in compliance by effectively getting the new information out to employees, experts say. 

* Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes in Congress

As the United States braces itself for a Republican-led House of Representatives after the sweeping GOP victories in the midterm elections, experts weigh in on what it all means for HR. 

Views on Healthcare Reform

A new survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington breaks down views of the healthcare reform law based on the type of insurance the individuals have.

Interestingly, people with consumer-driven health plans and high-deductible health plans are more likely to think the new law will affect them, compared to those with traditional healthcare coverage.

Nearly one-half (46 percent) of those with CDHPs and about four in 10 (42 percent) of those with HDHPs expect a mostly negative impact from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, compared to 37 percent of traditional-plan enrollees.

Paul Fronstin, a senior research associate at EBRI, which is nonpartisan, says it could be party affiliations driving the difference. Those with CDHPs, he says, are more likely to be Republicans while those with traditional plans are Democrats.

But , regardless of plan type, many individuals expect their costs to increase under the PPACA: 59 percent of those with CDHPs, 50 percent of those on traditional plans and 41 percent of those with HDHPs.

A significant number also expect benefits to be cut: 41 percent of those with a CDHP, 39 percent of those with a HDHP and 30 percent of those with traditional plans. And about one-third of all the respondents expect a mostly negative impact on quality of care.

Some of the negative feelings may have to do with the fact that Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Savings Accounts no longer allow individuals to purchase over-the-counter drugs with those funds, Fronstin says. The law also increases the tax for using HSA monies for non-qualified purchases.

For HR, the takeaway is to focus on educating workers about the impact of health reform on their benefits, Fronstin says.

As the EBRI survey notes, fewer than 5 percent of the individuals surveyed — regardless of type of health insurance — say they are extremely knowledgeable about the law.

The study was based on an August 2010 online survey of 4,508 privately insured adults between the ages of 21 and 64.

Wellness Lives On

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued final regulations today to implement the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act of 2008 — and to the relief of many employers, the regs permit the use of financial incentives for filling out health-risk assessments.

And that means, says Larry Lorber, a partner in the Washington office of Proskauer, that employers can continue to provide wellness programs for workers.

“They are now allowing that to happen whereas in their [preliminary regulations] … they did not allow that to happen,” he says. “It’s a significant change.”

And it’s why the final regulations “were held up so long” as a compromise was sought, Lorber says. The rules go into effect in 60 days.

The first lawsuit filed under GINA was from a woman who said she was fired from her job after mentioning she was susceptible to breast cancer.

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 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.