Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Overheard At: Spread low-cost cheer

Instead of focusing on the economic crisis, fearless EBN leader Kelley Butler takes her letter from the editor in a positive direction. In this month's podcast, Butler talks about low-cost ways to improve employee morale and spread cheer this holiday season.

Tip of the Day

Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving holiday.

Eat, drink and be merry, but to help you stay focused on wellness, click here to calculate how long you'll need to walk to burn off your Thursday feast.

The Daily Diversion will not post on Thursday and Friday. We'll resume Monday, Dec. 1.

News You Can Use: Does where you live affect your retirement plan participation?

Employees in Midwestern and Northeastern states are more likely to participate in retirement plans than their Southern and Western counterparts, states new data from the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute.

According to 2007 data, wage and salary workers in Florida have the lowest probability (36.4%) of participating in a retirement plan, while those living in Iowa are the most likely to participate, at 58.3%.

Among salaried workers, Wisconsin took top place (54.4% among private wage and salary workers; 67.7% amongst full-year wage and salary workers). Again, Florida came in last, with 32.3% of all workers participating.

New Jersey residents are most likely to participate from the public sector employer group, with 82.1%, followed closely by Idaho and Ohio, at 81.9% and 81.7%, respectively. Louisiana residents in the public sector were lease likely to participate, with 68.8%.

If you're searching for ways to increase worker participation, why don't you take a listen to the helpful suggestions on our recent podcast with Dean Kohmann of Charles Schwab.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Overheard At: Great communication is simple ... in theory

Jennifer Benz, founder of Benz Communications, discusses new trends in benefit communication as part of our November feature on the topic.

For more information on this topic, check out the following articles in this month's issue:

Tip of the Day

Streamline your business travel budget.

The National Business Travel Association (there really is an association for everything, isn't there?) reports that corporate travel managers predict a 5% to 8% increase in business travel costs for 2009, including airfare, hotel stays and car rentals.

NBTA projects:
* Airfares will increase 7% to 10% next year over 2008.
* Hotel rates will rise 1% to 4%.
* Car rental rates will increase 1% to 3%.

In response, NBTA foresees companies reducing non-essential travel, enforcing new travel policy mandates and implementing tools like eFolio hotel data -- which enable automated hotel spending reports to streamline expenses and flag spending out of line with company policy.

News You Can Use: Average deductible tops $1,000

New survey results from Mercer reveal that for the first time this year, employees' average annual deductible for single coverage topped $1,000 -- a troubling sign for employers and workers alike who are struggling to pay for health care.

The average single person must now pay $1,001 in out of pocket expenses before coverage kicks in, a 17% increase from last year's average $859.

"Raising the deductible has become the fallback for employers faced with cost increases they can't handle," Mercer consultant Laura Baker told the LA Times. "It's the easiest way to reduce cost without taking more out of every employee's paycheck."

Michelle Dimarob, legislative affairs manager for the National Federal of Independent Businesses, added: "This is very reflective of the tough economic times we're in. Health care is truly a pocketbook issue for both employers and employees."

Monday, November 24, 2008

News You Can Use: Congrats, you're recession-proof!

The latest rankings from Jobfox show that HR generalist is No. 25 on the firm's most recession-proof jobs for the 120-day period ending Oct. 28. No. 1 remains sales representative. Click here for the full list and methodology.

Tip of the Day

Hold off on buying an AARP mini-med plan.

AARP has hired an independent investigator to probe the sales and marketing of mini-medical plans aimed at workers age 50-64, after Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) called the plans misleading, the New York Times reports. AARP will stop marketing and selling the plans until the investigation is complete.

The plans, offered by AARP via UnitedHealthcare, cover about 1 million members, the Times reports. Grassley takes issue with the plans' marketing mainly because they do not provide catastrophic coverage, but give the impression that the plans are comprehensive. "The products may leave consumers seriously in debt if they need intensive medical care," Grassley said, and asked AARP to disclose its profits from the plans.

News You Can Use: Primary care system crumbling?

According to survey results from the Physicians Foundation, primary care physicians are severely unhappy with their work, so much so that:
* 20% plan to reduce their patient load.
* 13% plan to take positions without active patient care.
* 11% plan to retire.
* 78% report a shortage of primary care physicians.
* 60% would not recommend medicine as a career.

The problem is significant for employers, as primary care docs are viewed as the linchpin for improving employees' overall health. In fact, EBN contributor Steve Raetzman said in the November issue, "Employers have a unique opportunity to lead the next major change in health care delivery: expanding primary care and transforming it from a fee-for-service, visit-by-visit model to a patient-centered medical home."

Download a free guide for employers on the medical home movement here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

News You Can Use: President-elect sets ambitious work-life agenda

Among his many large scale goals, President-elect Barack Obama has set a high-flying work-life agenda, including a federal mandate for paid sick leave and expanding FMLA to encompass employers with 25 or more workers (current law applies to 50 or more), more purposes -- including children's school needs, and expand care to more family members.

Read more here from the Wall Street Journal about Obama's work-life proposals and others on the federal and state level.

Tip of the Day

Keep your expats engaged.

According to new research from Kenexa Research Institute, expatriates are a bigger "flight risk" than non-expats. More than 50% of expats seriously think about leaving their current organization within the year. This may be because they tend to see their relationship with their employer as project- or task-oriented – when the assignment objective has been reached, the expat considers whether to re-engage or seek employment elsewhere, Kenexa concludes.

However, it may be due to a rocky repatriation process -- how an expat is folded back into meaningful work after a long term overseas. A recent EBN report and podcast cover how to select the best expat candidates and effectively handle repatriation.

News You Can Use: Medicare to stop covering weight-loss surgery for diabetics

Medicare officials said this week the government intends to stop covering weight-loss surgery to help fight diabetes, Workforce Management reports.

Although the agency currently covers such surgery for all Type 2 diabetics, the threshold for coverage will shift to those with a body mass index of 35 or higher, an indicator of severe or morbid obesity, according to Workforce.

The story is significant because, as the nation's largest health care payer, Medicare can throw its weight around (no pun intended) and strongly influence what services/procedures other health insurers will cover.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

News You Can Use: ABC urges action to push pension bill

The American Benefits Council has issued an action alert imploring pension plan sponsors to lend their voices in support of legislation aimed to implement pension reforms and regulatory clarifications. Read the alert here. Contact information for ABC and congressional leaders is included.

Tip of the Day

Take stock (no pun intended) of your retirement plan(s).

Whether you offer a DB, DC, ESOP, NQDC retirement plan or all of the above, the market downturn no doubt has done a number on your returns. Principal Financial Group offers a guide to help you regroup and recoup. Read it here.

News You Can Use: Nation's health care systems slow to embrace wellness mantra

More than 40% of hospitals and health care systems will be on the wellness bandwagon by 2010, a new survey from Meritain Health reports. Additionally, 75% are considering adding wellness programs for employees if they do not already have one in place.

At present, a mere 7% have wellness programs in place.

“These survey results reflect a significant opportunity for helping health care workers become healthier and more productive, but unfortunately also illustrate the challenges HR managers face in making wellness programs an integral part of the benefits offered to employees at our nation’s hospitals and physician’s offices,” said Laura Smith, vice president of healthcare systems accounts for Meritain Health. “In perhaps no other industry could it be more important to have employees modeling healthy behavior, while at the same time producing significant cost savings for their employers.”

Employers report barriers like overall program appeal (30%), cost (27%) and convincing C-suite executives (15%) as reasons why they have not yet gotten wellness initiatives off the ground.

“In these lean economic times, it is tempting for healthcare executives to eschew offering new employee benefits in the interest of prudent budgetary policy,” said Dr. Larry Luter, Chief Medical Officer for Meritain Health. “With the cost of healthcare continuing to rise every year, and national data regarding the number of Americans who are overweight, obese or living with diabetes doing the same, an investment in employee health is one of the most important things any company can do to secure its long-term financial future.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tip of the Day

Submit your comments on draft legislation that would require employers to disclose the amount they pay toward an employee’s health benefits on the employee’s W-2.

According to a group of lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee, such a directive would "provide for greater disclosure of health insurance costs to workers. Better informing workers about what they pay for health care and how much costs are increasing year after year is a way to begin to help to control health care costs."

What do you think? I personally don't read my W-2 very closely, rather just pass it along to my accountant. So, I'm inclined to agree with a recent WorldatWork membership poll that finds (62%) favor total rewards statement as the best way to communicate the true cost of health benefits, compared to 8% for the W-2 tax form.

“While transparency of employer-provided health-care costs is always a good idea, the W-2 does not give a complete picture,” said Rose Stanley, WorldatWork's benefits practice leader. “Our studies show that total reward statements are truly the best vehicle for communicating with employees as they include income from all compensation sources as well as the cash value of all benefits. However, reward statements are not provided with every paycheck, are not submitted to government and are not consistent in format. As an alternative, we encourage the U.S. Senate Finance Committee to explore creating a federal standard of total reward statements for tax-exempt benefit communications.”

The committee is accepting comments until Dec. 31. E-mail

News You Can Use: Miller fights back

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), fighting back against what he calls "an active campaign that is blatantly misrepresenting Democratic efforts to preserve and strengthen Americans’ retirement security," on Friday issued a press release to tell his side of the story.

Despite news reports to the contrary, "I do not support ‘abolishing’ 401(k)s, moving these plans, or changing their tax status, plain and simple,” Miller said. Rather, he outlined five points to make 401(k)s more accessible and profitable for workers.

The December EBN outlines the controversial proposal that emerged at a hearing Miller last month, and the January will explore who proposed what when, and where the issue stands now.

Scone: Protecting the blind side

I’m a big football fan, and one of the things I hate the most is seeing a quarterback get hit on the blind side (the opposite of his throwing arm) because there’s nothing worse than a hit you don’t see coming.

Along those lines, I received an e-mail last week from a recently laid off employee. Lamenting the loss of her job, she asked if I could help her find information on how to recoup the nearly $400 she’d deferred into a commuter benefits account but had to forfeit upon her termination.

I double checked with a benefits attorney, then gave her the tough news that yes, the funds forfeited to employer, as she was no longer with the company. I felt bad for her, having been completely blindsided by the layoff and then it seemed getting insult piled onto injury by losing funds she probably could sorely use right now.

It got me and a few EBN colleagues thinking. Obviously, employers must comply with WARN (Workers Adjustment Retraining and Notification Act), which requires employers with 100 or more workers to provide employees, bargaining representatives and local government officials with 60 days advanced written notice of a mass layoff or a plant closing.

But more specifically, can/should employers communicate far in advance to employees about the benefits they lose (commuter benefits, FSA funds) and the ones they can take with them (retirement savings, HSA funds) if they are laid off? How far in advance? And does such notice make a company appear unstable or give away that layoffs are being considered?

Is giving them the information and tools to protect their money more valuable than causing some uneasiness about whether they might be the one to get a pink slip? An article in an upcoming issue of EBN will address these questions and others, but I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Meanwhile, communication expert Hugh Braithwaite, president of Braithwaite Communications, offers the following tips in communicating effectively during a layoff:

* Be complete. If there are holes in the facts of your story, employees will fill-in-the blanks with what they believe the facts should be. That’s how rumors get started.
* Be consistent. If you tell a different story every time you tell it, information will become muddled and there will be mass confusion. That’s how rumors spread.
* Inform affected employees first. This should be common sense, but employees being laid off should hear the news first and in person if possible. Respect and compassion are essential. Prepare an “exit kit” for each laid-off worker that contains an official letter, hand-outs with frequently asked questions, confidential agreements, references, contact sheet, and severance and benefit information. Be as thorough and complete as possible –remember, the more comprehensive you are, the less you are leaving to the imagination.
* Inform retained employees. Review the situation, be prepared to answer questions, and provide resources for follow-up questions and concerns. Depending on the size of the layoff, a series of regular employee communication sessions may be necessary instill confidence and maintain a sense of community.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Overheard At: Tuition Benefits

Retaining valued employees is more important than ever. Learn how tuition benefit programs work from Linda Blandford-Beringsmith, a vice president at Robert Half International.

For more information on this topic, read "Straight A's for tuition benefits" in this month's issue.

Tip of the Day

Take steps to prevent medical identity theft. According to the Report on Patient Privacy, some 250,000 are victims of medical identity fraud each year -- where people assume another person's identity to receive medical care. As the economic downturn could cause the incidences to spike, RPP offers tips on how to safeguard your employees and covered dependents.

News You Can Use: CDH gets boost from economy

Although flagging in recent years from low employee enrollment, consumer-driven health plans are getting a serious second look from employers that cannot sustain any more rate hikes amid the struggling economy, AIS Health reports.

Insurers and employers are drawn most strongly to HSAs, but HRAs remain a viable option, according to AIS's findings.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Overheard At: Save your job

Welcome to this web-exclusive podcast focused on your careers - not the needs of your clients or employees, but on how to take care of #1 in today's downtrodden economic state. Last week, first-time unemployment claims rose to the highest level since September 2001, and more cuts are surely around the corner as companies realize difficulty meeting 2009 budget expectations. We're here today with Chuck Wright of leading executive recruitment firm Santon Chase International.

News You Can Use: Final FMLA rules clarified

The DOL clarified new FMLA provisions today, the first since the law was enacted in 1993.

Read this Employee Benefit News Web Exclusive for details.

Tip of the Day: Five questions to tell your employees to ask at open enrollment

When brainstorming ways to better educate your employees about the decisions they need to make at open enrollment, it's often imperative that benefits professionals put themselves in an employee's shoes.

Andy Smith, Senior Partner with Cornerstone Financial Partners, believes that by not investing the time to make informed choices, workers may be leaving money on the table and putting their future at risk.

Take Smith's five questions and ask yourself one more: Am I educating my workers to make a proper decision about this topic?

1. Is the 401(k) account properly allocated? "For most workers, the 401(k) will be the primary source of income in retirement, so it's important for investors to review their portfolio and rebalance when necessary," says Smith.

According to the Financial Engines National 401(k) Evaluation, 69% of the nearly 1 million 401(k) participants surveyed have portfolios with inappropriate risk and/or diversification. Additionally, 36% hold high concentrations of company stock, and 33% fail to contribute enough to receive the full company match, leaving money on the table.

2. How much is in company stock?

The Pension Protection Act of 2006 has made it easier for employees to diversify out of company stock. The act gives employees the right to sell publicly traded company stock received as a matching contribution in a retirement plan account after three years of service for original matching contributions, and immediately for employee contributions.

3. Is there a better choice for health insurance?
Spend time educating employees about CDHPs and HDHPs in such a way as to inform them of which choice will most benefit them health-wise and financially.

For 2009, the maximum annual HSA contribution for an eligible individual with self-only coverage is $3,000. For family coverage, the maximum annual HSA contribution for 2009 is $5,950. Individuals age 55 and older can also make an additional "catch-up" contribution of $1,000 in 2009.

4. Are Flexible Spending Accounts being fully utilized? In addition to visits to the doctor, the cost of eyeglasses, dental work, psychologist visits, even cough syrup can be run through the plan.

Some companies also offer a dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA) which allows contributions up to $5,000 a year.

5. Is long-term care coverage necessary? According to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance roughly one-third of men and one-half of women age 65 and over will require some form of long-term care.

Smith advises married couples to review both spouses' benefits to find any gaps or overlaps in coverage. "It's possible to save money or improve coverage simply by moving the family to a spouse's heath plan," says Smith.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Overheard At: Proactive engagement mitigates workplace conflict

Did you know that it costs 150% of an employee's annual salary to replace them? In today's Web-exclusive podcast, Richard Hart of Proactive Resolutions talks about how to get employees to proactively deal with difficult workplace situations and offers tips on how HR can mitigate potentially job-threatening situations before they get out of hand.

Tip of the Day

Check out the IRS' YouTube presentation on complying with the soon-to-be effective 403(b) regulations. You won't regret it; Jan. 1 will be here before you know it.

News You Can Use: Employers against mandate

President-elect Obama, take note: A pre-election survey by Buck Consultants finds that U.S. employers want to continue to provide health coverage to their employees, but are against a government mandate to do so.

Most employers favor a health-care system similar to what already exists, but adding:
• a safety net for the uninsured.
• a continuing, and potentially expanded, role for consumer-driven health plans.
• a national promotion of health and wellness.

Among other findings, if a mandate does become law, two-thirds believe employers should have plan design discretion, such as the option to offer CDHPs. As the Chamber of Commerce's public affairs director Katie Strong told Benefits Forum & Expo attendees in Sept., "Employers feel that they can manage health benefits and plan flexibility much better than the federal government."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

News You Can Use: DOL taking comments on GINA

The Department of Labor this week called for comments on the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which amends the tax code, ERISA and several other employment laws to prohibit health coverage discrimination based on genetic information.

The request seeks opinions on several aspects of GINA, including:
* To what extent do group health plans and health insurance issuers currently use genetic information, such as family medical history, and for what purposes? For example, is genetic information currently used for group rating purposes, or for purposes of a wellness program that otherwise complies with HIPAA's nondiscrimination requirements?
* How do plans and issuers currently obtain genetic information (for example, through health risk assessments, the Medical Information Bureau, or other entities under common control)?
* Under what circumstances do plans or issuers currently ask for the results of a genetic test in order to make a determination regarding payment of benefits? What is the minimum amount of information necessary for a plan or issuer to make a determination under such circumstances?
* What terms or provisions (such as genetic information, genetic test, genetic services, or underwriting) would require additional clarification to facilitate compliance? What specific clarifications would be helpful?

Submit comments at or Comments will be accepted until Dec. 9.

Tip of the Day

Set up a lifecycle fund strategy. With the flood of lifecycle funds now available, plan sponsors need to consider which funds are most appropriate for their retirement plan. Get started separating the contenders from pretenders by reading this month's EBN.

News You Can Use: Workers foregoing health coverage over cost

Did you have fewer takers this year during open enrollment? Blame the economy.

New survey results from BearingPoint, Inc. and Zogby International show that, due to the economic crunch, nearly 10% of employees are more likely to either drop their health insurance plan or switch to a less expensive one with fewer benefits.

Workers making less than $25,000 a year and workers age 18-24 are most likely to switch to a cheaper plan or drop coverage altogether. Among ethnic groups, Hispanics are most likely to put cost over care.

Further, the survey reports 15% of respondents were more inclined to take less medications or forego prescriptions because of financial strain.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

News You Can Use: Lack of communication damages morale

We all know communication is essential when getting benefits messages across to employees, but new news from Accountemps suggests that effective communication can actually improve morale as well. When used incorrectly, one-third of executives responding say that a lack of open and effective communication is the top thing that can damage employee happiness.

"Regular communication with employees is always integral to an organization's success, but it becomes especially critical during periods of uncertainty," said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps and author of Motivating Employees For Dummies(R) (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.). "When people are concerned about job security and company performance, updates on corporate news are essential. By keeping employees informed, managers can address anxiety and ensure workers are focused on meeting business objectives."

For more information about how to effectively reach your employees, we'd suggest "Are you talking to me?" in this month's EBN.

Tip of the Day

Find out what your health insurance carrier's shares are selling for on Wall St. The information could be just as valuable as their premium rates, according to experts who participated in a roundtable discussion sponsored by the Center for Studying Health System Change. Read more about how the economy is affecting the health of the health insurance market in the current EBN.

News You Can Use: Voters defeat pension measures

Voters in five states last week voted down measures that would put more of state and local pension investments at risk in the stock market, further illustrating investor nervousness in light of the current economic crisis.

Scone: In search of HSA advice, assurance

Two weeks ago – after much discussion with my husband, fine-tooth-combing our family budget, using three comparison tools and a medical cost estimator, and reading every page of communication my employer sent on the subject – I enrolled my family in a high-deductible health plan with an HSA for 2009. I still wonder if I did the right thing.

Ever since, I’ve found myself preparing for a sort of health care Armageddon – scheduling myself, husband and children for every doctor’s and dentist appointment we need, weaning my infant daughter off a long-term medication, and informing the specialist she sees (and that we adore) that we likely won’t be back to see her because I’m not sure we’ll be able to afford the office visit come January.

Although it took much consideration, I feel railroaded into my decision. The HDHP I was offered carried about the same premium as the current PPO that covers my family now –already near the top of what our family can afford. The more traditional health coverage options were two and three times what we currently pay, and there’s no way we could sustain that (while continuing to save for retirement and meeting our monthly expenses).

So, I did the only thing I could do: checked the HDHP option, funded my HSA up to the deductible and hoped for the best.

Even though I can’t change my decision now, I still question it. I’ve discovered that writing about this topic and living it are two different things – and I consider myself much more informed than my colleagues at other non-benefits-related publications.

So I turn to you EBN readers, the exceptional pros that you are, for advice and assurance (and promise not to hold you accountable). Any recommendations you have would be great; just tell me what you would if I worked at your company.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Overheard At: Specialty pharmacy management tricks

Keith Bruhnsen, assistant director of benefits at the University of Michigan, offers real-world strategies on running a specialty pharmacy benefit program that reduces costs and keeps members satisfied.

For more information, visit the corresponding article in Employee Benefit News, “Employer brings simplicity to specialty pharmacy benefits.”

Tip of the Day

Like the Boy Scouts, be prepared. Don't let disasters -- natural, technological or otherwise -- derail your business or wipe out vital employee and benefits information. EBN contributor Charles Denyer outlines the must-haves in your corporate disaster recovery plan.

News You Can Use: Merit pay increases shrink further

The slumping economy has caused merit pay increases to decrease to 2.8%, down from the 3.71% expected in June. Cost of living increases are budgeted at around 1.2%, and higher among small businesses, states new data from Business and Legal Reports.

Merit increases remain the largest at companies with over 1,000 employees, hovering at around 3%, while cost-of-living increases are the largest at nonprofit companies.

"We are just trying to keep doors open," one respondent reportedly said.

According to the survey, 38.5% of respondents are changing plans because of the economy. An additional 30.5% are considering changes. Only 23.6% are moving forward with initial budget expectations. Nearly four-in-ten companies responding plan to reduce pay, offer smaller or no rate increases (24.4%) or delay effective dates of raises (15.3%).

One respondent said that while they were not freezing increases, they were cutting back on employee's eligible hours.

The survey was conducted in late October via online polling. 541 people responded.

Monday, November 10, 2008

News You Can Use: Pregnancy discrimination persists

It's difficult enough being pregnant. Employers absolutely must stop making matters worse by discriminating against moms-to-be.

Thirty years after the enactment of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which outlaws employment bias due to pregnancy and/or childbirth, a study from the National Partnership for Women and Families finds that, according to EEOC data, pregnancy discrimination charges increased 65% from 1992 to 2007. Among minorities, such charges rose 76% in the same period.

Even worse, “The increase in complaints about pregnancy discrimination far outpaced the increase in women in the workforce during this time period,” said National Partnership General Counsel Jocelyn Frye, who authored the report. “Because many women who face pregnancy discrimination are reluctant to file charges with the EEOC, the problem may be even more widespread than these figures suggest.”

Tip of the Day

Be a "wicked cool" communicator.

The consumer marketing strategy of hooking employees with "cool" features - can easily apply to benefits communication, the current EBN reports.

"You've got to meet the wicked cool factor," says Elizabeth Byerly, office practice leader in communications for Watson Wyatt's Atlanta office. For example, use a different voice or action for all communications (like the Geico commercials). Make a simple e-mail stand out with a popular song playing in the background, she suggests.

Upping an organization's cool factor also can involve leveraging cool employees, the pros assert. Think of them as employee-Fonzes. "Find who the opinion shapers and vocal people are within your organization and get them involved," says Michal Kisilevitz, managing director of the Benefits Roundtable at Corporate Executive Board.

Read the full article here.

News You Can Use: Oil companies post record profits, pensions in the red

From the "misplaced corporate priorities" files, energy companies -- led primarily by oil titans Exxon Mobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips -- posted the lowest levels of pension plan funding across the 10 industries studied in a Citi analysis of S&P 500 companies.

Exxon Mobil, whose quarterly profits steadily break the company's own earnings records, had the highest pension deficit, with $27.8 billion in assets to cover $34.5 billion in liabilities, a $6.7 billion deficit.

Friday, November 7, 2008

News You Can Use: CDH 2.0

Don't miss the next big thing in CDH. According to Aaron C. Davis, president of NextLogical Benefit Strategies, LLC and speaker at EBN's recent Benefits Forum & Expo, the new CDH takes consumer-driven health one step further and transforms it to "compliance-driven health."

Davis defined compliance as "both a patient's commitment to following accepted protocols of disease management [and] a health plan member's commitment to following accepted standards of wellness, health maintenance and improvement."

Read more compliance-driven health in the current EBN.

Tip of the Day

Be a matchmaker. New survey results from Charles Schwab reveals a link between how a company offers its 401(k) match and employee saving levels. From 2004 to 2007, employees were most likely to choose the plan’s “match ceiling” as their deferral level in order to maximize the employer contributions they can receive. Benefit managers can leverage such tendencies to maximize their employer matching plan as well as juice employee deferrals.

For example, Schwab explains:
* Company A offers a 100% match, up to 3% of employee pay.
* Company B offers a 50% match, up to 6%percent of pay.

In both these cases, an employee could receive a 3% match, but, according to Schwab's findings, employees in Company B's plan would be more likely to defer the extra 3% into the plan to receive the maximum employer match. The maximum cost of the match to the employer remains the same.

News You Can Use: Losing sleep over the economy

A whopping 92% of employees are losing sleep over the economy, finds new news from ComPsych.

The survey found employees’ biggest concerns are:

  • 30% said the cost of living
  • 29% said credit card debt
  • 14% said their mortgage payment
  • 13% said their retirement account
  • 3% said their children’s college tuition
  • 3% said health-care costs.
"As the largest EAP, our increased call volume has been a reflection of the financial stressors faced by U.S. employees," said Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, chairman and CEO of ComPsych Corp., which conducted the poll. "Companies are realizing the impact of financial uncertainties upon their workers, and are proactively promoting support services such as EAPs with financial and legal guidance to help employees cope."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

News You Can Use: Your medical tourism travel agent

A recent LA Times article provides an international price list, research tips and information links for consumers considering having surgery performed overseas. As economic belt-tightening and higher deductibles have consumers seeking cheaper health care options, and Aetna, Blue Shield of California, HealthNet and PacifiCare all allow some form of covered cross-border care, the more your employees know, the better.

Tip of the Day

Make your list and check it twice. Now is the time to begin pulling together your year-end checklist for any must-dos regarding your retirement plan. Tips from Morgan Lewis can help get you started.

News You Can Use: Presidential preferences

Don't miss our must-see coverage of what President-elect Obama's policies will mean for you. It's all online at

News You Can Use: Go Green, reduce sick days

It's that time of year again. Just when it seems that the half of your office down with a cold or flu recovers, the other half goes out on sick leave or struggles through the day, sniffing and sneezing at their desk.

The World Health Organization estimates that the cost of influenza to the U.S. economy in terms of health care costs and lost productivity can range from $71 billion to $167 billion a year.

In order to combat illness, consider latching on to the industry's hottest trend - green cleaning!

"Green cleaning provides demonstrable benefits to improved indoor environmental utility that directly relates to decreased absenteeism and increased productivity. As a tenant leasing space in a building, you want to lease space that will provide the healthiest possible environment for your occupants," said Keith Schneringer, President of USGBC San Diego.

Cleaning products can contribute to indoor air quality problems as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) evaporate and are circulated through the building's ventilation system. Indoor air is often several times more contaminated than outdoor air, and allergic reactions to unhealthy environments account for more than 10 million workdays missed by U.S. employees each year.

By replacing products that negatively affect indoor environmental quality, the health and productivity of all building occupants is improved.

"…[U]se non-toxic, non-reactive chemicals that have a minimal effect on the environment," said Kurt Lester, partner of Servi-Tek, a green cleaning specialist.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Quotable: Look smart, recruiters!

"After a period of reactionary cutting and freezing, hiring activity will return to a level of normalcy that closely replicates the hiring levels experienced during the first half of 2008," says Jobfox CEO Rob McGovern, author of The Recession: A Silver Lining for Corporate Recruiters, a white paper. "Hiring is largely a function of 'job churn' and we see no evidence that churn will do anything but accelerate in the coming quarters."

Tip of the Day: Energy (and cost) saving tips for the office

When your business is struggling to save for every penny, low-to-no-cost ways to save money are often overlooked in the search for the next grand solution. Go green(er) and with these cost saving measures, courtesy of the E.P.A.'s ENERGY STAR program:

Give it a rest
Use power management settings on your computer and monitor (sleep mode) when not in use. Use the power strip as a central "turn off" point to completely disconnect the power supply at night.

Unplug it
Unplug cell phones and laptops when they are charged. Adapters draw energy from outlets even when they're not charging.

Lighten up
Make sure your bulbs are ENERGY STAR efficient. They last up to ten times longer and use 75% less energy. And of course, turn the lights off when you leave.

Let it flow
Make sure paper, files and office supplies aren't blocking air vents. Blocked vents use up to 25% more energy.

Team up
Remember the power of numbers. Create a "green team" in your office to brainstorm ways to make your working environment a greener place.

News You Can Use: Latest ECI numbers released

The Dept. of Labor recently released the latest Employment Cost Index data, a periodic breakdown of salary and benefit costs to employers. From June to September, benefits costs rose 0.7%. In private industry, benefit costsincreased 2.4 percent, less than the increase for state and local government, which was 3.3 percent for the12-month period ended September 2008.

Scone: Congratulations, President-elect Obama

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D) was elected the nation's 44th president by a decisive margin yesterday, winning 349 electoral votes to Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) 162.

The president-elect addressed the nation last night, acknowledging the challenges our nation faces at home and abroad, saying, "the road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you: We as a people will get there."

I congratulate President-elect Obama and hope all Americans rally to support him in working to solve our nation's diverse problems. To EBN readers, whether Obama won your vote or not, I hope that you made your desire for America's future known by participating in the process and that you will make your voice heard to our new president on the issues that matter most to you.

The level of engagement this year from people who never before have participated in the voting process and the change it can yield should inspire you. I encourage you to read up on Obama's positions on health care and retirement, and respond with your unique views.

Speaking of your views, I sincerely thank everyone who participated in our "rock the vote" quickpoll about the benefits-related issue that was most important to you in the election. Not surprisingly, health care reform topped the list, with 37% of the vote. Reducing benefit costs and reducing administrative burdens on HR/benefits staff tied with 30%.

For my part, I look forward to giving the issues that matter most to you and your employees a platform in EBN and bringing you benefits news and trends amid our new political reality.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

News You Can Use: Y? Because we're still calculating.

The IRS is waiving 2008 Code Y reporting for deferred compensation under 409A nonqualified deferred compensation plans, citing a need to figure out "how to calculate the amount that would be included in income." While they calculate, take a breather.

Overheard At: Retiree health -- now and in the future

Listen to Mike Thompson, a principal at PricewaterhouseCoopers, talk about the present and future trends in retiree health benefits. He discusses ways to make these benefits more sustainable for employers.

Tip of the Day


That's all. Happy Election Day!

News You Can Use: Absent employees cost companies more than one-third of payroll each year

It’s no secret that missing workers cost companies millions of dollars in lost revenue each year. But exactly how much does the combined cost of absenteeism affect your business?

According to a new survey by Mercer, “The Total Financial Impact of Employee Absences,” the total cost of absence can equal as much as 36% of payroll. Of that 36%, nine percent accounts for unplanned absences. Planned absences, like vacations and holidays, average 26.6%.

For even a mid-sized business, this unplanned absence can account for as much as $4.5 million dollars per year.

“Employers tend to focus their energies on managing healthcare costs because the dollars are easily measured,” said George Faulkner, principal and absence management specialist at Mercer. “But this new survey suggests that absences cost employers more than half the cost of healthcare, a startling number and a call to action for all organizations to get a better handle on this often unchecked cost.”

Unplanned absences like casual sick days result in the highest per-day productivity loss, 21% versus just 15% for planned absences like vacation days. On average, employees have 5.3 unplanned absence days per year.

“The cost of absenteeism is often misunderstood, seen as un-measurable, or dismissed as negligible,” said Toni Kellam, absence management consultant at Kronos, the company that commissioned Mercer’s survey. “[T]his new survey shows is that employers can control labor costs and increase productivity by better tracking and controlling their absence-related expenses and minimizing unplanned absences.”

In order to help manage unplanned absences, 36% of survey participants use a PTO bank rather than a tradition TTO plan for nonunion hourly workers. In contrast, only 29% use PTO banks for salaried workers.

Fourteen percent of employers don’t provide paid sick leave for non-union hourly workers (excepting disability claims).

Nearly 500 employers participated in the survey.

Monday, November 3, 2008

News You Can Use: Small businesses crave open enrollment advice

What do small businesses plan to do during open enrollment this year? Our new Web-only piece from SMB-HR gives you the scoop.

News You Can Use: Bikers need benefits, too

Leaving no stone unturned in the nation's effort to reduce the burden of gas prices and the downward economy, a little-known provision in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (aka, the $700 billion bailout law) allows employers to provide $20 a month in commuter benefits for employees that bike to work.

Covered reasonable expenses include the purchase of a bicycle and bicycle improvements, repair and storage.

Tip of the Day

Get a handle on diabetes costs. Two new studies on diabetes reveal the number of Americans with the disease spent $12.5 billion last year on drugs to manage it, and that although newer, more costly medications are driving the spending surge metformin (an inexpensive, reliable generic) may be more effective than sticker-shocking Avandia.

EBN reporting from earlier this year aims to help you "close the gate" on diabetes -- a gateway illness that can lead to or worsen hypertension, heart disease and obesity.

Overheard At: November issue highlights

Hear what Kelley Butler has to say about the November issue.