Friday, January 30, 2009

Tip of the Day: Engage, not enrage employees during diversity training

Diversity training generally makes employees apprehensive at best and defensive at worst -- a fact that EBN contributor Jarik Conrad concedes. However, he offers several traps for you to avoid in crafting a diversity training program so it can be less scary and more successful.

What do's and don'ts have you picked up along the way about diversity training? Do tell! Comment below.

News You Can Use: Knowledge is power (and satisfaction)

Want your employees to be happier with their benefits? Tell them more about them.

A Univers/EBN survey finds that employees who are knowledgeable about their benefits are almost 30% more likely to be satisfied with the plans offered. Further, the survey reveals:

* Companies that have high employee satisfaction are 86% more likely to say their benefits affect recruitment and retention positively.
* Firms with benefit-knowledgeable employees are 67% more likely to report turnover rates of less than 20%, compared to firms where benefit knowledge is low.
* Providing more benefit options has a positive impact on workers, but that impact is small when compared to the impact of increased benefit knowledge.
* There is a direct correlation between employee satisfaction with the enrollment process and the employee understanding of the benefits offered.
* At companies where employees are satisfied with the enrollment process, there is greater use of personal interaction methods in combination with self-service systems for open enrollment.

So what's the best way to get the word out about the full value of your benefits? Well we can't give away the entire farm. Click here to read EBN's report on the survey, then comment on which ways you communicate benefits to your workers and what has been most/least effective.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Overheard @: Women's groups respond to Lilly Ledbetter Act signing

Following President Obama's White House ceremony this morning to sign into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, representatives of women's groups are voicing their approval. Among them:

* Debra L. Ness, PresidentNational Partnership for Women & Families: “In making the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act the first bill he signs into law, President Obama today signals an end to the days when we had to revisit and defend women’s and civil rights victories of the past, and can instead focus on creating jobs, promoting fairness, and ending discrimination in our workplaces.

The harmful U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Ledbetter v. Goodyear will now become an ugly footnote in our history books. We now enter a new era in which equal opportunity is real and anti-discrimination laws matter. In this struggling economy, workers need protection from discrimination more than ever. Equal pay for equal work is among one of our country’s most fundamental values. We applaud President Obama for taking this essential step for fair pay in America.”

* Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Executive Director, "It was with great pride and joy that I attended today’s Presidential signing ceremony of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Now federal law ensures that employees are able to seek redress if they learn that they have been discriminated against in pay because of their gender, race or ethnicity. Many years ago, Lilly Ledbetter bravely stood up to a major corporation and fought for the rights of workers all across this country to fight pay discrimination. And today, by making this the very first bill he signed into law, President Barack Obama showed us that he is acting on the promises he made in his campaign."

What reaction have you heard -- among women and other groups? Comment below.

News You can Use: Obama signs fair pay law

President Barack Obama this morning signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which, according to the Associated Press, clarifies that the 180-day statute of limitations is extended every time an employer violates the law by issuing a paycheck or engages in other practices that discriminate.

Therefore, AP reports, if an employee alleges that she received a salary 20 years ago that was less than that of male co-workers because of discrimination, each new paycheck since that occurrence would be a new unlawful employment practice that resets the statute of limitations. The bill retains current limits on employer liability by restricting back pay awards to two years.

The law carries Ledbetter's name because she's been a staunch fair pay advocate ever since filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission when she found out she was earning less than male coworkers. A Supreme Court ruling in 2007 threw out Ledbetter's complaint, saying she was required to bring suit within 180 days of the initial act of discrimination.

Read more about the law and its implications for you here, and comment below to let us know your thoughts about the law's approval.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Majority of employees sacrifice retirement for health care benefits

Sunlife Financial Inc., a Toronto based financial services organization, released a retirement poll today finding that 64% of employees would continue working past 67 in order to retain health benefits -- a motivator that rose from the sixth most popular reason in August to the third in December when the poll was conducted.

Forty to 49 year-olds are most likely to continue working into their golden years, with 77% of them planning to work past the traditional age of retirement for health care benefits, a 60% spike in the last 90 days.

Despite the plethora of employees working for health benefits, they continue to sacrifice their health as approximately one third (34%) of employees delayed a routine or elective medical procedure.

Investments savings from 401(k)s, IRAs, or annuities were left untouched by 90% of respondents, suggesting that health comes second to supporting a financially stable lifestyle.

Tip of the Day: Remember dependents may need DM, too

As childhood obesity threatens the nation as significantly as adult obesity, two Blues plans have launched obesity disease management programs to help their youngest members get back on a healthy track.

Although most employers' wellness and DM efforts may be targeting their parents, a recent report from EBN reminds that you're paying for the health risks and illnesses of obese kids as well, and a DM revamp may be just what the doctor (pediatrician?) ordered.

Are dependents covered under your company's DM or wellness program? What specific interventions do you conduct for children? Comment and let us know.

News You Can Use: Hospital utilization down

Good news or bad news? You make the call.

A new report in Health Plan Week finds that although ER visits ticked up slightly, hospital admissions took a sharp dive during the fourth quarter of 2008, compared to the same period in '07. Analysts cited in the article blame higher financial burdens for patients (copays, deductibles) combined with the economic downturn for the decline.

While decreased utilization sounds like a benefit manager's dream come true, is it really? HPW sources also say the decline in hospital utilization could still prove costly, as people put off necessary services then end up needing more significant procedures later.

What say you? Is concern over declining utilization valid (as this EBN contributor contends), or just looking a gift horse in the mouth? Comment and let me know.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tip of the Day: Mark your ERISA compliance calendar

Here at EBN, deadlines are sacrosanct; so should it be for retirement plan sponsors. Click here for a 2009 list of ERISA compliance dates/deadlines. As experts predict ERISA lawsuits to rise this year, make sure you cross every T and dot every I.

News You Can Use: Wanted - snake charmers; less than 1 in 10 opt for COBRA

Granted, this is more like "News You Likely Already Knew," but new research from The Commonwealth Fund reveals that COBRA is so expensive that just 9% of eligible workers opts for COBRA coverage after losing insurance due to a layoff or other termination.

Unemployed workers who also lose their health insurance would need substantial financial assistance, covering 75% to 85% of their health insurance premiums, for their premium contributions to remain at the levels they paid while they were working, according to the report. That figure comes on the heels of a proposal from President Obama that would subsidize COBRA premiums up to 60% for 18 months, and House passage of a similar proposal.

Even worse off are the 62% of workers ineligble for COBRA coverage because they don't receive health insurance through their jobs, work for small firms that aren't required to offer COBRA, or are uninsured to begin with, Commonwealth finds.

With more layoffs coming, and so many of you against subsidies (see comments on previous post here), what's the answer? Perhaps FSA or HSA funds could be tapped to pay COBRA premiums? Comment below and share your views.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Tip of the Day: Close the 'engagement gap'

With virtually all businesses facing significant challenges, it is even more important for employers to keep employees engaged, focused and productive. A new book released by Towers Perrin, "Closing the Engagement Gap - How Great Companies Unlock Employee Potential for Superior Results," highlights the "Engaging Eight" -- eight companies whose leadership, management and culture drive high employee engagement.

The companies are: Campbell Soup Company, EMC Corporation, Honeywell International, McKesson Corporation, MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, Novartis AG and Recreational Equipment Inc. Further, the book offers five keys to unlocking employees' engagement potential.

After reading up, check out the engagment gap blog TP has set up. But why take their word for it? How is your company keeping employees engaged during the recession? Share your own tips on engaging employees -- comment below.

News You Can Use: In recession, employees prioritize steady paycheck over advancement

As the economic distress lingers, Towers Perrin finds most employees are ready to sacrifice career advancement for the simple security of a regular paycheck.

Job security and long-term earning potential are the key concerns for respondents, Towers Perrin finds. Forty-five percent of those polled believe they face greater risk that their job will change or be eliminated. And 55% believe the risk that their future earnings will plateau or decline has increased as well.

"In an economic downturn, employees want to lock down the things they need to provide stability and security for themselves and their families. A steady paycheck and set of core benefits, including health care coverage, typically top that list," says Emmett Seaborn, a Towers Perrin principal and head of intellectual capital development.

Indeed, having adequate benefit protection for themselves and their families rose sharply in importance as well, moving into the No. 2 slot from No. 4 previously, with 56% putting this in the top five in December, compared with only 37% in August.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Tip of the Day: Everybody grab a partner

A January EBN report details states teaming up in partnership plans for long-term insurance policies. Think of it like Batman and Spiderman working together -- only to fight LTC costs. Still unclear? Click here to read the report.

Would you consider an LTC partnership? Yay or nay, comment below and share your views.

News You Can Use: Learn to spot PBM audit pitfalls

A PBM audit could uncover mistakes like incorrectly applied network discounts, mail-order discounts, specialty discounts, rebate payments, administrative fees and other program fees.
Other potential findings include incorrect application of member or drug coverage eligibility rules, cost-sharing rules, prior authorization, step therapy and override rules. These mistakes might add up to be very costly for employers.

"We've seen audits that have identified millions of dollars in recoveries," says Brian Bullock, president of The Burchfield Group, a St. Paul, Minn.-based firm that provides PBM audits and contract negotiations. Sounds pretty good; I'm sure you wouldn't turn away from potential millions, right?

However, audits can be ineffective for plan sponsors if their PBM contract includes too many auditing restrictions. Click here to read EBN's report on some restrictions to watch out for and other audit missteps to avoid.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tip of the Day: Throw your hat in the ring to be EBN's newest columnist

New for '09, EBN is looking for new columnists to write on a variety of benefits topics, like health and wellness plans, retirement benefits, work-life benefits, HR/benefits strategy, training, career development and more. E-mail me at if you, a colleague or client is interested in writing a regular column for the magazine or the Web site.

News You Can Use: HR pay data revealed

Hopefully in time for HR professionals to negotiate their annual bonuses and pay increases, Watson Wyatt Data Services recently released the "2008/2009 Survey Report on Human Resources Personnel Compensation," now in its 14th edition.

The report, based on responses from 2,075 U.S. organizations in 5,100 locations, covers salary information for HR/benefits professionals in 198 geographic areas - including 136 metropolitan areas - and 165 industries. Click here to read EBN's coverage of the report.

You can use it as a benchmark in your own career, or for the planning of HR future compensation levels in your own organization.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tip of the Day: Don't let your retirement plan get 'Madoff'd'

A new report in Workforce Management sketches out the Dec. 11, 2008, arrest of Bernard Madoff, a Wall Street trader and former Nasdaq chair, who allegedly ran a $50 billion Ponzi scheme.

Although few pension plans had money invested with Madoff, the scandal means employers need to adopt a "healthy skepticism" about their retirement plan investments, Workforce reports. Read their advice from experts here.

News You Can Use: Your CI questions answered

The January EBN features the report, "Critical care," with the most common questions about critical illness insurance answered by folks who know way more than us. Everything from "What is critical illness insurance?" to "What should be on employers' checklist when shopping for a group critical illness vendor?" is covered. Click here to read the report.

Comment below to share your CI experiences and words to the wise. Got questions of your own? Comment below, and we'll find the answers.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tip of the Day: Get ready to issue creditable coverage notices

Although we're just a few days into '09, you know how fast time flies -- March will be here before you know it. Keeping that in mind, I -- and the folks at Buck Consultants -- want to remind you that group health plan sponsors that provide prescription drug coverage to Medicare Part D eligible individuals must annually disclose to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services whether such coverage qualifies as creditable or non-creditable prescription drug coverage.

All plan sponsors that provide prescription drug coverage are required to make this disclosure, even if they do not make coverage available to retirees. Calendar year plans must submit the disclosure to CMS by March 1.

I'm curious. When it comes to meeting such regulatory requirements, are you generally an 11th-hour scrambler or an early bird that gathers no moss? Comment below and let us know.

News You Can Use: Even with pension relief, plan sponsors come up short

U.S. employers will be required to contribute more than $108 billion into their defined benefit plans this year, according to an analysis by Watson Wyatt. Although that’s roughly $16 billion less than employers would have had to contribute without the passage of a new pension funding relief law late last year, Watson Wyatt pension experts say employers will still need additional relief.

“This new law is a positive first step,” says Alan Glickstein, a senior retirement consultant with Watson Wyatt. “However, we urge lawmakers to pass additional temporary funding relief as companies transition to new, more restrictive funding requirements while battling declining pension asset values and a weakened economy.”

Watson Wyatt estimates that even with the enactment of the Worker, Retiree and Employer Recovery Act of 2008, both the required contribution levels in 2009 ($108.7 billion) and 2010 ($102.8 billion) will mark a significant jump from 2008 ($38 billion). Additionally, some employers that fail to meet the minimum 80 percent funded threshold may contribute an additional $3.2 billion. Otherwise, the payment of lump-sum benefits would be restricted under the Pension Protection Act.

“PPA will eventually lead to better and smoother funding,” says Mark Warshawsky, director of retirement research at Watson Wyatt. “But its implementation could not have happened at a worse time. Now, as contributions jump, employers may be forced to make tough choices to cut costs. We hope that with more temporary funding assistance, employers will still be able to provide defined benefits plans and their employees will continue to enjoy retirement security.”

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tip of the Day: Lawyer up

If 2008's figures on ERISA and FLSA lawsuits are any indication, employers can expect even more legal filings this year, as employees continue to lose their jobs in the economic recession, predicts international law firm Seyfarth Shaw.

According the 5th Annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report compiled by Seyfarth Shaw, the top 10 ERISA class action settlements entered into or paid in 2008 totaled $17.7 billion, up from the $1.818 billion settlement tally of the previous year.

The firm attributed the exponential increase to more "stock drop suits," where the retirement plan participants challenge the perceived lack of employer stock as an investment option, and "plan administration" suits challenging excessive advisory fees and other mechanics of the plan. Click here to learn about other key findings from the report.

Related EBN coverage:
DOL finalizes civil penalties against plan sponsors

Wish You Were Here: Logan employees use vacation days as currency

As the recession deepens, a benefit that allows workers to sell their vacation days could prove popular among workers, although may raise challenges for benefit pros.

Employees at the Logan International Airport are reaping the benefits of "selling back" up to three weeks of their unused vacation time, fattening their paychecks by up to 6%.

According to The Boston Globe, about 300 union workers and management employees trade in vacation days for cash, costing the public agency that runs the airport $750,000 annually.

Some 30% of the group's 1,200 employees sell back their vacation days; however, 70% of the longest tenured employees trade in unused leave, hoping to increase their salary. Public workers typically receive 80% of their salary as a pension payment.

However, the program isn't receiving rave reviews from all HR/benefits experts. "It's an abuse. It's not right, and the public deserves better," Fred Foulkes, a Boston University professor and director of the university's Human Resources Policy Institute told the Globe.

Additionally, the perk can prove difficult to monitor among higher management. "Nobody asks a top manager for a doctor's note when he's out sick, for example. There's a high level of trust. You assume a lot. And that's risky," adds Foulkes.

What do you think? Is this a benefit you would consider offering your workforce, as the economy worsens? Could it prove valuable even in fatter economic times? Share your comment below.

Related coverage:

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tip of the Day: Answer the call to service

President-elect Barack Obama has called on Americans to spend Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. holiday engaging in community service projects. His transition team has offered a list of more than 8,500 projects occurring nationwide for individuals/families/teams to participate in.

As many employers offer Monday as a paid holiday, I encourage you to meet the President-elect's call and engage in an act of service -- no matter how small -- with your family, your coworkers, your friends or just by yourself.

If you need more reasons besides improving your community, read this EBN report that details evidence that volunteerism has positive health effects and aids retention among employers that offer volunteer programs.

How will you spend the King holiday? If you're planning a service project, what is it? Comment below to share your plans and volunteerism programs.

News You Can Use: PBGC assesses DB plan terminations

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation issued its Pension Insurance Data Book 2007, which shows that small plans have been terminating at a faster rate than larger plans.

For example, 75% of single-employer plans that terminated their plans had fewer than 25 participants, and more than 90% had fewer than 100 participants. Yet less than one percent of plans with 100 or more participants terminated the plan in 2007, according to the book, which outlines statistical trends for DB plans in the private sector.

Overall, 4.2% of single-employer plans insured by PBGC terminated their plans in 2007. The study examined 1,219 plans. The primary reasons why plan sponsors terminated the plans included:

  • The company was restructuring its retirement program
  • Adverse business conditions
  • The expense of plan administration
  • The sale of the company

Related EBN coverage:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tip of the Day: Join the debate on autism coverage

Although President-elect Obama has made expanding access to health care and health coverage a cornerstone of his agenda, the Autism Partnership - an advocacy group based in Seal Beach, Calif. - cautions the adminstration and the general public against neglecting a particularly vulnerable group: children with autism.

Autism, also called autism spectrum disorder, is a pervasive developmental disability, typically characterized by delayed speech, impairments in social interaction and certain repetitive behaviors. Autism is the most prevalent disorder afflicting children; the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimate that one in every 150 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder. Although eight states have enacted coverage mandates for autism treatments, ERISA provisions prevent a national mandate.

Critics of coverage mandates usually suggest that requiring insurers to cover such treatments raises the cost of health care coverage for everyone. Proponents say covering early and aggressive treatment for autism can lessen costs over the long-term.

What do you think? Please comment and let me know. I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

News You Can Use: NBGH pushes for spending on health IT, COBRA subsidies

As Congress starts to set the details of an economic stimulus package, the National Business Group on Health on Monday outlined its health care priorities.

It recommends that the stimulus package include spending on health information technology, medical research on comparative effectiveness and subsidies for unemployed people to pay for COBRA coverage.

NBGH President Helen Darling acknowledged that these ideas could be very expensive, but also said they can revive the national economy and generate long-term improvements in the health care system’s quality and efficiency.

Health IT spending should focus mainly on small physician groups because that’s “where we are least likely to have progress” without government support, she added.

Stressing the urgency of the situation, Darling said Congress should act quickly and make compromises because “we are in a war for the recovery of the U.S. economy.” She said she’s “very optimistic about health reform” coming as a set of changes, rather than a single package.
--Leah Carlson Shepherd

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tip of the Day: Maintain that dental plan

Sure, it's not as "sexy" and newsmaking as other benefits, like health care and retirement plans. And it's not the "unicorn" benefit that might get you on the Fortune list, like sushi bars and onsite massages. But dental benefits arguably are the tortoise to health benefits hare, and a new survey from Delta Dental cements their value among consumers. reports Delta Dental Plans Association recently issued survey results showing that workers with employer-sponsored dental benefits are more likely to visit their dentists for checkups than other workers.

For example, 83% of participants with dental benefits visit the dentist twice or more a year, compared to 63% of consumers who pay out of pocket for their dental benefits or dental care. Moreover, employed adults lose more than 64 million hours of work each year due to dental disease or dental visits.

Click here to read more survey results and related EBN dental coverage.

Wish You Were Here: Kentucky bank bucks trend, increases 401(k) match

Finally some good 401(k) matching news right when we could use it. Not willing to follow the big boys down the road of cutting 401(k) matching contributions, Louisville-based Republic Bank not only has increased its 401(k) match, it has cut its vesting time to give employees matchung funds faster, PlanSponsor reports.

Chairman and CEO Steve Trager told the Louisville Courier-Journal said the shift was spurred by the bank's strong results last year (another departure from its larger counterparts). Republic will match 100% of employee 401(k) contributions, up from half, according to reports, and vest employees fully after two years rather than six.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tip of the Day: Read ABC's cure for what ails ya

A bit long, but still interesting read from the American Benefits Council offers the organization's 10 prescriptions for reforming health care. To my eyes, it generally covers plowed ground -- build on the employer-based system, eliminate inefficiencies -- but could spark some debate on its call for an individual coverage mandate. Click here to read the report, then comment below on what you think are the best Rx's to cure the nation's ailing health care system.

News You Can Use: When it comes to wellness, employees say out of site, out of mind

I have a treadmill in my home, and it's a good thing I do. Otherwise, I likely would not exercise. I have the same attitude toward health care; I prefer to go to retail clinics because I don't need an appointment and their hours fit my schedule. Convenience is king. Apparently, I'm in good company, and employers are noticing.

A recent Mercer survey finds that employers who offer primary care services at an onsite clinic can control health-care costs by providing a lower-cost option and to improve productivity by reducing time lost for workers to receive care offsite. Some 31% of large employers offer occupational health clinics, 14% offer a clinic to provide primary care and 10% are considering adding a primary care clinic this year.

Of course, the inevitable response is: Well sure, we'd love to have an onsite clinic but they're too expensive. However, according to Mercer, some employers have found sharing clinic services to be a workable, cost-saving solution. The survey finds 11% of respondents currently share their clinic with another employers and 13% would consider sharing.

And relating back to my 'convenience is king' argument, Mercer finds that 86% of employers cite “convenience (in terms of time and effort) for their employees” as an important or very important objective in offering an onsite clinic. Among other reasons:
* 77%, better access to preventive care.
* 75%, encouraging employees to make better use of health/wellness programs.
* 74%, control of overall health spend.

For more from EBN on onsite health, click here.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tip of the day: Get a grip on absenteeism reasons, costs

It seems keeping a handle on who's out when for what is the "Who's on First?" of benefits management. A survey from Mercer finds that total cost of absence can equal as much as 36% of payroll. Of that figure, 9% accounts for unplanned absences. Planned absences, like vacations and holidays, average 26.6%. For a mid-size business, this unplanned absence can account for as much as $4.5 million dollars per year, reports Mercer.

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

Click here for EBN coverage on quantifying and reducing absenteesim costs, particularly FMLA absences.

News You Can Use: Govt. may subsidize COBRA

Someone who knows someone who knows a lobbyist close to the stimulus package talks tells Workforce Management that Congress may be considering a 50% to 60% subsidy of COBRA premiums for employees who lose their jobs. The subsidy would last 18 months, the maximum time workers can maintain COBRA through their ex-employers.

One of the biggest complaints about COBRA has long been that it's too expensive -- particularly for workers who suddenly find themselves out of work and/or need to cover their entire families. However, health industry experts also lament that Americans have been sheltered from the true cost of health care and coverage, which is why COBRA induces such sticker shock.

What say you? Should the government subsidize COBRA premiums? For how long? President-elect Obama seems to lean in favor, WM reports. Do you? Comment below.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Tip of the Day: Consider making every day "Bring your child to work day"?

A recent New York Times article weighs the pros and cons of allowing parents to bring their children (newborns, toddlers and all ages in between) to the office on a regular basis.

The pros: saving costs of having employees gone during traditional maternity leave, improved work-life balance, potentially happier working parents. Cons: Distracted parents at best, miserable coworkers at worst.

Your thoughts? Comment below.

News You Can Use: Obama to form taskforce for working families

President-elect Barack Obama has announced plans to convene a White House taskforce charged to "look at existing and future policies across the board and use a yard stick to measure how they are impacting the working and middle-class families," Vice president-elect Joe Biden said, who will chair the taskforce.

Biden's team on the taskforce will include the secretaries of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Commerce, as well as the directors of the National Economic Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the Domestic Policy Council and the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Benefit managers will want to stay up-to-date on the taskforce's activities, as the goals Obama has outlined generally fall under benefit pros' area of authority, including:
• Expand education and lifelong training opportunities
• Improve work and family balance
• Restore labor standards, including workplace safety
• Protect retirement security

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Tip of the Day: White-knuckle your 401(k) match

In light of the economic recession and the news that big-name employers like GM, Sears, FedEx, Motorola and Starbucks have suspended 401(k) matching contributions, you may be tempted to keep the option as an open hole in your company's ever-tightening belt.

That, however, would be a mistake.

Why? For one, according to U.S. News, eliminating 401(k) matches may not even produce enough cost savings to impress shareholders/customers. Second, research cited in the same U.S. News article shows despite general investor inertia, companies that drop their match could see participation drop by 5 to 11 percentage points

Third, for employees who stay in the plan, "It's penalizing the folks who are doing the right thing (by) contributing to their retirement," Alec Dike, a senior financial counselor for Watson Wyatt, told USA Today. And fourth, move could scare off the very shareholders/customers you're seeking to calm, as Dike says, "it suggests you are in worse financial straits than you really are."

What are your thoughts? Is your company considering eliminating/already eliminated its 401(k) match? Why/why not? Comment below.

News You Can Use: You're damned if you do and damned if you don't on health reform, CBO reports

A new report from the Congressional Budget Office explores the various proposals on the table for reforming the nation's health care system and concludes there aren't many options that will overwhelmingly benefit both employers and employees.

Although most surveys find employers in favor of health reform, among the proposed options to increasing the number of Americans with health coverage -- essentially, premium subsidies and/or individual or employer mandates to obtain/provide coverage -- most would increase costs, CBO finds. And higher costs for employers likely would ultimately mean lower pay for workers (and less taxable income for the government).

Got an idea for how best to reform the health care system? Comment below to share it with us, or click here to share it with the Obama administration.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

News You Can Use: Employees resolve to have better work-life balance

Ninety-six percent of full-time, U.S. workers say it will be equally or more important to find a better work-life balance in 2009, according to a new survey from FedEx Office.

Age is an important factor in the pursuit of work-life balance. As age increased, respondents were less likely to seek better work-life balance, possibly indicating that an acceptable level of balance has already been reached in older age groups.

To achieve their goal of better balance, 49% of full-time U.S. workers plan to take advantage of all their vacation time, while 41% plan to leave work at a reasonable hour, and 36% plan to take lunch breaks on a consistent basis. Another 29% plan to avoid doing work at home or during off-hours, while 24% will consider starting their work day earlier in the morning, and 21% plan to take advantage of flex-time options, the survey found.

Despite the recession and rising unemployment rate, 11% of full-time U.S. workers plan to find a better job, change jobs or change work locations as a way to find better work-life balance in 2009. --Leah Carlson Shepherd

Tip of the Day: Help your employees keep their new year's resolutions

Strike while the iron is hot, benefit managers! Now is the time when most people resolve to lose weight, quit smoking and generally get healthier, so now also is the perfect time to engage or re-engage your empoyees in a wellness program.

According to a survey from Workplace Options, 63% of respondents want their employer to offer wellness programs to help maintain a healthy lifestyle.

And although money may be tight, Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin HealthMiles, a Massachusetts-based wellness program provider, says now is the right time to invest in wellness.

"Investing in wellness during a tight business quarter is necessary because [employers'] health care costs have not changed that much and they are looking for ways to reduce that costs," he told EBN. Click here to read the full article on maintaining wellness during a recession.

News You Can Use: LTD appeal goes against Unum

The Second Circuit Court of Appals last month ruled in McCauley v. Unum that the disability insurance giant in 1995 abused its discretion and denied benefits to a cancer sufferer under a conflict of interest.

The ruling, issued Dec. 24, 2008, involved John McCauley, who was diagnosed with advanced cancer in 1991, and notified his employer in 1994 that he was unable to keep working due to the effect of treatment. Unum in 1995 denied long-term benefits to McCauley that had been provided by his former employer, and again in 1996 under conversion coverage, leading McCauley to sue Unum for bad faith.

Although a district court sided with the insurer, the appeals court found for McCauley based on last year's Supreme Court case, MetLife v. Glenn, where justices ruled courts should consider conflicts of interest in cases where an insurer both administers the benefit and pays or denies claims.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Overheard @: Make your communication program recession-proof

This month, EBN spent "Five Minutes With ..." Kathryn Yates, a communication global practice leader at Watson Wyatt. Yates chatted with Managing Editor Leah Shepherd about how to effectively communicate with employees during these difficult economic times and to analyze the results of a Univers/EBN survey on employee communication. Read Shepherd’s story about the survey in the January issue.

EBN's "Five Minutes With..." series is brought to you by Universal American, experts in retiree group health plans.

Tip of the Day: Share your views & experiences with CDH

EBN has commissioned a survey in conjunction with Healthcentric Partners Inc. to gauge and understand benefit managers' views, expectations and experiences with consumer-driven health plans. We invite you to participate in the online survey here. We look forward to sharing the survey results with you in an upcoming issue of the magazine.

News You Can Use: BNA launches new online information hub

BNA, a news publisher, announced last week the launch of the International HR Decision Support Network. The online service offers members international updates, strategic white papers from internal and external experts, live and archived audio conference presentations, a vertical search engine and e-newsletter subscriptions.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Overheard @: The latest in DM stats

This month, EBN spent "Five Minutes With ..." Tracey Moorhead, president of DMAA. Moorhead spoke with Associate Editor Lydell Bridgeford on new trends and best practices in disease management programs, based on the organization’s latest research. Read Bridgeford’s article, “Sharper image: Economic malaise brings disease management goals into focus,” in the January EBN.

Tip of the Day: Send in your speaker proposals for BFE '09

Attention all aspiring presenters! Topic and speaker proposals now are being accepted for EBN's 2009 Benefits Forum & Expo, to be held Sept. 13-15 in Atlanta. All suggested sessions must include the name of an actual benefits practitioner. Benefit product and service providers also are invited to submit proposals, as long as ideas include an employer-client(s) to co-present. Proposals must be submitted online. Submission deadline is Jan. 23. For additional information visit or e-mail

News You Can Use: Have meeting, won't travel

Could the silver lining to the recession be fewer meetings? No, we're not that lucky. However, employers are looking at ways to meet smarter, if not less frequently.

WorldatWork reports a recent study from Worktopia, that finds the economic downturn is forcing companies to control the cost of offsite meetings, while not reducing the number of meetings planned for 2009.

According to Wroktopia, although 47% of respondents are not changing the number of offsite meetings planned for this year (a merciless 14% anticipate an increase in meetings), 71% of respondents report shrinking meeting budgets and 86% are taking steps to control spending on offsite meetings. The cost-cutting options include lower-priced venues (54%), a strategic meeting management process (37%) and conducting regional (versus national) meetings (32%).

Although I'm a proponent of the have fewer meetings strategy, just 39% said they expect to go that route.

Click here for EBN coverage on how avatars are being used to reduce the time and frequency (although not necessarily effectiveness) of benefits communication meetings.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Long-term care doubles in popularity over past decade

The percentage of workers with long-term care insurance provided by employers has doubled since 1999, from 6% to 12%. In larger companies with 100 or more employees, 20% of workers have access to long-term care, according to the 2008 National Compensation Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Because of the relative low cost of the offering, more and more employers are turning to long-term care providers. When electing an appropriate carrier, employers should “consider plan design, pricing, quality of operations, financial stability and a demonstrated commitment to offering the coverage," says Frank J. Fimmano, senior vice president with Aon Consulting in New York.

Providers should offer the equivalent of a built-in inflation adjuster to keep the policy’s worth relative to inflation as workers age.

However, just because these plans are accessible, employees don’t always follow through. As these programs are often funded by employee premiums, many do not take advantage while others simply do not want to consider a future where they or a family member needs full-time care. The program should not be a massive headcount; instead employers should approach the care plan with an underwriting-driven strategy as opposed to a marketing-driven policy.

Tip of the Day: 'Step up to the plate'

A recent Society for Human Resource Management panel discussion, China Miner Gorman, the association's chief operating officer said that amid the economic recession, “The expectation for HR to step up to the plate with strategic business solutions is increasing, and HR is looked to more and more for bottom-line strategies.”

Among the panelists were senior HR executives from SAIC, AOL and Sodexo, who shared their strategies for stepping up and swinging for the fences. Click here to read more.

News You Can Use: HR pros play futurist

Although most HR professionals are used to asking prospective employees, "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" execs and thought-leaders turned the question on themselves as part of a recent report for Workforce Management.

Among pros' predictions for what the employment landscape will look like in 2018:

* Face time and offshoring will fade.
* Leadership development will prove critical.
* HR will be driven toward "decision science."

Read the full report here.