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January 2, 2008

Here are the Web's best new links about compliance and cost aspects of plan operation, design and policy.


Today's sponsor is 17th Annual Nat'l Health Benefits Conference & Expo (HBCE)

(Click on company name or banner to learn more.)
Banner ad for 17th Annual Nat'l Health Benefits Conference & Expo (HBCE)

"The Biggest Challenge Remains: Addressing the Most Intractable Cost Problem Facing American Employers"

January 17-18, 2008 - Tampa Waterfront Convention Center

Featuring: The Boeing Company (147,000 employees); Ohio Retirement Systems & Ohio State University (350,000 covered lives); Benefits Manager of the Year; Cities of Milwaukee & Las Vegas; Rayonier, Inc.; University of Alabama; Florida Power & Light (FPL); J.B. Hunt; Sonic Automotive, Inc. (Fortune 300); State of West Virginia; Manatee County Schools; Lincoln Industries, Inc.; Sarasota County...and more... 24 total sessions.
Contact Gene Piatek or Sheron Dean at: 941-484-1430 or email to: info@HBCE.com


(a) New Guidance Documents

(None today.)

(b) News

Reactions Vary on Changes to Retiree Health Benefits Rule
Excerpt: "The regulation from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) makes clear that employers can spend more on retirees under 65 than those over 65 without breaking age discrimination laws, so they can cut or reduce benefits for retirees when they become eligible for Medicare. That could mean more expansive benefits for retirees under 65 than those who are over 65, says the AARP, a membership organization that represents older Americans. 'The EEOC moved toward legitimizing discrimination based on age,' spokesman Drew Nannis says. 'This is a civil rights issue.'" (USA TODAY)

Group Challenges Arizona on Domestic Benefits
Excerpt: "An organization whose stated goals include 'restoring traditional moral principles'' to government policies is challenging the move by the administration of Gov. Janet Napolitano to extend health care and other benefits to the domestic partners of state and university employees." (MSNBC.com)

U.K. Health Bill of Rights Offers Patients Healthcare If They Diet, Quit Smoking
Excerpt: "British Prime Minister Gordon Brown proposed . . . an initiative under a new National Health Service constitution that encourages Britons to lose weight and give up smoking in exchange for rights to healthcare. He delivered the bill of rights for patients in a message to NHS staff that marked the 60th anniversary of England's health service." (AHN Media Corp)

Massachusetts State Health Care Levy Could Exceed $900 in 2008
Excerpt: "Penalties for Massachusetts residents who can afford health insurance but do not purchase it in 2008 could quadruple compared with the maximum penalty in 2007, according to draft regulations released by the Department of Revenue . . . . The maximum penalty for those who flout the law and do not buy health insurance would be $912 a year, compared to $219 in 2007." (The Boston Globe)

San Francisco Moves Ahead with Plans to Expand Health Services for Uninsured Residents While Appealing Federal Court Ruling
Excerpt: "[T]he ruling doesn't put Healthy San Francisco out of business, said Tangerine Brigham, director of the city's health benefits program. Funded by city taxes, a federal grant, quarterly membership fees and co-payments, the novel program will be available to the remaining two-thirds -- uninsured adults who earn up to 300% of the federal poverty level, or about $30,000 for an individual." (Los Angeles Times via Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association)

(c) Summaries of Guidance; Filed Comments

Overview of the Civil Union Law Which Takes Effect in New Hampshire on January 1, 2008
Excerpt: "This article is meant to help employers understand rights and obligations in the workplace. It does not address knotty issues which confront same-sex couples moving to NH from other states, and NH same-sex couples who may already have married in Massachusetts or Can.ada. Generally, these marriages or unions will be respected, and will not have to be renewed under NH procedures." (theworkplace.biz)

(d) Trends, Surveys, Research

Technology Raises New Issues for HIPAA Privacy Compliance
Excerpt: "Electronic health records make medical information easily accessible, but the technology also puts the data in the hands of more individuals. Consequently, lawmakers may have to include personal health record vendors as covered entities that have to comply with the privacy rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, William Braithwaite, president of Washington, D.C.-based Health Information Policy Consulting told attendees at the 15th National HIPAA Summit." (Employee Benefit Advisor; free registration required)

Yet Another ERISA Case Coming to Supreme Court?
Excerpt: "From SCOTUSblog today: The federal government has recommended that the Court grant certiorari in No. 06-923, MetLife v. Glenn, limited to the question presented of whether an ERISA plan administrator that both evaluates and pays claims operates under a conflict of interest that must be weighed on judicial review of benefit determinations. The government also recommended the Court direct the parties to address how courts should weigh such conflicts of interest in reviewing the discretionary benefit determination of a dual-role administrator." (Workplace Prof Blog)

Companies Learning Gains to Be Had from Helping Employees Lose Weight
Excerpt: "At the start, 25 percent of participants weighed in at a healthy level while 46 percent were considered obese. Nine months later, the latter group comprises just 32 percent. But there's more than pounds dropping. Ticknor says the firm has saved more than $150,000 in health-care claims since adopting the $12,000-a-year program." (CFO.com)

Employer Strategies Promote a 'Culture of Health and Financial Security'
Excerpt: "From Spencer's Benefits Reports: MetLife's 5th Annual Employee Benefits Trend Study confirms that more employers are implementing worksite wellness and prevention programs to help contain health care costs." (Wolters Kluwer Financial Services)

Interview with Director of Work/life Solutions at Abbott Laboratories
Excerpt: "Abbott Laboratories has long prided itself for being innovative with work/life programs for its 33,000-plus U.S. employees -- from its $10 million state-of-the-art child care center at its headquarters outside of Chicago to its extensive flextime initiative." (Workforce Management; free registration required)

Healthcare Information Technology in 2007 -- Governance and Electronic Information Management
Excerpt: "Electronic health record, electronic medical record; tomato, tomahto, right? Not quite, in the healthcare IT world. When it comes to information management systems, terms have exact meanings to professionals. So much that the federal government has developed committees to define what is an EHR and an EMR as well as a personal health record, regional health information organization and health information exchange." (Modern Healthcare; free registration required)

(e) Policy, Opinion, Advocacy

Opinion: Is Romney's Healthcare Plan Conservative?
Excerpt: "On Sunday, December 16, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told NBC's 'Meet the Press' host Tim Russert, 'The plan we put together in Massachusetts I think is working in Massachusetts. . . . I happen to like what we did. I think it's a good model for other states.' Merrill Matthews here offers a different view." (Human Events via Council for Affordable Health Insurance)

Hewitt Federal Legislation Quick Guide Updated December 26, 2007, for Health and Welfare Plans (PDF)
13 pages. This Federal Legislation Quick Guide provides short updates on federal legislation that is currently under active consideration by Congress or has recently been enacted into law regarding health and welfare benefit plans. (Hewitt Associates)


Links to Items on Executive Comp, Benefits in General

SEC Allows More Use of Simpler Options Expensing
Excerpt: "An SEC news release said its Staff Accounting Bulletin (SAB) 110 permits the simplified method of valuing stock option grants for income statement purposes if the company's historical experience is not enough to allow a more involved calculation. The agency said without the new SAB, eligible public companies would have lost the option to use the simplified method as of December 31, 2007.' (PLANSPONSOR.com; free registration required)

Working Past Retirement Age Brings Benefits and Challenges
Excerpt: "Having a continuing income is a decided advantage of postponing retirement, whether you work in the same field as before retirement age or change roles altogether. Working longer increases lifetime earnings, Social Security payments - when those payment are deferred - and employer-sponsored pension credits. It also shortens the period over which lifetime savings must be spread." (Oregon Live LLC)

As Boomers Near Retirement, a Brain Drain Is Feared in Government
Excerpt: "Baby boomers -- usually defined as those born between 1946 and 1964 -- are top managers at many institutions in this country. If they retire in waves, observers warn, they could leave unprepared organizations scrambling to find qualified executives and middle managers. Some observers worry particularly about government." (The Austin American-Statesman)

SEC Tool Allows Investors to Compare Company Executive Compensation Data
Excerpt: "Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Christopher Cox has launched the first-ever online tool that enables investors to see what 500 of the largest American companies are paying their top executives. According to an SEC news release, the Executive Compensation Reader - available on the SEC's Web site at http://www.sec.gov/xbrl - builds on the Commission's new executive compensation disclosure requirements that went into effect earlier this year." (PLANSPONSOR.com; free registration required)

Hewitt Federal Legislation Quick Guide for December 26, 2007, on Human Resources & Employment Law (PDF)
13 pages. This Federal Legislation Quick Guide provides short updates on federal legislation that is currently under active consideration by Congress or has recently been enacted into law regarding human resources and employment law. (Hewitt Associates)

EBSA FY 2007 Enforcement Efforts Capped by 32% Increase in Indictments
Excerpt: "Examples Of ERISA Civil Violations[:] Failing to operate the plan prudently and for the exclusive benefit of participants. Using plan assets to benefit certain related parties to the plan, including the plan administrator, the plan sponsor, and parties related to these individuals. Failing to properly value plan assets at their current fair market value, or to hold plan assets in trust. Failing to follow the terms of the plan (unless inconsistent with ERISA). Failing to properly select and monitor service providers. Taking any adverse action against an individual for exercising his or her rights under the plan (e.g., being fired, fined, or otherwise being discriminated against)." (Health Plan Law blog by Attorney Roy F. Harmon III)


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