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January 3, 2008

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


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(a) New Guidance Documents

(None today.)

(b) News

UAW Health-Care Trust Questioned: Inflation Estimates Are Too Low, Experts Say
Excerpt: "The UAW's plan has two key problems, the experts say: Automakers are paying an estimated $52 billion to shift $88 billion in retiree health-care liabilities to the union-run trust -- leaving about $36 billion unfunded. The plan assumes health-care inflation falls to 5 percent by 2013 and stays at that level, even though it has averaged almost double that rate in recent decades." (The Courier-Journal)

Bush Vetoes FMLA Expansion for Military Families
Excerpt: "Contrary to indications, President Bush has vetoed a bill that included an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for certain family members of military personnel." (PLANSPONSOR.com; free registration required)

Maryland to Expand Health Insurance Evaluations: PPO Report Cards Will Be Available
Excerpt: "Beginning late this year, Maryland will become the first state to give consumers independent evaluations of Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans offered by four of the state's largest health insurance companies: Aetna, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, CIGNA and UnitedHealthcare." (The Washington Post; free registration required)

San Francisco Health Plan Has Few Takers on 1st Day of Eligibility Expansion
Excerpt: "The program, dubbed Healthy San Francisco, previously had been available only to uninsured city residents whose earnings didn't exceed the federal poverty level - about $10,200 a year. On Wednesday, it expanded to include those making up to about $32,000 a year, meaning roughly 47,000 people now qualify." (San Francisco Chronicle)

(c) Summaries of Guidance; Filed Comments

Pre-Existing Infirmity Exclusion Applied to Deny Payment of Death Benefits
Excerpt: "Noting a 'long-standing allegorical tug-of-war' between insurance companies and the courts in over the interpretation of accidental death policy terms, the Fourth Circuit held the carrier to be the victor in Hall v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. The case demonstrates the break with older, pre-ERISA authority from the Fourth Circuit and demonstrates once again the formidable array of defenses to payment faced by beneficiaries of ERISA-governed accidental death insurance contracts." (Health Plan Law blog by Attorney Roy F. Harmon III)

(d) Trends, Surveys, Research

Top 5 Workforce News Headlines of 2007
Excerpt: "From ending retiree health care to the rise of social networking technology, these are the stories that changed the workforce landscape this year." (Workforce Management; free registration required)

Calculator Estimates Cost of Employee Health Problems
Excerpt: "Blueprint for Health is a free online tool now being used by companies small and large to estimate how illnesses among workers affect medical costs, employee absences and productivity." (Workforce Management; free registration required)

Towers Perrin U.S. Legislative Tracking Charts -- Health and Welfare -- Updated December 31, 2007 (PDF)
52 pages. Excerpt: "These charts summarize selected federal legislation that would affect employee benefit programs. The bills included on the charts are based on judgments regarding the prominence of the issue, the likelihood of enactment, and the influence of the sponsors." (Towers Perrin)

The Fundamentals of Evaluation: Why, What, How, & When You Should Evaluate Your Wellness Program
Excerpt: "The first -- and primary -- reason you should evaluate your worksite wellness program is to obtain the information that you will need to improve your present programming efforts. Indeed, by regularly and consistently evaluating your wellness initiative, you'll gather feedback and results from participants so that you can make essential modifications and upgrades to your existing programs." (Wellness Councils of America)

Insurers Design Pay-for-Performance Measures to Halt the Spread of the Increasingly Common, Potentially Fatal MRSA Infection
Excerpt: "The potentially fatal infection Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is far more common than previously thought, according to a new study and recent news reports. In an effort to boost prevention and detection, a few insurers -- including Highmark Inc. and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey -- are incorporating MRSA-related measures into their hospital pay-for-performance (P4P) programs to incentivize hospitals to institute prevention efforts." (Health Plan Week via AISHealth.com)

UAW Looks to Influence Health Care Debate; VEBA Might Be Model for Other Companies
Excerpt: "United Auto Workers' 'gamble that it can manage the health care costs of up to 700,000 people' through a voluntary employees' beneficiary association 'comes with a side wager over how much the union can boost its influence in the health care debate in Washington,' which 'will be key to whether the union can contain health care costs enough to keep its $52 billion fund for retiree health care solvent,' the Detroit Free Press reports." (Kaiser Family Foundation)

Aetna's E-Prescribing Pilot Causes Increases in Generic Drug Prescriptions and Formulary Compliance
Excerpt: "An e-prescribing pilot program conducted by Aetna, Inc. in New Jersey and Pennsylvania boosted physicians' generic drug prescribing rates by 7% and formulary compliance by 5%, according to the health insurer. Meanwhile, a separate study conducted by SureScripts and Walgreen Co. found an 11% increase in new prescriptions filled at the pharmacy when physicians use e-prescribing rather than write paper prescriptions." (Drug Benefit News via AISHealth.com)

(e) Policy, Opinion, Advocacy

Cost of COBRA Affects Safety Net Appeal
Excerpt: "Under COBRA, the former employee -- not the employer -- is typically responsible for up to 100 percent of the cost of the premium, as well as a 2 percent administrative fee. According to a federal government survey, the average total premium among businesses offering insurance in Colorado in 2005 was $3,891 per year for single coverage and $10,850 per year for family coverage." (The Denver Post)

Towers Perrin U.S. Legislative Tracking Charts -- Human Resources -- Updated December 31, 2007 (PDF)
13 pages. Excerpt: "These charts summarize selected federal legislation that would affect employee benefit programs. The bills included on the charts are based on judgments regarding the prominence of the issue, the likelihood of enactment, and the influence of the sponsors." (Towers Perrin)

Health Care Costs Too Great a Burden: America's Families at Risk (PDF)
28 pages. Excerpt: "In order to understand how high health care costs affect American families, Families USA commissioned The Lewin Group to analyze data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Census Bureau. This analysis allowed us to determine how many non-elderly people are in families that will spend more than 10 percent of their pre-tax income, and how many will spend more than 25 percent of their pre-tax income, on health care costs in 2008." (FamiliesUSA)

An International Report Urges Employers and Governments to Adopt Work/life Balance Policies
Excerpt: "Changing workplace policies as they apply to childcare, work/life balance and parental leave would go a long way to combat worldwide poverty, according to a report from the Paris-based International Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development." (Human Resource Executive Online; free registration required)

Editorial: No Insurance = Poorer Health
Excerpt: "The case for providing health coverage for all Americans got even more compelling in the past week when two new studies presented the most comprehensive evidence yet that the lack of health insurance is seriously harmful to a patient's health. The studies found that uninsured people suffer significantly worse outcomes from cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer than those who have coverage." (The New York Times; free registration required)

Small Businesses Could Have Major Influence on Next President's Health Care Plan
Excerpt: "The Los Angeles Times last month examined how the 'verdict of small business owners could lift or sink the next president's health care reform plan.' Small businesses are 'at the core of both the policy problem and the thorniest political challenge' to reducing the number of uninsured U.S. residents, the Times reports." (Kaiser Family Foundation)

Study Finds Free Drug Samples Go to Wealthy and Insured
Excerpt: "The trial-size packages are popular with doctors . . . who often reserve them for poor or uninsured patients. A study released [yesterday], however, gives ammunition to critics who want to do away with samples: Most of the free medications, the report says, actually go to wealthier patients who have insurance." (USA TODAY)


Links to Items on Executive Comp, Benefits in General

The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act Would Extend Domestic Partner Benefits to Federal Employees
Excerpt: "Under new legislation introduced in both houses of Congress on Dec. 19, 2007, a government employee and same-sex domestic partner would be eligible to participate in federal health benefits, family medical and emergency leave, group life insurance, long-term care, and retirement benefits." (GovExec.com)

PowerPoint Presentation: Filing Revised Form LM-30 - An Overview of Union Officer and Employee Reporting
54 slides. A PowerPoint presentation on revised Form LM-30 used by the Department of Labor's Office of Labor-Management Standards was replaced with the presentation from an October 9, 2007, public seminar held at the DOL in Washington DC. (U.S. Department of Labor)

An Interview with the Man Behind The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947
Excerpt: "In an exclusive interview with Human Resource Executive®, [J. Mack] Swigert, author of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, a law designed to return some power to businesses in a tumultuous era of work stoppages and labor turmoil, recalls those times and their ripple effects on large employers." (Human Resource Executive Online; free registration required)

Hewitt Global Report: Asia-Pacific Monthly Legislative Update, December 2007 (PDF)
3 pages. Excerpt: "Our monthly updates summarize recent legislative activity in the Asia-Pacific region, by country, for the following issues: labor environment, cost of employment, employment terms and conditions, retirement and social security, health care system, taxation of compensation and benefits, and issues for expatriate employees." (Hewitt Associates)

Hewitt Global Report: Latin America Monthly Legislative Update, December 2007 (PDF)
2 pages. Excerpt: "Our monthly updates summarize recent legislative activity throughout Latin America, by country, for the following issues: labor environment, cost of employment, employment terms and conditions, retirement and social security, health care system, taxation of compensation and benefits, and issues for expatriate employees." (Hewitt Associates)

What Americans Want from a Job -- Security (PDF)
19 pages. Excerpt: "A new poll shows that health insurance and security are at the top of Americans' list of desirables in a job, while pay ranked much lower. The national poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates for the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, surveyed 1,200 adults age 18 and older. Whether security comes from health insurance, job security, the promise of a retirement income, or clear work policies, Americans want a lot more than just a paycheck from their employment." (Center for State and Local Government Excellence )


Newly Posted Events
(Post Yours!)

Experts' Guide to Employee Benefits Research
Nationwide on January 24, 2008
presented by ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits

Proposed IRS Regulations on Automatic Contribution Arrangements and Final DOL Default Investment Regulations - Webcast
Nationwide on January 4, 2008
presented by West LegalEdcenter


Newly Posted Press Releases
(Post Yours!)

Buck Consultants Finds Executive Retirement Plans Alive and Well After Final IRS Rules
Buck Consultants, an ACS Company

The Torch Is Passing Slowly At Fidelity
SPIseattle.com


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