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January 29, 2008

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


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[Guidance Overview] Congress Approves Bill to Expand FMLA for Military Families
Excerpt: "The legislation would expand the Family and Medical Leave Act, allowing employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave when a family member is on active duty in the military or is called up for active duty." (Workforce Management)

[Guidance Overview] Abuse Of Discretion Standard Applied To Deny Disability Benefits For Claimant Facing Relapse Risk
Excerpt: "The case has importance across a wide variety of fact patterns where the disability claimant, though presently not disabled, faces the prospect of relapse upon re-entry into the claimant's former position." (Health Plan Law Blog by Attorney Roy F. Harmon III)

[Guidance Overview] Court Approves Reimbursement of Healthcare Benefits for Beneficiary not a Legal Spouse
Excerpt: "The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington has determined that a health plan administrator should be reimbursed for benefits it paid to a woman who was falsely represented as a participant's legal spouse. In its opinion, the court said the reimbursement was considered equitable relief under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)." (PLANSPONSOR)

Some Employers Switching to Stipends for Non-Group Coverage
Excerpt: "The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday examined how some small- and medium-size employers are providing stipends to workers who purchase their own health coverage through defined contribution programs, including contributions to health savings accounts." (KaiserNetwork.org)

In Minnesota Bridge Collapse Disaster, Health Insurers May Seek Recovery via Subrogation
Excerpt: "Will insurers go after 35W bridge victims' awards? Health plans do it to recoup costs. Some legislators worry that state money for 35W bridge victims could get diverted." (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

DOL Regs Restrict Workplace Wellness Initiatives
Excerpt: "EBSA's guidelines apply to 'supplemental coverage' that was primarily created for, among other things, reducing deductibles in standard healthcare insurance. Carriers have created products that use supplemental insurance as a basis for employee health and wellness programs, but with the new guidelines, employers must step much more carefully when choosing that strategy." (Human Resource Executive Online)

Bush Proposal for Deductible Healthcare Had Few Allies in Congress
Excerpt: "The most favorable reception that President Bush's proposed tax deduction for health insurance got on Capitol Hill last year was the GOP applause that followed the line about it in the State of the Union speech. It was all downhill from there . . . ." (Washington Post)

Doctors Too Quick to Blame Obese Patients' Ills on Fat, Studies Suggest
Excerpt: "Overweight and obese patients have long complained that doctors treat them insensitively and are too quick to attribute health problems to their weight. But their claims of bias were often met with skepticism -- until recently." (Washington Post)

Even Very Low Co-Pay Can Be Deterrent to Getting a Mammogram
Excerpt: "When it comes to medical fees, $12 may not seem much, but it is enough to deter many women from getting a mammogram, a new study finds." (New York Times)

Workers' Bereavement Benefits Often Fall Short
Excerpt: "When they do get it, two to three days of paid bereavement leave is the norm for most U.S. businesses and there are no signs that will be changing any time soon." (MSNBC)

Study: Most Small Firms Don't Offer Health Insurance
Excerpt: "Healthcare costs are a perennial burden for small businesses and a new poll released today finds that 77 percent of small business owners do not offer health insurance to their employees." (Washington Post)

A Progress Report On State Health Access Reform
Excerpt: "Enactment of ambitious health reform laws in Massachusetts and Vermont in 2006 helped instigate a wave of state legislative activities to expand coverage to uninsured people. We identify thirty-nine states that have enacted laws in at least one access category since 2006. At least thirteen states have begun processes to enact comprehensive reforms to cover at least half of their uninsured residents." (Health Affairs)

Senate Panel kills California Governor's Health Plan
Excerpt: "Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's audacious plan to arrange medical insurance for nearly all Californians -- one watched as a potential model for the nation -- was rejected Monday by the state Senate . . . ." (Los Angeles Times)

GAO Examines Premiums Payable Under DOD's TRICARE Reserve Select Health Care Program
Excerpt: "The DOD intends to set premiums under the TRS program at a level equal to the expected costs of providing TRS benefits. In preparing its report, the GAO compared (1) the TRS premiums established by the DOD to the reported costs of providing benefits under the TRS program in 2006; and (2) the DOD's projected costs for the TRS program before implementation to the DOD's reported costs for the program in 2005 and 2006." (Wolters Kluwer Financial Services)

Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Bottom Line
Excerpt: "The coughing, the cost, the cancer. Smoking is a health problem, but should it be an employer's problem? The answer is straightforward: Employers who pay for smoking cessation programs will see savings on other -- much higher -- costs of employee health care." (Workforce Management; free registration required)

Changes Proposed to Family Medical Leave Act
Excerpt: "The Bush administration is proposing the first changes in more than a decade to regulations that give workers unpaid leave to deal with family or medical emergencies, a move that concerns some of the law's supporters who want to see it expanded." (AP via The Plain Dealer)

Researcher Criticizes Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Excerpt: "R. Barker Bausell says he arrived at the University of Maryland's alternative medicine center with an open mind toward exploring the potential of acupuncture, herbal remedies and other unconventional treatments. But after five years as research director, he quit the Center for Integrative Medicine in 2004, convinced of one thing: None of the alternative treatments he has seen works any better than a placebo." (The Baltimore Sun)

Los Angeles Times Examines Problems With Pharma.ceutical Industry Focus on 'Blockbuster' Medications
Excerpt: "Pharma.ceutical companies for 25 years have 'imitated the basic business model of Hollywood' and have 'focused on creating blockbusters,' which they 'hope will appeal to masses' and 'promote like mad,' according to the Times. Pharma.ceutical companies must spend as much as $1 billion to promote new medications in their first two years on the market to make the products into a 'mega-brand' with at least $1 billion in annual sales." (Kaiser Family Foundation)

Companies Offer Yoga As Perk, Curb on Health Costs
Excerpt: "Over the last 20 years, many employers have developed wellness benefits as a way to stave off rising insurance costs by improving worker health. Generally, they include discounted gym memberships, diet groups, or smoking-cessation courses. But in recent years, many Massachusetts companies, including Stride Rite Corp., Tufts Health Plan, and Dunkin' Brands Inc., have incorporated yoga into the workweek." (The Boston Globe)

[Opinion] California Program for Uninsured Would Have Benefited Insurers, not Californians
Excerpt: "[T]he proponents essentially argue: 'Give us a multibillion-dollar unfunded mandate and trust us.' The Massachusetts law, the California bill's model, is instructive. In a state with far fewer uninsured, the state is finding the subsidies cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than expected -- a $400 million increase just for next year." (San Jose Mercury News via California Nurses Association)

[Opinion] Massachusetts Program for the Uninsured is a Health Law with Holes; Employers Not Paying Enough
Excerpt: "The deeper problem is the program's piecemeal design, and the Legislature's failure to levy more than a token annual tax of $295 per worker on businesses that take a free ride by failing to cover employees. If the law had charged delinquent employers the actual cost of decent insurance -- more like $5,000 a year -- the state would have adequate funds for the uninsured." (Boston Globe via California Nurses Association)

[Opinion] Knowing What Works in Health Care - A Roadmap for the Nation - with Comments
Excerpt: "Our mishmash that we call a health care system has two general characteristics that must be rectified. First, we provide both insufficient and excessive health care services that fall far short of the goals of high quality health care and optimal health care outcomes. Second, we waste an enormous amount of funds on poor quality, ineffective care while failing to spend enough on efficient, high quality services." (Institute of Medicine via Physicians for a National Health Program)


Links to Items on Executive Comp, Benefits in General

[Guidance Overview] DOL Takes Action on Disclosure of Compensation
Excerpt: "The U.S. Department of Labor ('DOL') recently took two actions that will significantly expand the types of information that must be disclosed by persons who provide services to ERISA-covered employee benefit plans. This Alert describes the DOL actions and offers some preliminary thoughts on the practical implications." (K&L Gates)

SEC Unhappy With Answers on Executive Pay
Excerpt: "The increasing SEC scrutiny could spur changes in how companies calculate compensation, including moving away from individual performance as a measure of success -- one of the areas the SEC focused on as particularly weak -- in favor of company-wide financial targets, such as earnings or stock prices." (Wall Street Journal)

KLA to Pay $65M in Stock Option Case
Excerpt: "[T]he settlement will be the second largest paid to shareholders of one of the dozens of companies entangled in a stock option scandal that swept across corporate America during the past two years, with Silicon Valley at the epicenter." (AP via Washington Post)

Ex-SafeNet CFO Gets Prison Term in Options Case
Excerpt: "A former chief financial officer of information security company SafeNet Inc was sentenced on Monday to six months in prison for manipulating employee stock option grants. Carole Argo also was fined $1 million." (Reuters via Washington Post)

Countrywide CEO Forfeits $37.5 Million in Severance Pay
Excerpt: "[The CEO,] however, will retain retirement benefits and deferred compensation that he has already earned, Countrywide said . . . . In addition to cash severance payments, Mozilo also walked away from $400,000 per year he was to be paid under an agreement to serve as a consultant to the company following his retirement, and perks including the use of a private airplane . . . ." (AP via Washington Post)

Hewitt Global Report - Fourth Quarter 2007 (PDF)
6 pages. Excerpt: "In many countries, legislative activity ended in 2007 as it began -- with moderate initiatives designed to create flexibility for employers and encourage employees to stay in the workforce. Working time -- length of the workweek, flexible work time, and family leave -- dominated discussions in Europe and Asia. With regard to retirement and social security and the taxation of compensation and benefits, governments focused on adjustments to employment costs, deferred retirement, the extension and expansion of occupational pension plans, and the tax treatment of contributions. Governments also worked to facilitate the recruitment of expatriate employees for hard-to-fill jobs through the simplification of visa requirements." (Hewitt Associates)

Seven Things Employees Want Most to Be Happy at Work
Excerpt: "Ask bosses what makes employees happy at work, and many are likely to think in terms of tangible rewards: a good salary, a pleasant office, generous benefits. Those play a role in job satisfaction, of course. But increasingly, workplace specialists are discovering that for many workers, the 'happiness factor' depends heavily on intangibles, such as respect, trust, and fairness." (The Christian Science Monitor)

[Opinion] Lawyer Argues ERISA Preemption Statute Must Be Curtailed; Plan Participants Are Being Deprived of Constitutional Right to Due Process of Law
11 pages. Excerpt: "Congress should amend ERISA immediately to only provide for a 'contingent' or 'conditional' form of preemption as illustrated above, since an absolute statutory preemption by a forgetful Congress deprives We The People of one of our most sacred inalienable rights -- the due process of law." (Brooks Hamilton)


Newly Posted Events
(Post Yours!)

Healthcare State of the Union
in Georgia on February 19, 2008
presented by Worldwide Employee Benefits Network (WEB) - Atlanta Chapter

Proposed Funding Regulations Under Section 430 - Webcast
Nationwide on February 15, 2008
presented by ASPPA (American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries)


Newly Posted Press Releases
(Post Yours!)

ASPPA Testifies about Proposed Pension Benefit Regulations
ASPPA (American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries)

Milliman Survey Confirms Continued Dominance of Guarantees in Variable Annuity Retirement Income Products
Milliman USA

Transamerica Launches Revolutionary Retirement Plan Product With Unique Online TPA Solution Technology
Transamerica Retirement Services

RNs Praise Courageous Vote by Senate Committee on Badly Flawed California Healthcare Bill
California Nurses Association


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