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February 14, 2008

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


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[Official Guidance] Text of DOL EBSA Field Assistance Bulletin 2008-02: Guidance on Final Wellness Program Rules
Excerpt: "[Issue:] What types of health promotion or disease prevention programs offered by a group health plan must comply with the Department's final wellness program regulations and how does a plan determine whether such a program is in compliance with the regulations? . . . . Use the following questions to help determine whether the plan offers a program of health promotion or disease prevention that is required to comply with the Department's final wellness program regulations and, if so, whether the program is in compliance with the regulations." (Employee Benefits Security Administration, U.S. Department of Labor)

[Official Guidance] Text of Advisory Opinion 2008-02A on ERISA Preemption of Kentucky Statute Regulating Employee Healthplan Contributions
Excerpt: "[Issue:] Whether section 514(a) of ERISA preempts a Kentucky state law that requires an employer to obtain written consent before withholding amounts from an employee's wages for contribution to an ERISA-covered group health or other welfare benefit plan." (Employment Benefits Security Administration, U.S. Department of Labor)

Analysis of ERISA Advisory Opinion 2008-02A: State Law Forbidding ERISA Plan Automatic Enrollment Preempted
Excerpt: "The Kentucky law at issue here provides: No employer shall withhold from any employee any part of the wage agreed upon. This section shall not make it unlawful for an employer to withhold or divert any portion of an employee's wage when the employer is authorized to do so by local, state, or federal law or when a deduction is expressly authorized in writing by the employee to cover insurance premiums, hospital and medical dues, or other deductions . . . ." (Health Plan Law blog by Attorney Roy F. Harmon III)

[Guidance Overview] Nonconformity in Wisconsin's Personal Income Tax Provisions to Federal Health Savings Account Provisions Discussed
Excerpt: "For tax years beginning after 2003, the Wisconsin personal income tax does not conform to the provisions of the federal Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (P.L. 108-173) relating to health savings accounts. Accordingly, federal provisions concerning health savings accounts do not apply for Wisconsin purposes, as indicated in the following examples:" (CCH Tax News)

The Work-Family Conflict: An Essay on Employers, Men and Responsibility
Excerpt: " This paper, prepared for a symposium held at the University of St. Thomas Law School, explores an issue that has been largely neglected in the work-family debate, namely why the burden should be on employers to change their practices rather than on men to change theirs. Many of the policy proposals designed to facilitate the balancing of work and family demands require employers to alter their practices . . . ." (Michael Selmi of the George Washington University Law School)

Increasing Physical Activity Among Adults Age 50 and Older
Excerpt: "This blueprint was developed as a guide for organizations, associations and agencies to plan strategies to help people age 50 and older increase their physical activity." (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)

Conversations on The Changing Face Of Managed Care: Insights from Managed Care Magazine's Podcast Series (PDF)
34 pages. Articles include 'Seeing Through Transparency [from the Employer's Perspective],' 'Electronic Health Information,' 'The Future of Disease Management' and 'Consumer-Directed Health Plans." (Managed Care)

Wal-Mart Signals Its Move Into the PBM Industry; Analysts Have Mixed Reactions
Excerpt: "Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.'s plan to start offering pharmacy benefit services to employers has provoked mixed reactions from PBM industry stakeholders. While some observers contend that any move by the retail behemoth has the potential to be an industry 'game changer,' two of the largest PBMs appeared unfazed by the prospect of a giant new competitor." (AISHealth.com)

New York State Attorney General Announces Inquiry Into Health Insurance Company Co-Pay Practices
Excerpt: " Mr. Cuomo announced a sweeping investigation into whether health insurance companies have systematically forced patients to pay more than they should when using doctors and hospitals outside their insurer's networks. As part of the investigation, Mr. Cuomo said he intended to sue UnitedHealth Group, the state's largest medical insurer and one of the nation's biggest." (New York Times; free registration required)

IRS Establishes Cross Divisional Team to Combat Improper Tool Reimbursement Plans
Excerpt: "The IRS has established a new cross divisional team comprised of members from the audit examination, appeals and legal departments to address the IRS's ongoing efforts to combat improper tool reimbursement plans. This issue has drawn significant IRS scrutiny for the last several years due to the aggressive marketing of such plans to employers, particularly in industries such as automotive, construction, aircraft, agriculture and others that use significant hand tools." (Littler)

A Long-Term View of Wages and Healthcare Benefits
Excerpt: "Using the same data used by the government to track changes in the U.S. economy over time, the analysis below shows the growth in employer costs for private group health benefits over a relatively long time span and shows the size of these expenses compared with wages and other benefits." (Kaiser Family Foundation)

On Their Own: Consumer Union's Report on Challenges of Individually-Issued Health Insurance Policies
Excerpt: "When Consumer Reports invited readers in September to share their individual health insurance stories online, hundreds responded. More than half were trying to cope with the high costs and poor coverage of individual insurance." (Consumer Reports)

Employers Scrambling to Comply With San Francisco's New Health Care Law
Excerpt: "Offering insurance to employees who do not take it is a problem that Pittsburgh-based nutritional supplement company GNC has faced before. It is a major reason why it, and others, will probably pay directly into the San Francisco health care fund." (Workforce Management)

Companies Offer Housing Assistance to Retain Employees
Excerpt: "Employers that sponsor housing assistance programs see them as a popular benefit that fosters employee loyalty and reduces turnover. Market downturn, potential recession add impetus to programs." (Workforce Management)

More Employers Offering Pet Health Insurance as Employee Benefit
Excerpt: "Owning a pet often means having to make painful decisions, such as, 'Do I spend another $1,000 to get Fido treated, or will I have to say goodbye to a loyal friend?' Fortunately, if you snag a job with Home Depot (NYSE: HD) or Disney (NYSE: DIS), your employee benefits may include pet health insurance." (MSNBC)

Federal Government Data Shows Increase in Older Workers
Excerpt: "A report published by the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates more older Americans are continuing to work past retirement age and are continuing to work full-time." (PLANSPONSOR)

[Opinion] On Healthcare, Obama In Actuality Offers No 'Hope', No 'Change' for the Young
Excerpt: "Throughout their primary campaign, Democratic candidates generally ignored the coming senior-entitlements train wreck -- save for Barack Obama. He advocates the traditional liberal policy of resolving shortfalls by increasing taxes -- in this case, by eliminating Social Security's payroll-tax cap. . . . By voting for Obama, a 22-year-old young college graduate earning $40,000 per year today would be opting to surrender an additional 4 percent of his lifetime earnings to the Social Security administration -- and may get no benefits in return." (Jagadeesh Gokhale and John Samples, published by the Cato Institute)

[Opinion] Comments of National Coalition to Protect Family Leave on Prop. DOL FMLA Regs (PDF)
1 page. Excerpt: "[T]he FMLA was never intended to turn full-time jobs into part-time jobs and the workplace consequences of unscheduled, sporadic leave were never anticipated. 'Changes to the FMLA should restore the balance Congress intended between employers' needs for employees and employees' need to handle important family and medical issues. We believe new rules can clarify and strengthen the FMLA . . . ." (National Coalition to Protect Family Leave)

[Opinion] Will Consumer-Driven Medicine Really Cut Health Care Costs?
Excerpt: "[T]here's an even stronger argument to be made that consumer-driven health plans could lead to higher health care costs. . . . Research by the RAND Corporation's health insurance experiment shows that when you shift costs to the consumer, patients forego both wasteful and effective care. And this is particularly true of the patients who cost us most in the long run -- those suffering from chronic diseases." (Niko Kavounis of the Century Foundation)

[Opinion] Wyden's 'Healthy Americans Act' is Wrong Model for Health Reform
Excerpt: "Wyden mentioned that we spend $2.3 trillion on health care, but were not getting enough value for our money. In order to pay for the premiums to go to private insurers, they would require all employers to give all American workers the actual value of their health care benefits in higher wages but that they then turn around and require you to take those wages and purchase individual insurance . . . . [My] question basically challenged why they did not choose single payer since private insurers have much higher administrative costs . . . ." (Dr. Water Tsou published by Physicians for a National Health Program)

[Opinion] Text of American Benefits Council Letter to House Leadership Urging Rejection of Mental Health Expanded Coverage Bill (PDF)
2 pages. Excerpt: "Flexibility in plan design with respect to benefits in and out of network, protection of the ability to ensure quality care through medical management practices, and federal uniformity in plan administration and remedies are essential for employer-sponsored mental health benefits just as they are for other health care services, and should be part of any parity legislation. Certainly, legislation intended to ensure parity should not include different standards . . . ." (American Benefits Council)

[Opinion] 10 Myths About Canadian Health Care, Busted
Excerpt: "2008 is shaping up to be the election year that we finally get to have the Great American Healthcare Debate again. Harry and Louise are back with a vengeance. Conservatives are rumbling around the talk show circuit bellowing about the socialist threat to the (literal) American body politic. And, as usual, Can.ada is once again getting dragged into the fracas . . . ." (Sara Robinson republished by Physicians for a National Health Program)


Links to Items on Executive Comp, Benefits in General

(None today.)


Newly Posted Events
(Post Yours!)

A Tiered Approach to Employee Ownership Program Design - Webcast
Nationwide on March 5, 2008
presented by Beyster Institute

Fiduciary Risk, Trading Controls and External Asset Manager Selection Webinar
Nationwide on March 5, 2008
presented by Pension Governance, LLC

FMLA 2008 Update: Complying With The New Regulations And Military Leave Expansion - Webcast
Nationwide on March 6, 2008
presented by Alexander Hamilton Institute

HIPAA Traps for the Unwary: Health Status Discrimination, Special Enrollment, Creditable Coverage, and More
Nationwide on March 6, 2008
presented by Employee Benefits Institute of America (EBIA)/Thomson Tax & Accounting


Newly Posted Press Releases
(Post Yours!)

Few Employers Addressing Workplace Stress, Watson Wyatt Surveys Find
Watson Wyatt

Is a Common Cold a ‘Serious Health Condition’?
Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

National Employee Benefits Day To Be Celebrated on April 2, 2008
International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

ICI Asks IRS to Make Proposed Rules More Flexible, Cost-Efficient
Investment Company Institute

AHIP Statement on New York Attorney General’s Announcement
America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP)

Fidelity Reports Strong Growth In Retirement Services Business In 2007
Fidelity Investments

Corporate Pension Plans Are Being Reevaluated, The Conference Board Reports in New Analysis
The Conference Board

Pension Tension Blues Music Video
Pension Governance, LLC

Backup Care Emerges as Fastest-Growing Work-Life Benefit
Work Options Group

America Saves Week: February 24th -- March 2nd
America Saves Week.org

Sun Life Financial Launches Industry’s First Retro Disability Benefits
Sun Life Financial

Retirement Management: Over 60+ -- Still Ambitious and Working
Development Dimensions International


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