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March 11, 2008

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


Today's sponsor is Employee Benefits Institute of America Inc. (EBIA)

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EBIA's InPerson Seminar Series

EBIA's InPerson seminars provide education on employee benefits topics to professionals, including TPAs, attorneys, benefits consultants, human resources managers, plan administrators, insurance professionals, and accountants. For information about CE credit, course materials, speakers, locations, and agenda details, and to register, please visit EBIA's InPerson Seminars.

[Guidance Overview] District Court Rules that State's Prohibition of 'Discretionary Clauses' Not Preempted by ERISA (PDF)
2 pages. Excerpt: "On February 29, 2008, a federal judge in Michigan held that ERISA does not preempt regulations issued by the Michigan Office of Financial and Insurance Services ('OFIS') that prohibit insurers from utilizing 'discretionary clauses' in their insurance policies after June 1, 2007. American Council of Life Insurers v. Watters, W.D. Mich., No. 1:07-cv-631." (Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP)


[Guidance Overview] Tax-Free Long-Term Disability Benefits (PDF)
Pages 2-3 of 4 pages. Excerpt: "An employer who wishes to provide its employees with the opportunity to make after-tax contributions and receive their disability benefits on a tax-free basis needs to prospectively amend its cafeteria plan to permit payment of the premiums on an after-tax basis and communicate this option to employees." (Miller & Chevalier Chartered)


Financing Health Insurance Coverage: California's Revenue Structure and Options
Excerpt: "California's health care reform effort may have been one of the first casualties of the national economic downturn. Yet the conditions that gave rise to the initiative did not disappear when the plan failed . . . . So it remains useful to reflect on the California experience. In particular, it will be helpful to understand the proposed funding sources, how they would have interacted with California's revenue system, and what alternative funding streams might have withstood the politics of reform. In this policy brief, we analyze the options for financing expanded health insurance coverage in California and offer our own preferred solution in light of the state's fiscal and political constraints." (Urban Institute)


Health Policy Reform in the 2008 Election Season
Excerpt: "With the 2008 presidential election dominating headlines, health policy reform -- and the candidates' health plans -- are also making news. The Commonwealth Fund has published a number of pieces, available [on the target page], that explain and analyze the candidates' proposals, as well as the issues at stake in the campaign and beyond." (The Commonwealth Fund)


'Predictably Irrational' Author Dan Ariely Dissects the Faulty Logic of the Workplace
Excerpt: "The big mistake is with health benefits. The one way a company can say, 'I care for you; if something goes wrong, I'll help you' is health benefits. What happens when we tell somebody, 'Here's $15,000, you can buy your own health insurance somewhere else'? We're changing the relationship from a social relationship to a market relationship. And by doing so we might diminish the motivation people have, and their loyalty." (New York Post)


438 Million Vacation Days Went Unused by U.S. Workers in '07
Excerpt: "Psychologists, demographers and others say we pass over time off for many reasons - an entrenched Puritan work ethic, fear of being seen as reckless slackers relaxing while the economy burns, squirreling away time for days we're stuck at home awaiting a repair call. The figure for time left behind comes from Harris Interactive, a polling and research group, which for seven years has examined trends in unused vacation days for Expedia.com, the Internet travel booker." (The Gazette)


Routes to Reducing Disparities in Oral Health
Excerpt: "Despite improvements in oral health status and clear links between oral and systemic health, oral health is not accorded the same importance in health care policy as is general health. This review of oral health disparities over the life span documents the results of this inequity." (Health Affairs)


More Information About PHRs
Excerpt: "With hundreds of options, how do you choose a personal health record (PHR), assuming you're so inclined? Here are some suggestions." (The Washington Post; free registration required)


The Effort to Integrate Information Technology Into Personal Health Care
Excerpt: "Personal health records, or PHRs, were all the buzz at last week's health-tech conference in San Diego -- especially recent entries by Google and Microsoft that have the rest of the industry energized, focused and at least a little bit frightened." (The Washington Post; free registration required)


New Ways To Manage Health Data as Tech Giants Join the Push To Put Records Online
Excerpt: "Internet giants Microsoft and Google [are] developing sites that combine PHRs with search engines and other services. . . . The new capabilities raise the value of PHRs -- as well as the risk from breaches of privacy. And as the records sites grow in number and sophistication, privacy advocates are stepping up their warnings, especially about PHRs offered by health insurers." (The Washington Post; free registration required)


New State Laws Address Health Cost and Quality Transparency
Excerpt: "Lawmakers in several states recently introduced or enacted measures to release statewide price lists for providers. One of the most extensive price-list expansions in the U.S. awaits the signature of South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds (R) after sailing through both houses of the state legislature." (AISHealth.com)


Bill Would Give Federal Retirees Partial Pay for Unused Sick Leave
Excerpt: "A majority of federal employees would be able to cash out part of their unused sick leave at retirement under a bill introduced yesterday by Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.)." (The Washington Post; free registration required)


Employers Want Workers to Change Their Lifestyles, and They Expect Health Plans to Help
Excerpt: "UnitedHealthcare last summer began to offer a high-deductible plan called Vital Measures to mid-sized employers in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Colorado. UnitedHealthcare offers $500 credits against a $2,500 annual deductible to members who meet specific standards for nicotine use, blood pressure, cholesterol level, and body-mass index. In other words, employees who do well in all four categories will see their deductible reduced from $2,500 to $500. In addition, reasonable alternatives are available when achieving a goal is medically inadvisable or unreasonably difficult because of a medical condition. An obvious example: A pregnant woman need not meet body-mass index goals." (Managed Care Magazine)


Wellness Programs No Longer Just an Add-On
Excerpt: "America's health plans have heard the message: Employers want wellness services, and the plans are delivering with gusto. The nation's biggest plans are rolling out slick programs that are designed to improve the health status of a client's workforce by picking off the incubating health problems of each worker -- one at a time if that's what it takes." (Managed Care Magazine)


Consumers Have Been Paying Higher Rx Co-Pay Costs
Excerpt: "Many thought that the low costs of generic drugs would decrease the co-pays for formulary and non-formulary prescription drugs. Yet, new research shows formulary and non-formulary co-pays have increase by at least 20% on all plan types over the last five years." (Employee Benefit Advisor; free registration required)


Georgia Senate Approves Bill That Would Create Web Site To Allow Comparison of Health Insurance Policies
Excerpt: "The Georgia Senate [last week] voted 42-12 to approve a bill (SB 404) that would create a Web site to allow consumers and business owners to compare and purchase health insurance products, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The bill, called the Georgia Health Marketplace Act, would allow people to compare deductibles, copayments, benefits and premiums. In addition, they could purchase a plan using pre-tax dollars." (Kaiser Family Foundation)


Roll Call Examines Prospects for Health Care Legislation This Year in Congress
Excerpt: "As presidential candidates debate their health care proposals, Congress is 'unlikely to pass any major health bill,' this year preferring instead 'a bite-sized approach,' Roll Call reports. Among issues targeted by lawmakers this year are changes to Medicare rules, mental health parity, health care information technology, comparative effectiveness and approval of generic versions of biotechnology drugs." (Kaiser Family Foundation)


Over 40% of Large Companies Now Offer Consumer-Driven Health Plans, Survey Finds
Excerpt: "[L]arge corporations are clearly leading the overall consumer-directed charge: among companies with more than 20,000 employees, 41% now offer either an HSA or an HRA, compared with 37% last year. The number one reason for offering either an HSA or an HRA was 'lowering the organization's benefit cost,' according to the survey." (Financial Week; free registration required)


Medical Consulting Services Finally Gaining Favor with Employers
Excerpt: "Medical consulting companies that advise employees are gaining in popularity among benefit managers for their ability to empower employees to take control over health care decisions while avoiding costly, unnecessary or inadequate treatment. Employers that have purchased medical consulting services say they have reaped a favorable financial return on investment and improved employee morale and productivity." (Financial Week; free registration required)


[Opinion] House Approves Mental Health Parity Legislation - ERIC Registers Opposition
Excerpt: "In a letter sent before the House vote, ERIC Vice President for Health Policy Edwina Rogers urged all Members to oppose H.R. 1424, saying that it would require those employers who are already providing coverage for mental ailments to meet even greater standards drafted by industry representatives who have a direct conflict of interest." (The ERISA Industry Committee)


[Opinion] Partnership for Value-Driven Health Care Letters to the Three Presidential Candidates (PDF)
3 pages. Excerpt: "The members of the Partnership for Value-driven Health Care, a national alliance of 16 leading employer-based associations, urge you, and every presidential candidate, to expand the vision of health care reform beyond the single issue of universal coverage. Two other issues, quality and affordability, must receive equal recognition and be addressed in the coming national debate." (American Benefits Council)


[Opinion] Individual Control of Sensitive Health Information Accessible Via the Nationwide Health Information Network (PDF)
11 pages. Excerpt: "This letter recommends that you adopt a policy for the NHIN to allow individuals to have limited control, in a uniform manner, over the disclosure of certain sensitive health information for purposes of treatment. The discussion and recommendations that follow are based on several critical considerations: protecting patients' legitimate concerns about privacy and confidentiality, fostering trust and encouraging participation in the NHIN in order to promote opportunities to improve patient care, and protecting the integrity of the health care system. Disclosures related to quality, billing, research, and other matters have been or will be addressed in other letters from the NCVHS." (National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics)



Sponsored by: CDHC Solutions

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Learn more about the only business magazine focused on the changing face of health care benefits and health care benefits management

Visit www.cdhcsolutionsmag.com to learn more about the magazine and our new social networking site which is exclusive in the field. Now you are even closer to the cutting-edge solutions and conversations discussed in CDHC Solutions magazine. No more one-way, top-down consumer-directed healthcare information from brochures, media kits, lectures and Web sites. Now you can put the power of virtual networking to use in real time. And most importantly, now you can interact easily with your peers and experts in the field about topics featured in the site or your own interests. Also, please check out our Virtual Events where you can attend keynotes; workshops and view Exhibitors all from your desk.

(Please visit our sponsors. We try to make sure their products and services will be of interest to you. Thanks! --Editor)

Links to Items on Executive Comp, Benefits in General

[Guidance Overview] Massachusetts Federal Court Rules Firing Employee for Off-Premises Smoking May Violate ERISA and State Privacy Law
Excerpt: "A federal district court in Massachusetts has allowed a lawsuit to proceed that alleges the plaintiff was terminated for off-premises smoking in violation of Section 510 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the Massachusetts Privacy Act." (Employment Practices Solutions, Inc.)


[Guidance Overview] Fringe Benefit Pointer - Newly Introduced Legislation Addresses Taxation of Cell Phones and BlackBerries (PDF)
Page 2 of 4 pages. Excerpt: "Legislation (H.R. 5450) was recently introduced in the U.S. Congress to update the tax treatment of cell phones and other mobile communication devices (such as BlackBerries) that are commonly used in today's businesses and to reduce the amount of paperwork required for companies to claim a deduction for costs associated with the business use of these devices." (Miller & Chevalier Chartered)


Shareholders Poised to Increase Their Attacks on Excessive Executive Pay
Excerpt: "Human resources executives may be in for a pounding this proxy season as shareholders become more vocal than ever about executive compensation." (Workforce Management; free registration required)


[Guidance Overview] Intelligent Design Under Code §409A
Excerpt: "[T]he primary purposes of § 409A are as follows: to make nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plans available to participants (presumably executives) on a basis no more favorable than qualified deferred compensation (generally qualified retirement plans), to stop tax schemes around such NQDC plans and their funding by prohibiting funding of these plans outside the United States, to stop internal 'runs on the bank' by executives by forcing them make distribution elections well in advance of the actual distribution, and to eliminate hidden and handshake arrangements by requiring all NQDC plans to be in writing." (The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. via JPMorgan)



Newly Posted Events
(Post Yours!)

FMLA Update: Military Family Leave and the New Proposed FMLA Regulations Webcast
Nationwide on March 20, 2008
presented by International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans


The Dirty Dozen: Fixing the Most Common 401(k) Blunders
Nationwide on April 22, 2008
presented by SunGard Relius



Newly Posted Press Releases
(Post Yours!)

ASPPA Opposes Connecticut 401(k) Legislation
ASPPA (American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries)


PBGC Protects Pensions At Lock Haven Hospital
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)


Firm to Offer Enhanced 401k Consulting Services
Pilot Employee Benefits



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