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March 24, 2008

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


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How Do Your Medical Plan's Vital Signs Look?

Are you searching for a new strategy that will contain your health care costs yet distinguish you as an employer of choice? The Health and Welfare Plan Management for Mid-Sized Employers, April 27-30, 2008, in Boston, offers practical, reality-based solutions that will ensure the "health" of your benefit plans.

[Guidance Overview] ERISA Does Not Preempt State Insurance Directive Incorporating Make-Whole Doctrine
Excerpt: "The 'make-whole' doctrine is an insurance principle that provides that an insurance company may not enforce its subrogation rights until the insured has been fully compensated for his or her injuries -- that is, made whole. In this case, a third-party recovery company challenged an insurance commissioner's directive that incorporated the 'make-whole' doctrine by mandating that any right of an insurer to recover from third parties, whether by subrogation or reimbursement, had to be subordinate to the insured's right to be fully compensated. The company argued that the directive was preempted (that is, superseded) by ERISA." (Employee Benefits Institute of America)


[Guidance Overview] IRS 2007 Version of Form 8839 for Determining Adoption Credit and Employer-Provided Adoption Benefits Exclusion
Excerpt: "EBIA Comment: Employer-provided adoption benefits are excludable from an employee's gross income if furnished pursuant to an adoption assistance program that meets the Code's requirements. Benefits under a qualified adoption assistance program may be funded by the employer directly, by employees through salary reductions under a cafeteria plan, or by a combination of both. Employees may also claim a tax credit for qualified adoption expenses, although both the credit and exclusion cannot be claimed for the same expense." (Employee Benefits Institute of America)


[Guidance Overview] Hewitt Federal Legislation Quick Guide Updated March 19, 2008, 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)


[Guidance Overview] ERISA Preempts State Withholding Law
Excerpt: "Employers can thank the son of a Supreme Court Justice for obtaining needed guidance on an ERISA preemption issue that has been a traditional gray area of group health plan administration." (Infinisource)


Employer Consortium Moves Forward with PHR Project
Excerpt: "Dossia, a not-for-profit consortium of eight large employers, is slowly moving forward with its plans to provide five million employees, dependents and retirees with personal health records, Health Data Management reports." (California HealthCare Foundation; free registration may be required)


High Court Declines AARP Appeal on Retiree Health Benefits
Excerpt: "The Supreme Court [today] let stand a federal policy that allows employers to reduce their health insurance expenses for retired workers once they turn 65 and qualify for Medicare." (AP via The New York Times; free registration required)


Health Care Costs Drive Up the National Retirement Risk Index
Excerpt: "The National Retirement Risk Index has shown that even if heads of households work to age 65 and annuitize all their financial assets, including the receipts from reverse mortgages on their homes, 44% will be 'at risk' of being unable to maintain their standard of living in retirement." (Investment News; free registration required)


More Law Firms Boost Maternity Leave to 18 Weeks
Excerpt: "About a dozen large law firms have boosted maternity leave from 12 to 18 weeks in one of the first significant changes to parental policies in several years." (American Bar Association)


Paid Time Off: Is It Right for Your Organization? (PDF)
4 pages. The article discusses the benefits of paid time off programs and outlines steps for creating a successful PTO program. (Sibson Consulting via WorldatWork)


N.J. Lawmaker Proposes Requiring Ownership of Health Coverage
Excerpt: "In about a year, [New Jersey state Sen. Joseph] Vitale says, he hopes to launch a second phase of the initiative, which would involve setting up a self-funded, state-sponsored, partly subsidized health plan. After affordable health care was available through the state-sponsored plan, 'the state [would] move to require all state residents to have health insurance,' he says." (The National Underwriter Company; free registration or paid subscription required)


Hearing on 'H.R. 2833, Preexisting Condition Exclusion Patient Protection Act of 2007'
Links to testimony presented at the March 20, 2008 field hearing. (U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor, Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee)


Health Insurers Limit Use of Advanced Medical Scans
Excerpt: "Insurance companies are taking a harder look at advanced medical scans like CT scans, citing spiraling costs and safety concerns. And some doctors agree there's emerging evidence that these scans are being over-prescribed." (AP via Yahoo! News)


Summary of 13th Annual National Business Group on Health/Watson Wyatt Study Detailing Current Trends and Best Practices in Employer-Sponsored Health Care Benefit Programs
Excerpt: "Best-performing companies have a two-year median cost increase of 1 percent, compared with 10 percent for their poor-performing peers. The median two-year increase for all employers is 6.2 percent." (Watson Wyatt Worldwide)


Business Takes Wait-and-See Stand on Proposed Health Care Mandates
Excerpt: "Amidst the talk by presidential candidates of health care mandates, universal coverage and otherwise repairing the nation's health care system, many businesses are taking a wait-and-see approach to any potential changes. Without specifics, business leaders aren't sure of the impact of any of the proposed plans. But they're keenly aware that changes could be coming." (Dallas Business Journal via bizjournals.com; free registration required)


CEOs Have Their Own Ideas About Improving Health Insurance Coverage
Excerpt: "Company CEOs are united in their hopes that there is some way to tame health care costs and insurance premium increases. But beyond that, they have their own ideas on how health plans could be improved to benefit their employees and their companies. . . . Many businesses have found ways, often through trial and error, to address the twin goals of providing health coverage to attract and keep employees while tweaking the coverage and instituting other efforts to keep a handle on the plan's sizable price tag. It's an often frustrating process, and CEOs see plenty of ways health plans could be improved." (Dallas Business Journal via bizjournals.com; free registration required)


Member Education Is Vital for Managing Costs and Compliance for Specialty Pharma.ceuticals
Excerpt: "With a wave of new biologic drugs expected soon to hit the market, some health plans and pharma.ceutical payers are seeking ways to ensure that members know exactly how to take these expensive therapies -- and not waste millions of dollars on unused product or avoidable emergency-room visits. Patient training is a crucial component in compliance with specialty drugs, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars annually . . . ." (AISHealth.com)


Psychologically Healthy Workplaces Good for Business
Excerpt: "Winners of the American Psychological Association's 2008 Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award (PHWA) provide evidence that workplaces that invest in the well-being of employees enjoy benefits such as reduced employee stress, lower employee turnover, and enhanced organizational performance." (PLANSPONSOR.com; free registration required)


Washington Times Opinion Piece Examines Five Health Care 'Myths'
Excerpt: "Some popular talking points politicians discuss in the health care debate 'pass as the gospel truth' because 'they're popular -- not because they're true,' Sally Pipes, president and CEO of Pacific Research Institute and author of 'Miracle Cure: How to Solve America's Health-Care Crisis and Why Can.ada Isn't the Answer,' writes in a Washington Times opinion piece." (Kaiser Family Foundation)


Gap in Life Expectancy Widens for the Nation
Excerpt: " New government research has found 'large and growing' disparities in life expectancy for richer and poorer Americans, paralleling the growth of income inequality in the last two decades." (The New York Times; free registration required)


[Opinion] New Survey That Is Highly Critical of Consumer-Directed Health Care
Excerpt: "The Commonwealth Fund and the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) have produced the third in a series of studies that we can only believe reflects an agenda to show that CDHC is a failure. The Commonwealth website, for example, highlights the clearly inaccurate claim that these plans are only for the healthy and wealthy. The joint news release says that enrollment in the plans remains low, that they do not help to reduce the number of uninsured, and that participants are less satisfied with their plans and have more missed care, just for example." (Galen Institute)


[Opinion] Guess Who Foots America's Health Care Bill? Not Employers.
Excerpt: "In the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the always-compelling duo of Ezekiel Emanuel and Victor Fuchs -- associated with the National Institutes of Health and Stanford University respectively -- dispel the myth of 'shared responsibility' in health care financing. What does this mean, exactly? Simple: 'the common claim that employers, government, and households all pay for health care is false. Employers do not share fiscal responsibility and employers do not pay for health care.' In fact, the 'money [for health care] comes from [our] own pockets.'" (Independent Media Institute)



Links to Items on Executive Comp, Benefits in General

Highlights from the Recent Congressional Hearing on CEO Pay and the Mortgage Crisis (PDF)
6 pages. Excerpt: "On March 7th, the House of Representatives' Committee on Oversight and Government Reform ('the Committee') held a hearing titled 'Executive Compensation II: CEO Pay and the Mortgage Crisis.' In advance of the hearing date, the Committee released a staff memorandum examining the apparent breakdown between shareholder interests and the compensation and retirement benefits awarded to three prominent CEOs whose companies are involved in the mortgage crisis. This was the second in a series of hearings that focus on executive compensation." (Frederic W. Cook & Co., Inc.)


An Intriguing Development for Workplace Concierge Services
Excerpt: "The services are still more the exception than the rule for companies. But late last year, food and facilities management giant Sodexho announced the acquisition of Circles, a veteran concierge service, and said it would make its services available to its roughly 3,000 U.S. corporate client sites. Does that signal greater interest in what concierge companies can do?" (Workforce Management; free registration required)


Employee-Ownership Plans Increasingly Common
Excerpt: "A successful ESOP needs 'a lot of communication, some sense of history as an organization, and . . . some track record of success so employees are not frightened at the prospect' of owning their own company . . . ." (IBJ Media Corp.)


4,000 Sutter Health Nurses on Strike in San Francisco Bay Area over Healthcare and Pension Disputes As Well As Conditions for Patients
Excerpt: "The strike affects hospitals in Antioch, Berkeley, Burlingame, Castro Valley, Oakland, San Francisco, San Mateo and Vallejo. The California Nurses Assn. union said the walkout was triggered by contract negotiations and Sutter practices that it said put patients at risk." (AP via Los Angeles Times)


What Are the Major Tax Code Changes for Taxpayers to Consider This Year?
Excerpt: "From a new tax credit added to the [state of Pennsylvania's] CollegeChoice 529 savings plan to higher contribution limits allowed for traditional and Roth IRAs, there are many beneficial changes to the tax code you don't want to miss." (IndyStar.com)


Kentucky House Committee Rejects Ban on Domestic Partner Benefits
Excerpt: "The Health and Welfare Committee of the Kentucky House voted to reject a Senate bill that would bar state universities and other public agencies from providing health insurance for domestic partners of employees." (PLANSPONSOR.com; free registration required)




Newly Posted Events
(Post Yours!)

"The Boss Knows: What Bruce Springsteen Can Teach Us About Making Health Cool"
in Pennsylvania on April 24, 2008
presented by Trion

2008 Spring Summit "Dancing with the Experts"
in California on April 30, 2008
presented by Western Pension & Benefits Conference - Los Angeles Chapter

HIPAA and Other Health Benefits Laws Compliance Assistance Seminar
in Pennsylvania on April 8, 2008
presented by U.S. Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA)



Newly Posted Press Releases
(Post Yours!)

PBGC Moves To Protect Pensions At The Alaska Forest Association
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)

U.S. Department of Labor Issues Model Notice for Multiemployer Plans in Critical Status
U.S. Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA)

Principal to Provide Retirement Plan Services for Burns & McDonnell
Principal Financial Group

The SPARK Institute Requests IRS 403(b) Prototype Plan Program, And Extension Of Plan Document Compliance Deadline
SPARK Institute

Treasury Broadens Savings Opportunities for More Investors New $100 Minimums for Treasury Marketable Securities to Debut in April
U.S. Department of Treasury

New Prospecting Capabilities Introduced for Retirement Plan Advisors
Venture (k) Corp.

DWS Scudder Launches Proprietary Analytical Tool for Plan Sponsors
DWS Scudder

MassMutual lays off 30 401K jobs
MassLive.com

San Francisco Health Care Security Ordinance - Compliance Deadline is Fast Approaching
Corporate Synergies



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