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April 23, 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] Deadline Nears for Required Quarterly Employer Health Care Expenditure Under San Francisco Health Mandate (PDF)
2 pages. Excerpt: "For employers with 50 or more employees nationally, the employer spending requirement of the HCSO went into effect on January 9, 2008. Covered employers must make health care expenditures for the first quarter by April 30, 2008 by making payments to insurers or health care providers, reimbursing employees for their actual health care costs, or making payments to the Healthy San Francisco program, which was created by the San Francisco Department of Public Health." (Buck Consultants)


[Guidance Overview] DOL Issues Proposed Rule to Revise Regs for FMLA and Seeks Comments on Regs Regarding Leave in Connection with Family Members Serving in the Armed Forces
Excerpt: "The test for whether an employee is eligible for either of the two types of leave is the same as the test that determines whether the employee is eligible for other FMLA leave: the employer must employ at least fifty employees, the employee must have been employed by the employer for at leave twelve months and must have worked at least 1,250 hours, etc. Because the NDAA amends the FMLA, FMLA-type procedures should be used as may be appropriate (for example, procedures regarding substitution of paid leave and notice)." (Thelen Reid Brown Raysman & Steiner LLP)


[Guidance Overview] CMS Announces Indexed Medicare Part D Amounts for 2009
Excerpt: "On April 7, 2008, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the indexed Medicare Part D standard benefit and Retiree Drug Subsidy (RDS) amounts for 2009. This Capital Checkup features charts comparing the 2009 numbers and the 2008 numbers." (The Segal Group, Inc.)


[Guidance Overview] Multiemployer Health Plans Must Be Vigilant About HIPAA Security Compliance
Excerpt: "Health plan sponsors should first review and complete all the appropriate remediation steps outlined in their initial HIPAA security risk assessment. The purpose of that initial assessment was to set out a roadmap towards compliance. As a result, if any action items are outstanding, the plan sponsor should address those security gaps immediately." (The Segal Group, Inc.)


[Guidance Overview] HIPAA Security Compliance Requires Ongoing Efforts
Excerpt: "Health plan sponsors should first review and complete all the appropriate remediation steps outlined in their initial HIPAA security risk assessment. The purpose of that initial assessment was to set out a roadmap towards compliance. As a result, if any action items are outstanding, the plan sponsor should address those security gaps immediately." (The Segal Group, Inc.)


[Opinion] America's Health Insurance Plans's Lessons Learned from the Beginnings of Health Insurance
Excerpt: "We can learn much from the private insurance industry's professional organization, AHIP. In this instance, we learn its perception of the flaws of earlier insurance products. Those of us who contend that private insurance is an obsolete method of financing health care are not the least surprised by AHIP's statement that 'many companies accepted applications for insurance that they should have refused as bad risks.'" (Physicians for a National Health Program)


[Opinion] Individual Control of Sensitive Health Information Accessible Via the Nationwide Health Information Network for Purposes of Treatment (PDF)
11 pages. Excerpt: "This letter recommends that you adopt a policy for the [Nationwide Health Information Network] 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." (National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics)


Structure and Importance of Reserve Transfer Provisions in the Case of LTC Insurance
Excerpt: "For employers who offer group LTC benefits to their employees, one of the greatest risks is becoming contractually locked into one insurer. If the insurer decides to exit the market, elects to raise rates, refuses to lower rates, or provides poor service, the employer is then left without the ability to change carriers. To protect themselves, employers should work to include a clear reserve transfer provision within their group long-term care contract, specifying their right to change LTC carriers and how the accumulated reserves will be transferred to the new carrier." (Milliman)


Obesity Costs Employers $45 Billion a Year
Excerpt: "According to The Conference Board, a business membership group and research organization, obese employees (34% of the working population) cost U.S. private employers an estimated $45 billion annually in medical expenditures and work loss." (Employee Benefit News; free registration required)


Congressional Negotiations Close on Mental Health Parity
Excerpt: "U.S. Senate negotiators are in the midst of reviewing the latest House proposal to require parity between mental health coverage and traditional medical coverage, and could move toward a response 'in the next few days,' according to a senior legislative aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass." (BestWire Services via NewsEdge via Human Resource Executive Online)


Demint Bill Gives Parity on Health Insurance Premium Tax Break
Excerpt: "A new proposal on Capitol Hill aims to help consumers without employer-backed health plans get health coverage in today's tough times by allowing them to deduct health care premiums from their taxes or use a Health Savings Account to pay insurance premiums. U.S. Sens. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., are working to pass the Health Care Equity Act." (Sun News, The (Myrtle Beach, SC) (KRT) via NewsEdge via Human Resource Executive Online)


Staying on the Job May Prevent Erosion of Health Benefits for Employees Aged 55 to 64
Excerpt: "One legislative proposal would help bridge the three-year coverage gap between age 62, a common retirement age, and age 65, the age of Medicare eligibility: The Health Care and Training for Older Workers Act (S. 708) would provide COBRA coverage for this 36-month period." (Wolters Kluwer)


Lessons Learned: The Health Reform Debate of 1993–1994 (PDF)
4 pages. Excerpt: "No matter who wins the White House and control of Congress in November, health reform legislation will likely be a front-burner issue for both the House and Senate in 2009. The debates about reform and the behind-the-scenes meetings of 1993 and 1994 produced a wealth of knowledge on what should be done differently the next time Congress and the White House take up this issue. This issue brief, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, recounts nine lessons learned as recalled by veterans from both sides of the aisle and from the administration." (Alliance for Health Reform)


Consumer-Preparedness for Long-Term Care (PDF)
4 pages. Excerpt: "There are no magic bullets to address the issues of long-term care provision or financing, but it is clear that as more individuals are affected it will become an increasingly important issue for society. Consumers need to continue to receive reliable information about available long-term care services, as well as alternative financing mechanisms." (AcademyHealth)


Whirlpool Suspends 39 Workers, Says They Lied About Smoking
Excerpt: "A 2007 national survey showed that 16 percent of all large employers -- those with 20,000 or more employees -- adjust health care premium contributions according to the worker's smoking status . . . . The federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act limits the changes an employer can make to a health premium because of a worker's unhealthy habits. But it doesn't set parameters on punishment if an employee lies about his or her habit . . . ." (AP via The New York Times; free registration required)


Lawmakers Reach Agreement on Genetic Nondiscrimination Legislation; Bill Could Be Approved Soon
Excerpt: "Congress reached an agreement clearing the way for a bill to prohibit discrimination by employers and health insurers on the basis of genetic tests. Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, said on Tuesday that he would support a bill to make it illegal to deny health insurance coverage based on the results of genetic testing. Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who had been almost single-handedly holding up action on the bill, said in an interview Tuesday that most of his concerns had been resolved and predicted that the bill would pass soon." (The New York Times; free registration required)


U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Key Disability Plan Case
Excerpt: "The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday morning is scheduled to hear argument in a case involving conflicts of interest for ERISA plan administrators. The case, MetLife v. Glenn, centers on whether there is an inherent conflict of interest for insurance companies that both administer employee disability plans and pay benefits under the same plans. The arrangement is allowed under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act." (LegalNewsLine.com)


Employers Focus on Worker Wellness to Keep Health Costs Down
Excerpt: "A new Aon Consulting survey finds that employers continue to focus on trying to keep their workers healthy and productive as a way to hold down their workplace health care costs. An Aon news release about its 2008 Benefits and Talent Survey involving more than 1,100 U.S.-based companies found that 64% of employers follow a benefits strategy focusing on employee health and productivity." (PLANSPONSOR.com; free registration required)


New Hampshire Health Subsidy Debate Pits Towns vs. Retirees
Excerpt: "A legislative effort to shore up the financially ailing New Hampshire Retirement System pits unions representing active and retired public workers against municipalities, who say they are representing the interests of taxpayers. Retired public workers fear they will no longer be able to afford medical care if state lawmakers pass a bill that will end an annual 8 percent increase in a local government-funded subsidy of their health insurance costs." (The Union Leader)


Latest Health-Coverage Fad, Consumer-Driven Health Plans, Goes Thud
Excerpt: "Consumer-driven health plans have stalled out. Adoption has slowed, enrollment rates are low and flat, and the tools needed to drive behaviors have never materialized, most recent studies of the plans have found . . . ." (Financial Week; free registration required)



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Links to Items on Executive Comp, Benefits in General

[Official Guidance] Text of First Periodic Update to IRS 2007-2008 Priority Guidance Plan (PDF)
49 pages. Excerpt: "The attached update sets forth the guidance on the original 2007-2008 Priority Guidance Plan that we have published. Although the update may indicate that a particular item on the plan has been completed, it is possible that one or more additional projects may be completed in the plan year relating to that item. The update also includes 61 items of additional guidance, some of which have already been published.' See section entitled EMPLOYEE BENEFITS and section entitled EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION, HEALTH CARE AND OTHER BENEFITS, AND EMPLOYMENT TAXES. (Internal Revenue Service)


Survey Shows Middle East Companies Considering Employee Benefits
Excerpt: "Employee benefits such as pensions and medical, life and disability insurance are gaining more attention in the Middle East as the number of multinational companies and expatriate workers in the region increases, according to a Mercer survey." (Workforce Management; free registration required)


IRS Solicits 2008-2009 Guidance Priority List Recommendations
Excerpt: "In Notice 2008-47, the Department of Treasury and Internal Revenue Service invite public comment on recommendations for inclusion on the 2008-2009 Guidance Priority List. The list is used to identify and prioritize tax issues to be addressed, to focus resources on important tax admniistration items, to increase voluntary compliance and to clarify areas of tax law." (International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans)


TIAA-CREF Endorses Legislation Calling for Domestic Partner Benefits
Excerpt: "TIAA-CREF today announced its support for H.R. 1820, Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act of 2007, introduced by Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) in the House and S. 1556, Tax Equity for Domestic Partner and Health Plan Beneficiaries Act of 2007, introduced by Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) in the Senate." (Business Wire via PR-inside.com)


Benefit Trends: Change Is the New Constant
Excerpt: "To set the backdrop for the forces at work today in employee benefits, consider this statement by a president of one firm listed in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In a recent PBS interview, he said, 'We no longer view ourselves as an American company; we act as a global company in all of our decision-making.' Executives of two other DJIA firms recently pointed out in presentations that 'less than half of our workforce is now in the United States -- but 95 percent of our health care costs are.'" (The Wall Street Journal)




Newly Posted Press Releases
(Post Yours!)

Most Companies Oppose Single-Payer Health Care System, State Coverage Mandates
Watson Wyatt

Great-West Retirement Services® Joins With Ceridian To Ease 401(k) Administration For Small Businesses
Great-West Retirement Services

Tips To Help Protect Non-Traditional Families Facing Retirement Planning Hurdles
MassMutual

The Online 401k Adds 15 New Financial Advisor Partners
The Online 401(k)

CDM Retirement Consultants Renews Contract With CFFM
CDM Retirement Consultants, Inc.

Poster Compliance Center Advises U.S. Employers That Public Comment Period for Federal FMLA Has Ended
Poster Compliance Center



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