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September 25, 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] Early Retirees Non-Vested in Health Benefits Lack ERISA Standing
Excerpt: "The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that early retirees do not have vested rights to retirement health benefits, so they lack standing to sue under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) for continuation of those benefits." (; free registration required)

[Guidance Overview] Reinstatements Revisited: Tate v. Long Term Disability Plan for Salaried Employees,
Excerpt: "After just reviewing the 7th Circuit decision in Hackett v. Xerox Corp. Long-Term Disability Income Plan, 315 F.3d 771 (7th Cir. 2003), so influential in Pannebecker v. Liberty Life Assur. Co., 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 19753 (9th Cir. Ariz. Sept. 18, 2008), I find this recent decision from the 7th Circuit curious. This appears to be a case where the plan decision should fall in Category #2, as benefits were previously approved, but later terminated without a principled decision. Therefore, under Hackett, benefits should be reinstated." (Health Plan Law blog by Attorney Roy F. Harmon III)

Profiles of International Health Systems
Excerpt: "These profiles review the major features of the countries' health coverage, financing and service delivery policies and provide links to articles with more information." (Kaiser Family Foundation)

Comparison of Presidential Candidates' Health Care Proposals (PDF)
4 pages. Excerpt: "As part of their campaigns for the presidency, both Senator McCain and Senator Obama have outlined health care reform proposals that aim to provide access to affordable health care. The candidates' plans differ on how they would achieve their stated objectives." (Powell Goldstein LLP)

High Performing Companies Save Millions in Health Care Costs, According to Towers Perrin
Excerpt: "Despite overall evidence of a growing affordability gap in health care, the Towers Perrin Health Care Cost Survey shows that employees at high-performing companies are seeing lower costs than those at low-performing companies." (; free registration required)

Workers Face Higher Cost Sharing for Employer Coverage
Excerpt: "Our annual Employer Health Benefits Survey contains findings from interviews with 1,927 public and private employers surveyed during the first five months of 2008. Average annual premiums in 2008 are $4,704 for single coverage and $12,680 for family coverage. These amounts are about 5 percent higher than premiums were last year. Enrollment in high-deductible health plans with a savings option increased to 8 percent of covered workers, up from 5 percent in 2007. Deductibles in preferred provider organizations, the plan type with the largest enrollment, increased from 2007 levels. This paper also provides new insights into firms' offering wellness programs and retiree health benefits." (Health Affairs)

States Should Seek To Encourage Adoption of Health Care Information Technology, Report Recommends
Excerpt: "States should coordinate with health care providers, industry and the federal government to expand adoption of health care information technology, according to a report released on Tuesday by the State Alliance for E-Health, a panel established by the National Governors Association, CongressDaily reports." (Kaiser Family Foundation)

Mental Health Parity Measures Pass, But Obstacles Remain
Excerpt: "The Senate and House Tuesday passed measures mandating parity for mental health care benefits, moving the legislation one step closer to final passage. The Senate included parity provisions as part of a broader energy and tax extender bill, while the House approved a stand-alone parity measure. Despite Tuesday's votes, the legislation still faces obstacles. With the current congressional session nearing a close, it isn't clear yet if the House will take up the Senate-approved energy and tax bill. Senate leaders have expressed little interest in taking up parity legislation as a stand-alone bill." (Financial Week; free registration required)

[Opinion] ERISA Proposals Would Do More Harm Than Good
Excerpt: "America needs a new paradigm to improve the cost of and access to health insurance, but the change must be intentional and comprehensive. Unfortunately, there have been repeated attempts in my subcommittee to begin to unravel ERISA one thread at a time -- starting with state preemption. This is absolutely the wrong approach, and it could lead to significant reduction or elimination of coverage for those who rely on ERISA in its current form." (Rep. John Kline via The Hill)

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Links to Items on Executive Comp, Benefits in General

[Guidance Overview] Webcast and Podcast: Keeping Global Stock Plans in Tune With the Times
Excerpt: "Changes in accounting rules and best practices have prompted organizations to rethink their 'one size fits all' approach to granting equity incentives across borders." (Towers Perrin)

Companies Increasingly Allow Options Exchange
Excerpt: "Firms are increasingly offering equity exchange programs by which employees can trade worthless options for new options or restricted stock, according to recent research conducted by Aon Consulting's Radford Surveys + Consulting, a provider of compensation market intelligence to the technology industries." (; free registration required)

Canadian Employers Use Variable Comp, Perks to Attract Employees
Excerpt: "Research conducted by Hewitt Associates finds Canadian organizations are relying on variable compensation (performance-related rewards that must be re-earned each year and do not increase base salary) and, in some locations and for some roles, perquisites to attract, retain, incent and reward key employees." (; free registration required)

OPM Opposes Domestic Partnership Benefits Bill - Says Could Lead to Insurance Fraud
Excerpt: "Howard Weizmann, OPM deputy director, said the agency opposes a bill (S. 2521) offering such benefits to g.ay and les.bian federal employees' partners because OPM requires state-issued marriage certificates to prove that heterose.xual couples are married in case of a question or dispute -- and no comparable documentation exists for many same-sex couples. He said OPM would have to rely on sworn affidavits from couples in long-term committed relationships, and that some might not report the end of a relationship to keep insurance benefits." (

Benefit Practices Inside the 'Best' Workplaces
Excerpt: "[At EBN's Benefit Forum & Expo] three benefits executives discussed why their companies landed on this year's list of Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For in America. 'We all know that there is not one magic pill you take to become an employer of choice. It's a matter of your entire benefits package, which includes benefits, compensation, your management team, employee communication programs; and how you treat your employees . . . .' " (Employee Benefit News; free registration required)

BLS's New Employment Cost Indexes for 14 Metropolitan Areas
Excerpt: "This article presents a first look at new estimates from the National Compensation Survey (NCS): Employment Cost Index (ECI) 12-month change in total compensation and in wages and salaries for private industry for 14 selected metropolitan areas." (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

National Compensation Survey: Employee Benefits in the United States, March 2008
The annual bulletin has Tables Organized by Ownership and Tables Organized by Benefits. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Generations Value Different Rewards at Work, According to Survey
Excerpt: "A new WorldatWork survey finds that most total rewards programs were not put in place to address the needs of a specific workforce segment. Phased retirement is an exception - 20% of survey respondents say their phased retirement program was put in place due to concern that the workforce would suddenly shrink as a large number of middle-aged employees met retirement age. Phased retirement is also cited as most used by the silent generation (born 1924 - 1946)." (; free registration required)

Hard Times Drive Employers to Increase Benefit Education Efforts
Excerpt: "Tough economic conditions and a growing multigenerational work force are leading employers to focus on implementing targeted communication programs to better inform employees on the merits of their benefits offerings [according to The Study of Employee Benefits: 2008 & Beyond, a new report released by Prudential Financial, Inc." (; free registration required)

[Opinion] Reviewing the Scope of Section 409A Transition
Excerpt: "It may be time to review the present state of Section 409A transition. Market circumstances have changed (AC/DC, still alive and rockin', might say things are 'all screwed up'), and the financial crisis has thrown a wide range of institutions into total disarray. That situation is not one that was present as little as several weeks ago, and was not so much as a glimmer in anyone's eye when the year-end 2008 extended deadline was established." (Pension & Benefits Blog)

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