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December 1, 2008

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


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If you’ve thought about learning more about health and welfare benefits, then take a look at the GBA (Group Benefits Associate) – one of the specialty designations offered through the Certified Employee Benefit Specialist (CEBS) Program. The GBA is sponsored by the Wharton School and the International Foundation – two leaders in employee benefits education. And with only three required courses – you could earn the GBA in a year or less!

[Guidance Overview] ERISA Claims Procedure Violation Did Not Entitle Employee to Reinstatement of Disability Benefits
Excerpt: "ERISA does not specify what happens when the claims procedure rules are violated. The Sixth Circuit has concluded that denying a claim on appeal based on a previously unmentioned reason justifies reinstatement of the participant's disability benefits. But the Fourth Circuit has now squarely rejected that conclusion . . . ." (Employee Benefits Institute of America)


[Guidance Overview] Three-Cent Decrease in 2009 Mileage Rate for Transportation to Obtain Medical Care or as Part of Deductible Moving Expenses
Excerpt: "The IRS has announced that the standard mileage rate for use of an automobile to obtain medical care (which may be deductible under Code Section 213 if it is primarily for, and essential to, medical care) will be 24 cents per mile for 2009. This is a three-cent decrease from the increase to 27 cents that was implemented July 1, 2008 to address escalating gasoline prices . . . . " (Employee Benefits Institute of America)


[Guidance Overview] Milwaukee Attorneys Discuss New Sick Leave Mandate
Excerpt: "BizTimes Milwaukee reporter Alysha Schertz recently asked five local attorneys questions about the new employee sick leave mandate ordinance in the city of Milwaukee." (BizTimes.com)


[Guidance Overview] Final FMLA Regulations Contain Significant Differences from 1995 Proposed Regs
Excerpt: "Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs) . . . . 'Continuing treatment' definition. . . . Notice provisions. . . . [more]." (Michael Best & Friedrich)


AHIP Adopts Reform Proposal That Trades Guaranteed Coverage for Individual Mandate
Excerpt: "In proposing a health care reform plan that includes an individual mandate in exchange for guaranteed individual health insurance, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) has joined a growing chorus of advocates for universal health care coverage. Before the November 4 presidential election, AHIP had advocated plans for universal access but not universal coverage." (Wolters Kluwer)


Coca-Cola Co. Plans to Seek Approval to Fund Retiree Health Care Benefits Through Its South Carolina-Domiciled Captive Insurance Company
Excerpt: "In a complex transaction, Coca-Cola would use funds now held in a trust, known as a voluntary employee beneficiary association, to purchase insurance accident and health policies from Prudential Insurance Co. of America. Coca-Cola established the VEBA two years ago, contributing assets of $216 million. In turn, Prudential would reinsure the policies through Red Re Inc., the captive Coca-Cola set up in 2006 in South Carolina. The company now uses Red Re to fund a wide range of risks, including benefit coverages of employees outside the United States." (Business Insurance)


National Priorities Partnership Group Calls for Action on Health Care Quality
Excerpt: "The National Priorities Partnership is calling on all employers, health insurers, medical professionals, labor and government organizations and other interested parties to commit to a core list of six objectives its members believe will improve the quality of health care and lower costs within the next three to five years. The six goals focus on improvements in patient and family engagement, population health, patient safety, care coordination, palliative and end-of-life care and overuse or misuse of health care resources." (Business Insurance)


Paying Doctors More Adds Up - to More Savings, Employers Say
Excerpt: "Employers desperate to reduce health care costs are embracing a new strategy: Pay doctors more. Tired of filling the gaps in a fragmented health care system with their own piecemeal solutions, employers such as IBM, Boeing, Hannaford Bros. and others say they are willing to pay primary care doctors more if doctors spend more time managing and coordinating the health care of their patients." (Workforce Management; free registration required)


Many Experts Say U.S. Health Care System Inefficient and Wasteful
Excerpt: "[A]mong physicians, insurers, academics and corporate executives from across the ideological spectrum, there is remarkably broad consensus on what ought to be done. A high-performance 21st-century health system, they say, must revolve around the central goal of paying for results. That will entail managing chronic illnesses better, adopting electronic medical records, coordinating care, researching what treatments work best, realigning financial incentives to reward success, encouraging prevention strategies and, most daunting but perhaps most important, saying no to expensive, unproven therapies." (The Washington Post; free registration required)


Prospect of Bold Government Action on Universal Health Care Appears to Be Accepted Among Players Across the Ideological and Political Spectrum
Excerpt: "After decades of failed efforts to reshape the nation's healthcare system, a consensus appears to be emerging in Washington about how to achieve the elusive goal of providing medical insurance to all Americans. The answer, say leading groups of businesses, hospitals, doctors, labor unions and insurance companies -- as well as senior lawmakers on Capitol Hill and members of the new Obama administration -- is unprecedented government intervention to create a system of universal protection." (Los Angeles Times)


Williamson County, Illinois Retiree Health Insurance Plan a Success
Excerpt: "'The plan is funded from the wage disparity that occurs in the first year that the departing employee retires,' . . . . 'By using these funding mechanisms, the plan appears fully funded. With this being the first full year of the plan, it is continuing to evolve. 'The county will continue to watch the funding status and employee participation to determine if there are any necessary adjustments to the plan as time goes by.'" (The Southern Illinoisan)


Spousal Insurance Gain in New York State
Excerpt: "The New York State Insurance Department has notified insurance companies licensed to do business in the state that, under current legal precedents, they must recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who live here and married in a jurisdiction that authorizes marriage for same-sex couples. The notice came in the form of a November 21 Circular Letter and addresses entitlement to coverage under insurance policies written in New York." (G.ayCityNews)


Health Plan System Switch Often Means New Doctors, Regimens
Excerpt: "As employee health care costs grow, the low-cost bidder often wins out. Consulting firm Mercer's National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans of 2,900 employers shows that in Missouri, total health benefit cost for active employees grew 8.7 percent in 2008, to an average of $7,519 per employee. Respondents said they expect to lower their cost increase to 6.5 percent by making changes to plan design, company or shift more costs to employees." (Springfield News-Leader)


88% of Companies Are Offering Flu Immunizations
Excerpt: "Some experts attribute the rise to the tumultuous economic climate, which increases the importance of having a productive -- and healthy -- work force. Employees who contract the flu either miss work or hurt productivity by spreading the virus to their colleagues. Consultants cite the aging work force as another possible reason for the increase, because older workers are more susceptible to the harmful effects of influenza." (Business Week via Financial Week)


Companies Push Biking to Work
Excerpt: "A growing number of companies across the USA are offering incentives to their employees to promote bike commuting. In October, Congress passed the Bikes Commuters Act, which was included in the bailout plan. It will give companies a tax credit of up to $20 per month per cycling employee beginning in January, according to Lucia Graves, spokeswoman for Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, sponsor of the act. Although there is no national data on the number of businesses providing incentives to employees bicycling to work, bicycle groups say more companies are working toward it." (USA TODAY)


[Opinion] One Simple Stimulus for Both the Economy and Health
Excerpt: "President-elect Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are among the 60 cosponsors of the legislation that would grant the FDA authority over tobacco products. Enacting this legislation would present an opportunity to significantly improve the nation's health and cut its financial expenditures, bringing us a step closer to restoring some of the billions lost." (The Century Foundation)



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Links to Items on Executive Comp, Benefits in General

[Guidance Overview] Avoiding Legal Liability During the Holidays (PDF)
2 pages. Excerpt: "[T]he holidays can provide fertile ground for potential legal liability against employers. Seemingly simple scenarios, such as employees taking time off of work for religious observance, and employers giving end-of-year bonuses and hosting holiday parties, all can have legal consequences. While employers do not need to avoid celebration altogether, preventive planning can go a long way toward avoiding holiday problems." (Snell & Wilmer LLP)


Some Consumers Say Wall Street Failed Them
Excerpt: "With retirement accounts tumbling and millions of homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages, a realization is dawning on many Americans: The banks, brokerage firms, insurance companies and other players in the financial-services industry have failed them. . . . risks previously borne by big banks and employers have been placed squarely on the shoulders of consumers. Individuals increasingly bear the risk of interest-rate fluctuations, rising health-care costs, stock-market gyrations and outliving their retirement savings." (The Wall Street Journal)




Newly Posted Events
(Post Yours!)

401(k) Webex - Fee Disclosure Regulations featuring MassMutual, Groom Law Group, and AFS Financial Group
Nationwide on December 11, 2008
presented by AFS Financial Group

Meeting Your Fiduciary Responsibilities Under ERISA
Nationwide on January 8, 2009
presented by Lorman Education Services

Understanding Your Summary Plan Descriptions
Nationwide on February 10, 2009
presented by Lorman Education Services

Webinar: "4th Quarter Update -- Looking Ahead on Employee Benefits Issues"
Nationwide on December 4, 2008
presented by Ogletree Deakins



Newly Posted Press Releases
(Post Yours!)

Plan Now to Get Full Benefit of Saver’s Credit; Tax Break Helps Low- and Moderate-Income Workers Save for Retirement
Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

State Street Puts Brakes On GM Participants
State Street



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Paralegal
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in MA




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