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December 3, 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] Revised FMLA Regulations Impose New Employer and Employee Obligations
Excerpt: "The new regulations change some of the former interpretations, and renumber and reorganize certain provisions. DOL has also revised some sections to include language clarifying several provisions that had been subject to conflicting court interpretations. In addition to reorganizing, modifying, and clarifying existing regulations, the DOL issued new regulations addressing the January 2008 servicemember amendment to the FMLA, which provides leave for qualifying exigencies for eligible family members of personnel on active duty and to care for ill or injured servicemembers." (Seyfarth Shaw LLP)


[Guidance Overview] DOL Final Rule Would Expand and Clarify FMLA
Excerpt: "Provisions in the final rule call for increased notice obligations for employers so that employees will better understand their FMLA rights, while revising employee notice rules to minimize workplace disruptions due to unscheduled FMLA absences. The rule also contains technical changes that reflect decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts." (Cypen & Cypen)


[Guidance Overview] Federal Law, GINA, Aims to Prevent Genetic-Based Discrimination in Employment and Health Insurance
1 page. Excerpt: "GINA has been hailed as this century's first major civil rights act. GINA prohibits health insurers and group health plans from, among other things, charging higher premiums or contribution amounts based on an individual's genetic information, which includes any medical information related to an employee's genetic testing or the actual manifestation of a genetic disease or disorder. GINA also prohibits employers from discriminating against current or prospective employees based on available genetic information." (Hodgson Russ LLP)


GOP Slow to Respond to Democratic Party's Health Plans
Excerpt: "Congressional Republicans are in disarray over how to handle the Democrats' aggressive push for universal health care next year -- a far cry from the machine that brought down President Bill Clinton's health care reform plan in the early 1990s. The GOP has no organized alternatives to Democratic plans taking shape and no grass-roots armies or big-moneyed interest groups ready to carry its opposition message once it gels." (Capitol News Company LLC)


A New Fault Line Is Forming in the Health Care Reform Debate: The Schism Between Single-Payer and Public-Private Advocates
Excerpt: "Both sides are pushing for universal health care, but the more purist single-payer advocates believe that any approach that retains the insurance industry is doomed to fail. 'Private health insurance is no longer a workable model for health care reform, because the insurance companies sell a defective product and health care costs are so high that even moderate-income families can no longer afford the premiums, co-pays and deductibles,' said Ida Hellander, executive director of Physicians for a National Health Program, a group of 15,000 doctors who support a single-payer system." (Capitol News Company LLC)


Experts Discuss How IT Advances Are Changing U.S. Health Care System
Excerpt: "Advances in IT are leading to significant changes in the U.S. health care system, WAMU's 'The Diane Rehm Show' reports. Health IT experts discussed health-related Internet searches, online prescriptions, electronic health records and online physician visits." (California HealthCare Foundation)


High-Deductible Health Plans Were the Norm in 2008, Mercer Survey Finds
Excerpt: "In 2008, four-fifths of employer-sponsored PPOs require a deductible with a median of $1,000 for individual coverage in high-deductible, non-health savings account (HSA)-eligible PPOs, according to the final results of Mercer's annual National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, released on November 19." (Wolters Kluwer)


UnitedHealth to Insure the Right to Health Insurance
Excerpt: "For these economically uncertain times, the UnitedHealth Group has a 'first of its kind' product: the right to buy an individual health policy at some point in the future even if you become sick. Called UnitedHealth Continuity, the product is not actual medical insurance, but is aimed at people who may have insurance now but are worried they may lose it -- and may not be able to obtain replacement insurance on their own. They may expect to retire early, for example, before they qualify for Medicare. Or they are worried about the possibility of losing their job and their health coverage." (The New York Times; free registration required)


British Balance Gain Against the Cost of the Latest Drugs
Excerpt: "[A British government agency, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence,] known as NICE, has decided that Britain, except in rare cases, can afford only 15,000, or about $22,750, to save six months of a citizen's life. . . . For years, Britain was almost alone in using evidence of cost-effectiveness to decide what to pay for. But skyrocketing prices for drugs and medical devices have led a growing number of countries to ask the hardest of questions: How much is life worth? For many, NICE has the answer." (The New York Times; free registration required)


Beneficiary Change Valid Despite Lost Form
Excerpt: "A deceased life insurance plan participant's designation of her daughter as a beneficiary was valid and the daughter is entitled to the policy's proceeds even though the plan administrator never received the designation form, a judge has ruled. U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana said the fact that participant Virginia Clocksin had taken the proper steps before her February 2007 death meant that she had substantially complied with plan rules governing beneficiary designation changes." (PLANSPONSOR.com; free registration required)


High-Deductible Plans Could Be 'Next Frontier' for Cost Management
Excerpt: "Until now, most health plans and employers have rewarded employees for participating in wellness programs rather than achieving good health in four areas: weight, not smoking, cholesterol and blood pressure. Employers are increasingly recognizing the connection between a person's lifestyle and their health care costs. More are willing to offer monetary incentives for employees to participate in wellness programs. Few, however, have tied incentives to employees' ability to be healthier." (Workforce Management; free registration required)


Access to and Cost of Health Care Far Outweigh Concerns Posed by Obesity, Cancer, Heart Disease, Aids and Diabetes, According to Poll
Excerpt: "Indeed, a majority of the respondents - 55 percent - said the availability and financial challenges of the entire system presented 'the most urgent health problem' facing the U.S." (The Washington Times)


Few Patients Consult Online Health Care Ratings, Studies Say
Excerpt: "Fewer than 15 percent of Americans said they relied on quality ratings for decisions on insurance plans, hospitals or doctors, according to an October report released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a private organization that focuses on health care issues. That figure is down from roughly 20 percent of people who reported in 2004 and 2006 that they had used comparative quality ratings." (Press-Enterprise Company)


Wall Street Journal Examines Challenges Faced by Obama Administration and New Congress
Excerpt: "According to the Journal, 'One-party rule may sound like a guarantee of harmonious action, but the president and Congress often have different interests, agendas and rhythms.' According to the Journal, 'conflicts could arise' between Obama and the Democratic Congress 'on everything from health reform to defense spending.' Democrats view the coming session of Congress 'as their best opportunity since the Great Depression to enact sweeping change, and they know intraparty squabbling could ruin that once-in-a-generation chance,' the Journal reports." (Kaiser Family Foundation)


Democrats Discuss Exclusion Limit for Wealthier; Might Tax Health Benefits
Excerpt: "[S]ome key Democrats are talking about limiting the benefit for workers, so that those with higher incomes or more generous health benefits might pay taxes on some portion of the income they use to pay for their health premiums." (The Boston Globe)


Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Aldermen Clear Path for Lawsuit on Sick Leave
Excerpt: "The Milwaukee Common Council has cleared the way for a court showdown over the city's new sick leave ordinance. Aldermen voted Tuesday to deny a claim from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce that sought to block the ordinance from taking effect. Their move allows the MMAC to file a lawsuit against the ordinance before its Feb. 10 implementation date. The ordinance requires employers to provide private-sector employees in Milwaukee with up to 72 hours a year of paid sick leave, or up to 40 hours a year at employers with fewer than 10 workers." (Journal Sentinel Inc.)



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Links to Items on Executive Comp, Benefits in General

[Guidance Overview] What to Do with Your Employee Stock Purchase Plan During the Current Financial Crisis
Excerpt: "[T]he dramatic drop in stock prices not only impacts stock options and related executive compensation, but it can severely impact broad-based equity compensation in the form of employee stock purchase plans. It is important that every company with an ESPP analyze its plan and discuss how the consequences of the financial crisis will be handled. If your company is in this situation, you may want to contact an equity compensation expert for advice on how to proceed." (The National Center for Employee Ownership)


Big Three automakers' survival bailout requests rise to $34B
Excerpt: "All three companies' plans envision the government getting a stake in the auto companies that would allow taxpayers to share in future gains if they recover. Along with detailed stabilization plans, the auto executives were offering up a hefty dose of humility and a host of symbolic concessions designed to repair their images, badly tattered after they arrived in Washington last month on three separate private jets to plead for federal help. Ford CEO Alan Mulally, GM CEO Rick Wagoner and Chrysler chief Bob Nardelli all planned to road-trip the 520 miles from Detroit to Washington in fuel-efficient hybrid cars for hearings on Thursday and Friday. Mulally and Wagoner both said they'd work for $1 per year -- something Chrysler's plan said Nardelli already does -- if their firms took any government loan money, while Ford offered to cancel management bonuses and salaried employees' merit raises next year, and GM said it would slash top executives' pay. Ford and GM both said they would sell their corporate aircraft." (AP via Google)


CitiGroup Eliminates Additional Employee Severance Payments
Excerpt: "The new chief of human resources at Citigroup, in one of his first official duties since ascending to the position last week, announced in an internal memo Monday, December 1, that the firm would eliminate certain forms of severance pay for U.S. workers. The memo, sent to U.S. employees by HR head Paul McKinnon, who replaced 30-year company veteran John Donnelly last week, said Citigroup would no longer provide additional weeks of base pay beyond its standard severance formula to employees who have 10 or more years of service." (Workforce Management; free registration required)


U.S. Employers Offer Lower Severance Pay
Excerpt: "A new global study has found that employees laid off in the United States earn the least amount of severance pay worldwide -- no matter what level of employee or amount of tenure with the organization. A Right Management news release about its severance pay study found US-based employees consistently earn less severance per year of service than colleagues around the world." (PLANSPONSOR.com; free registration required)




Newly Posted Events
(Post Yours!)

All-Day Seminar with Sal Tripodi, Esq., APM
in Colorado on December 9, 2008
presented by Western Pension and Benefits Conference-Denver Chapter

Enrolled Retirement Plan Agent (ERPA) Winter Exam Window
Nationwide on January 6, 2009
presented by AIRE, LLC (American Institute of Retirement Education)

The Impact of the Financial Crisis on Defined Benefit Plans
in Ohio on December 11, 2008
presented by ASPPA Benefits Council of Cleveland



Newly Posted Press Releases
(Post Yours!)

Transamerica Enhances Online TPA Solution Technology
Transamerica Retirement Services

Small Business Owners Say Cutting Health Care Costs, Need for Reform are Top Concerns
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

States View Limits on Retiree Health Benefits
Center for State and Local Government Excellence



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DC Implementation Analyst
for Milliman, Inc.
in TX

Pension Administrator Assistant
for TSP Associates, Inc.
in CA

Manager of Benefits & Recognition
for GeoEngineers, Inc.
in WA




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