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December 8, 2008

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


Today's sponsor is Health Benefits Conference & Expo (HBCE)

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Nat'l Health Benefits Conference & Expo (HBCE), Feb. 3-4, Tampa, FL

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[Guidance Overview] IRS Provides Transition Relief for the Use of Health FSA and HRA Debit Cards at Drug Stores and Pharmacies
Excerpt: "For stores with the Drug Stores and Pharmacies MCC, and those working with plans that wish to allow card use at those locations, having six more months until these additional restrictions take effect will no doubt be welcome news. Until that time, transactions at such stores continue to be subject to the same debit card substantiation rules as transactions at merchants that are medical care providers by MCC [merchant category code]." (Employee Benefits Institute of America)


[Guidance Overview] Employee Medical Confidentiality - A Guide for Employers
Excerpt: "There is understandable confusion among employers about the various laws affecting workplace confidentiality. This article will attempt to clarify the obligations of employers when dealing with employee medical information. In addition, a helpful reference chart comparing the confidentiality requirements of the various federal laws can be accessed [at http://www.ogletreedeakins.com/uploads/ComparisonChart111308.pdf]." (The Employment Law Authority via Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.)


Obama Health Care Reform Plan Raises Questions for Employers
Excerpt: "Companies are looking beyond Inauguration Day on January 20 for clues about what role employers will have if health care reform is enacted under an Obama administration. But at this point there seem to be as many questions as there are answers. . . . Despite all the uncertainties, there's a clear sense of urgency -- both within Congress and the incoming Obama administration -- that deficiencies in the health care system must be addressed in the near term. And employers are eager to learn about what may lie ahead in terms of their own health care plans and the potential impact on their broader effort to help employees manage rising health care costs through consumer-driven delivery strategies." (Towers Perrin)


Americans Ready for Change on Jobs and Health Care
Excerpt: "The incoming Obama administration has some mighty ambitious plans to fix America's problems. And Americans say they're OK with that. A just-released Democracy Corps poll found that 66 percent of the public supports Obama's 'policies and goals for the country' as opposed to only 28 percent who do not." (The Century Foundation)


The Factors Fueling Rising Health Care Costs 2008
22 pages. Excerpt: "This report updates the findings of two previous PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) reports commissioned by America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) entitled, 'The Factors Fueling Rising Health Care Costs,' and 'The Factors Fueling Rising Health Care Costs 2006.' The purpose of this report is to identify the underlying drivers of health care costs, and to disaggregate those costs by source of spending in the past year." (America's Health Insurance Plans)


Study Shows Small Business Owners Support Health Reform
Excerpt: "A study of small business owners' views on health reform conducted jointly by Public Opinion Strategies and Lake Research Partners, shows that business owners are very supportive of health care reform and that health care remains one of the most vexing issues facing their businesses. While some differences exist among small business owners on preferred 'fixes' for America's health care problems, overall support was strong for use of various policy options. [Links to an executive summary, completed questionnaire, and a chart pack are on the target page.]" (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)


Obama Team Seeks Your Input on Healthcare Reform
Excerpt: "Former Sen. Tom Daschle, in his first major speech since being asked to head President-elect Barack Obama's healthcare reform effort, on Friday announced a nationwide campaign this month to solicit public input on improving the nation's healthcare system. The plan -- asking Americans to host meetings to talk about reform -- appears designed to avoid the appearance that the new administration is developing a sweeping agenda behind closed doors." (Los Angeles Times)


Daschle Discusses Outlook for Health Care Reform
Excerpt: "[F]ormer Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle addressed a Colorado Summit on Health Care organized by Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO). Daschle is expected to be President-elect Barack Obama's nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Daschle emphasized that health care reform is one of the President-elect's highest priorities and that his goal is to build a high-performance health care system that provides every American higher quality, greater access, and lower costs." (America's Health Insurance Plans)


San Francisco Officials Say Leave Our Health Coverage Mandate Alone
Excerpt: "San Francisco officials trying to defend their ordinance mandating employers to contribute to certain employees' health care costs have asked a federal appellate court not to rehear a challenge to the law. . . . The city request to the court insists that lawyers on the other side have 'manufacture(d) a conflict' between federal appellate courts about the extent to ERISA would pre-empt the San Francisco law." (PLANSPONSOR.com; free registration required)


Competition among Health Plans Can Cut Costs
Excerpt: "Putting health plans out to bid - adding free-enterprise competition back into the health care benefits arena - can result in significant savings, according to a HighRoads analysis of plans affecting more than 8.7 covered workers, retirees, and their families." (PLANSPONSOR.com; free registration required)


Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Lobbying for Bill That Would Allow It to Set Premiums and Reduce Regulation
Excerpt: "Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is urging the state Legislature to pass legislation that would give the insurer more flexibility in setting premium rates and reduce government regulation, the Wall Street Journal reports. The insurer said that without the changes, increasing per-member costs will lead to financial troubles." (Kaiser Family Foundation)


When a Job Disappears, So Does the Health Care
Excerpt: "As jobless numbers reach levels not seen in 25 years, another crisis is unfolding for millions of people who lost their health insurance along with their jobs, joining the ranks of the uninsured. . . . About 10.3 million Americans were unemployed in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of unemployed has increased by 2.8 million, or 36 percent, since January of this year, and by 4.3 million, or 71 percent, since January 2001." (The New York Times; free registration required)


Insurers Like Obama Health Plan (Mostly)
Excerpt: "The insurance industry embraced many of President-elect Barack Obama's ideas for better health care coverage Wednesday, though it opposes a key piece of his plan to require employers to help pay for that coverage. The industry said it opposes Obama's plan to require medium-size and large employers to contribute to their workers' health coverage or pay a percentage of their payroll for operation of a national, public insurance plan. 'Given the economic disruption in the country, ... we don't think now is the time to recommend an employer-mandate,' said Karen Ignagni, president and chief executive officer of the largest trade group for insurers, America's Health Insurance Plans." (USA TODAY)


[Opinion] Health Care: What to Expect from the Obama Presidency and the Next Congress (PDF)
5 pages. Excerpt: "During the presidential campaign, President-elect Obama spoke frequently of the problems plaguing the U.S. health care system. Now that he has been elected, to be joined by a largely Democratic Congress, what can be expected? A review of Obama's campaign positions as well as several recent developments, including the designation of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as Secretary of DHHS and the release of a 90-page comprehensive health care plan by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), provides considerable insight as to the direction in which Obama and the Congress will steer the nation's health care system in the coming years." (Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP)


[Opinion] Health Reform via Guaranteed Choice
Excerpt: "The Obama plan is backed in its essentials by a new coalition called Health Care for America Now (HCAN) composed of labor and citizen-advocacy groups, which heralds its guaranteed choice proposal as 'a bold new solution that gives you real choice and a guarantee of quality coverage you can afford: keep your current private insurance plan, pick a new private insurance plan, or join a public health insurance plan.' But is the Obama-HCAN production destined to be a flop, a sequel to the failed 1993-94 Clinton health reform effort, which also left private insurance companies as the chief regulator of health care in America?" (Z Magazine via Physicians for a National Health Program)


[Opinion] Healthcare Costs and Obesity
Excerpt: "It's conventional wisdom that employers can save money through instituting wellness initiatives that persuade employees to stop smoking or lose weight. But what if that conventional wisdom is wrong?" (Human Resource Executive Online)


[Opinion] Mandatory Health Insurance: Wrong for Massachusetts, Wrong for America
Excerpt: "If we Americans value our health and our lives, then we must reject mandatory health insurance. We must demand that the government stop violating individual rights and start protecting them. We must demand a genuine free market in health insurance and health care, because only a free market can provide us with the quality, affordable health care that we all need." (The Objective Standard)


[Opinion] American Benefits Council Comment Letter to IRS on Proposed HSA Regulations (PDF)
7 pages. Excerpt: "The American Benefits Council (the Council) appreciates the opportunity to comment on the proposed regulations regarding employer comparable contributions to health savings accounts (HSAs) and the taxpayer requirements for filing of excise tax returns with respect to Internal Revenue Code sections 4980B and 4980F (Proposed Regulations)." (American Benefits Council)


[Opinion] Employer-Based Health Insurance: Why Congress Should Cap Tax Benefits Consistently
Excerpt: "There is one sense in which the employer provision of health insurance as a fringe benefit differs radically from all other fringe benefits offered at the place of work. Unlike typical benefits offered through employers, such as retirement plans, child care, and tuition reimbursement, health care benefits do not have a limit on tax-free contributions by the employer or the employee. For the employee, the value of these health benefits is excluded from the calculation of the employee's income and payroll tax liability, and there is no limit to this special employee tax break called the employee tax exclusion." (The Heritage Foundation)



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Links to Items on Executive Comp, Benefits in General

[Official Guidance] Text of Proposed IRS Regs: Calculation of Taxable Income When Nonqualified Deferred Comp Plan Fails 409A Requirements (Federal Register Version) (PDF)
24 pages. These regulations should not be relied upon for 2008 plan years until further guidance is issued. Excerpt: "The Treasury Department and the IRS anticipate issuing interim guidance during 2008 addressing the extent to which taxpayers may rely on the proposed regulations with respect to the calculation of the amounts includible in income under section 409A(a) and the calculation of the additional taxes under section 409A(a). The interim guidance is also expected to address the calculation of the amounts includible in income and additional taxes under section 409A(b) and service recipient reporting and withholding obligations with respect to amounts includible in income under section 409A(a) or (b) for taxable years beginning before the final regulations become applicable. The Treasury Department and the IRS anticipate that such interim guidance will provide that taxpayers may rely upon the proposed regulations in their entirety (but that taxpayers may not rely on part, but not all, of the proposed regulations)." (Internal Revenue Service)


[Official Guidance] Text of IRS Notice 2008-113: Relief for Failure of Nonqualified Deferred Compensation Plan to Comply with Section 409A in Operation (PDF)
66 pages; scheduled for publication in IRB 2008-51 on December 22. Excerpt: "On December 3, 2007, the Treasury Department and the IRS issued Notice 2007-100 . . . . The Treasury Department and the IRS have reviewed all of the comments submitted, and are issuing this notice as a successor to Notice 2007-100. This notice incorporates, clarifies and expands upon the guidance provided in Notice 2007-100, and accordingly Notice 2007-100 is obsoleted." (Internal Revenue Service)


[Guidance Overview] New 409A Guidance Issued and 457A Guidance Expected Shortly
Excerpt: "Employers must ensure that all of their compensatory arrangements are reviewed for 409A compliance and amended as necessary prior to December 31, 2008." (McDermott Will & Emery)


Alzheimer's Growing Concern for Businesses: How Employers Can Help Affected Workers Stay Productive and on the Job
Excerpt: "As the workforce ages, the number of people working with early symptoms of dementia is likely to grow. Many large corporations hope to hold on to skilled employees past traditional retirement age. While most older employees are likely to be healthy, two out of every 100 people 65 to 74 years old have Alzheimer's disease.' (Workforce Management; free registration required)


Economic Downturn Imperils Benefits
Excerpt: "Many small businesses trying to weather the recession are cutting employee benefits along with other expenses -- reducing or even eliminating their contributions to health care insurance and retirement plans. These are painful moves that many companies undertake to save their cash flow and, in some cases, employees' jobs. Human resources consultants say owners should aim at making these cutbacks temporary -- and to let employees know that their benefits will be restored as soon as possible." (AP via The Houston Chronicle)


What to Expect from Washington with a New White House and Congress: Critical Legislative and Judicial Issues That Will Affect Employers
Excerpt: "This interactive webcast . . . discussed issues that included: Significant changes that have already been enacted in 2008 (e.g., the Genetics Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and amendments to the ADA); Why 2009 could see the biggest changes in labor and employment laws in decades; Specific legislative and regulatory changes that are expected to be enacted and how employers can prepare now for such changes" (Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP)


A Look Back at Benefits in 2008: Deadlines, Tough Times, and Opportunity
A review, with links, of previous articles on benefits issues in 2008. (Chang, Ruthenberg & Long PC)


Many Employers Offering Financial Education Programs for Their Employees
Excerpt: "A recent survey of employers conducted by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans found that 43 percent of U.S. respondents offer financial education/literacy programs for their workers." (Chiropractic Economics)


CRS Report Describes Pension, Healthcare Obligations of Big 3 Automakers; Overview of Proposed Bailout (PDF)
44 pages; see pages 23 through 35 for information on pension, healthcare and executive compensation discussion. Excerpt: "Bankrup.tcy filing could also threaten health plans for union workers and nonunion workers and retirees. Under a liquidation, there would presumably be no health plans remaining for any former workers or retirees. In the event of a bankrup.tcy reorganization under Chapter 11, if a firm continues to provide health benefits to its workers, certain individuals would be entitled to purchase health benefits through COBRA . . . ." (Congressional Research Service, U.S. Library of Congress)


[Opinion] Ongoing Developments and Other Issues from TARP
Excerpt: "[W]e are starting to see some unions filing some EESA-related shareholder proposals seeking more stringent compensation reform at TARP-participating institutions. For example, one proposal seeks to limit annual incentive compensation and severance payments to no more than one times the senior executive's annual salary, and require the institution to award long-term compensation in the form of performance-vested equity instruments. On the positive side, some companies are freezing new stock option awards and/or require senior executives to hold at least 75 percent of stock obtained through equity awards while they are employed (so-called 'Hold 'Til Retirement')." (Michael S. Melbinger via Winston & Strawn LLP)




Newly Posted Events
(Post Yours!)

2009 Pharmacy Benefits Academy
in Illinois on August 4, 2009
presented by Midwest Business Group on Health and Pharmacy Outcomes Specialists

403(b) Information Sharing: A Presentation and Q&A with the Experts Webcast
Nationwide on December 10, 2008
presented by SPARK Institute

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

ERPA Test Review Seminar - Part 1: Compliance and Operational Issues
Nationwide on January 14, 2009
presented by SunGard Relius

ERPA Test Review Seminar - Part 2: Plan Documents, Reporting, and Distribution Issues
Nationwide on January 15, 2009
presented by SunGard Relius

Health and Welfare Roundup 2008: This Year's New Laws and How They Affect You
Nationwide on December 4, 2008
presented by EBIA / Thomson Reuters

The Role of Smoking Cessation Treatments in the Workplace - Webcast
Nationwide on December 10, 2008
presented by Edelman



Newly Posted Press Releases
(Post Yours!)

The SPARK Institute Issues New Version Of Best Practices For 403(b) Plans Information Sharing, Schedules Webcast To Discuss Issues
SPARK Institute

Saving Employee Health Care Benefits: Impossible?
HighRoads, Inc.

Pharmacy Benefits Academy Set for 2009
Midwest Business Group on Health

Integrated Benefits Institute Helps Employers Make the Business Case for Health and Productivity Improvement
Integrated Benefits Institute

Latest DSG Study Finds That the Mutual Fund Industry Has Raised the Stakes in the Battle with Insurers for Retirement Income Assets
Diversified Services Group, Inc. (DSG)

Health Plans Achieve Bridges to Excellence Physician Incentive and Reward Program Endorsement
Bridges to Excellence (BTE)



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