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December 30, 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]
Despite Standard of Review Change, 2nd Circuit Rules Against Disability Denial

Excerpt: "Noting that the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Glenn forced it to consider First Unum's conflict of interest as both plan administrator and payor of benefits only 'as a factor' when determining if there was an abuse in discretion, the appellate court still reversed a lower court decision that Unum did not act arbitrarily and capriciously in denying benefits . . . ." (PLANSPONSOR.com; free registration required)


[Guidance Overview]
Massachusetts Increases Penalties for Lack of Health Insurance Coverage

Excerpt: "The maximum penalty next year for those with incomes exceeding 300% of the federal poverty level will be $89 for each month an individual does not have coverage, or $1,068 for a full year of noncompliance, according to the guidelines proposed by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue." (Business Insurance)


[Guidance Overview]
Compliance Highlights for Health and Welfare Plans: 2008 Update

Excerpt: "The compliance guide, which describes legal, benefit and notice requirements affecting health and welfare plans, includes the key developments in 2008 and prospects for federal health care reform. The 2008 changes expand parity for mental health and substance abuse benefits, mandate extended coverage for students on medical leave, restrict requests for and uses of genetic information, permit bicycle commuter benefits and allow a health FSA cashout option for employees called to military duty. The guide also covers the Medicare secondary-payer reports effective in 2009." (Mercer LLC; access to the guide is available only to Mercer Select members)


Towers Perrin U.S. Legislative Tracking Chart: Health & Welfare (PDF)
25 pages. Excerpt: "These charts summarize selected federal legislation that would affect employee benefit programs. The bills included on the charts are based on judgments regarding the prominence of the issue, the likelihood of enactment, and the influence of the sponsors." (Towers Perrin)


National Conference of State Legislatures Rolls Out Index of National and State Healthcare Issues
Excerpt: "The NCSL health programs and staff collect information related to many state and federal health issues. The programs track legislative action in the states, identify new and important research and the effects on public policy and disseminates information about state innovations. Most of the issues that the programs study and track are listed . . . ." (National Conference of State Legislatures)


Captive Insurance Companies Offer Cost Savings for Disability, Life and Health Cost Risks
Excerpt: "[C]omplicated Department of Labor (DOL) rules and a rigorous approval process have meant that, until recently, few companies have used captives to finance employee benefits plans such as disability coverage and life insurance. A series of green lights from the DOL, however, has established a regulatory 'express lane' for employee benefits and captives." (Milliman)


Healthcare Providers Enjoy Year-End Rush as Health Plan Participants Beat Deductibles Deadline
Excerpt: "It's the Year-End Mini-Boom, a new phenomenon brought on by health insurance plans with deductibles. . . . Early in the year, patients are more likely to hold off getting care because they are paying out of pocket. Later in the year, some have paid enough to reach their deductible and insurance kicks in. At that point, insurance covers most medical services [including many that are elective] . . . ." (StarTribune.com)


Loans for Auto Rescue Put Retirees' Health Coverage at Risk
Excerpt: "At issue is a condition of the loans that calls for General Motors Corp. and Chrysler to use company stock or the equivalent to pay half, or $10.5 billion, of the cash owed to a union retiree health care trust." (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)


Patients' DNA May Be Signal to Tailor Medication; Possible Cost -saver
Excerpt: "Experts say that most drugs, whatever the disease, work for only about half the people who take them. Not only is much of the nation's approximately $300 billion annual drug spending wasted, but countless patients are being exposed unnecessarily to side effects." (New York Times; free registration required)


Absenteeism: Lost Days Get Costly Quickly
Excerpt: "Only a third of all absences are related to an illness, said Susan Frear, of the Society for Human Resource Management. 'The rest of the absences are related to having to be someplace else or they just don't feel like coming in,' Frear said. 'So a lot has to do with the culture of the place.'" (St. Petersburg Times)


New York Insurers Must Cover Same-Sex Spouses
Excerpt: "The New York Insurance Department's adoption of the state's position recognizing lawful same-sex marriages means insurers and HMOs in New York must immediately begin providing identical coverage to same- and opposite-sex spouses. Employers offering insured life, health, accident, disability or other insurance coverage must coordinate with their insurers to determine which benefits are affected." (Mercer LLC)


Attorneys Watch Sick Leave Suit in Milwaukee
Excerpt: "Unconstitutional and vague are two of the reasons why a local business group is asking a judge to dismiss the pending paid sick leave ordinance in the city of Milwaukee. The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce Inc. (MMAC) filed suit against the city on Dec. 22 and also asked for a temporary injunction. The ordinance was passed into law by Wisconsin voters on Nov. 4 in a binding referendum and businesses have to be in compliance by Feb. 10. Key elements expected to surface in court, according to attorneys outside the case, are whether the city has the authority to enact and enforce the law and how the ordinance conflicts with state statute." (Wisconsin Law Journal)


[Opinion]
Local Democracy's struggle with ERISA Preemption

Excerpt: "For those who care about ERISA, why do I claim that preempting San Francisco's ordinance is madness? . . . It is conceded that SF could not impose mandates on employers because they provide ERISA-covered benefits to their employees. But SF has not done so: The duties under the SF ordinance apply to every employer, regardless of whether those employers provide ERISA benefits -- or any benefits -- pursuant to contract." (Rick Hills on PrawfsBlawg)


[Opinion]
Conservative Think Tank Says Healthcare Reform Should Include Cap on Healthcare Tax Benefits

Excerpt: "The report recommends . . . [establishment] of a reasonable limit on tax subsidies for employer-sponsored health benefits. . . . and [a reallocation of] the federal income tax revenue as tax credits toward purchasing individual health coverage." (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business)



Health Benefits Conference & Expo (HBCE) (Sponsor)

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Links to Items on Executive Comp, Benefits in General

[Guidance Overview]
Overview of the Worker, Retiree and Employer Recovery Act of 2008

Excerpt: "Emergency Funding Relief For Defined Benefit Plans . . . Technical Modifications to the PPA . . . Non-Technical Retirement Security Provisions . . . Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act For Collectively Bargained Plans . . . ." (McGuireWoods)


[Guidance Overview]
President Signs Worker, Retiree and Employee Recovery Act of 2008

Excerpt: "[The new law] provides much needed funding relief to pension plans in light of the current economic crisis. The Recovery Act also temporarily suspends the age 70˝ required minimum distribution rules for participants in 401(k), 403(b), and other defined contribution plans; clarifies rules on nonspouse beneficiary rollovers; and extends favorable tax treatment for health care premiums paid by government retirement plans on behalf of retired public safety officers." (Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP)


[Guidance Overview]
Worker, Retiree, and Employer Recovery Act of 2008 Waives RMDs for 2009 and Includes Anticipated PPA Technical Corrections

Excerpt: "We have only highlighted the more significant PPA technical corrections affecting 401(k) plans: Other changes include clarification of the combined plans deduction limit, amendments to conform the definition of a one-person retirement plan under the Code and ERISA, and clarification that QDIA protection is available for beneficiaries, as well as for participants. Plan sponsors and their advisors will want to review the Recovery Act carefully to understand the many clarifications and amendments that affect their plans." (Employee Benefits Institute of America)


[Guidance Overview]
President Signs the Worker, Retiree, and Employer Recovery Act of 2008

Excerpt: "On December 23, 2008, the President signed the Worker, Retiree, and Employer Recovery Act of 2008 (Recovery Act), which provides much needed funding relief to pension plans in light of the current economic crisis. The Recovery Act also temporarily suspends the age 70˝ required minimum distribution rules for participants in 401(k), 403(b), and other defined contribution plans; clarifies rules on nonspouse beneficiary rollovers; and extends favorable tax treatment for health care premiums paid by government retirement plans on behalf of retired public safety officers. A brief description of the Recovery Act's major elements is set forth [in the target document]." (Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP)


IRS 2009 Version of Publication 15-B: Employer's Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits
Excerpt: "Publication 15-B, which is a supplement to IRS Publication 15 (more commonly known as Circular E), provides a useful reference for employers on the employment tax treatment of fringe benefits. But it is important to remember that this publication doesn't provide full coverage of the many rules applicable to the fringe benefits it summarizes. Publication 15-B does refer readers to other IRS publications, guidance, or websites, however, for more detailed coverage of certain aspects of these fringe benefits." (Employee Benefits Institute of America)




Newly Posted Press Releases
(Post Yours!)

IASB and FASB Announce Membership of Financial Crisis Advisory Group
Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB)

Firm Offers Complementary 403(b) Action Plan Workbook
Benefit Plans Plus

Public Retirement Benefit Payments Reach Record $168 Billion
U.S. Census Bureau



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