When you were last pondering what creative name Congress will use on its next benefits-related bill (and, really, who does not do that in moments of abject despair, after a few glasses of wine, while bowling from time to time), surely the “Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015” was near the top of your mind, wasn’t it? No? Really?
Well, SURPRISE! Because that’s the name of your latest benefits bill. In truth, it does have some provisions about transportation and the VA, but there are also benefits changes buried in various corners of the new law:
- Beginning next year, the automatic extension for the Form 5500 has been, well, extended from 2 ½ months to 3 ½ months from the initial deadline. This will allow plan administrators of calendar year plans more time to prepare for Halloween, but may cut in on their Thanksgiving preparations.
- The law extended for four years (until the end of 2025) the ability to transfer excess pension assets to retiree health and life insurance accounts. Of the four provisions, this is the only one likely to result in an increase in federal revenues. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that it will raise $172 million in revenue over 10 years.
- It also amends the ACA “play or pay” mandate to exclude employees receiving coverage under TRICARE or through the VA from the employee count when determining if an employer is an “applicable large employer.” Thus, a small employer with a few veterans might avoid the employer mandate by this rule. However, note that, if the employer is an applicable large employer, then these employees still have to be offered coverage and they still get counted in determining any penalties. This rule is retroactively effective to 2014.
- Additionally, veterans receiving care through the VA for a service-connected disability will still be able to contribute to a health savings account (HSA). This is not effective, however, until next year.
ERISA has been modified by many pieces of legislation since it was signed into law on this day in 1974. In honor of ERISA’s “Big 4-0” we invite you to (1) find all of the abbreviations below for different acts that have amended ERISA and (2) come up with the full name for each abbreviated act. We will share the solution along with each act’s full name on Thursday. Good luck! *Note: letters are shared and acronyms go every direction. (more…)
We want our employees to make healthy choices so that they will have long and healthy lives (and also to decrease the cost of health benefits). We also want our employees to participate in the 401(k) plan so that they can build a nest egg for retirement and enjoy those long, healthy lives (and maybe also so that we don’t have to refund deferrals to our HCEs). Whatever our motivations, it seems that the latest trend in encouraging desired behavior in the employee benefits arena is gamification. Think “Farmville” except the “crops” that your employees will be growing are their dreams that they want to harvest in retirement (travel, a vacation home, or just being able to continue to pay the bills). Imagine those crops wilting unless they are “watered” and “fed” by employees who earn “plant food” and “water” by correctly answering retirement-related questions. Maybe the game could even show the field of dreams wilting at current deferral levels but encourage employees to use a retirement cost calculator to determine what level of deferrals might lead to a successful harvest in retirement. For your employees who are not particularly motivated by watching crops grow, think “Angry Birds” as part of your wellness program except employees may be able to earn “birds” to fling at the infuriating “pigs” in their lives (smoking, obesity, you name it) by correctly answering health-related questions. These particular game examples would, of course, be rife with intellectual property concerns, but you get the picture.
Recent articles describe how benefit consultants and wellness plan providers have begun to design “serious games” that utilize gamification and game mechanics to help employers to educate and motivate their work force with respect to retirement benefits and wellness programs. Some of the games described in these articles provide intrinsic motivation while others allow employees to win prizes and compare scores online. Other games send employees searching through HR communications searching for embedded codes to earn points that will hopefully be found while diligently reading an SPD or other ERISA disclosure document. You may think that these strategies would be aimed primarily at the younger members of your work force but according to Adam Wootton, director of social media and games at Towers Watson in New York, the fastest-growing segment of social gamers is women over the age of 45.
Although this may well be the wave of the future and an effective way to encourage employees to become more educated and involved with their employee benefits we think that there are questions that should be answered by employers before implementing this sort of program. For example, will game play be permitted at work? What if an employee does not have computer access or a smart phone? Will that employee be given some other way of competing for prizes, discounts or other rewards that may be offered? Rules applicable to wellness programs should be considered. In addition, employers should also be sure that they are not inadvertently providing “investment advice” that could jeopardize ERISA 404(c) relief for plan fiduciaries or otherwise result in fiduciary liability. Finally, these games should, of course supplement required ERISA disclosure documents and not try to replace them.
If you think that these strategies will appeal to your workforce and you have considered and resolved potential issues, then let the games begin!
What do you think? Could serious gaming be a missing link in curbing the obesity epidemic in our country or helping employees to prepare for retirement? Or is it for the birds? (angry or otherwise)
After a long lockout, the NHL will begin its season this weekend thanks, in part, to a pension plan. Among the sticking points for the players, as noted in this article, was the desire to return to a defined benefit pension plan. The NHL was somewhat ahead of its time in 1986 when it switched to a DC-only style retirement plan. However, the players in this recent round of bargaining pushed hard for a pension plan, and succeeded. While the NHL has not released very many details about the pension plan, and some of the information we’ve found is conflicting, this report from CSN Washington suggests that players can be eligible for the maximum benefits permitted by law.
While it is interesting to see an institution as prominent as the NHL buck a clear trend in the retirement space, it goes without saying that this is probably not the beginning of a sea change in retirement benefits back to defined benefit plans. As noted in this Globe and Mail article, even Kevin Westgarth, a Los Angeles Kings forward and a member of the NHLPA’s bargaining committee, called moving to a pension plan “way out of style.” .
While pensions may be way out of style for most of us non-athletes, as noted in this article from Bankrate.com, many U.S. professional sports organizations actually offer some kind of pension plan for their players (we’ve previously discussed the pension plans for MLB players here). So the NHL was actually a bit out of step with the rest of its sports brethren (as the Globe and Mail article also suggests). Therefore, in the NHL’s case, this isn’t so much bucking a trend, really a return to an industry standard, in a sense.
Interestingly, many of the arguments that were advanced in support of a pension plan for the NHL players, while somewhat paternalistic, could nevertheless be made for rank and file employees of most other industries as well. Essentially, they boil down to the advantages of lifetime income protection. However, in the current environment (outside of professional sports), we think the more likely move for plan sponsors will be to lifetime income options in defined contribution plans, rather than a return to defined benefit plans. What do you think?
If you’re reading this, it must mean the Mayans were wrong, so since the world is continuing, why not check out our list of recent News & Notes items?
- A recent study by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans found that 84% of employers plan to keep offering coverage in 2014.
- But even if its offered, an Employee Benefits Research Institute study found some employees might not take it if it Congress decides to tax insurance as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations (if you can call them that).
- The Commonwealth Fund has put together an interactive map, and additional information, about various States’ decisions on implementing the PPACA exchanges.
- Since we have so often talked about Hurricane Sandy relief in this column, we would be remiss if we did not point out the additional chart and FAQs that the IRS has released. These are included, among other items, in the most recent IRS Retirement News for Employers, as well.
- We have noted that employers are considering private exchanges and some of the issues around that. This Employee Benefits News guest post suggests that a private exchange might not make the best economic sense. Do you agree?
- Finally, in honor of the holiday season, we all know that co-workers sometimes push the boundaries of appropriate gift-giving. We promise not to give you a harpoon. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Below is our most recent list of News & Notes from the week that was. Let us know what you think. Should we continue this feature?
- New York City is considering using the city’s public pension funds to finance housing for those displaced by Hurricane Sandy.
- A recent New York Life study confirms our thinking that, when it comes to retirement saving, people tend to take the path of least resistance.
- Continuing with our unplanned New York theme, the New York Times recently reported how some non-traditional medical practitioners were lobbying to be included as “essential health benefits” under health care reform. Is acupuncture essential?
- Going completely to the other coast, CBS Los Angeles reported that LA County officials were scrambling to retain “paying patients” ahead of 2014.
- Apparently, defined contribution plan fees were at a record low in 2012. Do you think fee disclosure had anything to do with that?
- Finally, can you imagine buying health insurance at the grocery store? That may happen in the future, says this Kaiser Health News report. Seeing the premium quotes might make us think twice about some of our purchases (Twinkies are healthy, right?).
Now that we’ve returned from Thanksgiving and have finished off the leftover pumpkin pie, we wanted to share a few more recent benefits-related(ish) stories and other links.
- The most recent issue of the IRS Employee Plans News is out, including information on an upcoming IRS phone forum on Hurricane Sandy relief.
- In case you didn’t see it, last week the DOL issued compliance guidance for employee benefit plans in wake of Hurricane Sandy.
- This blog post lists four ways to internally market your benefits and compensation programs.
- One way you might help participation in your wellness programs is develop an app, says this article.
- Are you having trouble keeping track of all the lawsuits about the PPACA contraceptive mandate? Fortunately for you, Politico has a good summary.
- Some other countries provide some interesting benefits, as detailed in this article. Which ones would you like to see replicated in the US?
Just as we did last week, below, we share some recent benefits-related(ish) stories and other links.
- Today would have been the deadline for states to submit their PPACA health insurance exchange blueprints, but HHS extended the deadline for the blueprints and then, a few days later, extended the deadline for states to tell HHS if they were starting an exchange. As these reports from Kaiser show, some states are in and some states are out. State Refor(u)m is keeping a list of state responses here.
- The IRS released the latest edition of the Employee Plans News with some helpful information about plan administrative issues.
- InvestmentNews reports that 401(k) plans rode out the Great Recession just fine, thank you very much.
- The New York Times recently featured one company that is offering income for life through its 401(k) plan. Is this something you’re considering?
- We shared previously about some actions the federal government may take to address the fiscal cliff, but this article talks about what states are doing.
- This Wall Street Journal article shares some innovative weight loss technologies employers are using to curb health care costs.
As a new feature here on BenefitsBryanCave.com, we are going to regularly share some recent benefits-related(ish) stories and other links.
- The IRS is encouraging donations of unused leave to help Hurricane Sandy victims. A more complete list of Hurricane Sandy-related IRS news is also available here. The PBGC also has a list of disaster relief announcements and Medicare has extended enrollment for those impacted by Sandy.
- Get out your flotation devices because Politico is predicting a post-election flood of health care reform guidance.
- Several states had PPACA measures on the ballot. You can check out this list of the measures, and how they fared on election night.
- Speaking of health care and elections, this Washington Post article says many employees are overwhelmed by open enrollment.
- And just when you thought we were done with PPACA litigation, the Obama administration has said it does not have a problem with the Supreme Court allowing Liberty University’s challenge to PPACA to be reviewed at the Fourth Circuit.
- A Plan Sponsor Council of America study showed that participant fee disclosure did not significantly change participant behavior, but it did change the behavior of some plan sponsors.
- Do you think you know your facts about health care? Take this short LA Times quiz and see how your score.