2014 - A Historic Year in Employee Benefits


Now is the time of year for every writer to create their Best Of list or make predictions for the upcoming year. However, for me 2014 was too extraordinary a year in health insurance and retirement plan public policy to reduce to simple lists. This year we witnessed the implementation of historic health insurance legislation reminiscent of the passage of the Social Security Amendments that created the Social Security and Medicare programs. We also saw many states and the federal government focus their policy power on expanding access to workplace retirement plans.

But if I absolutely have to sum up the year in employee benefits and give fellow benefits pros something to think about for next year, I would say don't forget the origins of your field. And if you think there is too much regulation of employee benefit plans then you forget that that is where benefits got its start. You forget that health insurance plan and retirement saving plans are part of state and federal tax code and social policy. And that is why as a Certified Employee Benefits Specialist (CEBS) with a master's degree in public policy, I am excited about the current employee benefits environment and its future.

However, not everything employee benefits related is exciting or good to me. Health insurance plan prices are still too high, even on the exchanges. Health insurance concepts are too complex. The ascension of high deductible health plans is a crisis in waiting. Health care prices are still hidden. Workplace retirement plans are also too complex and risky. Retirement plan fees are too high and employer matches too low. Workplace wellness programs are a failure for nearly everyone except the workplace wellness industry. And public pension plans are under attack due to jealousy as much as economics.
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Employers Should Explore Opportunities From Renewed U.S.–Cuba Relations


Last week President Obama announced to the world that America is reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. But there is more to this White House policy on Cuba than diplomacy. You can view the entire Cuban policy Fact Sheet on the website. What's not explicitly included on this list is the impact of this new U.S.-Cuba relationship on the American healthcare system.

New Policy, New Opportunities

Many U.S. healthcare industry leaders are already familiar with the state of Cuban healthcare. They know that it is a standout in a country that is underdeveloped in most major industrial areas. They also know that opening up Cuba’s healthcare industry to America will change the way they do business.

American employers, on the other hand, may not be as familiar with the opportunities an open Cuban healthcare system may offer. However, now is the time for these employers and their HR departments to explore their options. There is a lot of potential for employers to greatly reduce their healthcare expenses by using Cuban healthcare resources. And there are at least three ways employers can achieve these savings.
  • Create Their Own Medical Tourism Program With Cuba
  • Contract Directly With Cuban Doctors and Dentists
  • Purchase Prescription Drugs Directly From Cuba
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The Future of Workplace Employee Benefits - The One Option Plan


There are many likable features of workplace defined contribution retirement plans like the 401(k) plan. Employees can take the plan with them when they leave their employer. They can make their own investment choices. And they can enjoy the benefits of market highs. But as the 2008 Great Recession highlighted these plans have many negative components. However these negative features are accepted because most workers will never experience an alternative.

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), more than 70% of small businesses do not offer a workplace retirement plan to workers. Of those that do offer a plan, 75% of workers participate in a 401(k) style plan. On the other hand, nearly all large firms sponsor a retirement plan. And like small firms, the plans they offer are mostly 401(k) style plans. As reported in a recent Towers Watson survey, only 7% of large firms offer traditional defined benefit pension plans to new hires. Consequently, there is a generation of workers who will never have an opportunity to participate in a traditional pension plan. The 401(k) plan is increasingly their only option.

But it is not just retirement plan options that employers are narrowing. Workplace health insurance options are decreasing as well. Even while employers are exploring private exchanges to give employees more health plan choices, these plans are usually high deductible health plans (HDHPs). And like 401(k) style retirement plans, HDHPs have some attractive features and some negative features.

The Future May Not Be So Bright

The negative aspects of 401(k) style retirement plans include high fees
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3 Things HR Benefit Pros Can Learn From Health Insurance Brokers


Choosing a health plan is a difficult task for anyone, even employers. Their understanding of health insurance including how to choose the best plans at the best price is not as good as one might think. And like employees they find the process unpleasant and spend just hours each year discussing their options. However, employers are in the fortunate position of having one-on-one assistance from insurance company representatives. These reps help explain the latest trends in plan design and costs to employers. And if employers want even more help understanding or choosing health insurance coverage, they can get it from an independent health insurance broker.

Health insurance brokers serve as the middleman between insurance companies and purchasers of group or individual health insurance. Often called Producers, brokers enter into
agreements with health insurance companies to sell the insurer's products to employers and individuals. And although they have agreements with the insurer, their client is the employer or individual.

The personalized attention brokers provide an employer is just the type of help employees want from their employers. Employee benefit pros can learn a few things from brokers to help make the health plan selection process easier for their employee clients.
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What Type of Benefits Pro Are You?

Believe it or not there are benefit pros that hate interacting with employees. They cringe whenever the phone rings or someone knocks on their office door. It's not that they don't want to help workers with their employee benefit questions they just don't want to do it so intimately. We’ll call this the Aloof Benefits Pro.

Then there are the benefit pros that can't get enough one-on-one employee interaction. They spend hours each day talking to employees about benefit and non-benefit issues. They pride themselves on knowing the most intimate details about the employees they work with. We’ll call this the Mommy Benefits Pro.

Characteristics of The Aloof Benefits Pro (ABP)

The word “aloof” is often misused. And that is because of the many synonyms of the word ranging from cold and distant to shy and bashful. These words are not exactly the same or even similar. So in this example the word “aloof” means introverted.
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