Last week I saw another headline calling the 401(k) retirement plan a failed experiment. I don’t agree with this conclusion for several reasons. First, the 401(k) retirement plan was never an experiment. It was never intended to be the primary retirement program for private sector employers. Second, it’s hugely successful for a large number of individuals and the financial industry. Third, it places a spotlight on retirement savings—an issue that was largely ignored for decades.
That article was not the first I read declaring 401(k)s a failure. Highlighting the many deficiencies of 401(k) plans is a full-time job for some and they have been sounding the alarm for years. And I for one am glad they do. The 401(k) plan in its current form is, never was, and never will be THE retirement plan this country needs. It’s risky, costly, and too complicated for universal use.
Fortunately, addressing the shortcomings of 401(k) plans is in vogue right now. Proposals, legislation and regulations addressing plan fees, outcomes, and access abound. And right there in the middle of this fight for a more perfect retirement plan option is the Obama administration.
So I can’t help but think it is hypocritical or naïve of the White House to not have the same misgivings about high deductible health plans (HDHP) as it does about 401(k) plans. Sure, we are dealing with a different product and industry, but there are similarities.
Yesterday one of the kindest individuals I know made some horrible comments implying Obamacare favors the "lazy" at the expense of the motivated. He does not think it fair that the rest of us should pay for health insurance for these "lazy" individuals. As if not being able to afford the high cost of health insurance means you are lazy.
Unfortunately, this is the typical argument of the uninformed or those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. He was a member of the former group (but currently informed and reformed). But it is the latter group who was clearly shaping his opinions about who is "entitled" to healthcare in America. Even though these individuals have been wrong about nearly everything they said would happen under Obamacare, they continue to repeat their distortions. Obamacare has not:
- Caused employers to lay-off millions of workers
- Increased the costs of health insurance above previous trend levels
- Created death panels, etc.
I’ll save my disdain for the uncaring and self-interested politicians and their ilk that do have the power to make changes to Obamacare—like the newly announced candidate for President of the United States, Ted Cruz. It wasn’t until yesterday when I read “the comments” and learned of Cruz’s announcement that I started to think about what American health care would look like under a Cruz White House. Until then the only thing I knew about Cruz’s stance on health care is that no one in the world wants to repeal “every word” of Obamacare more than this guy. (Well, maybe a few conservative intellectuals who would rather set themselves on fire than live in a world where a law enacted by President Obama defines the nation for years to come… But I digress.) Continue Reading...
Last week Sylvia Burwell, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary, gave a speech at the American Health Insurance Plan’s (AHIP) health policy conference. The speech was scheduled for half an hour. Secretary Burwell shared 2015 enrollment statistics and discussed future goals of her Department.
The primary focus of the Secretary’s speech was to outline her Department’s goals following the second Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) open enrollment. One of the goals she articulated is to work with the health insurance industry and other partners to increase Americans’ understanding of health insurance and health care.
And I agree with Secretary Burwell that the focus needs to be on education—it should have been from the start. But I understand that getting people enrolled in a health plan and fixing the enrollment system had to come first.
I also understand why HHS is asking for help with this goal. Their “Coverage to Care” initiative is not likely to help too many people understand their health benefits, especially newbies. For example, the one to two minute, 11-part video series on topics such as:
- understanding health plan terms,
- finding a provider, and
- making an appointment, etc.,
Some of the hottest news around these days involves the financial and retirement advisory services industry. First there was the Great Recession of 2008 highlighting the vulnerability of the most popular ways of saving for retirement—employer-sponsored 401(k) style plans and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). Second, the gazillion published articles about the dismal level of retirement savings among Americans. Third, came the solutions to address a system that is somewhat exclusive, expensive, and difficult to navigate. These solutions include:
- legislation to expand plan access,
- legal and regulatory challenges to high plan fees and self-serving advisor behavior, and
- technological innovation to make investing easier and more affordable
What Is An Online Financial Advisor?
If you are not into tech and don’t read any financial news, you probably never heard of online financial advisors or robo-advisors. They have been around for years but about eight years ago the concept started to really take off when new tech savvy start-ups updated their look and their services. The simplest way to describe these entities is to say that they are companies using computer portals to deliver financial advice and investment services. Continue Reading...
Americans Know Workplace Health Insurance Is Subsidized By The Federal Government, They Just Don't Care
I’m a big fan of the Vox.com website. The writers at Vox are good at making a point and supporting it with relevant data. Another reason I like the site is because they write a lot about health care in America and abroad. They cover Obamacare better than all the major news outlets because they focus on informing readers and not the latest headlines. However, when Vox writers use the results of a poll to make a point, I kind of wish they didn’t.
Polls ask simple questions without providing examples or definitions of the terminology it uses. So when Vox writer, Matthew Yglesias, wrote an article based on the results of a poll question in which nearly all of the respondents said that they did not receive a government subsidy to pay for health insurance, I was like, ‘meh.’ But because it came from Vox.com, I decided to look at all of the results from The Economist/YouGov poll referenced in the article.
Now, as an employee benefit professionals, I know that a lot of workers:
- Don’t understand taxes in general,
- Can’t conceptualize how pre-tax health and retirement benefits work, and
- Don’t know that subsidies can come in the form of tax savings