Workplace Employee Benefit Pros Can No Longer Ignore Changes Taking Place In The Field

Notice ChangeA head Sign

The responses from the employee benefits community to the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision ranges from it doesn't matter to this could be the beginning of the end of workplace health insurance. Of course most of this chatter is coming from employee benefit attorneys, third party administrators, and other industry observers. But what are front line employee benefit professionals (vice-presidents, managers, and administrators) saying and thinking? And if they aren't saying anything, that is a problem for me.

Too often the individuals responsible for making decisions about what employee benefits to offer and how to communicate them, have the least to say about changes that may impact their work. Many employee benefit pros see their role as pure implementation and compliance. They take a let's wait and see what we need to do because of this new regulation or change in the law approach.

Case in Point

When the Great Recession of 2009 resulted in millions of Americans losing their jobs and with it their health insurance, Congress passed several laws to help workers and employers meet these new economic challenges. One law in particular, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, contained a provision designed to help offset the cost of COBRA health insurance coverage by 65%. This $20 billion plus provision of a much larger law was a very big deal in the benefits community.

I remember attending a meeting of local benefit professionals where we discussed the requirements of implementing this new law. We talked about how our computer systems can identify those eligible for the COBRA subsidy. We spoke of how to work with our Accounting staff to track and report individuals receiving the subsidy. But mostly we discussed the Department of Labor model notices. We were waiting to receive model notices so that we could get on with the implementation of this new law.

Never did we discuss the shortcomings of workplace benefits or why COBRA was so expensive that most people cannot afford it without a government subsidy. Our entire focus was on how and when to implement this temporary change to our work. Sadly that was my thinking five years ago. Today all I think about is the future of the employee benefits profession. What will it be like five years from now? My guess--nothing like it is today...


Federal and state exchanges are enrolling millions in individual health plans. Owners of private companies are making decisions about what health care they will exclude from their plans. And health care policy experts are questioning why our country continues to tie health care to the workplace. Benefit professionals need to start thinking and talking about the future of their profession and not just what changes they need to implement. I'm thinking about it, are you...?
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