A Look Back: At Employee Benefits

HR leaders continued to cope with healthcare-cost increases and the potential fallout of the healthcare-reform law. At the same time, preparing workers for retirement remained a problem.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011
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The always-challenging benefits arena grew a bit more challenging and complicated this past year, as HR leaders coped with continuing issues of costs and coverage, on top of potential issues resulting from the healthcare-reform law.

As everyone knows, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the healthcare-reform law, but HR executives can't sit back and wait on that future decision.

Instead, they are coping with the direct and indirect costs because of the law, while considering whether to stop offering healthcare benefits or shifting to healthcare exchanges. One aspect of the law has already been eliminated -- a long-term insurance plan.

While HR leaders wait for a final word, they are continuing to see increased healthcare costs, including on a global level.

This has led to more interest in high-deductible health plans as well as better management of pharmacy benefits, where use has been increasing, even as the choices could be decreasing -- pending a decision on the merger between Express Scripts and Medco.

Overall, the economy has continued to take its toll on benefits plans, although tuition benefits seem to have prospered, unlike work/life benefits -- where there is still a significant gap between policies and implementation.

This year, HR leaders also saw the need to revise policies to implement the new regulations issued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act -- broadening the definition of "disability" and requiring a dramatic shift in the management of disabled workers.

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Interest by organizations in wellness plans continues to grow, although HR executives would do well to understand that it takes more than internal programs to see positive long-term health outcomes.

As employees stay on the job longer, organizations are going to have to prepare for the early onset of Alzheimer's disease among the workforce.

As for retirement, one study found that a majority of workers would not save for their post-working life at all if their employers did not offer 401(k)s, while another study found that the use of auto-enrollment has been effective in increasing minority participation and the introduction of target-date funds has been gaining popularity.

At the same time, a record number of retirement-plan participants are taking loans against their savings, and companies continue to be reluctant to offer their workers ways to create stable monthly incomes from retirement savings.

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