Opinion

This week in benefits

A round-up of the week’s employee benefits news, reports and controversy from around the web

Attention Walmart shoppers . . . In the same week Walmart scaled back benefits for its part-time workers, the company sent out a 14-page request for information to potential partners interested in helping the retail behemoth become “the largest provider of primary healthcare services in the nation.” Kaiser Health News and NPR broke the story this week. Unable to resist the lure of 30 million new health care consumers that will be in the market due to health reform legislation, Walmart’s plan calls for expanding its current level of 140 in-store clinics to include health clinics throughout its 3500-store network. The company was very quick to backpedal once the story broke, however, stating the document was “overwritten and incorrect.” Follow TWIB on Twitter for more developments on this story.

Health reform updates: Though it looked like we were going to get some insight this week on when the Supreme Court would hear challenges to health reform, it now appears an order may be announced on Monday. In the meantime, a D.C. federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate, scoring a win for the Obama administration. Also this week, 11 health insurers doing business in New York were ordered to refund $114.5 million to policyholders in accordance with the state’s MLR requirements.

Pension reform tracker:

Rhode Island: The state’s bellwether reform proposal that would combine the current pension program with a 401(k)-style account was endorsed by both the House and Senate finance committees this week. The General Assembly plans to take up the measure next week. Unions rallied on Tuesday against the proposed measures.

California: Following closely in Rhode Island’s footsteps, Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal could be an effective cost-saving measure for future state employees, according to analysts. Forcing current state workers onto the proposed plan, however, may prove to be “legally dicey.” Here’s a cheat sheet on the state’s proposed pension plan.

Florida: The lawsuit against Florida’s attempt to force public employees to contribute 3 percent of their pay toward the Florida Retirement System continues to make its way through the courts. If the law is struck down, it could create an $860 million gap in the state’s budget.

Ohio: On Tuesday, voters repealed a law that would limit union rights. Among other measures, the law would have required state employees to contribute 10 percent of their income toward their pensions. The vote was widely seen as a repudiation of GOP-backed anti-union measures that have arisen in several states looking for ways to remedy budget shortfalls.

Annuities under the microscope: Are annuities effective retirement vehicles or not? The product received a lot of media scrutiny this week. Though variable annuity sales are reportedly booming, the Wall Street Journal reports that companies are offering fewer investment choices within the product. Despite the product’s popularity amid current market volatility, many are cautioning investors against the high fees associated with them. “Avoid them,” says The Motley Fool, complaining about investment restrictions and high fees. The Arizona Republic reports that seniors have lost millions in fees, resulting in several lawsuits currently making their way through the courts. Forbes weighs the factors investors should consider when evaluation whether or not to purchase an immediate annuity.

TWIB recommends:

Why does U.S. retirement system rank 10th out of 16 modern economies? (CBS News)

10 questions the DOL wants 401k plan sponsors to ask their investment consultant (Fiduciary News)

Fraud timed to reform (Chicago Tribune)

Cost shifting made easy (BenefitsPro)

Employer-based health insurance continues to trend down (Gallup)

Jobless in America: An anthology of testimonials about unemployment (The Atlantic)

Look at how Humana explains health care reform (Ragan’s Health Care Communication News)

Raises have gone to pay for insurance (Forbes)

Identified takes analytics, social media into the employment market (Fast Company)

Does job retraining work? (Slate)

FAQ on HSAs (Kaiser Health News)

Health care reform: The calm before the storm (Mother Jones)

You might also like . . .

This week’s most popular story on BenefitsPro:  Why health insurance is about to get ‘weird’

Hottest BenefitsPro blogs this week:

I’ve got good news and bad omens, by Denis Storey

Time to raise the retirement age, by Jenny Ivy

The stealthy sin of too many 401(k) investors, by Chris Carosa

What are your employees’ financial problems costing you?, by Liz Davidson

Clean your desktop, by Dan Cole

Follow the official Twitter feed for ‘This Week in Benefits’: @BenefitsWeek

If I missed a story, please feel free to comment below.

About the Author
James E. Green

James E. Green

James E. Green is the Group Editorial Director of Summit Business Media's Life & Health Group, which includes National Underwriter Life & Health, Life Insurance Selling, Agent's Sales Journal, Senior Market Advisor, Producers Web, Benefits Selling and BenefitsPro.com.

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