This Week in Benefits: Disclosure rules update, AA wields axe, jobs uptick

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

Top news stories this week

Major pension assets reach record high: A new study by Towers Watson examined 13 major pension markets, totaling $27.5 trillion and accounting for 72.3 percent of the GDP of these markets. This represented a 3.9 percent increase compared to the year-end 2010 value.

Incomes up strong 0.5 percent, spending flat: Americans' income rose in December by the most in nine months, a hopeful sign for the economy after a year of weak wage gains. But consumers didn't spend any more than they had in November.

Feds pressure American Airlines to save pensions: The federal pension-insurance agency filed $91 million in liens against American Airlines property in a bid to pressure the company to save its retirement plans instead of dumping the obligations on the agency. (Related: American Airlines aims to cut 13,000 jobs)

Obama seeks small-business investments, tax breaks: President Barack Obama says he wants Congress to act quickly on bipartisan legislation that would extend tax breaks for small business and to help startup businesses raise money. He says he would sign the legislation "right away."

Commuter benefit could be tied to payroll package: Pressure is mounting for Congress to reverse cuts to commuter benefits as part of a major tax package this year.

Health savings accounts surpass $12.4 billion: By year-end 2011, health savings accounts surpassed $12.4 billion in nearly 6.8 million accounts, according to market research from broker/dealer firm Devenir.

New tool exposes public school 403(b) fees: Participants in public school 403(b) plans will get some of the same disclosure information and protection as their 401(k) counterparts, thanks to new recommended transparency standards announced Wednesday.

CDHP patients show more cost-conscious behavior: Individuals in consumer-driven health plans are more likely to exhibit more cost-conscious behaviors as compared to those enrolled in traditional coverage, the Employee Benefit Research Institute finds.

Fewer seek unemployment aid as job market improves: The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to a level that signaled a steadily improving job market. The figures came one day before the government is expected to report that January marked another solid month for hiring.

House dismisses CLASS: The Republican-led House on Wednesday voted to repeal a financially troubled part of the 2010 health care law that was designed to provide affordable long-term care insurance.

House votes to continue federal worker pay freeze: The House on Wednesday voted to freeze the wages of federal workers for a third straight year and put members of Congress on record as opposing a boost in their $174,000 annual salaries.

Payroll tax negotiations off to slow start: Negotiators on Capitol Hill agreed Wednesday to try to extend a payroll tax cut worth about $1,000 this year for a typical worker through the end of the year.

Boehner: Feds should back off birth control order: The Obama administration scrambled Thursday to contain a growing election-year outcry over its decision that church-affiliated employers must cover birth control regardless of their religious principles.

Independent financial advisors do better financially: Financial advisors who adopt an independent business model are better off financially than those who don’t, according to a new Fidelity study.

HHS: Medicare Advantage premiums down, enrollment up: Medicare Advantage premiums have fallen by 7 percent, on average, while enrollment in the program has risen by about 10 percent since this time last year, according to Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

401(k) fee disclosure rules clarified, deadline delayed: Plan sponsors will now have until July 1 to meet the much-discussed regulations on 401(k) fee disclosure, following Department of Labor announcements Thursday on the final rulings.

Recommended reads from around the web

Monster Worldwide cautious on 2012 (Reuters)

When health plans go high deductible (The Washington Post)

Editorial: Not hiring smokers crosses the privacy line (USA Today)

Opposing view: Why we won’t hire smokers (USA Today)

The end of health insurance companies (The New York Times)

‘Romneycare,’ meet ‘Obamacare’ (Politico)

Catholic bishops revolt against birth control rules (NPR)

Why even 20-somethings are worried about retirement (CNBC)

Campaign to end obesity should be about more than shame (Chicago Tribune)

A guide to the Supreme Court’s review of the 2010 health care reform law (Kaiser)

Best blogs on BenefitsPro this week


Feds with benefits, by Denis Storey

Making headway on medical leave, by Jenny Ivy

The missing piece in workplace wellness, by Kathryn Mayer

Top 5 health insurers – market control, by Dan Cole

Three conflicts of interest 401(k) sponsors must avoid, by Chris Carosa

Most hopeless reader on BenefitsPro this week

Robert A.: “Why do we even bother to talk about these things anymore, no one can change these policies and the only way to move forward is to force congress to discuss term limits, until then meh, same ol, same ol.” (In response to Feds with benefits)

TWIB’s #FF suggestions



Bio:  We provide essential information, blunt commentary and practical examples for ERISA/401k fiduciaries, individual trustees and professional fiduciaries.

Choice tweet: “Wow, the insurance industry must have paid a lot of lobby $ - IRS drops RMD on certain annuities” (2-2-12)



Bio:  Independent Insurance Broker - Agent & HealthCare Reform Advisor

Choice tweet:  “Explaining Modern Finance And Economics Using Booze And Broke Alcoholics - http://vsb.li/9BSdzW” (2-2-12)



Bio: Workplace tips and advice served up in a friendly place.

Choice tweet:  “The Inevitable Shift From Jobs to Skills #HR #training http://bit.ly/Aa0kbr” (1-27-12)


If I missed a news story or you have a good story you’d recommend to other readers, please comment below, and I’ll broadcast your suggestion via Twitter.

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