The Cost of Employer Insurance Is a Growing Burden for Middle-Income Families

Source: Sara R. Collins and David C. Radley, Commonwealth Fund, December 7, 2018

Recent national surveys show health care costs are a top concern in U.S. households. While the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces receive a lot of media and political attention, the truth is that far more Americans get their coverage through employers. In 2017, more than half (56%) of people under age 65 — about 152 million people — had insurance through an employer, either their own or a family member’s. In contrast, only 9 percent had a plan purchased on the individual market, including the marketplaces.

In this brief, we use the latest data from the federal Medical Expenditure Panel Survey–Insurance Component (MEPS–IC) to examine trends in employer premiums at the state level to see how much workers and their families are paying for their employer coverage in terms of premium contributions and deductibles. We examine the size of these costs relative to income for those at the midrange of income distribution. The MEPS–IC is the most comprehensive national survey of U.S. employer health plans. It surveyed more than 40,000 business establishments in 2017, with an overall response rate of 65.8 percent…..

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Conquerors of the Courts

Source: David Montgomery, Washington Post Magazine, January 2, 2019

Forget Trump’s Supreme Court picks. The Federalist Society’s impact on the law goes much deeper.

…. The conservative and libertarian society for law and public policy studies has reached an unprecedented peak of power and influence. Brett Kavanaugh, whose membership in the society dates to his Yale Law School days, has just been elevated to the Supreme Court; he is the second of President Trump’s appointees, following Neil Gorsuch, another justice closely associated with the society. They join Justice Clarence Thomas (who said last spring he’s “been a part of the Federalist Society now since meeting with them … in the 1980s”), Chief Justice John Roberts (listed as a member in 1997-98) and Justice Samuel Alito (a periodic speaker at society events). The newly solidified conservative majority on the court will inevitably decide more cases in line with the society’s ideals — which include checking federal power, protecting individual liberty and interpreting the Constitution according to its original meaning. In practice, this could mean fewer regulations of the environment and health care, more businesses allowed to refuse service to customers on religious grounds, and denial of protections claimed by newly vocal classes of minorities, such as transgender people.

But having allies on the highest court of the land is just the top layer of the Federalist Society’s expanding sway. For one thing, there is the judicial nomination process itself. When Trump was campaigning in 2016, he made the shrewd and un­or­tho­dox move of publicizing a list of 11 conservative legal stars that he promised to draw from if he got a chance to pick a Supreme Court justice. Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, played a key role in suggesting the names, along with Trump’s future White House counsel, Don McGahn (also a society member), and the conservative Heritage Foundation. The list was expanded twice to include Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and others. Leo took a leave from his job at the Federalist Society to advise the White House on the confirmation process for Gorsuch and Kavanaugh — reprising a role he played for the George W. Bush White House in putting Roberts and Alito on the court.

The next most important segment of the judiciary — the federal appeals courts — is also filling up with Federalist Society members: Twenty-five of the 30 appeals court judges Trump has appointed are or were members of the society ….

Counting Prison Inmates Differently Could Shift Political Power to Cities

Source: Tim Henderson, Stateline, January 2, 2019

More states plan to count state prisoners as residents of their home communities, rather than residents of the places where they are incarcerated — a change that would shift political power away from conservative rural areas to more liberal cities during legislative redistricting.

Many inmates hail from neighborhoods in or near cities, but most are incarcerated in small towns and rural areas. Counting prisoners as residents of their hometowns would, for the most part, boost the legislative representation of Democratic-leaning urban areas with large minority populations while diminishing the power of Republican, mostly white rural areas…..

‘Pay to Move’ Attracts People — Not Employers

Source: Marsha Mercer, Stateline, December 31, 2018

For decades, cities and states have tried to create jobs and boost their economies by luring out-of-state employers. Now some areas are trying to attract workers — one worker at a time.

Starting in January, programs in Vermont and Tulsa, Oklahoma, will pay people to relocate to those places if they work remotely. Other resident recruitment strategies in Florida, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and Vermont include weekends that tempt tourists to stay, discounted rent, student loan assistance and free land…..

Pay for Performance in Modern Compensation Practices

Source: Sanghee Park, OnlineFirst, Compensation & Benefits Review, Published December 28, 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Although researchers have long discussed the mixed results regarding the effectiveness of pay for performance (PFP), compensation research has not fully captured the complexity of the current PFP environments. Using individual data gathered from diverse organizations through an online survey, this study shows the current status of PFP environments that employees now face within an organization. The theoretical and practical implications for understanding the complex environments in current organizations regarding the effectiveness of PFP plans are discussed. Suggestions for future compensation research are also provided.

Millennial Motivation Issues Related to Compensation and Benefits: Suggestions for Improved Retention

Source: Daniel L. Morrell, Kristie A. Abston, Compensation & Benefits Review, OnlineFirst, Published January 7, 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Millennials are currently the largest generation at work and will reach an estimated 75% of the labor force by 2025. Studies have shown that millennials hold slightly different attitudes toward work when compared with previous generations. They more readily change jobs and are generally less committed to their organizations, with an estimated 66% of millennial employees planning to leave their current company within 5 years. These differences in work values necessitate changes in current approaches to compensation and benefit packages that would better align with these changing values. The goal of this article is to review recent empirical data on Millennials as compared with previous generations and then offer suggestions for what changes might improve retention.

The 401(k) Student Loan Repayment Benefit Program

Source: John G. Kilgour, Compensation & Benefits Review, OnlineFirst, Published January 7, 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
In recent years, student loan repayment programs have emerged as the hot new employee benefit. However, their growth has been restricted by their lack of favored tax status. On August 17, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service issued a private letter ruling approving a proposal to create such a program within a 401(k) plan. In a deft piece of reasoning, the private letter ruling provides relief from the so-called “contingent benefit prohibition.” This article examines student loan borrowing, the private letter ruling and its likely consequences and limitations.

Reducing Risks Associated With Temporary Staffing Agencies

Source: Zoe J. Bekas, Employee Benefit Plan Review, Vol. 73, No. 1, January 2019
(subscription required)

Staffing agencies may provide the solution to a company’s short-term staffing needs. However, clients should not assume they can avoid liability for workplace issues by using a staffing agency; indeed, in some cases, a client is exposed to liability as a result of using a staffing agency. Engaging a staffing agency provides no protection against employment liability and, in some circumstances, the temporary worker may seek to hold the client liable as if it had hired the temporary worker directly, under a “joint employer” theory.

Infrastructure: Elixir for Long-Term Pension Liabilities?

Source: Daniel Bauer, PA Times, January 4, 2019

Two primary drivers critically impacting both budgetary considerations and public policy processes for the foreseeable future regardless of revenue and service selection are pension liabilities and infrastructure. One tends to be historical in context while the other is futuristic in its scope. Both pension liabilities and infrastructure face headwinds. Both issues transcend interest groups. Both issues potentially advocate fairness and social equity across a broader spectrum of citizens arguably more so than others.

In this continuing series of articles exploring public infrastructure, the combination of unfunded liabilities for both public pension funds (estimates range from US$1-$3 trillion) and infrastructure (estimates ranging from US$1-$5 trillion) conjure up public policy and financial dilemmas constraining even effective discourse. Over the long-term, as difficult as it is to imagine, maybe one unfunded liability poses an opportunity to resolve the other unfunded liability. Can infrastructure be an elixir for long-term pension liabilities? ….