Category Archives: Benefits

Paid Sick Leave: Putting Legislative Preferences before Individual Preferences

Source: Jill L. Jenkins, Employment Policies Institute, May 2007

Paid sick leave is rapidly becoming the next big legislative trend. The first paid sick leave mandate was implemented in San Francisco in February 2001, but already many other cities and states have followed suit with proposals of their own. And there are currently two proposals at the national level. While the details vary, these proposals all typically allow employees to take paid sick leave for their own illness or to provide care for a sick child, spouse, or other relative (and, in the case of San Francisco, domestic partner, or “designated person”). The amount of leave typically averages about 7 days a year.

Because this is a relatively new policy, there is little research examining its effects. Proponents focus on two key arguments: one moral and one social. The moral argument is that low-wage entry-level employees should be able to take sick days without worrying about losing income—“no one should have to go to work sick for fear of losing their job or being unable to pay their bills.” The social argument is that a sick leave policy benefits society as well—“we, as a society, do not want the people serving our food or taking care of our children coming to work sick and potentially passing their illness along.” Each of these arguments packs a punch and neither is, strictly speaking, wrong, but neither tells the whole story either.

Change in Percentage of Families Offered Coverage at Work, 1998-2005

Source: Bianca DiJulio and Paul D. Jacobs, Kaiser Family Foundation, #7667, July 2007

Summary
Over 150 million individuals received health insurance through an employer in 2005, making employer-sponsored coverage the most popular form of health insurance coverage for the nonelderly in the United States. However, in recent years, there has been concern about erosion in the availability of employer-based health benefits for workers, and especially low-income workers. This paper analyzes data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), an annual survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the National Center for Health Statistics, to assess changes between 1998 and 2005 in the percentage of families with workers that have at least one offer of health insurance through an employer. Results are broken out by family income relative to the federal poverty level.

The Family and Medical Leave Act: A Report on the Request for Information

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, 2007

From press release:
The U.S. Department of Labor today released Family and Medical Leave Act Regulations: A Report on the Department of Labor’s Request for Information, a comprehensive review of the thousands of public comments received in response to the department’s December 1, 2006, Request for Information about the Family and Medical Leave Act regulations and their impact in the workplace.

“The 15,000 comments from workers, employers and others attest to the importance of family and medical leave for America’s caregiving workforce,” said Victoria A. Lipnic, assistant secretary of labor for the department’s Employment Standards Administration. “While family and medical leave is widely supported, we also heard from many workers and employers that there are challenges with the way certain aspects are being administered. This report provides information for a fuller discussion about how some of the key FMLA provisions and their interpretations have played out in the workplace.”

The comments highlight the prevalence with which unscheduled intermittent leave is being taken in certain workplaces. As the record indicated, this is the single most serious area of friction between employers and workers. Another major area of concern, on the part of workers, employers and health care providers, is the medical certification process.

The report is comprised of 11 chapters: 10 chapters on key regulatory issues, plus the first chapter, which describes the value of the FMLA to employees.

Weathering the Gathering Storm Over Post-Retirement Health Care Benefits—Vested or Not

Source: Jeff Sloan, Genevieve Ng and Merlyn Goeschl, CPER Journal, no. 184, June 2007
(subscription required)

The convergence of new reporting standards by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), the rising cost of health care, and the huge number of baby boomers nearing retirement age have knocked the public employment sector on its ear. In the past, public employers typically operated on a “pay as you go” model for other post-employment benefits (OPEBs), without reference to any future unfunded liabilities. However, the new GASB rules, which began taking effect in 2005, require public employers to account for and disclose their outstanding future OPEB liabilities, in much the same way they are required to do for pension benefits. Although OPEBs include benefits like post-employment life insurance plans, disability, and long-term care, retiree health care benefits account for the bulk of the unfunded OPEBs facing public employers today.

GASB Statement 45 on OPEB Accounting by Governments – A Few Basic Questions and Answers

Source: Governmental Accounting Standards Board, Statement 45 on OPEB Accounting by Governments – A Few Basic Questions and Answers

1. Why was Statement 45 on OPEB accounting by governments necessary?
Statement 45 was issued to provide more complete, reliable, and decision-useful financial reporting regarding the costs and financial obligations that governments incur when they provide postemployment benefits other than pensions (OPEB) as part of the compensation for services rendered by their employees. Postemployment healthcare benefits, the most common form of OPEB, are a very significant financial commitment for many governments. ….

The Illinois Public Pension Funding Crisis: Is Moving from the Current Defined Benefit System to a Defined Contribution System an Option That Makes Sense?

Source: Jourlande Gabriel and Chrissy A. Mancini, Illinois Retirement Security Initiative, A Project of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, 2007

from the press release:

Springfield, IL (Monday, May 7, 2007) – A new study released today at the Statehouse has found that – contrary to widespread perception – switching from Illinois’ current defined benefit system to a defined contribution system will do nothing to solve the state’s $40.7 billion unfunded pension liability and would likely result in much lower retirement benefits for public employees and higher costs for taxpayers.

The study, “The Illinois Public Pension Funding Crisis: Is Moving from the Current Defined Benefit System to a Defined Contribution System an Option that Makes Sense?”, was conducted by the Illinois Retirement Security Initiative, a project of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. The study finds that the conventional wisdom that switching to a defined contribution system will solve the state’s massive unfunded public employee pension liability is provably false.

Working Sick, Getting Stiffed: How Some of America’s Biggest Companies Fail Their Workers and Jeopardize Public Health

Source: Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Inc. (ACORN), March 1, 2007

ACORN’s Healthy Workers, Healthy Families Campaign calls on businesses to provide workers with a fair number of paid sick days a year. We also call on Congress and state legislatures to pass laws guaranteeing that all workers have paid sick days.

Nearly half of American private-sector workers have no guaranteed paid sick days – yet everyone gets sick and everyone needs time to get well. Workers also have families and responsibilities to care for sick children and other relatives who need them.

ACORN called 50 of the largest food service and retail companies operating in America and asked if they provided their hourly workers with paid sick days. Despite the close contact with the public that characterizes jobs in these industries, a near-majority of the companies for which we gathered information were clear that they did not offer paid sick days to hourly employees.

Consumer-Driven Health Care in Its Adolescence

Source: Kevin O’Hara, Employee Benefit Plan Review, March 2007

As the groundswell continues for the implementation of the American health care model’s latest panacea, consumer-driven health care (CDHC), it becomes important to take a moment or two to review the progress to date. The popularity of CDHC plans has grown steadily in recent years with projections for their adoption rate to accelerate as early missteps are corrected. Difficulties encountered in the communication and administration of CDHC benefits short-circuited extremely optimistic early forecasts of their penetration rate as a percentage of all sponsored plan offerings. Recent surveys, such as the Kaiser Family Foundation Employer Health Benefits 2006 Annual Survey, indicate a continued increase in CDHC enrollment but at a much reduced rate than first anticipated.

The Great Divide: When Kids Get Sick, Insurance Matters

Source: Families USA, Publication no. 07-102, February 2007

Extensive research has documented the positive effects that health insurance has on a child’s physical, developmental, social, and emotional health. Children who have health insurance are more likely to have a relationship with the same doctor over time, receive regular well-child checkups, and have their medical, dental, vision, and other health care needs met. But what happens when an uninsured child is seriously injured or develops a condition that requires hospitalization? Does health insurance make a difference in the child’s treatment and health outcomes? The answer is an emphatic “yes.”

Unwilling Volunteers: Tennesseans Forced Out of Health Care

Source: Families USA, Publication no. 07-103, April 2007

In 2005, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen made the largest cuts in health coverage in our nation’s history. Thousands upon thousands of people were dropped from TennCare, the state’s innovative Medicaid program. Others who remained in the program had their benefits slashed. It was obvious that these drastic cuts would cause enormous harm. The governor, however, dismissed these concerns and moved forward with his plan.

Governor Bredesen not only touted his plan within Tennessee, but he also recommended that other states make similar changes. At the time he was promoting Medicaid cuts, many states were facing budget crunches and looking for ways to cut costs. The TennCare cuts became a potential forerunner of what could happen to health coverage programs across the country.

Against this backdrop, it is instructive to look beyond the numbers and see what has happened to the real people affected by the TennCare cuts—that is what this book is designed to do.