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2016 Iowa Employer Benefits Study has Begun!

18th Annual StudyAnd, we’re off…

The 18th annual Iowa Employer Benefits Study© survey process has begun!

Our research partner, Data Point Research, recently began the process of contacting randomly-selected Iowa employers to become survey participants. Our desired goal this year is to survey 1,000 employers, which means that we will have surveyed over 13,000 Iowa organizations since 1999!

If your organization has been invited to participate in this year’s survey, I highly encourage and appreciate your involvement. By completing this survey and once our stats are tallied and released in early fall, you will receive a unique link via email allowing you to download a complementary electronic summary of the survey results – a $300 value!

Each year at this time, Iowa employers look forward to being selected to participate in this trustworthy and credible resource on employee benefits offered within our state. Many thanks in advance to those organizations who participate in our annual survey. Without your assistance, our survey would not be possible.

Please know that our firm is Rated A+ by the Better Business Bureau. Should you have any questions about the 2016 survey, or are unsure whether or not your organization has been selected to participate, please contact me directly.

To stay abreast of employee benefits and healthcare issues, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.

Overtime Pay Regulation Can Impact Employee Benefits

Cat and Mouse GameSir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion may apply to the latest final rule issued on May 18 by the Department of Labor (DOL) regarding overtime pay. The rule will significantly alter employee pay structures, which will consequently push employers to evaluate their ‘total awards’ approach to the workplace. Newton’s third law is simply:

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

This third law can also be analogous to a ‘cat and mouse game,’ whereby, the ‘cat,’ in this case, the DOL, is attempting to secure a definitive victory over the ‘mouse,’ played routinely (and reluctantly) by employers, both small and large. As the game is generally told, the cat attempts to catch the mouse, while the mouse runs away to avoid capture (and become a meal!). The mouse is usually unable to defeat the cat, but is able to find ways to ‘survive’ and live for another day. In fact, in most cases, the contest is never-ending – and often futile for both. Most everyone will acknowledge this game is a huge drain on energy and resources for both players. Nonetheless, the game is played.

The DOL’s intent to raise workers’ earnings will assuredly cause many employers to react differently than intended by the DOL. One logical ‘survival’ method for employers is to lower base salaries to help offset the potential cost of having to pay overtime to certain employees. Another reaction is to reclassify salaried workers to become hourly, or preclude newly nonexempt salaried employees from working over 40 hours per week to avoid paying overtime. The compensation system for white-collar employees may require a complete overhaul, with employees having to learn to record their time. Employers, like mice, look to find survival methods to escape the next regulatory ‘pounce.’

Are employee benefits immune from this new regulation? We are too early in the game to know for sure. However, we can surmise that previously-exempt employees who are converted to nonexempt status may possibly lose additional benefits that are only reserved for exempt employees. Eligibility for benefits such as medical, dental and vision, which typically flow through a Section 125 cafeteria plan, would most likely not affect employees who are nonexempt (hourly) or exempt (salaried), due largely to nondiscrimination rules. Qualified retirement plans also have stringent nondiscrimination testing requirements.

With other benefit offerings, however, it may get very interesting. Some organizations offer additional benefits to salaried and exempt employees, such as richer paid-time-off (PTO) days, including vacation. Under this scenario, it may be advisable to offer paid leave components on the basis of tenure and job level – rather than using exempt and nonexempt status. Seeking legal council is advisable.

As we have observed through our annual Iowa Employer Benefits Study©, certain budget-challenged industries (e.g. construction, hospitality and retail, etc.) may likely offer employer-paid group life and disability coverages only to salaried employees. Employees that lose salaried status could very well lose eligibility for these types of benefits. Another possibility is that such benefits may no longer be employer-paid, but rather, become completely voluntary benefits (employee pays all).

Similar to the mouse, employers must find new approaches to comply with the game dictated by the cat. Balancing the cost component of pay and benefits against reduced morale and high turnover is very delicate, and making this new transition will require newly-considered approaches with a different mindset.

What is your culture and how can it be leveraged in the future? In addition to avoiding the cat, watch out for any traps around the corner!

To stay abreast of employee benefits and other tangential issues, we invite you to subscribe to this blog.

Heartland Health Research Institute
‘Pivoting’ Forward

HHRI-215For those of you who are not familiar with my past, I have spent over 30 years in the employee benefits arena, specifically concentrating on employer-sponsored health coverage. A good portion of that time, from 1995 – 2011, I owned and operated a benefits consulting organization designed to educate and assist employers in making benefits decisions based on their workplace culture (and budget). In 1999, we began our annual “Iowa Employer Benefits Study©,” which is now entering its 18th year.

Due primarily to its impact on employer-sponsored health coverage, I developed a great deal of interest in learning more about the many aspects of our healthcare ‘system,’ – the good, the bad, and, well you know, the ugly. You might say that I fell into a ‘deep well’ of curiosity and continue my descent to the endless unknown. If there is one constant artifact that I can humbly share, at least in the healthcare realm, the more I learn, it seems THE LESS I KNOW!

Healthcare is a labyrinth of human behaviors at many levels and is extremely complex at any given level. In fact, when politicians, media and others talk about ‘healthcare,’ what level are they actually addressing? Are they referring to having access to various health services? Obtaining health insurance coverage? Physically interacting with medical providers? Maybe it’s our diet, or whether we engage in physical activities, such as exercise? One word can mean different things. And, so it is with ‘healthcare.’

Regardless of how we might personally feel about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it is here to stay. Or at least, it has forced this country to develop new ‘dialogues’ about how our healthcare ‘system’ must look and behave in the future. This dialogue, as difficult and messy as it is, will hopefully provide promising results in the years ahead. Have no doubt, it will be a slow and arduous process.

With this in mind, I have gradually pivoted into healthcare-related research. With this latest pivot, Heartland Health Research Institute (HHRI), an organization we started in 2012, has now become a non-profit organization with the vision to advance the transparency of facts through objective research. In short, HHRI’s intent is to help transform healthcare into high-value care, specifically from the patient’s perspective regarding their confidence and trust in the healthcare system today and into the future.

Over the last number of years, I have identified a need for an independent organization that will strictly function in an objective and unbiased manner and not as an advocate or opponent of any position. HHRI is organized as a public benefit 501(c)(3) corporation that seeks grant-based awards from public and private foundations to conduct research to serve the public on health-related topics. To help fulfill our vision, HHRI desires to collaborate with other organizations to coordinate our efforts.

Topics addressed by HHRI in the future may include the following:

  • Community-Focused Health Projects
  • Healthcare Quality and Safety
  • Patient Engagement & Activation
  • End-of-Life Care
  • Employment-Based Health Benefits & the Value of Coverage
  • Population-based Health and Environmental Issues
  • Attitudes toward Healthcare Reform
  • Other Tangential Issues

So what is HHRI’s newest healthcare-related project? Last week, we unveiled a family of ‘Silently Harmed’ white papers for Iowa and each of its six neighboring states along with our new HHRI website. We look forward to taking this new pivot into the vast unknown!

To stay abreast of employee benefits and other tangential issues, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.