Eat to Live Well: Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Promoting workforce wellness never tasted so good. For heart-healthy living, it turns out a great dietary option for many dates back centuries.

Based on the traditional cuisine of communities along the coasts of Italy and Greece, the Mediterranean diet is gaining increasing popularity among nutrition experts in this hemisphere.

In the ‘50s, researchers noticed the poor villagers along the Mediterranean coasts tended to live longer than the wealthiest New Yorkers. Further study revealed that, in addition to their vigorous lifestyle, a big contributor to their longevity was their cuisine of basic ingredients, rich in local produce, fish harvested daily from the bountiful ocean waters and a splash or two of red wine from neighboring vineyards.

According to the Mayo Clinic, research involving more than 1.5 million healthy adults following a Mediterranean diet showed a strong association with reduced risk of heart disease, far and away this country’s leading killer. It’s much lower in fat and complex carbohydrates than typical North American fare. As a result, this diet promotes lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, which can build up on artery walls and eventually cause total blockage.

The Mediterranean diet is also associated with reduced risk of a range of other afflictions, including cancer. Women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may reduce their risk of breast cancer. It also fights cognitive diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer’s. Some studies have shown that the diet even enhances one’s memory and ability to focus.

Key components:

Plant-based foods — fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes
Replaces butter and saturated fats with olive and canola oils
Uses herbs and spices instead of salt and artificial flavorings
Fish and poultry predominate over red meats
Red wine in moderation

Source:
Olson B. (24 April 2018). "Eat to Live Well: Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet" [blog post]. Retrieved from address http://bit.ly/2JOqjEF


Student loan benefits more popular with workers than employers

"While a student loan benefit is the most-requested financial benefit, it’s only third on the priority list for HR professionals." Find out more in this article.

If you ask them, 78 percent of employees laboring under a load of student debt will tell you that they want their bosses to provide a student loan benefit that will help them dig out.

Bosses, not so much. While a student loan benefit is the most-requested financial benefit, according to an HRDive report, it’s only third on the priority list for HR professionals.

Related: The problem with student-loan repayment benefits

It’s not just younger workers who want it, either. The 78 percent of employees who wish their jobs came with a student loan benefit includes 65 percent of workers over age 55 who have problems with current or future loan debt.

The report points to a CommonBond study that finds student loan benefits not only help to keep employees on the payroll and even better their job performance, but they also help in recruiting new talent. The study finds that 75 percent of all workers have paid for their own education via student loans, and 21 percent plan to take out student loans for a child or another family member in the next five years.

Oh, and another disconnect between boss and worker: while 75 percent of HR executives think their benefits offerings are innovative, only 50 percent of workers agree.

Money, of course, is a big worry for workers—and it’s not all about salary, with 44 million Americans weighed down by some $1.4 trillion in student debt. Worrying about lingering student loans also cuts productivity at work, in addition to subjecting workers to increasing stress, so it’s really an employer’s problem too.
Not only do students owe an average of more than $25,000 by graduation, figures from The Student Loan Report indicate that the loan default rate and delinquency rates are more than 10 percent and 5 percent, respectively—not exactly conducive to either peace of mind or high productivity at work. So employers are increasingly getting involved, considering tuition payment programs for employees who want to pursue a degree or add new skills.

And that can help both groups as employers become increasingly desperate for a more skilled employee base. It also helps employers as employee stress falls, potentially cutting health care costs as well and making workers more productive.

Source:
Satter M. (7 May 2018). "Student loan benefits more popular with workers than employers" [web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://bit.ly/2wi9yA0


Notifying Participants of a Plan Change

Curious about when you should notify a participant about a change to their health care plan?

The answer is that it depends!

Notification must happen within one of three time frames: 60 days prior to the change, no later than 60 days after the change, or within 210 days after the end of the plan year.

For modifications to the summary plan description (SPD) that constitute a material reduction in covered services or benefits, notice is required within 60 days prior to or after the adoption of the material reduction in group health plan services or benefits. (For example, a decrease in employer contribution is a material reduction in covered services or benefits. So is a material modification in any plan terms affecting the content of the most recent summary of benefits and coverage (SBC).) While the rule here is flexible, the definite best practice is to give advance notice. For collective practical purposes, employees should be told prior to the first increased withholding.

However, if the change is part of open enrollment, and communicated during open enrollment, this is considered acceptable notice regardless of whether the SBC, SPD, or both are changing. Essentially, open enrollment is a safe harbor for all 60-day prior/60-day post notice requirements.

Finally, changes that do not affect the SBC and are not a material reduction in benefits must be communicated and summarized within 210 days after the end of the plan year.

Source:
Capilla D. (19 April 2018). "Notifying Participants of a Plan Change" [blog post]. Retrieved from address http://bit.ly/2w1wvHk


Beware of Tech Overload

Technology has certainly made the workplace faster, smarter and more productive. New apps and systems continuously offer new ways to create, manage and collaborate. However, just as with many good things, workers can get too much of office tech. With each digitization of traditional job and team functions comes a cost in diminishing associated skills. Many forward-thinking companies are taking heed of the potential pitfalls of tech overload. Check out some particular hazards culled from across the Web.

Loss of Interpersonal Skills — Video chats, group chats, IMs, DMs, texts, pings, not to mention old-fashioned email certainly afford a multitude of ways to communicate, even collaborate. However, there’s no replacement for face-to-face interaction. Over-reliance on digital channels can diminish the opportunities and ability to collaborate in the most free-form manner, that being when folks share the same room.

Inhibits Big Thinking — Unlimited information flow can sometimes turn into overflow. Continuous text alerts, IMs and other pings can inhibit completion of the task at hand. They can also cause mistakes due to lack of concentration. While pressing issues can be quickly resolved, continual interruptions leave little or no time for working through larger projects and long-term planning.

Impaired Security — It’s an unfortunate fact of business life that the more freely information flows, even behind firewalls, the more susceptible it is to hacking, corruption and theft. As well-publicized incidents have shown, corporate information is not the only data at risk, but also financial and personal data of employees and customers. It’s vital that when companies upgrade their business tech, their security tech and protocols keep pace.

Time and Maintenance Costs — The only sure bet with a new application or system is that it will require updates. Also, while out-of-pocket expenses can be quantified, less-obvious costs of downtime devoted to system maintenance and training can pose significant drag on productivity, and in some cases job satisfaction. More companies are discovering that not every tech wave is worth catching, especially if it crashes against strained budgets.

Encroachment on Personal Time — Certainly boundaries of normal working hours have been significantly extended. While tech has indeed freed workers from cubicle and office tethers, it can also tempt managers and team members to infringe, often unknowingly, on the personal lives of their reports. Yes, emergencies may arise. But workers repeatedly besieged with after-hour queries may seek other places to use their devices.

It May Be Unhealthy — Work is stressful enough. While technology has certainly speeded operations, it’s concurrently raised everyone’s expectations. Some research indicates that over-reliance on devices may increase stress levels with potentially adverse health consequences. For better health, occasionally put down the phone!

Source:
Olson B. (17 April 2018). "Beware of Tech Overload" [blog post]. Retrieved from address http://bit.ly/2HGQLTX


Proposals for Insurance Options That Don’t Comply with ACA Rules: Trade-offs In Cost and Regulation

https://kaiserf.am/2jpheHi for Insurance Options That Don’t Comply with ACA Rules: Trade-offs In Cost and Regulation

Now in the fifth year of implementation, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) standards for non-group health insurance require health plans to provide major medical coverage for essential health benefits (EHB) with limits on deductibles and other cost sharing.  In addition, ACA standards prohibit discrimination by non-group plans: pre-existing conditions cannot be excluded from coverage and eligibility and premiums cannot vary based on an individual’s health status.  The ACA also created income-based subsidies to reduce premiums (premium tax credits, or APTC) and cost-sharing for eligible individuals who purchase non-group plans, called qualified health plans (QHPs), through the Marketplace.  ACA-regulated non-group plans can also be offered outside of the Marketplace, but are not eligible for subsidies.

New: A look at the tradeoffs in costs and protections involved in four proposed health plan alternatives that would operate outside the ACA’s rules and regulations

Individual market premiums were relatively stable during the first three years of ACA implementation, then rose substantially in each of 2017 and 2018.  Last year, nearly 9 million subsidy-eligible consumers who purchased coverage through the Marketplace were shielded from these increases; but another nearly 7 million enrollees in ACA compliant plans, who do not receive subsidies, were not.  Bipartisan Congressional efforts to stabilize individual market premiums – via reinsurance and other measures – were debated in the fall of 2017 and the spring of 2018, but not adopted.  Meanwhile, opponents of the ACA at the federal and state level have proposed making alternative plan options available that would be cheaper, in terms of monthly premiums, for at least some people because plans would not be required to meet some or all standards for ACA-compliant plans. This brief explains state and federal proposals to create a market for more loosely-regulated health insurance plans outside of the ACA regulatory structure.

Background

When ACA Marketplaces first opened in 2014, on average, the cost of the benchmark silver QHP was lower than many had predicted.  Many insurers underpriced QHPs at the outset, either because they couldn’t accurately predict the cost of providing coverage to a new population under new ACA rules, or to aggressively compete for market share, or both.  As a result, insurers offering ACA-compliant policies generally lost money in 2014-2016.  In the fall of 2016, for the 2017 coverage year, most issuers implemented a substantial corrective premium increase for their benchmark QHP – on average, a 21% increase for a 40-year-old consumer.  This increase, along with growing experience with new market rules, allowed many insurers to regain profitability in 2017, and, going forward, stabilization of QHP rates might otherwise have been expected.

Instead, though, a new wave of uncertainty arose last year as Congress debated repeal of the ACA and as the Trump Administration threatened administrative actions with the stated intent of undermining the program, including by ending reimbursement to insurers for required cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) that, by law, they must offer low-income enrollees in silver QHPs.  The value of CSRs was estimated by CBO to be $9 billion for 2018.  To compensate for the lost reimbursement, most insurers significantly increased 2018 premiums for silver level QHPs, through which cost sharing subsidies are delivered.  Largely due to this so-called “silver load” pricing strategy, the average benchmark silver QHP premium for a 40-year-old rose another 33% for the 2018 coverage year. (Figure 1) Premiums for bronze and gold plans rose more slowly, but still substantially given uncertainty on a number of issues, including whether the ACA’s individual mandate would be enforced.

http://bit.ly/2wctNPc

Figure 1: Average marketplace benchmark premium for a 40-year-old has increased, but so have premium tax credits

For consumers who are eligible for APTC and who buy the benchmark silver plan (or a less expensive plan) through the Marketplace, subsidies absorb annual premium increases and the net cost of coverage has remained relatively unchanged from 2014 through today.  Roughly 85% of Marketplace participants in 2017 were eligible for APTC.  (Figure 2)  However, for the 15% of Marketplace participants who were not eligible for subsidies, and for another roughly 5 million individuals who bought ACA compliant plans outside of the Marketplace, these consecutive annual rate increases threatened to make coverage unaffordable. That threat was even greater in some areas, where 2018 QHP rate increases were much higher than the national average.

http://bit.ly/2joFWY4

Figure 2: Most in ACA-compliant plans are protected from rate increases by premium subsidies

Looking ahead, another round of significant premium increases is possible for the 2019 coverage year.  A new source of uncertainty arose when Congress voted to end the ACA’s individual mandate penalty, effective in 2019.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated repeal of the mandate would fuel adverse selection – as some younger, healthier consumers might be more likely to forego coverage – and average premiums in the non-group market would increase by about 10 percent in most years of the decade, on top of increases due to other factors such as health care cost growth.

ACA opponents have argued QHP premium increases reflect a failure of the federal law.  As an alternative, some have proposed different kinds of health plan options to offer premium relief to consumers who need non-group coverage but who are not eligible for premium subsidies, primarily by relaxing rules governing required benefits, coverage of pre-existing conditions, and/or community rating. These include:

Short-Term, Limited Duration Health Insurance Policies

In 2018 the Trump Administration proposed a new draft regulation that would promote the sale of short-term, limited duration health insurance policies that offer less expensive coverage because they are not subject to ACA market rules.

Short-term limited-duration health insurance policies (STLD), sometimes referred to as limited-duration non-renewable policies, are designed to provide temporary health coverage for people who are uninsured or are losing their existing coverage but expect to become eligible for other, more permanent coverage in the near future.  Historically, people who have used these policies include graduating students losing coverage through their parents or their school, people with a short interval between jobs, or newly hired employee subject to a waiting period before they are eligible for coverage from their job. Because these policies are not intended to provide long-term protection (they generally cannot be renewed when their term ends), they are lightly regulated by states and are exempt from many of the standards generally applicable to individual health insurance policies. They also are specifically exempt under the ACA from federal standards for individual health insurance coverage, including the essential health benefits, guaranteed availability and prohibitions against pre-existing condition exclusions and health-status rating.  These differences can make them considerably less expensive (for those healthy enough to qualify to buy them) than ACA compliant plans.

STLDs are similar to major medical policies in that they typically cover both hospitalization and at least some outpatient medical services, but unlike ACA-compliant policies, they often have significant benefit and eligibility limitations.  STLD policies often either exclude are have significant limitations on benefits for mental health and substance abuse, do not have coverage for maternity services, and have limited or no coverage for prescription drugs.  Policies also generally have dollar limits on all benefits or specific benefits and may have deductibles and other cost sharing that is much higher than permitted in ACA-compliant plans.  Insurers of STLD policies typically use medically underwriting, which means that they can turn down applicants with health problems or charge them higher premiums.  Policies also exclude coverage for any benefits related to a preexisting health condition: a backstop for insurers in case a person with a health problem otherwise qualifies for coverage and seeks benefits. Because STLD policies are not renewable, people who become ill after their coverage begins are generally not able to qualify for a new policy when their coverage term ends.

Due to their lower premiums, some people have been purchasing STLD policies instead of ACA compliant plans. This has happened even though STLD policies are not considered minimum essential coverage, which means that people who purchase them do not satisfy the ACA mandate to have health insurance and may be subject to a tax penalty.  In 2016, CMS expressed concern about these policies being sold as a type of “primary health insurance” and issued regulations shortening the maximum coverage period under federal law for STLD policies from less than 12 months to less than three months and prescribing a disclosure that must be provided to new applicants.  The intent of the regulation was to limit sale of these policies to situations involving a short gap in coverage and to discourage their use a substitute for primary health insurance coverage. The rule took effect for policies issued to individuals on or after January 1, 2017. In February 2018, the Trump Administration issued a new proposed regulation to reinstate the “less than 12 months” maximum coverage term for STLD policies. The preamble to the proposed regulation specified that this would provide more affordable consumer choice for health coverage. For more information about STLD policies, see this issue brief.

Extending the coverage period for STLD policies back to just under a year is likely to make them a more attractive choice for healthier individuals concerned about the cost of ACA-compliant plans.  This is particularly true beginning in 2019 when the individual mandate penalty ends and purchasers will no longer need to pay a penalty in addition to the premiums for these policies.

Under the ACA framework, STLD plans may provide a lower-cost alternative source of health coverage for people in good health.  With ACA policies as a backup, people who purchase STLD policies and develop a health problem would not be able to renew their short-term policy at the end of its term, but would be able to elect an ACA-compliant plan during the next open enrollment.

It is possible, as one estimate concluded, that more healthy individual market participants may switch to short-term policies as a result.  Such “adverse selection” would raise the average cost of covering remaining individuals in ACA-compliant plans, leading to further premium increases in those policies.  For people with pre-existing conditions who do not qualify for subsidies, the rising cost of ACA-compliant coverage could challenge affordability, especially for people with pre-existing conditions who have incomes that make them ineligible for premium subsidies.

Association Health Plans

Another draft regulation proposed by the Trump Administration would permit small employers and self-employed individuals to buy a new type of association health plan coverage that does not have to meet all requirements applicable to other ACA-compliant small group and non-group health plans.  While many types of health insurance are marketed though associations, including STLDs, hospital indemnity plans and cancer or other dread disease policies, current policy discussions about AHPs tend to focus on arrangements formed by groups of employers (called multiple employer welfare arrangements, or MEWAs) which could also offer group health insurance coverage to self-employed people without any employees (“sole proprietors”).

The U.S. Department of Labor recently proposed regulations under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to expand the types of MEWAs that could offer health plans that would not be subject to certain ACA requirements. Under the draft regulation, AHPs – a type of MEWA – could offer health coverage to sole proprietors and to small businesses, but would be subject to large group health plan standards.  Key ACA requirements for the non-group and small group market do not apply to large group health plans today, and so would not apply to AHP coverage sold to self-employed individuals or small employers.  In particular, AHPs would not be required to cover essential health benefits; it would be possible under the proposed regulation for AHPs to offer policies that do not cover prescription drugs, for example.

Under the draft regulation, AHPs would be subject to a nondiscrimination standard that would prohibit basing eligibility or premiums on an enrollee’s health status.  However, other ACA rating standards in the non-group and small group market would not apply; in particular, AHPs would be allowed to vary premiums by more than 3:1 for age and without limit based on gender, geography, and other factors such type of industry or occupation.

As a result, AHPs could provide self-employed individuals an alternative to individual health insurance that provides fewer benefits with more rating flexibility.   As nearly one-third (31%) of individual market enrollees are self-employed, the impact of AHPs could be significant.

The draft regulation included other language related to state vs. federal regulatory authority over MEWAs, or AHPs.  Currently, MEWAs are subject to a somewhat complex mix of regulatory provisions at the federal and state levels; the applicable standards vary depending on a number of things, including whether the MEWA is self-funded or provides benefits through insurance, whether the arrangement itself is considered to be sponsoring an employee benefit plan as defined in ERISA, the sizes of the employers participating in the arrangement, and how the states in which the arrangements operate approach MEWA regulation.  The proposed rule generally leaves in place state authority over MEWAs/AHPs. However, the DOL requested comments on whether it should consider changes that would limit state regulation of self-funded AHPs to financial matters such as solvency and reserves, in effect, prohibiting states from regulating AHP rating and benefit design practices.

The degree of impact on individual health insurance markets will depend in part on the final rules, in particular whether the nondiscrimination provision is preserved and whether states retain current authority over AHPs.

Idaho Proposal for New State-Based Health Plans

In January 2018, pursuant to an executive order by Governor Otter, the Idaho Department of Insurance issued a bulletin outlining provisions of new individual health insurance products that insurance companies would be permitted to sell under state law. The new “State-Based Health Benefit Plans” would not have to comply with certain ACA requirements and, as a result, would likely be offered for premiums lower than those charged for ACA-compliant policies – at least for consumers who are younger and who don’t have pre-existing conditions.

State-Based Health Plans would be required to cover a package of health benefits and cost sharing that was less than that required for ACA-compliant plans.  For example, certain essential health benefit categories, such as habilitation services and pediatric dental and vision, appear not to be required.  In addition, ACA limits on cost sharing were not specified, and annual dollar limits on covered benefits could be applied.  If consumers reach the annual dollar limit on coverage under a state-based plan, the insurer would be required to transfer their enrollment into an ACA-compliant plan.

In addition, state-based plans would not be allowed to deny applicants based on health status and could be sold year round, outside of Open Enrollment.  However, State-Based plans could exclude coverage of pre-existing conditions for any individual who had experienced at least a 63-day break in coverage.  These plans would also be permitted to vary premiums by a factor of 3:1 based on health status (prohibited by the ACA), and by 5:1 based on age (higher than the 3:1 ratio permitted by the ACA). In order to offer a State-Based Health Plan, insurers would also be required to offer at least one QHP through the Idaho Marketplace.

The bulletin required that state-based plans and exchange-certified plans must comprise a single risk pool, with a single index rate for all plans that does not account for differences in the health status of individuals who enroll, or are expected to enroll in a particular type of plan.  However, the Academy of Actuaries noted that, because the two types of plans would not be competing under the same rules, “there would be, in effect, two risk pools – one for ACA coverage and one for state-based coverage.  Premiums for ACA coverage would increase, threatening sustainability of the ACA market and its pre-existing condition protections.”

The Idaho State-Based Health Plan proposal is similar in many respects to an amendment offered by Senator Ted Cruz during the ACA repeal debate in 2017.  The amendment, which was not enacted, would have allowed insurers that sell ACA-compliant marketplace plans to also offer other policies that could be medically underwritten and that would not have to meet other ACA standards.  Although CBO did not estimate how the amendment would impact premiums or coverage, representatives of the insurance industry predicted that, “As healthy people move to the less-regulated plans, those with significant medical needs will have no choice but to stay in the comprehensive plans, and premiums will skyrocket for people with preexisting conditions. This would especially impact middle-income families that that are not eligible for a tax credit.”

The Idaho proposal appears to be not moving forward at this time.  Recently, the director of the federal Center on Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) advised Idaho officials that these State-Based health plans would be in violation of federal law.  Under the ACA, states do not have flexibility to authorize the sale of individual health insurance policies that do not meet federal minimum standards.  In states that do not enforce federal minimum standards, the federal government is required to step in and enforce.

The CMS letter did generally express sympathy with Idaho’s approach, citing “damage caused by the [ACA],” and encouraged the state to pursue modified strategies to expand availability of more affordable plans that do not meet all ACA requirements.  The letter specifically urged Idaho to consider promoting short-term policies as a legal alternative to ACA-compliant health plans, and it invited the State to develop other alternative strategies using ACA state waiver authority.

Farm Bureau Health Plans Exempt from State Regulation

A new Iowa law enacted this month would permit the sale of health coverage by the state’s Farm Bureau.  The Farm Bureau is not a licensed health insurer.  Under the new law, Farm Bureau health plans would be deemed to not be insurance and explicitly would not be subject to state insurance regulation.  By extension, Farm Bureau plans also would not have to meet federal ACA standards for health insurance as these apply only to policies sold by state licensed health insurers.

The new Iowa law applies no other standards for Farm Bureau health plans – for example, it does not establish minimum benefit requirements, rating requirements, or rules prohibiting discrimination based on pre-existing health conditions. Appeal rights guaranteed to health insurance policyholders also would not apply to Farm Bureau enrollees, nor would state insurance solvency and other financial regulations.  The law does require the Farm Bureau to administer coverage through a state licensed third party administrator, or TPA (expected to be Wellmark, Iowa’s Blue Cross Blue Shield insurer.)  However, use of a TPA does not extend federal or state insurance law to the underlying Farm Bureau health plan.

The Iowa law closely resembles a Tennessee state law, enacted in 1993, which authorized the sale of health coverage by the Farm Bureau and deemed such coverage not to be health insurance subject to state regulation.  In Tennessee, it has been reported that roughly 25,000 residents purchase non-group Farm Bureau health plans that are medically underwritten.  (By comparison, more than 228,000 residents have ACA-compliant individual policies through the Marketplace this year.)  Farm Bureau plan premiums can be as much as two-thirds lower than for ACA-compliant plans because the underwritten policies can and do deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.  Adverse selection results, with sicker residents confined to the ACA-regulated market.  An analysis of risk scores for state insurance markets finds that Tennessee’s individual market has one of the highest risk scores in the nation.

Since 2014, Tennessee residents who buy underwritten Farm Bureau health coverage are not considered to have “minimum essential coverage” and so may owe a tax penalty under the ACA individual mandate.  However, this disincentive to purchase Farm Bureau plans in Tennessee and Iowa will end in 2019 when repeal of the mandate penalty takes effect.

Discussion

Each of these proposals follows a similar theme.  Creating parallel insurance markets with different, lesser consumer protections, allows insurers to offer lower premiums and less coverage to people while they are healthy, leaving the ACA-regulated market with a sicker pool and higher premiums.  Once repeal of the ACA individual mandate penalty takes effect in 2019, the net cost differential between regulated and less-regulated coverage will be even greater.

Premium subsidies in the ACA-regulated market will help to curb adverse selection, protecting people with lower incomes from the impact of higher premiums, and providing some continued stability in the reformed market.  However, middle-income people who are not eligible for subsidies, and who have pre-existing conditions, will not have any meaningful new coverage choices under these proposals.  Instead, the cost of health insurance that covers essential benefits and their pre-existing conditions will increase, potentially further pricing them out of affordable coverage altogether.

Source:
Pollitz K. (18 April 2018). "Proposals for Insurance Options That Don’t Comply with ACA Rules: Trade-offs In Cost and Regulation" [web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://kaiserf.am/2w89S3Z


Higher Satisfaction Through Higher Education

Offering educational benefits as part of your benefits program is a sure way to reach employee satisfaction. Plus, better-skilled workers means a better work environment! Read more about higher satisfaction through higher education in this article from our partner, UBA Benefits.


When evaluating employee benefits, essentials such as health and dental plans, vacation time and 401(k) contributions quickly come to mind. Another benefit employers should consider involves subsidizing learning as well as ambitions. Grants and reimbursements toward advanced degrees and continuing education can be a smart investment for both employers and employees.

Educational benefits are strongly linked to worker satisfaction. A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management revealed that nearly 80 percent of responding workers who rated their education benefits highly also rated their employers highly. While only 30 percent of those rating their higher education benefits as fair or poor conversely rated their employer highly.

These benefits are popular with businesses as well. In a survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, nearly five of six responding employers offer some form of educational benefit. Their top reasons are to retain current employees, maintain or raise employee satisfaction, keep skill levels current, attract new talent and boost innovation and productivity. Tax credits offer additional advantages. Qualifying programs offer employers tax credits up to $5,250 per employee, per year.

At the same time, companies should offer these benefits with care as they do pose potential pitfalls. Higher education assistance can be costly, even when not covering full costs. Workers taking advantage can become overwhelmed with the demands of after-hour studies, affecting job performance. Also, employers would be wise to ensure their employees don’t promptly leave and take their new skills elsewhere.

When well-planned, educational benefits will likely prove a good investment. Seventy-five percent of respondents to SHRM’s survey consider their educational-assistance programs successful. To boost your employee morale, skill levels and job-satisfaction scores, consider the benefit that may deliver them all, and more.

Source: Olson B. (10 April 2018). "Higher Satisfaction Through Higher Education" [blog post]. Retrieved from address http://bit.ly/2HKf7MT


Susan Henderson's Slow Cooker Chicken & Dumplings

For this month’s Dish, Susan Henderson has given us her Dine In and Dine Out choices. Check them out below!

Dine In

Susan’s favorite Dine In recipe to enjoy with her family is Slow Cooker Chicken and Dumplings. She loves it for its pure simplicity and nostalgia. “It’s ALMOST what my Grandmother’s recipe!”

You can get the full recipe and directions here.

Dine Out

Susan has two favorite Dine Out choices. First is Gardina’s Wine Bar and Cafe, and second is The Ruby Owl Tap Room.

448 N Main St, Oshkosh, WI 54901
421 N Main St, Oshkosh, WI 54901

Thanks for joining us for this month’s Dish! If you try a recipe or restaurant, be sure to let us know. Don’t forget to come back next month for more yummy favorites!


What to Know in the Immigration Debate Now: “Queen-of-the-Hill”?

What will be the fate of those who dream to come to America? Explore the immigration debate in this article from SHRM.


Immigration reform is filled with complexities.  Just to name a few are the politics, the body of law and policy and often the use of terms that only add confusion. During the 2007 immigration debate, I recall the term “clay pigeon” (a Senate floor procedure) confused even the experts.  Right now, the term that is turning heads is “Queen-of-the-Hill”. So why does it matter you ask? Well let me explain.

A bipartisan group in the House has called on leaders to consider a proposal for a "Queen-of-the-Hill" (most votes wins) immigration rule (H. Res. 774) and urge action to vote on a legislative solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. SHRM and CFGI are members of the coalition for the American Dream which issued a press statement in support of action.

A vote on this issue matters because earlier in the year votes in the Senate failed. Right now, 190 Democrats and 50 Republicans in the House (a majority of the House) support H. Res. 774 and a debate and vote on immigration DACA related proposals.  If Congress, could begin to move proposals forward there might be a chance (if even a small chance) to break the logjam on immigration reform.

Specifically, "Queen-of-the-Hill' is a House procedure that has not been used since 2015. The procedure would require separate votes and consideration of (four immigration) proposals on the House floor and members could vote in support of as many proposals as they want.  The proposal that receives the greatest number of votes would be adopted. If none of the proposals receive a majority-of-the-votes, then none of the proposals would be adopted.

The proposals that would get a vote under H. Res. 774 include:

  • The Securing America's Future Act (HR 4760), a bill that would allow DACA recipients to apply for three years of work authorization and deferred deportation that may be extended if they qualify. The bill also includes other provisions like mandatory E-Verify, historical limits to family sponsored green cards, a reallocation of visas to employment-based green cards and a new agricultural guest worker program.
  • The House DREAM Act (H.R. 3440), a bill that would allow DACA recipients and DACA eligible individuals to apply for work authorization and deferred deportation, legal permanent residence and a five- year path to citizenship if they qualify.
  • The USA Act (H.R. 4796), a bill that would allow for DACA recipients and DACA eligible individuals to apply for work authorization and deferred deportation and legal permanent residence if they qualify.
  • A yet to be unveiled bill from House Speaker Ryan (R-WI)

Whether there is any chance for success will be up to House leaders, as the House bipartisan group is asking leaders to support H. Res. 774.  However, the resolution may be far from successful. House Speaker Ryan (R-WI) has publicly stated he does not believe it makes sense to bring a bill through a process that only produces something that would get vetoed by the president. In this scenario, it is possible that any immigration bill that could pass the House might not make it through the Senate let alone find support from the president. 

Given, the president’s resistance to many DACA related proposals, perhaps in the end, he will be the “King” of this “Queen-of-the-Hill” strategy.

This article was written by Rebecca Peters of SHRM Blog on April 23rd, 2018.