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American Benefits Podcast
49 minutes | Mar 31, 2021
Episode 36: Polak's Republic: A Dialogue on Working Smarter
Over the past year, the American workforce has undergone a forced evolution, with work environments and habits thrown into chaos. But even before the pandemic, human resources strategy had shown signs of strain under a rigid definition of "productivity." In this episode, host Jason Hammersla speaks to internationally respected HR consultant Richard Polak, who thinks there is a better way. Polak explains the philosophy behind his new book, Work Smart Now: How to Jump Start Productivity, Empower Employees, and Achieve More, what "compassionate productivity" means and why "work-life balance" is a misnomer.
55 minutes | Dec 8, 2020
Episode 35: Law and Order with Meaghan VerGow
With the nation in the throes of a lame-duck congressional session and slow-motion presidential transition, the judiciary is the only branch of the federal government that is working smoothly at the moment, even in the wake of seismic change in the U.S. Supreme Court’s personnel. And, as it happens, employee benefits policy hangs in the balance. On November 10, the high court heard oral arguments in California v. Texas, the latest lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. A number of other important benefits cases will also come before the court in the coming months. In this episode, special guest host James Klein, American Benefits Council president, speaks with Meaghan VerGow, a partner and litigator with the law firm of O’Melveny and Myers and a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice David Souter and for D.C. Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland. VerGow and Klein discuss the fate of the ACA, the nuances of ERISA litigation and where the “highest court in the land” really is. Please rate and subscribe the American Benefits Podcast on iTunes. For more information on the Council or the American Benefits Podcast, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
36 minutes | Jan 28, 2020
Better Know a Council Colleague: New Health Policy Senior Counsel Katy Johnson
The American Benefits Council is known for its staff continuity, with seven of our 15 staff members having been here for at least two decades. Occasionally, however, the employee benefit gods require new blood and new energy. The most recent addition to the Council family is Katy Johnson, who succeeds the newly retired Kathryn Wilber as Senior Counsel, Health Policy, directing the analysis and advocacy of health policy regulation and litigation. In addition to her tireless work ethic, Katy brings a wealth of experience to the role after stints at the U.S. Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service. In this episode of the American Benefits Podcast, she talks to host Jason Hammersla about the origin of that work ethic, the path that led her to the Council and her favorite break room snack.
40 minutes | Dec 18, 2019
Episode 33: Benefits Calling: The World of Church Plans with Rev. Jeff Thiemann
While we often focus on the Fortune 500 companies that dominate the world economy, another group of employers plays a fundamental role in the daily lives of millions of Americans: the churches, religious institutions and affiliated organizations that employ hundreds of thousands of clergy, lay workers, and their family members. This is a population with very typical health and retirement needs but also very unique practices and perspectives. Ably representing these perspectives in the advocacy world and in the American Benefits Council is the Church Alliance, a coalition of the chief executive officers of 38 church benefit programs. In this episode, host Jason Hammersla speaks with Reverend Jeffrey Thiemann, vice chair of the Church Alliance and president and CEO of Portico Benefit Services (a ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), to talk about what makes church plan benefits so challenging -- and rewarding -- to administer.
49 minutes | Dec 3, 2019
Episode 32: It’s a Big World After All: Going Global with Mark Azzarello, International Paper
The American economy crosses borders, oceans, time zones, cultures, languages and great walls. And therefore, compensation and benefits has gone global, too. For many multinational companies, figuring out how to scale employee benefits for a global population is a critical element of their economic competitiveness. Here at the Council, we’re engaged on global benefits in numerous ways, from functioning as the U.S. chapter of the International Employee Benefit Association (or “IEBA”) to serving as a private-sector advisor to the U.S. delegation to the Organizational for Economic Cooperation and Development. We’re also focused on practical matters for global employee benefit plan sponsors like governance, controlling costs, health plan offerings, employee mobility, mergers and acquisitions and much, much more. In this episode, host Jason Hammersla talks to Mark Azzarello, vice president, global compensation & benefits, for the International Paper Company. Azzarello is a member of the American Benefits Council’s board of directors and chair of the Council’s Global Benefits Committee. In this wide-ranging conversation, Azzarello describes the objectives of the Global Benefits Committee and the upshot of the group’s October 2019 meeting. He also describes International Paper’s distinctive approach to employee benefits policy including global governance, employee financial wellness and electronic disclosure.
38 minutes | Oct 8, 2019
Episode 31: All Debts, Public and Private - Helping Employers Help Employees Pay Down Student Loans
Retirement benefits are obviously one pillar of employee health and financial security, but despite all that employers do the “retirement savings gap” between what people have and should have, continues to grow. One of the biggest barriers to savings is student loan debt, which now exceeds 1.5 trillion in the U.S., while tuition rises 8% year over year. In an effort to help their employees, more companies are now seeing value in helping to allay this burden. The American Benefits Council is part of a broad, multi-stakeholder coalition called Debt Free Tax Free, whose mission is to help employers provide student loan repayment on a tax-free basis, if they want to do so. In this episode of the American Benefits Podcast, Debt Free Tax Free spokesperson Tara Fung (vice president at CommonBond for Business) speaks to host Jason Hammersla about how student debt is different than other kinds of debt, why student loan repayment programs are a good investment for companies – and the government, via the tax code – and what to do about the tuition “bubble.”
39 minutes | Aug 12, 2019
Episode 30: All In the Families - Building a Better Health Care Engine with Families USA’s Frederick Isasi
We talk all the time about employee benefits for the evolving global workforce, but the truth is that benefits are important for more than just workers. For example, many covered lives are those of the spouses and children of workers with job-based health insurance. The voice of these families in Washington DC belongs to Frederick Isasi and his colleagues at Families USA, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose stated mission is “the achievement of high-quality, affordable health care and improved health for all.” In May of this year, Families USA launched Consumers First, a broad, multi-stakeholder alliance that seeks to address the fundamental economic incentives and design of the health care system. The American Benefits Council serves on the steering committee of Consumers First. As Families USA’s executive director, Isasi wants to make the American health care system work better for all the money we pour into it. In this episode, Isasi talks to host Jason Hammersla about ways to “build a better health care engine” instead of putting more gas in the tank.
44 minutes | Jul 18, 2019
Episode 29: The Compensation of ‘Independents’ - Designing Portable Benefits with the Aspen Institute’s Shelly Steward
The independent workforce – a potent mixture of temp workers, contingent workers, “gig” workers and others – represents anywhere between 4 and 40% of the overall labor market and constitutes an interesting economic challenge: in a nation where employment is central to one’s health and retirement benefits, how do we provide financial security to those who do not have long-term, consistent employment? In recent years, the Council has grappled with this question, setting forth The Five “Cs”: Principles for Policymakers Regarding Benefits and Independent Workers. Others are approaching the issue from the other direction. Shelly Steward, research manager for Aspen Institute’s Future of Work Initiative, recently co-authored Designing Portable Benefits: A Resource Guide for Policymakers, a paper that defines and describes benefits that are “portable, prorated and universal.” In this episode, Steward talks to host Jason Hammersla about why large employers should entertain and embrace the notion of portable benefits.
41 minutes | Dec 13, 2018
Episode 28: The People Have Spoken - What Do 2018 Election and Polling Results Mean for Employee Benefits?
As a result of the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats will assume control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2019. And while Republicans still control the White House and the Senate, this one change has the potential to derail the whole legislative process, like when one bulb goes out in a string of Christmas lights. So what does that mean for the rest of 2018 and the next two years? That’s a good question for James A. Klein, Council president and political prognosticator-in-chief. In this special podcast episode, Jim speaks with host and loyal underling Jason Hammersla about the waning days of Congress’ Lame Duck session, how much gridlock we can expect on health and retirement policy and what to make of the election day polling results commissioned by the Council. Happy Holidays!
45 minutes | Nov 1, 2018
Episode 27: Cover Me, I’m Going In - Talking Workplace Health Insurance with AHIP’s Adam Beck
On the cusp of the 2018 midterm elections, health care remains a major issue for American voters. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 71 percent say that health care policy is “very important” in their decision about how to cast their vote and a plurality – 30 percent – say that health care is the most important issue in the midterm elections. Since more than half of all Americans, 181 million people plus, are covered by health insurance through an employer, policies affecting workplace coverage are of paramount importance. Enter America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the national association whose members provide coverage for health care and related services. They recently launched a campaign, Coverage@Work, which provides resources to educate policymakers and the public about employer-provided coverage. In this episode, Adam Beck, AHIP’s vice president, employer health policy & initiatives, talks to host Jason Hammersla about workplace coverage from the perspective of the payers – insurers and the insured – and the major policy threats on the horizon.
66 minutes | Oct 10, 2018
Episode 26: Where Do We Go From Here? Talking Retirement Policy with Mike Barry
Retirement policy is supposed to be a bastion of stability and security, but the history of that policy is characterized by constant change: changing demographics, workforce patterns, plan designs and political priorities – to say nothing of rising financial markets and falling interest rates. The resulting story has unfolded like a drama with an uncertain ending. Author, attorney and benefits professional Mike Barry has written a new book, Retirement Savings Policy: Past, Present and Future, telling that tale and speculating on how the story might continue. He joins host Jason Hammersla to talk about the fundamental risks of retirement savings, the trouble with tax incentives, exit ramps for employers and how The Office helps explain our idea of the workplace.
72 minutes | Sep 27, 2018
Episode 25: Scenes from a Webinar: How Employers are Combating the Opioid Epidemic
On average in the United States, 115 people die each day from an opioid overdose. As this epidemic has touched workers, employers have sought to address it through innovative plan design and outreach. Meanwhile, Congress is poised to enact legislation designed to stem the tide of opioid abuse and addiction. Earlier this year, the American Benefits Council, in partnership with the Midwest Business Group on Health (MBGH), hosted a webinar in which we discussed the efforts and challenges for employers working to make a difference in this area. In this week’s edition of the American Benefits Podcast, we share the audio from that webinar, which is normally provided for Council members only. The webinar featured moderators Kathryn Wilber, American Benefits Council senior counsel, health policy, and Cheryl Larson, MBGH president and CEO, as well as guest speakers Dr. William Lopez, senior medical director-behavioral health at Cigna Healthcare, [12:42] talking about insurer initiatives to improve plan design and treatment strategies; Jason Parrott, manager of healthcare strategy & policy for The Boeing Company, [23:51] recounting his company’s efforts to that maintain quality of care while ensuring tighter controls for dosing and quantity limits; and Sarah Bassler Millar, partner with Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, [44:56] describing the legislative, regulatory and legal landscape surrounding these issues. To participate in future webinars, consider joining the American Benefits Council, which offers programs like these at no charge as part of the member company’s annual investment. Resources: Benefits Briefing Presentation Slides: How Employers are Combating the Opioid Epidemic On the Front Lines: How Employers Are Working to Combat the Opioid Epidemic Resources for Employers: Combating the Opioid Epidemic Midwest Business Group on Health Employer Toolkit: Addressing Pain Management & Opioid Use/Abuse
41 minutes | Sep 4, 2018
Episode 24: "Father of the 401(k)" on the Promise and Problems of Today's Retirement System
The defined contribution retirement savings plan is now the preeminent savings vehicle for working Americans. DOL data tells us that two-thirds of all full-time civilian workers have access to a defined contribution plan at work, and 72 percent of those individuals participate in the plan, adding up to nearly 100 million participants nationwide. It accounts for, conservatively, more than $10 trillion in retirement assets. The most common and well-known type of defined contribution arrangement is the 401(k) plan, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. But just because a guy happens to be the putative “father of the 401(k),” that doesn’t mean he’s averse to issuing a little constructive criticism. R. Theodore “Ted” Benna, is a consultant, an innovator and an author, and in his new book, 401(k), 40 years later – and this episode of the American Benefits Podcast – he talks candidly about the promise and the problems with today’s retirement system.
44 minutes | Jul 10, 2018
Episode 23: When You’re Sixty-Four: NCOA’s Jim Firman on ‘Graduations,’ Third Acts and Happy Endings
It’s not just you: the workforce is getting older. Health care advances and increased life expectancies mean people are working longer and later, while low birth rates mean that there are fewer workers to succeed the ones who retire. As of 2016, the median age of the labor force was 42, up from about 38 in 1996. That puts increased pressure on the federal social safety net as well as for workplace health and retirement benefits. The unique needs and desires of older Americans, therefore, takes on increased importance for all stakeholders in the benefits system. Over more than two decades as president and CEO of the National Council on Aging (NCOA), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people aged 60 and over, James Firman has sought to lead the conversation on on benefits access and economic security for older adults. In this episode, he speaks with host Jason Hammersla about pervasive misconceptions about aging, the evolving role employers can play preparing workers for retirement and the enduring search for “purpose.”
28 minutes | Jun 27, 2018
Episode 22: EBRI Little Thing They Do Is Magic: Lori Lucas and the Role of Benefits Research
The Employee Benefit Research Institute (or “EBRI”) describes itself as the place “where the world turns for facts on employee benefits.” Founded in 1978, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, EBRI is considered the gold standard for authoritative data and research on these critical, complex issues. Today, EBRI is led by Lori Lucas, who took over just four months ago, at a societally auspicious time for the valuation and understanding of fact. As president and CEO, Lori is responsible for leading EBRI in its mission to provide unbiased, fact-based research and data on retirement, health care, and other benefits that provide financial security for American workers. In this episode, she speaks with host Jason Hammersla about the importance of empiricism, the future of the “employee” in employee benefits and why EBRI membership is more than just good karma.
42 minutes | May 1, 2018
Episode 21: We Need to Talk About Millennials: Young Americans and the Struggle to Save
Millennials – roughly, those born between 1981 and 1996 – are the most well-educated, most diverse and most populous generation in the workforce today. They told us in our national poll last year that employer-provided retirement benefits would be the most important benefit to them over the next ten years. And yet, a new report suggests that they are lagging behind in their preparedness for retirement. In this episode of the American Benefits Podcast, host Jason Hammersla speaks with Jennifer Erin Brown, manager of research for the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) and the author of a new study, Millennials and Retirement: Already Falling Short. Jason and Jennifer discuss the economic misconceptions about millennials, the challenge of student debt and how it all comes down to employer coverage. Then, Jason checks in with Ben Brown, founder and leader of the Association of Young Americans, to get his take on the report.
39 minutes | Apr 17, 2018
Episode 20: Innovations in Health Coverage: Mercer’s Tracy Watts and the Power of a Good Idea
The American Benefits Council and Mercer, a global human resource consultancy firm, recently released a paper, Leading the Way: Employer Innovations in Health Coverage, which shows how large companies are using their stature and their ingenuity to try and tackle the pervasive problems surrounding health care, including high costs and inconsistent service. Podcast host Jason Hammersla speaks with Tracy Watts, who spearheaded this project. Tracy is a senior partner in Mercer’s Washington D.C. office and the company’s National Leader for U.S. Health Care Reform. In this episode, Jason and Tracy talk about how to define “innovation” in employer-provided health plans and what that means for working families.
35 minutes | Apr 3, 2018
Episode 19: Better Know a Council Staff Member: Meet Ilyse Schuman, Senior Vice President, Health Policy
Even though the Council boasts more than 7,300 members from 440 companies worldwide, the Council staff itself is only 15 individuals strong. The latest addition to the Council family is Ilyse Schuman, the Council’s new senior vice president, health policy. Ilyse succeeds the previous VP, Katy Spangler, and now directs the development and advocacy of all health policy priorities. In this episode of the American Benefits Podcast, host Jason Hammersla learns about Ilyse’s origin story, her tenure with the Senate HELP Committee and her breakroom snack preferences – and enjoys a friendly game of word association.
36 minutes | Mar 14, 2018
Episode 18: Let’s Make It Simple: The American College of Employee Benefits Council and its $10,000 Prize
William Shakespeare’s admonition about lawyers notwithstanding, most employer-sponsored benefit plans could not function without the sage counsel of the attorneys who have devoted their careers to employee benefits law. The “hall of fame” for these skilled attorneys is the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, which recognizes the small share lawyers who have made lasting contributions to the benefits field. As part of its mission to advance the public’s understanding of the employee benefits system, the College is now sponsoring the First Annual Employee Benefits Simplification Prize, with a $10,000 prize going to the winner. The deadline for this award is April 1, 2018. In this episode of the American Benefits Podcast, host Jason Hammersla speaks with Henry Eickelberg, ACEBC treasurer, and Randy Hardock, chair of the simplification award committee, to talk about the privileges of ACEBC fellowship and how to win that grand prize.
33 minutes | Mar 7, 2018
Episode 17: Benefits for a Cause: How ‘The Greater Give’ Could Revolutionize Philanthropy
Payroll-deduction, defined contribution plans have changed the way we save for retirement and may yet change the way we pay for health care and pay down college debt. Now the CEO of a large third-party administrator (TPA) has a plan to use it to create a nation of “everyday philanthropists.” The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is likely to reduce the percentage of Americans who itemize – and thereby have access to the charitable giving tax deduction – to less than ten percent, eliminating much of the tax incentive to contribute. Enter Dan Rashke, CEO of TASC, the man behind The Greater Give, a campaign in favor of legislation that would allow employers to set up Flexible Giving Accounts (FGAs). With an FGA, an employee could dedicate a portion of their pre-tax compensation to philanthropy, thereby expanding the federal tax incentive while reducing employers’ payroll tax obligations. In this episode, host Jason Hammersla speaks with Rashke about TPAs, building a corporate culture of philanthropy and the march toward FGA legislation.
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