With another National Employee Benefits Day upon us, it is a good reminder for all involved in the world of Employee Benefits to pause (take three deep breaths) and use it as an opportunity to look back at where we’ve been over the last year and where we are going. While the challenges are many, the work is more valuable than ever.
One constant over the last few tumultuous years is change. From the compliance perspective, employers like certainty (plan advisors do, too), and recently there has been anything but. This is true now more than ever across all areas of benefits and is likely to be the case for years to come.
It is no surprise (pun intended) that health and welfare plan administration continues to occupy more time and attention than ever before. Plans continue to grapple with compliance with Mental Health Parity, Transparency in Coverage, the No Surprises Act, and other recent changes that define how group health plans need to operate (both at the federal and state level). Traditionally, an area in which plans operated more autonomously, health plan administration and compliance have become increasingly complex and will continue to grow more complicated, particularly for multi-state plans. Add to that already full plate the need to navigate the issues following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs, many of which will continue to evolve for years to come, and recent state and federal attention on pharmacy benefits.
As we approach the end of the Public Health Emergency and National Emergency, benefit plans should also pay close attention to unwinding the temporary relief provided at the outset of the pandemic. This includes close attention to COBRA, special enrollment and claims deadlines, and decisions on coverage of COVID-19 diagnostic testing, treatment, vaccines, and telehealth under group health plans. And for good measure, plans now need to consider a recent court decision invalidating the ACA’s preventative care mandate.
Retirement plan design and administration are not immune from the wave of change. Eagerly awaited retirement plan legislation in the form of SECURE 2.0 finally arrived at the end of last year, bringing with it a panoply of mandatory and optional changes for the consideration of plan sponsors. With an eye toward increasing retirement savings and expanding coverage within the private plan system, SECURE 2.0 will spawn more guidance and implementation efforts for years to come. Plan fiduciaries are also confronting the push and pull of the role of ESG investments in retirement plan fund lineups – including trying to keep straight the regulatory, legislative, and judicial attempts to weigh in on the proper role of ESG investments, and for that matter, what even is an ESG investment. All of this change comes against the broader backdrop of market volatility and continued concerns of a recession/inflation, increasing the spotlight on financial wellness initiatives.
Finally, and perhaps most important, well-being, balance, and mental health remain at the forefront. Clearly not confined to the pandemic, attention to the needs of all employees’ pursuit of the elusive “work-life balance” is more important now than ever, especially as the lines between work and home promise to be blurred for the foreseeable future given the persistence of remote/hybrid work. While many of these change-inducing events are far beyond our control, as benefits professionals, we have ridden this wave before and will continue to do so. We are reminded that change creates new opportunities to design important, sustaining benefits that serve the lives of employees and their families. Keep up the fight, and Happy Employee Benefits Day!