The responses from the employee benefits community to the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision ranges from it doesn't matter to this could be the beginning of the end of workplace health insurance. Of course most of this chatter is coming from employee benefit attorneys, third party administrators, and other industry observers. But what are front line employee benefit professionals (vice-presidents, managers, and administrators) saying and thinking? And if they aren't saying anything, that is a problem for me.
Too often the individuals responsible for making decisions about what employee benefits to offer and how to communicate them, have the least to say about changes that may impact their work. Many employee benefit pros see their role as pure implementation and compliance. They take a let's wait and see what we need to do because of this new regulation or change in the law.
Case in Point
When the Great Recession of 2009 resulted in millions of Americans losing their jobs and with it their health insurance, Congress passed several laws to help workers and employers meet these new economic challenges. One law in particular, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, contained a provision designed to help offset the cost of COBRA health insurance coverage by 65%. This $20 billion plus provision of a much larger law was a very big deal in the benefits community.
Listen up, employee benefit professionals... On Monday, June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the religious rights of private business owners over their employees' right to receive certain health insurance benefits. In the Hobby Lobby case five of the nine Supreme Court justices ruled that owners of private, closely held businesses are covered by the1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Meaning that your CEOs religious beliefs can determine what the company health insurance plan will or will not cover.
This case gets my attention for many reasons but it also takes me back to a time when I worked for a conservative, family-owned business. I don't know if the owner was a religious man, but he was very conservative. I remember my boss telling our health plan rep and me to remove the word "abortion" from the benefit summary's list of covered benefits. I remember thinking, would he really force us to remove this benefit from the plan? Fortunately I never had to find out. Honestly, I don't think the guy ever looked at any health plan information except what it was costing him.
- Know the Law: It is important to keep abreast of case law impacting the employee benefits filed. You don't want to be the one person in the office who never heard of that case. Read publications like Bloomberg BNA Pension and Benefits Reporter to keep track of all benefit laws.