High-deductible health plans have become an increasingly popular means for employers to keep health care costs under control. According to data released last summer by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2007 through 2017, the percentage of adults 18-64 with employer-provided health insurance who were enrolled in an HDHP with a health savings account increased from 4.2 percent to 18.9 percent, while the percentage enrolled in an HDHP without an HSA rose from 10.6 percent to 24.5 percent.
Over the past three years, however, our benefits research at Gartner shows that their popularity has been leveling off, as deductibles for individual plans have actually been trending downward. (Gartner Total Rewards Leadership Council clients can view our full report on medical plan trends and observations for 2018 here.) This trend suggests that employers are having second thoughts about whether the benefits of HDHPs outweigh the downsides.
A new survey published last month by the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and research firm Greenwald & Associates provides some insight into these pros and cons. The survey found that people enrolled in HDHPs were more likely to compare cost and quality when selecting non-emergency health care and to make cost-conscious decisions like choosing generic prescription drugs over brand names. HDHP enrollees also more likely to be offered and to participate in wellness programs through their employers, including programs that involve biometric screenings.
On the other hand, this cost-conscious behavior may not be entirely voluntary: 30 percent of HDHP enrollees said they delayed care in the previous year because of costs, compared to 18 percent of respondents covered by traditional health insurance plans. While the EBRI study does not clarify whether this care was essential or non-essential, another recent study of diabetics found that switching to a high-deductible plan increased their likelihood of delaying essential care.
The KFC Foundation, the charitable arm of the fast food chain, is providing a new benefit for employees of both corporate-owned and franchised KFC restaurants in the US: personal finance coaching. According to a press release from the foundation, the MyChange program, offered in partnership with the mobile financial planning service company Sum180, “fosters personalized financial wellness and teaches foundational personal finance skills” to employees, combining a confidential financial wellness app with a personal adviser who can help them budget, plan, and learn more about how to manage their personal finances.
The MyChange program comes in addition to several other educational benefits KFC offers its US employees through the foundation:
MyChange joins several other KFC Foundation offerings, including Rise with GEDworks (personalized high school credential assistance), the KFC Family Fund (hardship and crisis assistance), and the REACH Educational Grant Program (college tuition assistance at $2,000, $2,500 and $3,000 award levels), rounding out the employee assistance organization to support the whole wellbeing of KFC’s restaurant employees.
Krista Snider, managing director of the KFC Foundation, tells Amanda Eisenberg at Employee Benefit News more about how the program came to life:
As part of a package of compensation and benefits increases, Starbucks announced on Wednesday that all of its US employees, both salaried and hourly, will be eligible for paid sick leave, while paid parental leave will now be available to all parents, the Associated Press reports:
Starbucks Corp. said Wednesday that the changes affect about 150,000 full-time, part-time, hourly and salaried employees, most of whom work as baristas or shop managers. The new benefits apply to workers at more than 8,200 company-owned stores but not at the 5,700 licensed shops like those found inside supermarkets.
The company also said workers would receive a pay raise in April, in addition to one-time stock awards ranging from $500 to $2,000. The new sick leave policy will come into effect in July, according to the AP. Previously, paid sick leave was only available to hourly employees in states that mandated it by law.
Starbucks’ parental leave policy for hourly employees has long exceeded what most US retail employers offer. Nonetheless, the coffee chain has recently faced pressure from activist investors to increase those benefits to match its substantially more generous policy for salaried corporate employees, following media reports scrutinizing the impact of this disparity on store employees. These latest changes do not equalize benefits for hourly and salaried employees, but will make parental leave available to some store employees who were not able to take it before, when it was only available to birth mothers and adoptive parents.
In 2016, Massachusetts state lawmakers failed to reach a compromise over a bill that would strictly limit companies’ ability to enforce non-compete clauses in employees’ contracts, slowing the momentum of a trend among states to restrict the use of these agreements in roles where they were unnecessary or would overly limit employees’ future career prospects. The bill was widely expected to be revisited in the state’s next legislative session; sure enough, it has, and members of the Massachusetts House and Senate are now close to reaching a deal on a bill that satisfies both houses’ concerns, Jon Chesto reports at the Boston Globe:
There are still some issues to be worked out between House and Senate negotiators. The legislation will most likely include noncontroversial elements such as bans on using noncompetes for lower-paid hourly workers, such as camp counselors and sub-shop employees. But the two sides have yet to agree on how long noncompete contracts can remain in force. In 2016, the House leadership supported up to 12 months, while the Senate backed a three-month limit. Another potential sticking point: the wording for how departing employees should receive payments, known as “garden leave,” while their noncompetes are in effect.
Advocates for curbing the use of non-competes in Massachusetts say it harms the state’s ability to leverage its highly educated workforce and become a full-fledged tech startup hub like California, which is one of the few states where the use of such clauses is almost always prohibited and where courts generally have refused to recognize them. Most other states have laws that limit the use of non-competes to the protection of trade secrets and other confidential information, but impose a varied range of standards for determining whether an agreement is enforceable.
Lawmakers in three other states—New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Vermont—are also considering new restrictions this year, Jackson Lewis attorneys Daniel P. Schwarz, Martha Van Oot, Erik J. Winton and Colin A. Thakkar write at SHRM:
Since Walmart began a push to raise wages for its legion of store employees last year, leaders at the big box chain have attributed its solid performance to the greater investment they were making in their staff. And because Walmart is such an enormous actor in the US economy, its choices have ripple effects in the retail sector. Over at Quartz, Oliver Staley argues that while some see the company’s size as being a “malign force,” that doesn’t take into account how Walmart’s choices can be also be beneficial:
The company also has used its massive buying power to eliminate waste in packaged goods and to drive down the cost of energy-efficient light bulbs, speeding their widespread adoption. Raising wages can have an even bigger impact. Walmart employs one in 10 US retail workers, and one out of every 100 US private-sector employees. Just as the company forced competitors to hold the line on wages, increasing its pay is now pressuring rivals to match it.
Walmart also raised salaries for entry-level managers in response to the Obama administration’s now-defunct overtime rule last year, but at the bottom of the pay scale, seemingly small increases, say from $10 to $11 an hour, can make a big difference in the lives of the working poor. Walmart is such a huge employer, Staley points out, that its pay practices effectively set a benchmark for the rest of the retail industry, pressuring other retail giants like Target to commit to adopting a $15 minimum wage by 2020:
The city of St. Louis passed an ordinance in 2015 to raise the local minimum wage to $10 per hour as of this May and to $11 next January. This put it well ahead of the state minimum wage in Missouri, which stands at $7.70, just slightly above the federal minimum of $7.25. However, a new Missouri law that goes into effect August 28 will override the local minimum wage increase and return St. Louis’s minimum wage to the state standard, CNN reported last week:
The Missouri General Assembly passed a law earlier this year that prohibits local governments from setting a higher minimum wage than what the state requires. St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, a Democrat, called its passage in May “a setback for working families.” …
Missouri Governor Eric Greitens took a stance in the minimum wage debate, but didn’t sign the bill into law. It will go into effect next month regardless. The Republican governor said the St. Louis ordinance that raised the minimum wage will “kill jobs, and despite what you hear from liberals, it will take money out of people’s pockets.”
To support his argument against the higher wage floor, Greitens cited a recent study by economists at the University of Washington, which found that a jump in Seattle’s minimum wage from $11 to $13 an hour last year ended up reducing low-wage workers’ incomes by an average of $125 per month due to cuts in their hours. Opponents of higher minimum wages have jumped on this study as evidence that they do more harm than good, but critics have found flaws in the study’s methodology and pointed out that it conflicts with most other research on the impact of minimum wage hikes.
Most prognosticators of the future of work believe that as more and more rote mechanical and basic knowledge work is automated, many of the jobs that will remain for people will involve interacting with and caring for other human beings. As the US population gets older on average, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the health care industry will add more jobs than any other sector of the economy in the coming decade (other developed countries with aging populations are looking at something similar). The expansion of the health care workforce is the main reason why some economists see women having an advantage over men in the job market of the near future, and health care is also seen as a viable second career for many blue-collar men whose jobs in manufacturing have been eaten up by automation or outsourcing.
Lost in this conversation, however, is the question of whether the health care jobs of the future will provide as decent a living as the manufacturing jobs of the past. While highly skilled and trained professionals like nurses may enjoy good pay and job security, the majority of health care jobs are in direct care, comprising home health aides, nursing assistants, and direct support professionals for people with disabilities or special needs. Direct care workers make up a large and growing segment of the health sector, Soo Oh writes at Vox, and face little risk of being replaced by machines anytime soon:
One of the fastest-growing fields is direct care: There are at least 3.6 million direct care workers in the US, not including an estimated 800,000 unreported workers, according to researchers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an increase of more than 1 million new direct care workers — personal care workers, home health aides, and nursing assistants — between 2014 and 2024. Unlike food service or retail jobs, which round out the top five growing jobs, direct care workers are not in immediate danger of being edged out by automation or internet commerce.
Unfortunately, these jobs offer low pay, few or no benefits, and taxing work conditions: