For the 101st Congress, there will be more than the budget deficit and the S&L crisis. Congress will be focusing on employee benefits.
Whether it's health care, child care, company education programs or retirement plans, Congress will decide what benefits may be required by law and who gets to take the tax deduction. If you wonder why Congress is so interested, consider these facts:- Thirty-seven million Americans are without any type of health insurance. Millions more are under-insured.
- Seventy-one percent of the health-benefits executives surveyed by Corporate Health Strategies, an information management service, said that their company had no formal strategic plan for managing health care costs over the next few years.
- By the year 1990, an estimated two-thirds of all children under the age of six will have working mothers.
- One out of every four high school students drops out before graduating, and fewer than 50 percent of high school seniors read at levels considered adequate for carrying out even moderately complex tasks.
- The number of people age 65 and over will double from 25.5 million in 1980 to 51.4 million in 2020. One-half of our population is not covered by pensions, and most vote.
Now that you know why Congress cares, here's what we can expect:
HEALTH CARE. Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.) is expected to reintroduce his mandated health care bill in mid-March.
The legislation would require all employers to provide full-time employees and their dependents with health care plans that meet minimum federal standards. Although the bill failed passage last year, the chances are better this time around.
"People are now more receptive to the idea of a national health care plan," said Darryl Cox, a committee spokesman. "We're seeing a lot more interest in pushing through legislation like this."
RETIREMENT BENEFITS. Too many Americans find themselves financially unable to deal with illness and other major health care costs after retirement. To make matters worse, many employees have no way of knowing exactly what type of retirement benefits they eventually will receive.
The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), a non-profit organization, has proposed that employers be required to keep records of the amount earned by employees for future benefits, such as retiree health liabilities.
"Currently, many employers are not putting money aside while their employees are working," said Diana Scott, FASB project manager of post-retirement benefits. Many companies are dispensing money on a pay-as-you-go basis for claims incurred after retirement.
The FASB plan will go before hearings in New York and Washington next year. If adopted, the plan would become effective in 1992.
"As a result of this provision, Congress will take a closer look at prefunding and benefit security issues," Scott said.
CHILD CARE. Experts predict child care will become the primary benefit of the 1990s, as more mothers enter the workplace. Studies have shown that employee-sponsored day-care centers result in lower turnover rates and higher productivity due to decreased distraction and stress levels.
"Providing child care facilities is not a purely altruistic move on the part of most employers," said Walter W. Newsome, Ph.D., associate professor of management at Mississippi State University.
However, child care benefits are still in their infancy. According to Harvard Business Review, a 1987 survey of 44,000 companies employing 100 or more people revealed only 2,500 assisted their employees with day-care arrangements.
The majority of employers cited the high price of child care as the primary reason for not offering this benefit - the average child care center costs an organization $100,000 a year.
"If a center is underused, or noticeable improvements in absenteeism rates and other indicators do not occur, organizations are hard pressed to justify the investment," said Newsome.
More than 100 child care bills were introduced during the last Congress. This year, experts predict passage of legislation providing child care support through the tax code, especially in view of President Bush's support of an expanded child care tax credit.
TUITION REIMBURSEMENT. The non-taxable status of tuition reimbursement benefits will expire at the end of 1989, unless renewed by Congress. The 1988 Technical and Miscelleneous Revenue Act already eliminated graduate school from "non-taxable benefit" status.
"There is a great need for educational assistance in employee benefit programs," said Thomas E. Wood, chairman of the Corporate Board for the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.