New Senate Health Care Bill An Improvement for Employers

The U.S. Senate appears to be gearing up for another health care vote, with a measure from Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) headed to the floor as soon as the middle of next week.

At its core, the Graham-Cassidy proposal creates a block grant program, taking much of the funding provided in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and sending it to the states for them to set up their own health care systems and determine where to direct the funds.

It also does away with several pillars of the ACA, including the mandate for individuals to have insurance or pay a penalty. The true ramifications of that are uncertain, but could mean higher premiums for those in the health care exchanges (aka those who don’t have insurance through their workplace).

From the standpoint of employers, the Indiana Chamber believes Graham-Cassidy is an improvement over the ACA. This is primarily due to two changes:

  1. The removal of the employer mandate to offer coverage. If that goes away, so too does the ACA’s definition of a full-time employee as someone working an average of 30 hours per week; this has negatively impacted businesses and workers – many of whom saw their hours reduced.
  1. The permanent elimination of the medical device tax, which is detrimental to vital Hoosier employers like Cook Medical in Bloomington, Zimmer Biomet in Warsaw and many others.

Overall, those in favor of increased state control are more receptive to the Graham-Cassidy effort.

As Vice President Mike Pence put it on Fox News yesterday: “…The question that people ought to ask is, who do you think will be more responsive to the health care needs in your community? Your Governor and your state legislator, or a congressman and a President far off in the nation’s capital?…”

 What has opponents worked up is two-fold: affordable coverage for pre-existing conditions isn’t specifically guaranteed; and population size will determine the amount of the block grant, which will reduce funding for a number of states – including some in the Rust Belt and more rural states in general.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona told MSNBC on Thursday he has absolute faith that governors will keep pre-existing condition protections, because of the severe political cost if they don’t. Opponents are less convinced.

At this point, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is the lone Republican who has sworn opposition to the Graham-Cassidy bill publicly – in part because his state appears to be set to lose funds in this model.

Likewise, Indiana is expected to see less federal dollars, but the Hoosier state has been preparing for what it saw as an eventuality for several years – setting aside hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize its Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP) 2.0.

The HIP model is unique in the country; it requires participants to have “skin in the game” with their health care decisions and allows for capping the number of participants. Both of these make it an inherently more nimble program. And ultimately, the state Legislature can also determine to put more funds into HIP 2.0, if it’s deemed necessary.

These facts and the lure of more state control were likely factors in Gov. Eric Holcomb’s decision to sign a letter supporting Graham-Cassidy; he was one of 15 state executives to do so. The reality is other states may not be as fiscally prepared for a possible funding reduction as Indiana is.

That leads us to who may end up being the pivotal figure in the floor vote: Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. She joined Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) and Sen. John McCain (Arizona) in voting no on the last health care reform measure. Collins is seen as a likely “no” again, joining Paul, while McCain is a predicted (or at least hoped for) “yes.”

As a result, the bill authors are pulling out all the stops and making special accommodations for Alaska in the bill to woo Murkowski’s vote – because they can’t lose her and have the bill survive for Vice President Pence to break the tie. If no specific provisions for Alaska are made, the state would be a big loser in the bill in funding because of its size vs. population and geography.

The Indiana Chamber plans to talk about health care reform with Sen. Joe Donnelly, who has announced his opposition to Graham-Cassidy, and Republican Sen. Todd Young during Wednesday’s D.C. Fly-in event.

UPDATE: This afternoon, McCain announced he would oppose the Graham-Cassidy bill, making passage of the bill seemingly very difficult.

Donnelly, Walorski Working to Define Full-Time as 40 Hours Per Week

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), employers in Indiana and across the country have been forced to cut employees’ hours due to the law’s definition of a full-time employee as someone working an average of 30 hours per week.

The Indiana Chamber recognizes this as a significant issue for the Hoosier business community and has been pushing for a change back to the 40-hour work week. We are pleased to see that our delegation is leading efforts to make that happen.

Recently, Sen. Joe Donnelly reintroduced a bipartisan proposal that would change the definition of a full-time employee under the ACA to someone who works an average of 40 hours per week. Donnelly partnered with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) on this legislation.

Senator Joe Donnelly and Congresswoman Jackie Walorski greet Vice President Mike Pence as he arrives in South Bend to deliver the May commencement address at the University of Notre Dame (photo courtesy WSBT).

“I believe that we can work together to fix issues with the health care law and improve our health care system. I have heard from part-time workers across many industries, like school cafeteria managers to grocery store employees to adjunct professors at colleges, that have seen their hours cut to comply with the health care law,” Donnelly said.

“In Indiana, common sense holds that a full-time employee is someone who works an average of 40 hours a week, and the health care law should reflect that. I’m proud to partner with my friend and colleague Sen. Collins to reintroduce the Forty Hours is Full Time Act, and I am hopeful the Senate will consider this bipartisan bill soon.”

Meanwhile, a similar effort was introduced Thursday in the House led by Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorksi (IN-02) and Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-IL).

The Save American Workers Act (H.R. 3798) also would restore the traditional 40-hour work week under the ACA.

“Obamacare’s burdensome employer mandate and its redefinition of full-time workers are hurting middle class American families and crushing our job creators,” Walorski said. “The Save American Workers Act will provide much-needed relief to hardworking Hoosiers who have faced reduced hours and fewer jobs. This bipartisan, commonsense bill will give businesses the certainty they need to create jobs, and it will give workers the opportunities they need to succeed.”

Background
The ACA currently requires employers with more than 50 full-time equivalent workers to offer health insurance to full-time employees (working 30 hours weekly) or face a penalty. This requirement has forced businesses to reduce hours and slow hiring in order to avoid unaffordable new costs or the ACA’s substantial fines. The 30-hour definition has affected workers in the private sector as well as city, state and school employees, with a particularly severe impact on hourly, part-time, and seasonal workers.

Report: STEM Message Not Getting Through

It seems as if everyone is talking about the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) talent shortage, but the message is apparently not being heard. Randstad US conducted a study to uncover key motivations, beliefs and perspectives of STEM-related topics among kids aged 11 to 17.

The research shows that despite high interest in STEM studies and confidence in STEM skills at a younger age, interest dwindles as children grow older. Students 11 to 14 years old are 18% more likely than students aged 15 to 17 to consider math one of their favorite subjects. Fifty-six percent of young people also said knowing how STEM skills relate to the real world would make STEM classes more interesting.

“The term ‘STEM’ needs a rebrand and awareness campaign to get the next generation of talent excited about pursuing these careers,” said Alan Stukalsky, chief digital officer for Randstad North America. “Young people are self-selecting out of higher STEM education classes because they can’t see how these skills apply to different professions and employers they’re excited about. It’s a misperception and a serious economic problem, as a rapidly growing number of jobs now require STEM competencies. If we don’t find a way to guide and prepare the future workforce for these positions, we run the risk of the need for these skills escalating and the hiring gap expanding.”  

The study revealed not only a lack of students’ awareness of what types of STEM jobs exist, but also a lack of personal connection to STEM professionals and how STEM jobs are defined.

  • 52% of students say they don’t know anyone with a job in STEM, and more than 1 in 4 students (27%) say they haven’t talked to anyone about jobs in STEM.
  • Almost half (49%) of respondents say they don’t know what kind of math jobs exist and 76% report not knowing a lot about what engineers do.
  • 87% think people who study STEM work at companies like NASA; far fewer associate them with mainstream consumer brands like Instagram (40%) and Coca-Cola (26%).

Young people reported high enthusiasm for careers not explicitly defined as STEM but requiring related skills, suggesting the need for broader education as to how STEM skills can be applied in fields beyond math and science.

  • 64% of students rate creating video games for a living as very fun, while 90% rate it somewhat fun.
  • 54% of respondents think it would be very fun to earn a living working with marine life, with 89% rating it as at least somewhat fun.
  • 47% think it would be very fun to make web sites for a living, with 86% saying it would be at least somewhat fun.

Taking Care of Our Money – Not!

Living from one paycheck to the next remains common for a majority of workers – 78%, in fact, compared to 75% a year earlier. And the dilemma impacts more women (81%) than men (75%).

According to new CareerBuilder research, 38% of employees said they sometimes live paycheck-to-paycheck, 17% said they usually do and 23% said they always do.

In addition:

Having a higher salary doesn’t necessarily mean money woes are behind you, with nearly one in 10 workers making $100,000 or more (9%) saying they usually or always live paycheck-to-paycheck and 59% in that income bracket in debt. Twenty-eight percent of workers making $50,000-$99,999 usually or always live paycheck to paycheck, 70% are in debt; and 51% of those making less than $50,000 usually or always live paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet, 73% are in debt.

A quarter of workers (25%) have not been able to make ends meet every month in the last year, and 20% have missed payment on some smaller bills. Further, 71% of all workers say they’re in debt — up from 68% last year. While 46% say their debt is manageable, more than half of those in debt (56%) say they feel they will always be in debt. And it should be noted that 18% of all workers have reduced their 401k contribution and/or personal savings in the last year, more than a third (38%) do not participate in a 401k plan, IRA or comparable retirement plan, and 26% have not set aside any savings each month in the last year.

Less than a third of workers (32%) stick to a clearly defined budget and a slight majority (56%) save $100 or less a month.

Still, despite financial woes, there are certain things employees aren’t willing to give up. When asked what they’d absolutely not give up, regardless of financial concerns, employees cited:

  • Internet connection: 54%  
  • Mobile device (smart phone, tablet, etc.): 53%
  • Driving: 48%
  • Pets: 37%  
  • Cable: 21%  
  • Going out to eat: 19%  
  • Traveling: 17%  
  • Education: 13%  
  • Buying gifts for people: 13%  
  • Alcohol: 11%

K-12 Teacher Shortage Grows

Teacher shortages are not a new concern and the subject areas with the biggest gaps remain fairly consistent. Still, as the 2017-2018 school year was beginning, CNN had an extensive report on the challenge. Among the findings:

The Learning Policy Institute estimated that if trends continue, there could be a nationwide shortfall of 112,000 teachers by 2018.

Public schools in 48 states and the District of Columbia report teacher shortages in math for the 2017-18 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Forty-six states report shortages in special education, 43 in science and 41 in foreign languages.

Nationwide, teacher education enrollments dropped 35% between 2009 and 2014, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the Learning Policy Institute.

A survey at UCLA found that freshmen’s interest in teaching as a career has steadily declined over the past decade.

Dan Goldhaber, director of the University of Washington’s Center for Education Data and Research, who studies educational trends at the University of Washington, sees two main reasons.

Math and science teachers aren’t paid enough. Salaries for U.S. secondary school teachers have largely remained the same over the past two decades, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

And students in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) can make more in other professions than they would teaching.

Teaching in the U.S. is too demanding. About 8% of teachers leave teaching each year, with two-thirds quitting before retirement, according to the Learning Policy Institute. This is double the percentage of teachers leaving the profession in countries like Singapore and Finland.

As far as potential solutions:

  • Help students be more strategic about their teaching opportunities. When students enter teaching certification programs, let them know where the jobs are. In many parts of the country, they’ll have an easier time finding jobs to teach math or science than English.
  • Partner school districts with local college and university programs. Though the teacher shortage is rooted partly in subject areas, it’s also a matter of location. Schools in low-income areas struggle more to fill positions. “It is the kids that are oftentimes most at risk that are the ones who are likely to suffer the most,” Goldhaber said.

One way to fix that would be to pull in students from local higher-ed programs to help teach in those areas. Many may stick around for a full-time job after graduation.

  • Make teacher certification national instead of state by state.Prospective teachers must pass an exam specific to the state they want to work in. But if a teacher wants to move from, say, Pennsylvania to California, they can’t immediately apply for jobs there. By having a national certification exam, teachers would have more mobility to go where they’re needed.

Purdue, Others to Help With Micro Debt

Purdue University is one of 11 schools that formed the University Innovation Alliance (UIA) in 2014. As reported recently by Fast Company, the UIA members are planning to tackle a challenge that is preventing many students from completing their degree.

Bridget Burns, the executive director of the coalition, says that most of UIA’s school presidents realized they were doing an awful job at keeping students enrolled, particularly those who from low-income households, first generation, or students of color. “It seems like a bunch of institutions … repeating the same experiments (to fix things) over and over and in many cases making the same mistakes.”

One alarming trend: Despite receiving financial aid, roughly 4,000 seniors who have good grades may quit school because of small outstanding scholastic debt. The sums are often less than $1,000 – but in many cases, such balances make them unable to register for their next batch of classes.

UIA and its partners will spend $4 million on micro-debt forgiveness, which will be managed by in-network academic advisors to use at their discretion over the course of the next five semesters. Half of the money is coming primarily from the Gates Foundation and Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates but the other half is a school match. Because every project that UIA does is carefully vetted beforehand, all institutions agree to double whatever philanthropic amount is directed toward their campuses.

The estimated award per student is projected to be about $900, but students can’t apply; administrators, who are adhering to an internal formula designed to spot the best candidates, will identify candidates and offer the one-time surprise infusion. “We know there’s variation across the 11 (schools) but we want to find the students who are low income, on track to graduate within a year – so they’ve already got a lot of effort behind them and it’s not too far ahead – but they have some unexpected costs,” Burns says.

Those costs might be anything that could disrupt an already tight budget, from a parking ticket that went unpaid and snowballed, to car repair, or an unexpected rent or medical issue that affected someone’s prioritization for what must be repaid. For low-income students already on loans, that’s generally a dream killer.

“If we don’t help them through to the finish line, that could waste all their effort.”

The concept of micro-debt relief has already proven effective at Georgia State University, a UIA affiliate that started its own retention granting program in 2011 to try to support the 1,000 or so students that it was losing each semester of extremely small tuition balances. Georgia State’s program is open to all students, not just seniors. Historically, it has 75% of those with more than a year to go are still enrolled 12 months later, while 60% of senior recipients go on to graduate within the same year that they receive assistance.

Burns expects UIA disbursements to cover only about half of the coalition’s students in need. That’s partly because of limited funding but also necessary because it’s a wide-scale experiment. Not aiding everyone creates a sad but necessary control group, allowing future funders to better compare the power of small, emergency cash allowances for those who received them versus those who didn’t.

More broadly, however, she hopes that UIA’s investment encourages other schools to act similarly. “This signaled where they should be focusing their attention,” she says. “These are many of the most innovative universities, who are saying, ‘These are things that are worth your limited time energy and money.’ ”

Commentary and Background on the DACA Decision 

President Trump announced last week via U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he is ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that President Obama instituted in 2012 by executive order. DACA allows for certain illegal immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit.

Under this decision, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will rescind the executive order that established DACA and not accept new program applicants. It puts 800,000 “dreamers” (including an estimated 10,000 Hoosiers) – children who arrived in the U.S. illegally with their parents at a young age – into legal limbo until it takes effect March 2018. This is an unfortunate turn of events for a demographic group where 90% are either in college or working.

As a result, 15 state attorneys general (all Democrats) filed suit this week to block the President’s plan to end DACA.

During the announcement, Sessions commented that actions under the Obama administration were unconstitutional and that the program should be enacted by Congress. Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) implied that President Obama’s executive order to protect young immigrants brought here as minors was on shaky legal ground and that is why Congress must act.

Over the next six months, President Trump is counting on Congress to do just that and essentially fix the DACA situation once and for all.

The Indiana Chamber believes lawmakers must address the issue as part of a larger immigration reform package, but it remains unclear whether both sides can compromise to reach a solution. Some are adamant that they will not accept any deal to fund even small amounts of a border wall or increased immigration enforcement, and cuts to legal immigration would be unacceptable. Other members of Congress are saying you need to pass this as part of border security, while a contingent believes you need to pass this on its own – which makes the possibility of its success very difficult.

On Wednesday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) said he was open to adding legal status for DACA recipients to his RAISE Act legislation – the goal of which is to build a skills-based immigration system similar to Canada or Australia while decreasing the amount of legal immigration overall.

Indiana’s senators Joe Donnelly and Todd Young reacted to the DACA news.
“Our country is still in need of reforms to fix our immigration system and strengthen border security, but in the interim we should pass bipartisan legislation to give these young people, who were brought here through no fault of their own, some stability and clarity,” Donnelly said.

“Upending existing protections for the nearly 10,000 young people in Indiana who have been here for most of their lives isn’t the path we should take.” Young stated: “I continue to believe we must secure our southern border and fix our broken immigration system. Irrespective of (the Trump) announcement, that requires a bipartisan solution in Congress that reforms our legal immigration system, prevents illegal immigration and addresses the question of what to do with undocumented men, women and children already here.”

BACKGROUND

So how did we get to this point with DACA and immigration? It’s been many years in the making. Attempts to address illegal immigrants who entered this country as minors date back to as early as 2001.

In 2007, the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act was introduced in the Senate. The Act allowed for a process by which qualifying alien minors would first be granted conditional residency. Eventually, by meeting further qualifications, permanent residency status could be obtained. It failed to be brought up in debate for lack of a filibuster-proof 60 votes. In 2009, it was reintroduced in both the Senate and House, and provided for qualifying immigrants who were between the ages of 12 and 35 at the time of enactment; who arrived in the U.S. before 16 years of age; resided continuously in the U.S. for five years; graduated from high school or obtained a GED; and were of good moral character. The bill continued debate into 2010 when the House passed a version, but the bill again failed to reach the 60-vote threshold in the Senate. Unsuccessful attempts were made in 2011 as well.

As a result of Congress’ inability to pass legislation, the Obama administration by executive order implemented the policy position of DACA in June 2012.
In 2013, the U.S. Senate’s “Gang of Eight” passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate. In 2014, the House indicated it had the votes to pass the bill. However, when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary election, House Speaker John Boehner announced that the House would not bring the bill to a vote. As a result, President Obama promised to fix the immigration system as much as possible on his own without Congress and attempted to expand DACA to include the parents (known as DAPA) of these minors. In a memorandum to ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), aliens without criminal histories were to be made the lowest priority and that illegal immigrants who are the parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents were to be granted deferred action.

Subsequently, the Texas attorney general – joined by 25 other Republican-led states, including Indiana – sued in federal court in Texas to prevent implementation of the expansion. The case eventually worked its way to the U.S. Supreme Court and in June of 2016, a deadlocked 4-4 decision stated that: “The judgement is affirmed by an equally divided court.”  The ruling set no precedent and simply left in place the lower court’s preliminary injunction blocking the program.

Earlier this summer, on June 15, 2017, then Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly signed a memo rescinding DAPA. At that time, it was clarified that the memo did not include DACA and the Trump administration had not decided on whether it would keep that policy in place.

Which brings us to action last week on September 5. Attorney generals from nine states – led by Texas – notified the Justice Department that they would amend the current DAPA lawsuit to include DACA if executive action wasn’t taken by September 5 to phase it out, which prompted the announcement by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session.

Bachelors (Degrees) Dominate In This State

In the Indiana Vision 2025 Report Card released earlier this summer, Massachusetts led the way in percentage of the population with at least a bachelor’s degree. That’s not too surprising considering the prevalence of higher education institutions in the Boston area and the state’s entrepreneurial, tech-based economy.

(Indiana, by the way, was 39th in the 2015 statistics with 26.7% of resident possessing at least a four-year degree).

The update, according to a report from the independent Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center:

Half of all workers in Massachusetts held a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2016, marking the first time any U.S. state has reached that educational threshold.

The same analysis points to a growing wage chasm in the state, with the college-educated earning on average 99% – or nearly double – the wages of those in the labor force with only a high school education. That difference, often referred to as the “college wage premium,” was 56.6% across the entire nation in 2016.

In Massachusetts, 50.2% of individuals participating in the state’s labor force had attained at minimum a four-year degree from a college or university in 2016. The next highest states were New Jersey (45.2%), New York (43.7%), Maryland (43%) and Connecticut (42.7%), according to the Current Population Survey data. The U.S. average was 35.5% in 2016.

The numbers point to a dramatic shift in recent decades. In 1979, only about 20% of the Massachusetts labor force had bachelor’s degrees, and the college wage premium was 50%.

Judge Strikes Down Obama-Era Federal Overtime Rules

A federal judge in Texas last week struck down an Obama-era federal rule on overtime pay that would have added to the regulatory burden and increased the salary threshold for overtime-eligible workers – thus increasing employers’ labor costs.

The rule would have made about 4 million people eligible for overtime that were not previously eligible and would have impacted the “white collar exemption” of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Mike Ripley, Indiana Chamber vice president of health care and employment law policy, pointed to the overreach of the previous administration’s Department of Labor (DOL) rule and that the judge’s decision makes way for more reasonable agreement and discussion between employers and the DOL.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue released this statement about the judge’s decision:

“(The) decision is another victory for the effort to free our economy from the regulatory stranglehold of the last eight years. We have consistently said that the last administration went too far in its 2016 ­overtime rule, and we are pleased that Judge Mazzant granted a final judgment that makes permanent his previous ruling against the overtime rule.

“This means that small businesses, nonprofits, and other employers throughout the economy can be certain that the 2016 salary threshold will not result in significant new labor costs and cause many disruptions in how work gets done. The Obama administration’s rule would have resulted in salaried professional employees being converted to hourly wages, reduced workplace flexibility and remote electronic access to work, and halted opportunities for career advancement. 

“We look forward to working with the Department of Labor on a new rule to develop a more appropriate update to the salary threshold.”

A coalition of national and local business groups challenged the rule in 2016 and the Indiana Attorney General’s office filed on behalf of the state of Indiana.

The Department of Justice this week dropped an appeal to save the rule after the judge’s decision.

New Training Grants for Employers Now Available

The Indiana Chamber has been strongly encouraging our state government leaders to take bold action to address Indiana’s current and future workforce needs – a significant concern for many of our members.

We’re pleased to see Gov. Holcomb’s recent rollout of the Next Level Jobs initiative, which will help to further ensure employees have the skills needed to compete in the 21st century workforce.

What does this mean for your business?

Employer Training Grants are available! Employers in high-demand business sectors can be reimbursed up to $2,500 for each new employee that is trained, hired and retained for six months.

• Your employees can also take advantage of Workforce Ready Grants and access free education opportunities to help sharpen their skill set for the changing workforce.

Let us know if you need assistance in navigating these opportunities.