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Highlights—October 12, 2013

  • Dice: Justice Department Hits IBM Over H-1B Hiring Practices. By Dawn Kawamoto. Excerpts: IBM reached a settlement with Department of Justice over allegations it discriminated against U.S. software and apps developers by favoring job applicants who held H-1B visas or foreign student visas, according to a statement by the Department of Justice on Friday.

    The Justice Department hit IBM for allegedly violating the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act, when it posted online job openings for software and apps developers.

    In the job postings, IBM allegedly stated a preference for F-1 and H-1B visa holders. F-1 visas are issued to foreign students and H-1B visas to foreign nationals with technical experience in a specialized field. ...

    IBM Case Doesn’t Help H-1B Reform Efforts. The IBM settlement comes at a time when the nation is locked in political debate over immigration reform, which has also drawn in legislative efforts to increase the statutory cap for H-1B visa petitions beyond their current 65,000 visas a year.

    Selected reader comments follow:

    • I sent my resume for a mid-level job. I sent a cover letter, applied on IBM’s website, and got an email stating “Thank you, but we are considering other applicants who more closely match our requirements.” I then changed the name of my resume to ‘Khan Noonyen Singh’ – any Trekkie out there? Apparently not at IBM. Now, I gave ol’ Khan a new email address, but kept my address and cell phone number on the resume, and except for changing his service from the U.S. military to the Indian one, made no other changes in either my academic or work histories including keeping the dates the same.

      Over a three month period, Khan got six calls on my phone, and twelve emails from IBM. They wanted HIM, and not ME. Like I said, I changed only the ethnicity of the applicant, and the skills were the same. So, when it comes to me applying for IBM again, I just have to say “Beam me up Scotty, there’s no intelligent life at IBM”

    • IBM consulting is the biggest cheater. They bring in consultants for two weeks (of course without telling them) and let them go at the end of two weeks. They do lot of shady practices through their preferred vendors such as RES. IBM should be punished like hell.
    • A more meaningful penalty would have barred IBM from federal contracts for a year. As it is, this is not even a slap on the wrist.
    • IBM has morphed into a shell company for punishing customers who think they can save money by off-shoring and outsourcing. The sad part is they now make more from failed contracts that follow the letter of specifications than by solving customer problems.
    • $44,000 is a drop in the bucket and not even a slap on the wrist to IBM ! The Justice Department is blind to the many faults of IBM. This is a perfect example of big business in bed with the Federal government. A $4 million dollar fine would have been more appropriate and a warning to IBM and other companies like HP and Microsoft who flagrantly flaunt the law, outsource US jobs, discriminate against US residents and act as though they are a law unto themselves. Mind you, most of this happened in IBM on Sam Palmisano’s and Ginny Rometty’s watch (as VP of GBS), so this is where the blame lies.
    • By the way the title should be “Justice Department Condones IBM’s H1B Hiring Practices”.
    • IBM always “settles”. They never get penalized like a smaller business would. If you trace their research and their connections to the federal government back you will understand why that is and why it will always be.
    • I’ve been commenting on this trend for years. I am a Fed contractor working in IT. I am dumbfounded at the number of 1st generation foreigners we have working in our Federal IT space these days. I’ve seen the influx over the past 18 years, ever since Clinton. We’re talking national security systems, systems that process our government finances, IRS systems loaded with Personally Identifiably Information (PII), control systems, etc., etc. All of these are being designed, operated, and maintained by H1-B visa holders.

      Anyone who claims there is a shortage of IT professionals of US descent is lying, outright lying, to us. It’s all about the money. Experienced American IT folks expect to earn between $60K – $90K for most positions; H1-B visa holders will do the same jobs for about $35K – $55K. Companies know this, then lobby the pols to loosen the restrictions so that they can save even more in payroll expenses. This is treason in my opinion.

    • Duh. Those of us working in the software field have been aware of this for a long time. I’ve been told flat out that I have to lower my contract rate to compete with H1Bs. One place I worked recently actually purposely kept their code dumbed-down so they could keep hire H1Bs to maintain it. I was told this by a manager when I offered to refactor some truly horrible code.

      Back in 2009, I saw a posting for a job that was completely perfect for me. I had everything in the job description and it was even located right in my town. I sent my resume and never even got a response. The job posting had that little notice about how it was a mandatory posting because of having an H1B they wanted to hire. By law, they should have at least brought me in for an interview. This goes on all the time.

      I always find it strange that the only contract agencies I ever hear from with regards to IBM are Indian agencies. It’s kind of funny, because I get a lot of calls from these guys because my first name is actually quite similar to Indian names. It’s kind of funny how those guys always have that weird pause when they first speak to me and realize I’m not Indian.

      The H1B program needs to be severely restricted. We have high unemployment here – granted, not as high in the IT fields as in others – but we still don’t need to be bringing in foreign workers when US citizens are unemployed. The fine for IBM here is laughable. Nothing will change the practices at these companies until the penalties for doing so are substantial enough. I guess all we can do is keep reporting incidents and pushing our politicians to actually help us citizens for a change.

  • The Register: Judge smites IBM's anti-Amazon cloud campaign. Big Blue's bid to freeze Bezos & Co out of contract struck down in court. By Jack Clark. Excerpts: Amazon's attempt to muscle in on IBM's territory and grab a slice of oh-so-lucrative government cloud workloads took a step forward on Monday after a Federal Judge ruled in favor of Bezos & Co.

    The ruling by Judge Thomas Wheeler was published on Pacer on Monday, and could torpedo IBM's attempt to knock the Amazon Web Services technology out of consideration for a $600m contract to build a spy cloud for the CIA.

    Wheeler's ruling is the culmination of a dispute that has been going on since February, this year, and has big implications for Amazon, and poses a major cause for concern to the folks that run IBM's cloud business.

    Amazon was awarded the strategically important contract to build a private cloud for the CIA in February, but IBM disputed the win, claiming the evaluation hadn't been fully above board. ...

    Though Amazon's original bid came in over 50 per cent higher in price that IBM's original bid ($148m a year, versus IBM's $94m), Federal evaluators thought Bezos & Co's cloud was far superior to the IBM offering, classing it as a "superior technical solution".

    Selected reader comments follow:

    • Using the excuse "IBM has for decades supplied the government with proven mission-critical operations. The company remains committed to provide secure, reliable and robust cloud solutions to federal agencies"

      Or they could have said "IBM has for decades supplied the government with seats on it's board for people who backed our bids. The company remains committed to provide secure, reliable and robust board positions to federal agencies heads when they retire."

    • So IBM will now have to pay for...
      1. Mindlessly slashing costs in the mistaken belief that customers ONLY care about price. Amazon won on a HIGHER priced because their solution was judged to be better.
      2. The mistaken belief that 'technical' work should be totally outsourced to far away places with no focus on driving their brightest onto interesting things that push technology forward (no, those interesting 'R&D' roles are reserved for PhD types who are busy banging out patents). Once Amazon was done using its smart engineers to build a book store it put them to work to innovate cloud hosting and they've done a remarkable job. IBM could never match this; they resource people in the belief that technical resources are just like cheap manual labour—undifferentiated and easily replaceable.

      Unfortunately, in places like IBM where the bean counters are entrenched—they're often the last ones to go after all the useful people have been fired/rebalanced /off-shored.

    • IBM's proposal may have been cheaper but did they include the typical cost over runs?
  • Computerworld: IBM buys e-commerce tool maker Xtify. Xtify will allow IBM customers to stay on top of new mobile and Web marketing channels. By Joab Jackson. Excerpt: IBM will fold Xtify's software into the company's Smarter Commerce line of digital marketing software and services. IBM is hoping to serve the growing market in mobile payment transactions. Gartner estimates that $235.4 billion in mobile payments will be transacted in 2013, up 44% from 2012.
  • Forbes: Midway Through $20 Billion Buying Spree, IBM Says Deals Are Paying Off. By Alex Konrad. Excerpts: IBM's now about halfway through a five-year $20 billion acquisition binge, which has run from small startups like newly-acquired Xtify to major pick-ups like the summer’s $2 billion move for cloud infrastructure company SoftLayer. With another earnings report just days away, IBM is now seeking to show that the investments are paying off. ...

    Analysts are mixed on whether IBM’s built out a difference-maker from the new buys. In an update Thurs., Trefis said it expected the company to improve on its 3% decline in year-to-year revenue last quarter due in large part to its Smarter Planet and Cloud units, the two seeing major investment. And in June, Jefferies put faith in IBM’s shift in focus away from its hardware and server business. ...

    Some parts of the company’s refocus will also be less positive, like the “workforce rebalancing” that has led to some layoffs and the recent furloughing of many U.S. employees. The company’s also offloaded some legacy units piecemeal. ...

    IBM’s got plenty more cash though, with about half its $20 billion budget remaining to add to the $6 billion its spent on cloud and the $3.5 billion for Smarter Commerce tools. It had about $18 billion in cash on hand throughout last year, finishing the year with $11.1 billion.

    That means more acquisitions are coming down the pipeline. IBM’s cloud and commerce unit chiefs say SoftLayer is one of the “largest building blocks” to come in, but that more steps will come to maintain the momentum toward 2015. To those who wonder if IBM has a coherent plan, Quan and Henderson say that the road map is real, on schedule, and the position for a while has been “very clear.”

  • New York Post: IBM now employs more workers in India than US. By John Aidan Byrne. The sun is rising in India for America’s outsourced jobs. But it’s a bad sign for New York’s dwindling middle-class workforce, say labor analysts.

    New York’s labor markets are in convulsions as American employers ship more well-paid jobs to lower-cost countries like Mexico, the Philippines, China and India — where IBM, culling 747 jobs from the Empire State, has achieved landmark status. It now employs more workers in India than in the US, according to a leaked IBM document reviewed by The Post. The average IBM pay in India is $17,000, compared with $100,000 for a senior IT specialist in the US.

    Big Blue’s eradication of these New York jobs in the Hudson Valley — part of a brutal package of 3,300 IBM cuts in North America — is the latest sign by US employers of growing their bottom line by replacing higher-cost labor with cheaper workers abroad, labor analysts say. ...

    Lee Conrad, national coordinator in New York for a small group of union-affiliated IBM workers, said his group uncovered the latest local IBM cuts. IBM has stopped reporting head count by location in recent years.

    The reason? “Frankly,” Conrad told The Post, “IBM doesn’t want the governors of the states that have given them handouts and tax breaks to know IBM has pretty much dismantled their local workforces.” IBM has outsourced jobs not only to India but also to Mexico, the Philippines and other lower-cost locations.

  • FCW: IBM seeks stay on court's ruling over CIA contract. By Frank Konkel. Excerpts: IBM is trying to ensure that Amazon Web Services' latest triumph in the battle to build the CIA's cloud computing infrastructure is short-lived. Big Blue filed a motion to stop the immediate resumption of work by AWS that was made possible by U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Thomas Wheeler's Oct. 7 ruling overturning a decision by the Government Accountability Office to sustain a June bid protest by IBM over a $600 million contract the CIA awarded to AWS in early 2013. ...

    IBM's move is not surprising considering the magnitude of the CIA's effort to develop an internal private cloud infrastructure for the entire intelligence community. It's a major deal in financial scope – up to $600 million over four years – and clout in cloud computing.

  • Glassdoor IBM reviews. Selected reviews follow:
    • Bureaucracy and boredom” Anonymous Employee (Current Employee), Rome (Italy). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: (Very very relative) Job safety, regardless of one's commitment, competency etc. Cons: Bureaucracy, boredom, incompetency, many local cabals fighting for (very little) power, a long way from the real business world. And an overall arrogant attitude towards customers and employees. Advice to Senior Management: Impossible to reform. The reasons why the Company hasn't died yet do not belong to mere market considerations. Hence, go on like that. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • Work, work, work no life” Contracts (Former Employee), Dallas, TX. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 3 years. Pros: Up-to-date technology and employees are forced to learn how to manage and resolve their own computer issues. Cons: No work-life balance. Allowed to work from home as long as the computer is on 24/7. Advice to Senior Management: The company is too large. Advice for management will be mute. Manager decisions are made by upper management. Mid-level managers have no control. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Once a great, formidable company, but not any more.” Client Technical Specialist (Current Employee), London, England (UK). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Have worked here for more than 27 years, so I know what I'm talking about. I've been very successful here. Company name opens doors. People rally round when the chips are down. Work at home or in the office, very flexible. Cons: Lack of empowerment at junior management levels. Absolute belief that if a product is useless it can be made effective by saying it is so. Career advancement depends on playing the game, getting your face "known" and this is rated far, far higher than actual technical ability. Personal objectives meaningless and not set until around a third of the way through the year. The US corporation shafted an entire generation of IBMers over pensions. Advice to Senior Management: Stop the bean counting and look to the future. Even a year ahead would be good. OK, how about more than a calendar quarter in advance then? No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Opportunity to work with some of the most accomplished people in industry, good work-life balance” Hardware Engineer (Current Employee), Poughkeepsie, NY. I have been working at IBM full-time for less than a year. Pros: Competitive compensation. Flexible hours, depending. Brilliant coworkers, some of the best in their field. Poughkeepsie is a great place to live. Cons: Regular layoffs, lack of job security due to restructuring. Cutting small office perks like coffee. Advice to Senior Management: Don't cut benefits like sponsoring further education back. It will hinder efforts to keep recruiting the best candidates. Consider employee quality of life before making cuts; it's not just a numbers game. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • No Frills - IBM is the world we live in.” Architect (Current Employee), Warwick, West Midlands, England (UK). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 5 years. Pros: - Talented people. - Truth-worthy. - IBM culture and the people that are here are very consistent. - Has breadth and depth in terms of industry sectors IBM operates in and range of work (services, software and hardware). - You can leave a very well rounded person. - Job security. Cons: - Average pay and very average benefits. - Poor bonus scheme. - Experienced people are not valued. The technical experienced persons must become salesman or be ill treated and leave eventually. - Struggle to communicate all the range of things going on across the company. Advice to Senior Management: It's the workers on the ground that actually generate revenue for IBM. We are primarily a people/brain power business. This is what we sell. They need to be managed far better in terms of end of year ratings, remuneration, bonus and benefits. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Satisfying” Architect (Former Employee), Murfreesboro, TN. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 5 years. Pros: It was great to get to work from home. I enjoyed traveling most every week and all the time I was able to spend in Boulder. The pay was very fair. If I ever had the chance I would probably go back and work for them again. Cons: Always being worried about being laid off. The constant manager turnover was not good; I had more managers than the years I was employed. Advice to Senior Management: In the 7 years I was there I had 8 managers. Too much management turnover. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • Work environment and learning opportunity” Marketing Manager (Former Employee), Austin, TX. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Great work environment. Excellent learning opportunity. Cons: Working in multiple time zones can sometimes be challenging but professionally rewarding. Advice to Senior Management: Great strategy of software acquisitions. Keep continuing to buy good software companies. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Worst company for Graduate Hires” Applications Developer (Current Employee), Pune (India). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: No reason/pros found yet to work here. Cons: 1) 90% employees on a project are work less, only 10% working. 2) Poor growth, poor learning opportunities. 3) Your aspirations are never valued. 4) No support from seniors. 5) Difficult to express your area of interest. Advice to Senior Management: Please take care of the career aspirations of individuals who are working here with some fixed goal in their mind. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Managers of everything, masters at few” Level 10 Software Consultant (Current Employee), Tampa, FL. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: For some reason still has strong market presence, name recognition. Cons: Solutions are average; reporting structure very weak; over-managed, over-regulated, and poor benefits package. Too may re-orgs every 4 months; can't seem to get organized with a plan. A totally micro-managed company. Advice to Senior Management: Put in managers that can inspire their team, and aren't just paper pushers. Don't promote from within just because someone is breathing. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • An incredible company with a forward-looking vision lead by an enigmatic CEO” Smarter Commerce (Current Employee). London, England (UK). I I have been working at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: Professional development. Great benefits. Exciting clients. Opportunities to get involved in research and innovation. Great social collaboration. Restless innovation. Cons: Large company. Perceived to only deal with larger clients and larger deals (but not true). Great for people who are motivated to manage their own career. Advice to Senior Management: Embrace the fast-paced change. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Not good since 2012” Anonymous Employee (Current Employee). Pros: Good place to stay if you are c level. Cons: Pay isn't competitive; cares about revenue but not employees. Advice to Senior Management: Simplify the focus to only a few things. Revenue isn't more important than good employees. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • It was a job at least” Malware Defense (Former Employee), Dubuque, IA. I worked at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: I have none really. I needed a pay check and they provided one; really is all. Cons: Took advantage of falling economy to encourage people to move at their own expense with little pay. Nothing at all worthwhile in Dubuque, Iowa. The locals take advantage of IBM employees because they think we get paid normal IT wages. LEAN methodology is worthless in most service lines. Advice to Senior Management: Unfortunately I have none as it seems way too far beyond the point of no return for the management team in Global Services. Egos of the power-hungry executives have taken this division of IBM way too far into the hole. The only reason Global Services exists is because it's used when IBM (omitted ethnic slur) over another company and forces them into using the worthless service that will only result in more debt being owed to IBM finance. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • Gigantic company with more promises than it can deliver, slow moving and old fashioned” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee). I worked at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: Stable, learning different perspective as each project involves many teams from various organizations. Cons: Red tapes everywhere, process driven rather than customer/market driven. Hard to feel appreciated. Advice to Senior Management: Simplifying the processes, focusing on empowering people and customer needs. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • Good Company Poor Project Management” Senior Consultant (Former Employee), Houston, TX. I worked at IBM full-time for less than a year. Pros: Lots of projects; good learning opportunity; better growth prospective. Cons: Definitely not true if we look at overall company, but here is what experienced in my one project with IBM: - Poor project planning; Unnecessary call for weekend work; Poor work-life balance. Advice to Senior Management: Project status might be green only on paper but not in reality. I will suggest upper management to be more diligence when reviewing this kind of reports. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • 100 years of changing the world” Project Executive (Current Employee). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 5 years. Pros: Anything can be done at Big Blue and you will meet and work with the talent that shows it. Cons: Newer hires frequently lack the IBM gene; outside hires not bleeding blue. Advice to Senior Management: Sell Cadillac solutions and make clients pay for them. If they don't want a Cadillac solution, let them go to a lesser vendor. We don't want their business. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • IBM Navi Mumbai is worst place to work” Senior Project Manager (Former Employee), Mumbai (India). I worked at IBM full-time for less than a year. Pros: Not found any pros to work here till date. Cons: HR has recruited large number of employees by hiding lots of information; false promise by managers. No work life balance; bad culture; employees are just resource for management; no training for career growth; freshers are mentally harnessed by leads. Even putting 14-15 hours at work, no appreciation. NO WORK-LIFE BALANCE. Managers put extreme burden on employees as they can't afford to hire needed employees. No transport; bad canteen facility; no coffee machines! Political managers; daily avg 14-15 hours work. No on-site opportunities. You will not find any single employee with job satisfaction here. Useless processes. Advice to Senior Management: Not sure whether IBM is aware about such pathetic work environment over here but they have to improve company culture, facilities, pay packages, training to consider employee value. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Once stop shop for almost any career” Anonymous Employee (Current Employee), Tel Aviv-Yafo (Israel). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 3 years. Pros: Huge company, with an amazing number of career opportunities. Great work-life balance, Excellent entry compensation. Fun, nice and intelligent co-workers. Cons: Salary raises are minor. Middle management is not always best suited for the job. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Very stressful deadlines.” IT Consultant (Former Employee), Raleigh, NC. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Met some great people there. Advancement and pay were great until the bubble burst. Cons: Asked to make deadlines equivalent to asking a women to have a baby in 3 months instead of 9. Started sending all the jobs oversees which has left tons of people unemployed after years of dedication to the company. Advice to Senior Management: Make more realistic deadlines when creating a project plan. Pay attention to moral. Sometimes "cheap" labor" will give you less than par performance. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
  • Glassdoor IBM Canada reviews
  • Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert. This week's headlines:
    • Seniors’ Issues Front and Center in Government Shutdown, Debt Ceiling Talks
    • More than Two Dozen House Republicans Open to a Clean Government Funding Bill
    • Gerrymandering Has Made the Tea Party Stronger
    • Early Voting for Cincinnati Pension Issue Has Begun
    • Pennsylvania Alliance Holds Its Convention in Grantville, PA
  • Thompson Information Services: Taking COBRA or Exchange Coverage: Impact on the Health Care Reform Subsidy. Excerpts: Earlier this month, health insurance exchanges (also known as marketplaces) under the Affordable Care Act were launched, giving consumers — including COBRA qualified beneficiaries — new coverage options. Because qualified beneficiaries may come to employers with questions about enrolling in COBRA versus exchange coverage, here are some key issues to keep in mind.

    The key question is: When may an individual change from COBRA coverage to marketplace coverage, and how might the individual’s eligibility for a subsidy (which will help defray the cost of marketplace coverage) be affected? In other words, once COBRA coverage is elected, may the individual drop COBRA at any time and enroll in subsidized coverage through a marketplace, or must the individual either exhaust COBRA or wait for a marketplace open enrollment period? The answer is not entirely clear.

  • Associated Press, courtesy of Yahoo! Finance: Aon Hewitt sees shift to high-deductible plans. Aon Hewitt predicts that more employers will offer high-deductible health insurance. By Tom Murphy. Excerpts: More workers at big U.S. companies will likely start paying a greater share of their doctor's bill because of a health insurance shift forecast by benefits consultant Aon Hewitt.

    Consumer-directed health plans, or CDHPs, could become the most common form of coverage offered by companies with 500 or more workers in the next three to five years, Aon Hewitt said Wednesday, as companies continue trying to cut health-care costs.

    Under these plans, a smaller amount is usually taken out of employees' paychecks for insurance. But the plans come with a deductible that can top $2,000 and must be paid before most coverage starts. That means a bill for more than $100 could replace the $20 co-payment the worker is used to after a doctor's office visit.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Preventive Services in 2014 IBM FHA Plans" by "bzzaround". Full excerpt: Will the ACA change how preventive services are charged within the plans IBM offers to pre-65 retirees that have FHA accounts in 2014? Will co-pays, not subject to deductible, still be what is offered because these plans are 'grandfathered' or will preventive services be 'free'? Scheduling a colonoscopy and didn't know if it would be beneficial to wait until early next year. Bob.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Preventive Services in 2014 IBM FHA Plans" by "Sheila". Full excerpt: For anyone not on Medicare, I would wait till 2014 unless you are having some problems that might need a more rapid diagnosis. "The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires private health insurers to cover recommended preventive services such as colonoscopies without any patient cost-sharing. This report finds that confusion over whether colon cancer screenings are preventive care or treatment means patients sometimes receive unexpected bills for the procedure. The report examines cost-sharing practices for colorectal screenings through interviews with experts and officials in the medical and insurance industries."

    Although the colonoscopy might be free, any biopsies/treatment if something is found would not be free. http://kff.org/health-costs/report/coverage-of-colonoscopies-under-the-affordable-care/

  • The Oregonian: Medicare 2013: How health reform lurks behind the scenes of your plan. By Brent Hunsberger. Excerpts: With all the talk about health reform, some seniors – worried about changes to Medicare – have understandably wanted to take some sort of pill.

    Let’s put you at ease right up front. The new health exchange has nothing to do with the open enrollment period that comes along every year at this time for Medicare managed care and drug plans. ...

    Yet health reform is, in fact, lurking behind the scenes to shape Medicare health coverage and rates.

    Thanks to the Affordable Care Act of 2010, Medicare benefits will be slightly enhanced in 2014. You’ll pay less for mental health visits and slightly less for generic drugs in the so-called donut hole.

    Monthly premiums for Medicare Advantage plans are rising only modestly this year, for most. And insurers increasingly appear to be pushing free, preventive wellness visits, partly because they stand to gain financially in the very near future, experts say. ...

    Yet some Medicare Advantage providers are coping with rising costs – some they say are imposed by health reform – by boosting out-of-pocket maximums and co-pays. There could be other changes in your plan, too, such as fewer covered medications. ...

    Seniors with stand-alone drug plans, called Part D, stand to see the most significant cost increases. Half of the 10 largest plans nationwide are imposing double-digit percent increases in monthly premiums, according to Avalere Health, a consulting firm in Washington, D.C.

News and Comments Concerning ExtendHealth (New Medical Plan for Medicare-Eligible IBM Retirees)
  • IBM Medicare Blogspot: IBM Medicare (www.extendhealth.com/ibm) IBM CHANGED THE RULES!!!! Part D insurance qualifies for HRA subsidy. Excerpts I just got off the phone with an Extend Health agent. I was asking questions (of course) and one was pertaining to changing a plan in the middle of the year (Medicare allows a one time change to a 5 star plan if you have one in your zip code) at which point he said - oh, we just got an email this morning from IBM. They changed the requirements for HRA subsidy access. You can access your HRA as long as you have either a medical plan OR a drug plan that was purchased through Extend Health.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "AARP Membership, and Observations 10/6/2013" by "John". Full excerpt: First of all, while everyone refers to the AARP plan, it is really UnitedHealthcare, that is the insurer, NOT AARP.

    It is also my understanding that to make use of the HRA subsidy, $3000 or $3500, the plans must be purchased through ExtendHealth; go outside of EH and you are out of luck. Just like today, if you go outside to buy Part D Rx, because Aetna Integration Plan A & B does not include Rx, you don't expect reimbursement for the monthly premium, deductibles, co-pays.

    As for the $3000 subsidy, and the reduced amount, if you opt for the joint and survivor coverage (somewhere between $2300-$2400), wherein spouse can use the subsidy at 50%, ($1150-$1200), that would seem not worth it since you are giving up $600-$700 up front every year, and that is money saved by IBM!! So it is a gamble, as to who outlives whom. If you live say 20 years more, the spouse would have to live 10 years beyond that, just to break even!

    With EH, as with Medicare, all plans are individual, so make sure you cover the spouse! The prior IBM plans were group plans, not individual. Anyway, I do not believe IBM ever covered the spouse (or dependent), for the subsidy under the old plans; Just look at the difference in rates, for self, vs. self + 1, and you will find the +1 had a significant multiplier when compared to self.

    One interesting thing, for those who retired on Jan. 1, 1997, or later, you could apply to get reimbursed for the Part B medical, monthly premium. So that becomes a 'benefit'; of course the $3000 subsidy, does not go too far. For those retired before Jan. 1, 1997, there was the SHAP reimbursement of up to $900; but the way the Rhee lettered; "it will continue for 2014"; it could very well disappear after that. Originally, the $900 was almost sufficient for self + spouse; now it is not even sufficient for self ($104.90x12).

    REMEMBER this statement from the About Your Company book way back when: IBM reserves the right to change, amend, terminate, any plan or benefit without prior notice.

    In my case, I do not see an AARP option in my selection. When I called EH, I was advised to wait until October 15, as NOT everything is loaded onto the EH website, so EH rescheduled my appointment to November.

    As I see it, the only way retirees, etc. can benefit from the changes, is to stay healthy, go to a Medicare Advantage Part C plan, with no monthly premiums, use doctors that have little or minimal co-pays, don't get sick and wind up in a hospital.

    When you add up the Part B medical of $104.90 minimum, Medigap premiums, the deductibles, the co-pays, and Dental and Vision coverage, and multiply by 2, if there is a spouse to cover, that $3000 subsidy or less, does NOT go too far.

    But, of course, IBM would say, "it was never their intent to pay for and cover all the costs." Remember the comment back when IBM started the 401k: "It is a shared responsibility" with Social Security, defined-benefit plan, and savings was a three-legged stool and thus the 401k became the 4th leg.

    Of course, the 4-legged stool comment doesn't apply anymore, with defined benefit plan, history since year end 2007. Now, it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to manage your affairs, whether money, health, retirement, etc. Such is change.

    The IBM we all knew is history, and went out the door when full employment disappeared, and Respect for the Individual is no longer a precept!

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: is Medigap not available, if on LTD & under 65?" by Bob Sutton. Full excerpt: Let me suggest an attitude working with EH...distrust and verify.

    The basis of this recommendation is that I had an interview with EH 10/2 and signed up for an Anthem HD F plan. The plan disappeared from their site soon after so I called EH and the rep did not know why and I suggested he call Anthem and he refused and stated it was in progress and would be resolved. I subsequently called them myself and verified that the plan would not be offered in 2014.

    I then checked on my online status and it continued to show information forwarded to carrier. I waited to see the resolution status and over this weekend all indications of my sign up disappeared with zero plan in play. I therefore called EH once again this am and after some delay they verified the plan was canceled for 2014 and for some unknown reason the status was deleted.

    I then asked what is the status of a mix of 2013 and 2014 plans and why it was not flagged on the EH site and got some evasive answer so I helped the adviser with the fact that the government shutdown is delaying the government sign off for 2014 and since no end is in site we really don't know when all the 2014 plans will finally be visible on the EH site.

    Since EH is commission based by signing us up its a simple follow the money reason and they really only care about that not the quality of the advice they are giving us. Given my experience and knowing many others are getting the same level of service I suggest you adopt the above attitude to this company that we have forced to use.

    If you add the fact that many more plans are available on medicare.gov we have been shortchanged once again by IBM to be forced to use this company just to access the HRA funds IBM delegated them to perform so it can wash its hands of the entire process...nuff said.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: is Medigap not available, if on LTD & under 65?" by "suspicious_mind". Full excerpt: I really feel all of you with Oct appointments should reschedule for November to save a lot of stress. Too much is still changing. It's futile to be an early adopter on this EH thing.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: is Medigap not available, if on LTD & under 65?" by "bigbluefiredme". Full excerpt: Memo to retirees: before your EH appointment date:
    • Learn your ZIP+4
    • Price/benefit "shop" at Medicare.gov
    • Print out your fave plans from Medicare.gov
    • Go to the AARP or insurance company website and look for any marketing incentives for your plan.
    • Buy a cheapo headset for your phone, if jack is available.
    • Then, make EH appointment for November
    • Learn how to phonetically say your two-letter state abbreviation, like alpha-zebra, etc.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Re: Goodbye & Good Riddance to Aetna Integration Plan A (AIPA)" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: For those that retired before January 1, 1992 the average subsidy from IBM is capped at $7500 for pre-Medicare retirees and $3500 for Medicare retirees.

    For those that retired after that date the average subsidy from IBM is capped at $7000 for pre-Medicare retirees and $3000 for Medicare retirees.

    Then there are the FHA retirees, who do not get either subsidy, but instead have a FHA account, which may contain as little as $0 (i.e. they are not eligible to use the funds, or never had any to start with) or as much as $50,000 or so. The FHA retirees are those that were not within 5 years of retirement eligibility on July 1, 1999 when IBM rolled out the Cash Balance pension plan.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Changing Medigap providers?" by "rk4877". Full excerpt: There are not a lot of providers/plans being offered by EH—two companies in my state. The laws that allows for changing plans can result in significantly higher monthly premiums after underwriting or you can being denied. I really would love to hear from anyone who is currently insured by one company and will have to change. I don't think you can change without underwriting by the new insurer.

    Since the providers offered are the highest priced, if you are on FHA that money will run out faster and then you will be left with the highest priced options when you are paying on your own.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Changing Medigap providers?" by "jmaryf". Full excerpt: Are you suggesting that someone who has had a Medigap policy all along to supplement their IBM Medical /Prescription plan will now have difficulty switching to another Medigap plan using their HRA and will be subject to underwriting? Whereas someone who used only an in-house IBM offering can now pick up a Medigap plan for the first time and not be subject to underwriting?
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Changing Medigap providers?" by "egroups1bp". Full excerpt: It depends. If 65 or older, you can be subject to underwriting and probation periods under certain circumstances when switching plans. And under other circumstances you are not subject to underwriting and probation. You need to understand the plan you are on. These criteria and how your state (and federal) laws can affect your choices when first turning 65, and when switching after you are over 65.

    In most of our cases, we as IBM retirees 65 and over are losing our IBM in-house insurance at the end of 2013. Losing your insurance, through no fault of your own, is a special consideration so in most states you are then free to choose another plan without underwriting or probationary periods.

    But in the specific scenario we are talking about there are the retirees over 65 who do not have an in-house medical plan with IBM (but may have their drug/vision/dental in house with IBM) and they're happy with their medical plan. So now they're wondering if in 2014 EH offers the same Medical plan they've been on for 2013. Can their plan be purchased through EH in 2014 seamlessly in order to get the subsidy, and not be subject to underwriting?

    There are many different regional combinations of insurance scenarios, and it's confusing (especially when EH reps can't answer these questions).

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Changing Medigap providers?" by "rk4877". Full excerpt: To jmaryf: I currently have a Plan F with a company not represented by EH. I was in the process of signing up for a much more expensive Plan F with Humana. The EH person was asking some standard sounding questions including do you already have a Medigap plan and I said yes. He said I could not get the new plan through them if I already had Medigap without going through underwriting. He suggested I cancel my current plan so I could answer no to that question.

    I know there are rules regarding when Medigap can be purchased. I know we can all qualify to buy now because we are losing credible coverage from the Ibm plan, but I have yet to be able to determine how existing Medigap customers are handled.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Changing Medigap providers?" by "ileftibm". Full excerpt: Indeed, do we have any guarantee from EH that they will handle the same Medigap carriers next year? Are you reading this EH? Speak Up!
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Changing Medigap providers?" by "jmaryf". Full excerpt: To jmaryf. Your post is beginning to make it clear why I was told my enrollment would have to be handled by SST. When I asked what that was, I was told "special situation team". I too was asked whether I currently had a Medigap plan. When I asked whether that was a problem, the advisor said, "no, it's just handled differently."

    It had never occurred to me that during my actual enrollment I would be advised (1) to cancel my current policy, or (2) be subject to underwriting.

    I'm sure there are others in this same situation. Looks like I have to make another call to EH and hope someone there can shed light on how existing Medigap customers are handled.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Changing Medigap providers?" by "rk4877". Full excerpt: I was also sent to the special situation team-- they didn't seem to have any special information for me except that the fact that I already had a Medigap plan seemed to be the issue. I kept asking the person I was working with to go get someone with more knowledge that could clearly step me through the alternatives. They would not.

    I don't think they have a logical and legal plan for those of us with Medigap already. They in fact did recommend that I cancel my existing policy-- which seemed both absurd and high risk on many levels.

    It is not even clear who to go to to understand the alternatives here-- it does not seem to be EH. I am about to compose a letter to IBM and shoot that off to our all of the folks who told us what a great deal this is.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Changing Medigap providers?" by "jmaryf". Full excerpt: To rk4877: The IBM/EH Announcement package (the first mailing we received in September) very clearly states in bold type, page 4:
    "You are guaranteed coverage in one of the medical plans available to you, regardless of your current medical conditions, provided you enroll by December 31, 2013. Your health status will not affect the rate you pay."

    You might want to include this in your letter. It appears that the EH/IBM guarantee conflicts with state law.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Changing Medigap providers?" by "harris_berman". Full excerpt: You can change Medigap plans within the same provider as long as EH is designated as a producer for that provider.

    Otherwise, you need to obtain a NEW Medigap policy. Once that this confirmed to be issued, you can then notify the original provider that you are canceling on the effective date of the new policy. Part D plans automatically get changed by CMS so no explicit action to cancel is required on your part.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Observation: USPS Must Be Happy" by Joe Rothengast. Full excerpt: EH/IBM dropped my wife from the HRA and all I see is my $3000. What is the HRA for husband and wife when the wife is not Medicare? Thanks.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Observation: USPS Must Be Happy" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: My understanding is that the $3000 is all you will get. The employee gets the subsidy. The spouse gets nothing. Your wife will be able to purchase a normal IBM non-Medicare insurance plan through the Fidelity web site when enrollment for that begins around the end of October/early November. She will have to pay the full list price (with no subsidy).

    You can then use your HRA money to pay your Medigap premiums and/or submit bills for your wife's premiums and get reimbursed. My guess is the HRA money won't cover the total amount, but how far it goes will depend on what plans are available in your area and which of those you chose.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Observation: USPS Must Be Happy" by "redrock_5432". Full excerpt: madinpok said: You can then use your HRA money to pay your Medigap premiums and/or submit bills for your wife's premiums and get reimbursed.

    Mad, see underlined phrase above starting with 'submit'. This was in the context of a non-Medicare wife/spouse. Where did you find this statement, I have been looking for this from IBM and EH and have been unsuccessful. thanks.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Observation: USPS Must Be Happy" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: ...or submit bills for your wife's premiums and get reimbursed. With Extend Health, you will pay the premiums for all of your Medicare insurance directly to the insurance company you select. IBM will not be deducting this money from your pension check anymore. Then, you will need to submit the bills as claims to Extend Health, and they will reimburse you from the HRA.

    Other valid medical expenses can also be submitted. This includes premiums for insurance that you don't buy through EH. Presumably, the premiums for a non-Medicare spouse qualify as valid medical expenses.

    The process for submitting claims was shown in the presentation material that EH used at various IBM locations. You can download a copy here: https://www.extendhealth.com/documents/ibm%20deck%20website%20version%2023aug2013.pdf.

    See page 27 for the process and page 28 for a copy of the claim form.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Observation: USPS Must Be Happy" by "older_bassman". Full excerpt: If the spouse is on a non-Medicare policy the $3000 will not cover much as the plan rates, while somewhat different based on location, have run roughly $550-$850 per month over the past couple of years.

    I received a letter that indicated those of us that are not on Medicare will receive our packages in November. This is a real issue as my wife's open enrollment is Oct 1 through Oct 31 and IBM's delay means I can't include my wife's plan when comparing IBM and ACA exchanges. When I called Fidelity they claim we will see it in October so keeping my fingers crossed.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Observation: USPS Must Be Happy" by Wayne E Frye. Full excerpt: After I became Medicare eligible, I put my spouse who is non Medicare eligible on IBM's Medicare supplement plan that has no drug benefit and was basically an 80/20 plan for no premium cost to me. This is a United Health Care plan and I can't believe that IBM was underwriting the cost of this plan at over 3K which is what my HRA subsidy from IBM will be for 2014. Hopefully I'll be able to use that money to offset the cost of my wife's plan. That also will depend on what E/H allow me to do to cover her and still be able to get the 3K. I think I have the understanding of how this will work right.

    Guess I should call E/H and present this scenario to them to see where it will all fall. Fortunately she too will become Medicare eligible this year.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Observation: USPS Must Be Happy" by "Gary L". Full excerpt: Just spoke to EH. My wife is also NOT Medicare eligible. The funds in the HRA account cannot be used for her health costs. They can only be used for the person that is registered with Extend Health.

    So we will be paying whatever IBM charges for the group policy for our spouses until they are eligible for Medicare

    At that time the $3000 will be used for both of us under Extend Care. Gary.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Observation: USPS Must Be Happy" by Wayne E Frye. Full excerpt: She was registered under the old IBM Medicare Supplement after I went on Medicare so why has that changed now? Or has it? Something doesn't sound right with this.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Observation: USPS Must Be Happy" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: I think Extend Health is giving you incorrect information. According to IRS Publication 969, "Reimbursements under an HRA can be made to the following persons: Current and former employees; Spouses and dependents of those employees." http://www.irs.gov/publications/p969/ar02.html#en_US_2012_publink1000204194
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Observation: USPS Must Be Happy" by Wayne E Frye. Full excerpt: Thanks for clearing this up but E/H needs to be brought on board with this.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Observation: USPS Must Be Happy" by "Gary L". Full excerpt: Guess I will try EH again and give them this information. On page 7 of the IBM Extend Health booklet we received in the mail some time back, under Eligible Expenses for HRA it states:
    You can use your HRA to reimburse yourself and your eligible dependents (as long as they also elect coverage in a medical plan through Extend Health)...

    Since a non-Medicare eligible spouse does not use Extend Health I don't see how I can get reimbursed for her costs and therefore I need to use the full $3000 for me.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Observation: USPS Must Be Happy" by "chz_whiz". Full excerpt: Madinpok, I really hope you’re right that a pre-Medicare IBM insured spouse can use the retiree HRA, or in my case, that a pre-Medicare non-IBM insured (insured thru own employer) can use the retiree HRA. But I haven’t seen any clear documentation from Extend Health or IBM on what can qualify. There’s a huge difference in the IRS pubs between “Can” and “Has to.”

    Your IRS quote says an HRA “can” be used for spouse expense reimbursement. Same publication says year-end HRA balance “can” be rolled over to following year, but we know IBM decided not to.

    This is probably defined in the SPD and Plan Documents, but as far as I know, they haven’t been released yet, and may not have even been finalized.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Medigap plans offered by EH" by "clpolixa2". Full excerpt: Does anyone know if we can have another Medigap plan other than the ones offered by EH? There are 10 Medigap plans offered by lots more companies than the few listed. Has EH ever answered this question?

    A SHIP volunteer counselor suggested Plan K to meet our needs, offered by AARP at a reasonable cost.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: Medigap plans offered by EH" by "gfretwell2000". Full excerpt: This is the question I had a week ago. I understand if you want automatic reimbursement from your HRA you need to go with an EH plan but if you are willing to do the paperwork yourself it seems unclear and I am not even sure I would trust EH to give the correct answer. They only tell you what they were told to say to you.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Medigap plans offered by EH" by "chz_whiz". Full excerpt: It doesn't clarify everything, but they've said if you get a Medicare plan without going thru EH you lose the HRA.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Medigap plans offered by EH"by "gfretwell2000". Full excerpt: The thing that is unclear is that if I get some kind of coverage from EH, can I use my HRA for other medical coverage? i.e. I buy one of the medical plans for me. Can I use the HRA for a non EH dental plan for me? Can I use it for another procedure not covered by insurance (lasic? Dental Implant?) Can I use it for my wife? (any plan)
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Getting Help, Advice from EH" by "bigbluefiredme". Full excerpt: I do wish they had a prominent email support link at their site. If it is there, I sure missed it.

    Benefits of email: Once you answer the same question several times, add it to an online IBM Retiree FAQ at their site to help lessen phone call workload. I learned that back in Call Centers in the early 90s.

    Poor site design and I'm stumped how they have signed up the other companies, prior to IBM.

    I really feel everyone has to take a deep breath and wait a few weeks before talking to EH. The insurance companies are also real busy too, sorting out some bad or incomplete applications from ACA: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-08/insurers-getting-faulty-data-from-u-s-health-exchanges.html

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "What we need in WRITING and Why" by "ibmexe". Full excerpt: Seems to me have been made a lot of verbal "promises" which have nothing in writing behind them.

    For example, we have been told that our Medicare Part B premium can be reimbursed through the HRA. I have been told that I can enroll in a dental plan that is NOT obtained through EH and that will also be reimbursed. Same with Vision plans.

    Out of pocket medical expenses will also be reimbursed, provided the Med plan was obtained through EH.

    Unknown to me right now is whether my Part D Humana Walmart plan which I already have is reimbursable. If not are at least the drug costs that I pay covered and reimbursable? Or are they and the premiums and deductible not reimbursable?

    None of this is in writing. Seems like we need a written set of rules of what is eligible for HRA funding and what isn't, don't we?

    Question is are we going to get this...or simply be surprised when we ask that our Medicare Part B premiums be reimbursed; only to be told that only the Medicare Part B deductible is so eligible?

    This latter statement already begs the question "Is the Medicare Part B deductible eligible for reimbursement? You tell me...

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: What we need in WRITING and Why" by "harris_berman". Full excerpt: Page 7 in the announcement materials clearly state that you can be reimbursed from the HRA, but a form has to be submitted for each expense. You must obtain a Medical plan from EH in order to activate the HRA (although people with Kaiser have a different option). What are you not seeing?
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: What we need in WRITING and Why" by "ibmexe". Full excerpt: What I am NOT seeing is WHAT exactly WILL be reimbursed and WHAT won't be reimbursed. For example, where do you see it WRITTEN that Medicare Part B premiums will be reimbursed? How about the Medicare deductible?

    Your comment about "can be reimbursed" is not helpful at all is it, when the obvious question is WHAT can be reimbursed and WHAT can't be. Are you trying to tell me that if I obtain a Medigap plan through EH and a dental plan outside EH, YOU KNOW that my dental expenses will be reimbursed?

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: What we need in WRITING and Why" by "richvancer". Full excerpt: Do you have the announcement newsletter? Did you read page 7? It clearly says you can use your HRA to reimburse a whole list of things as long as you buy a medical plan through EH. Among the items listed are unreimbursed premiums for Medicare Part B, premiums for dental and vision and deductibles. Lose the attitude - people are trying to help you.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: What we need in WRITING and Why" by "lobosphoto". Full excerpt: Publication 969 gives the rules for HRAs and Publication 502 gives a list of what can be reimbursed.

    The question that has to be answered is what subset of those two publications will apply to the IBM HRAs.

    For example,the IRS says "Amounts that remain at the end of the year can generally be carried over to the next year". I guess the "generally" allows IBM to say "no".

    The IRS also gives a list of people whose expenses can be reimbursed which includes all of the persons dependents even if IBM doesn't recognize them as such. Can EH say no to them?

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: What we need in WRITING and Why" by "ibmexe". Full excerpt: Thanks. Found the info on page 7. Apparently the only thing I missed or couldn't remember is that this does very clearly spell out that "Unreimbursed premiums for Medicare Part B" are "Eligible Expenses" once you elect coverage in a medical plan through EH.

    That really is the most important thing. All the rest of it unfortunately is over qualified by the fact these expenses appear to be only eligible "for plans you enroll in through EH". That part was always obvious and still is. So leaves it leaves in doubt whether Dental or Vision expenses obtained outside EH are eligible. Same thing for Part D. Since I already have Part D through Humana-Walmart and want it again, do I have to figure out get it through EH?

    Still leaves a lot of things unclear. However if Medicare Part B premium is reimbursed, I believe that at about $2400/year for self + 1, and the $1200/year for Plan F HD, will consume my $3K HRA. Without the former premium being eligible, I don't see how my medical expenses would consume my HRA unless I chose Plan F ND...which I would consider extremely undesirable.

    So thanks again.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: What we need in WRITING and Why" by "richvancer". Full excerpt: Notice that the "enroll in through Extend Health" qualifier is only present in the first of the four eligible expenses bullets on page 7 (premiums for medical plans and Part D). So yes, you would have to get your Humana-Walmart plan through them to have the premium reimbursed.

    The reimbursements described in the other three bullets do not require enrollment through EH (beyond the requirement of enrolling in a medical plan through them).

    One word of caution since you apparently have the Humana-Walmart Preferred plan this year. Do not just "do nothing" and let that plan automatically re-enroll you. You will not be getting the Humana-Walmart plan you think you're getting.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: What we need in WRITING and Why" by "netmouser". Full excerpt: Correct, the package that Humana sends to re-enroll is the non-Walmart plan with a higher premium. It confusingly says there is a name change that drops "Walmart".. I assume this may be due to a new Walmart plan was still in the works at the time of the printing and mailing. I called Humana and had to re-enroll as the new Walmart Plan for $12.50 is, well, a new plan. After enrolling on the phone, they then send you a package where you must sign a form and return it.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: What we need in WRITING and Why" by "ibmexe". Full excerpt: I am still confused. On page 7 (left side) we find the following: "You can use the amounts in your HRA to pay a variety of eligible expenses, including medical prescription drug, dental and vision premiums FOR PLANS YOU ENROLL IN THROUGH EH."

    But also on page 7 (right side) we find "You can use your HRA to reimburse yourself...for the following expenses in a given year: Premiums for…Medigap and Prescription drug plans that you enroll in through EH. Unreimbursed premiums for Medicare Part B. Premiums for dental and vision plans. Out of pocket expenses, including deductibles, coinsurance and copays for medical prescription drug, dental and vision plans."

    The part that is really confusing is the one that pertains to premiums for dental and vision plans. On the left side eligibility for these latter premiums is qualified by "plans you enroll in through Extend Health." But on the right side it is not so qualified. But wouldn't the qualification on the left side supersede the right side?

    On the other hand, both sides DO seem to agree that premiums for Part D will only be reimbursed if the plan is obtained through EH. Since self +1 are already enrolled in Humana Walmart Preferred plan this year, I called Humana and asked them how we could avoid the automatic enrollment and get this plan through EH. I was told I would have to write Humana a signed letter telling them what plan I was in and the date I wanted to be dis-enrolled (I will pick late December 2013) and then I could avoid the 60 day absence of coverage period and enroll again in the same plan with EH. I will need to verify this EH however.

    Hopefully EH will confirm that this works. As a further source of confusion, I was informed by Humana that the "OPEN ENROLLMENT" period ends on DEC 7. When I asked EH about this they were not concerned because "we were in a special enrollment period because our group coverage had ended". However I along with many others do NOT have group coverage for Part D. So what does that mean? Should I cancel Part D before Dec 7 and make sure I enroll through EH before then? (My appointment currently is Dec 6).

    Any insight into these sources of confusion would be appreciated.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Annual Enrollment" by "Terry". Full excerpt: Somehow in the cloud of all of the discussion about Medicare issues, I may have missed something. I am NOT Medicare eligible (too young), but shouldn't I have received an annual enrollment package by now? I am both an IBM and AT&T retiree and have seen nothing from either one.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Aetna Integration Plan A IMPORTANT INFO" by "thefielder". Full excerpt: Signed up when I retired in July. Was told by Employee Services, that IBM signed a deal with Aetna, and I can stay with Aetna through 2014 and not use Extended Health. I have seen nothing in writing on this. In fact I get nothing from IBM.

    ALSO, those who retired and on Aetna, their records will be released to Aetna and Extended Health in NOVEMBER...so if you are having meetings with Extended Health this month, delay until middle of November. The roll out, and change over, without proper documentation on details has been pathetic to say the least.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Aetna Integration Plan A IMPORTANT INFO" by "mwecker1". Full excerpt: I was also told by the Net Benefits folks that those retirees presently on the Aetna Integration Plan will be able to keep that plan through 2014. No information about cost. They said we will be receiving that information from Extend Health sometime in October. They also said that would apply to the dental and vision plans as well.

    I have seen nothing in writing, so don't take may word on this. You may want to call to confirm.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Aetna Integration Plan A IMPORTANT INFO" by "egroups1bp". Full excerpt: Well this is interesting. 'Original Medicare starts for me 12/1/13, along with the Aetna Int. Plan A...which I assumed I'd only be able to have for 1 month. Now someone says it's possible to stay on that plan through 2014? Maybe I should call Net Benefits?
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Aetna Integration Plan A IMPORTANT INFO" by "egroups1bp". Excerpt: You can only keep Aetna if your plan is an Aetna PPO or HMO- I called Net Benefits to verify this. You can't keep Aetna Int. plan "A".
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Aetna Integration Plan A IMPORTANT INFO" by "lobosphoto". Excerpt: What is the difference between Aetna Integration A and a Medigap Plan F? I am in the unique position of being able to switch to Aetna this month.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Aetna Integration Plan A IMPORTANT INFO" by Tim Johnson. Excerpt: In terms of coverage, the largest difference from my perspective is the way a skill nursing facility is covered after inpatient hospital discharge from day 21 through day 100. A Plan F covers it at 100%. Aetna Integration A does not cover at all.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Aetna Integration Plan A IMPORTANT INFO" by "jes95135". Full excerpt: I would double check the statement about Aetna Integration A and skilled nursing. My wife was seriously ill last year and was in skilled nursing for many weeks. I have Integration A and it didn't cost me a cent.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Aetna Integration Plan A IMPORTANT INFO" by "netmouser". Excerpt: Other key coverage differences in the Integration Plan A and Plan F are that the Integration Plan A has additional features for hearing and vision exams, but does not cover Part B excess costs like Plan F does (a doctor that does not accept assignment from Medicare can charge up to 15% more that you pay out of pocket). Int Plan A has good travel coverage, and Plan F is very limited with a deductible (buy travel insurance for a cruise or travel).
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: IMPORTANT INFO on AETNA int. Plan A" by "Michael". Full excerpt: I haven't called to confirm as you did (good move!) but my letter says I can stay with the Aetna plan for two years, 2014 and 2015, or move to EH now or in 2015. In 2016 they pull the plug and I will have to go with EH.

    The plan worked amazingly well for us but YMMDefinitelyV. Part of our calculations in choosing this plan was the included pharmacy plan which was so much less expensive for our known costs with so much better coverage for unknowns that it made the overall plan choice easy for us.

    Shortly after the IBM/Rhee/EH letters we received an Aetna letter saying they are changing the pharmacy plan. It will become a Medicare Part D plan. "More details to follow soon." Whatever they offer in place of our current plan may turn out to be a game changer for us. Patience is called for. Wish I had more...

    Besides this change I will need to find out if I can freely choose any EH plan without "penalty" if I wait a year or two before leaving the Aetna plan.

    There don't seem to be many of us in this Aetna boat so please keep posting (as I will) as information trickles out. Thanks.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: IMPORTANT INFO on AETNA int. Plan A" by "egroups1bp". Full excerpt: The way the rep explained it to me is that if you have a regional HMO or Aetna PPO, then you would have received a letter stating you can stay with either of those plans through 2014. But this doesn't apply to the Aetna integrated plan A (which does not have a drug plan attached).

    There are so many laws/regs in play, I'd just be happy if I were you that you can stay with the plan you like. Who knows what will be offered in 2015.

    I don't know how many people are in your boat- but those people would have received the same separate letter you have.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: IMPORTANT INFO on AETNA int. Plan A" by "Michael". Full excerpt: Oh. My careless reading :-(. I thought you had an Aetna HMO or PPO plan. Sorry to confuse the issue. So small point here, for those like me who do have that plan and that choice versus EH, we have it for the next TWO years if we want it, 2014 and 2015. (And I called to confirm that.)
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: spouse/family member under 65?" by "maplemistymorning". Full excerpt: I finally got through to the IBM Employee Services Center today and they don't even have a schedule for the rollout for dependents yet. And those of us with non-Medicare spouses, can't make any decision until we know what these plans are going to cost.

    I wish they would have sent out all of the information at one time, rather than first sending out the info on Extend Health, leaving us wondering what the subsidy would be, then finally sending out THAT information, but now leaving us wondering about non-Medicare dependents. It is very frustrating!

    By the way, my impression, and that's all it is, is that we will submit the cost for the dependents plan to Extend Health for the FHA just as we would submit any other medical cost like the Part B premium, and that would all come out of the $3,000/$3,500 subsidy, so that we probably would pay the full cost.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Computer Savvy and generally smart" by "ileftibm". Full excerpt: Does Extend Health realize that a cohort of retired IBMers would be computer savvy? Like capable of finding all of the offerings that they are not making available?

    Do IBM and Extend Health realize that not only could we navigate through the options EH purports to be helping us with, but in fact we know about all the other stuff they don't want to talk about?

    IBMers have generally worked with complex things, and in complex environments. Why treat us like mushrooms?

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Computer Savvy and generally smart" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: Are you complaining that Extend Health does not offer all the plans that are available on the open market? If so, you should realize that it is the insurance companies that make the decision as to whether they want to allow Extend Health to offer their plans or not.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Computer Savvy and generally smart" by "ileftibm". Full excerpt: (1) Insurers choose whether to be on the EH list or not? What if none of them say yes? In Minnesota only TWO out of NINETEEN companies offering Medigap plans are available through EH.

    (2) By going with a system in which only a subset of the available plans are visible through EH, IBM has put us at a disadvantage as shoppers. This is not consistent with making the market efficient for us.

    (3) It seems to me that IBM could offer EH for those who want hand holding, and open market for those who think they can handle it. It would be up to Extend Health, then, to demonstrate that they offer a value add.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Computer Savvy and generally smart" by "Bill". Full excerpt: I think that you can buy a drug plan through EH, then go to the open market and buy a supplement policy. The information I got from EH was that you will have access to the subsidy if you buy a drug plan. There is apparently some confirmation of this - as I read elsewhere in this forum - meaning that IBM has changed/clarified the requirement for accessing the subsidy. If true, this creates a major improvement for subsidized retirees - much better.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Computer Savvy and generally smart" by "egroups1bp". Full excerpt: Same in VT. Out of 11 companies that offer Medigap plans on the open market in VT, only 2 (Humana & AARP/United Health) are offered through Extend Health. I don't like either Humana or United Health.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Computer Savvy and generally smart" by "chz_whiz". Full excerpt: My state insurance department has licensed 51 insurance companies to provide Medicare Plan F and 16 for F-HD. Extend Health offers 2 F policies & 2 F-HD plans. I have no desire to go thru the intricacies of 67 policies. Isn't EH 'supposed to be' sorting out the best?
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Computer Savvy and generally smart" by "ileftibm". Full excerpt: "Isn't EH 'supposed to be' sorting out the best?" I think we have plenty of evidence that this ain't necessarily the case. Further, even if this is what they have in mind, they are not showing us how they arrived at their choices. Someone said, earlier in this thread, that EH is merely offering what the insurance companies allowed them to offer.

    Beyond that, I think many of us would like to make our own assessments, and decide our own risks.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA letter arrived and is it funny" by "hankharty". Full excerpt: "Being I fall in the $3000 a year group it looks like the swizzle of the dollars was pretty interesting. To cut to the chase we will get a form in Nov and we need to make a decision on our spouse. If we choose to have our spouses receive HRA cover after our death then our new HRA will be $2374 a year. Upon our death if we die before our spouse she will get a subsidy of $1187 a year for the rest of her life. If we choose not to give the spouse coverage after our death we will have $3000 in the HRA to use but when we die the spouse gets nothing."

    It appears IBM is treating the $3000 a year as an annuity, where you can either choose a single-life annuity for the full amount, or a dual-life annuity with a reduced amount for each annuitant.

    Everyone had to go through this decision when they chose their pension payments. With our pensions, we knew payments would be made and could not be discontinued at the discretion of the company. They are protected by the PBGC.

    Legally, the $3000 subsidy can be discontinued at any time at the discretion of the company. Regardless, IBM wants you to make an irrevocable one-time decision without the benefit of knowing for how many years the subsidy will continue. It is impossible to make an informed decision unless you have some commitment from the company committing to subsidy for a certain number of years.

    Someone affected may want to write to the plan administrator to get a clarification so they can make an informed choice.

    In a perverse way, this letter from IBM may be a good thing. It may imply that the company is committing to continue these subsidy payments for some time into the future. I am not a lawyer, and do not play one on TV, so I cannot give legal advice or tell you the legal ramifications of such a letter, if any.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA letter arrived and is it funny" by "hdttravele". Excerpt: hankharty, Writing the plan administrator about this would be a waste to time. You'd be asking for a formal response about an event (stopping the annual funding of HRAs) whose time frame is unknown to the plan administrator. So the response won't be useful.

    But there is a way for you, and others, to deal with the uncertainty, beyond the binary choice of choosing the base amount (e.g. $3k) or the joint survivor's payout. Take the base subsidy and invest the difference ($3000-$2374 = $626) in a separate, additional insurance policy. That would reduce your joint risk (though not as much as you would like) but would probably come at a high price. As an individual, your ability to negotiate a custom insurance policy is limited and customizations tend to be pricey.

    I'm no longer married, but if I was, I'd take the $3K and save that $626 difference in a joint account.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: ERISA Applies To The IBM HRA" by Larry George. Full excerpt: You make some very good points on IBM possibly being in violation of ERISA, due to the fact that our retirement plans had to be approved by the IRS in conjunction of ERISA law. There is another side issue with IBM pushing us into this Extend Health Medicare Exchange.

    My wife and I have been with Kaiser for 11 years now and Kaiser was not as part of the original plans being offered by Extend Health, who we were told was our only choice for a medical plan. Then a couple of weeks later, all of us who were currently with Kaiser, got a letter from IBM, saying that not only could me remain with them if we choose to do so, we were also told that an HRA would be set up for us. This was good news to me, since there are no doctors locally who will take a new Medicare patient.

    Now let me get to my main point. Two of my retired IBM friends here in Salem, Oregon have been with Aetna for some time and want to stay with them. But the only available Medigap plan on Extend Health's list are Humana, Blue Cross and AARP/United Healthcare. Both of these individuals have had bad experiences with all three of these companies and don't want to go with them.

    What it looks like to me, is that by IBM making an exception and letting those of us with Kaiser stay with them and setting up an HRA for us, they have created a precedent for others to stay with the company they have been with and also have an HRA.

    Now any of us are free to get our healthcare from any company that we want. But IBM is telling us that if we don't go with Extend Health and now are able to remain with Kaiser, they won't set up an HRA for us. This smells to high heaven and looks like grounds for a class action lawsuit.

    Like other poster said, I am not a legal professional either, but it sure doesn't sound right.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Retiree medical plan accounting (FAS 106)" by "fhawontcutit". Full excerpt: This article (from the Wall Street Journal) has been posted multiple times, but I am posting it again. Retiree-Medical Plans Are Transformed Into Source of Profits by Sears, Others. Excerpt:

    The key to these surprising profits is an arcane accounting rule introduced in the early 1990s. The rule required companies for the first time to report their total anticipated costs for retiree-health coverage. Many companies used the rule to justify cutting that coverage, or shifting its cost to retirees. As a result, a lot of older Americans are struggling to pay their medical bills.

    The rule also offered companies a way to arrange their financial statements so that retiree-benefit programs actually became new profit centers.

    I don't profess to be an expert in FAS106 accounting (which is what the article is about), but it appears to me that companies record the present value of ALL future retiree obligations for medical on their books as a liability. If a company can reduce a future liability for retirees and/or surviving spouses, the company creates income.

    So, IBM currently has a liability recorded on their books for Medicare-eligible employees and spouses If IBM can reduce that future liability (by say, reducing what a surviving spouse will get), IBM creates income.

    It looks to me that IBM has this "pot" of money recorded on their books for the present value of their future liability. As the article states, there are assumptions (such as medical inflation rate) that go into the computation of this liability.

    So, since IBM is on the Roadkill 2015 path, IBM can draw upon this "kitty" between now and 2015. By getting people to refuse the HRA subsidy, reducing the HRA subsidy in future years, or by working the numbers that the future liability for spousal coverage is reduced, IBM can use the retiree plan to meet its EPS.

    Any change between now and the end of 2015 to the retiree plan that reduces IBM's future liability will help IBM meet its 2015 EPS target. IBM could announce a future change that would take effect in say, 2020, and it could still book income the year the change was announced.

    That is my understanding of FAS 106. As I said, I don't profess to be an expert.

    Comments/corrections welcome.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Retiree medical plan accounting (FAS 106)" by Don Shuper. And, from that same year (2000) an article by Ellen Schultz: Retiree-Medical Plans Are Transformed Into Source of Profits by Sears, Others (pdf). Excerpt:
    The seeds of the retiree-health windfall for many companies were planted in the late 1980s, when the Financial Accounting Standards Board, the accounting industry's rule-making body, began to develop standards for reporting retiree-health obligations. Major companies, such as General Electric Co. GE and International Business Machines Corp., played an active role in the process, suggesting ideas to the accounting board. Companies showed the board computer simulations of how various proposals would affect corporate bottom lines...

    IMO, it can be summed up quite simply—the hose job y'all got back then is just a precursor to the coming game in fall of 2014—a 90-day notice so as to make Dec 31, 2014 the end of any subsidy for employees and retirees (except the anointed ones of course.)

    After throwing you under the bus back then, they now have the chance to back over you several times. First the retirees, then the grunt employees.

New on the Alliance@IBM Site

Job Cut Reports

  • Comment 10/05/13: I only have sketchy specifics/details. The word is that the entire benefits and pay structure will change for employees in the Spring of 2014. (Of course, all the execs will be excluded from the pain the rest of us will feel). Again, I don't have specific details as to what the changes will be, only that something big is coming, and it will force a good number of people with 30+ years out of the company. They will not be happy and will make the decision to leave themselves (i.e. whatever changes are to come will affect retirement benefits. If you leave next year, the new benefits would not apply to someone who has 30 years. They would get to keep the old benefits). I am sorry I cannot offer more details than that as I don't know the specifics. I mention it not to make you fearful, but to take charge of your life and prepare yourself now. Get your finances and family in order now. You might not like what IBM becomes next year and you will actively look to get out. -more pain to come-
  • Comment 10/05/13: It has long been rumored that everyone in the "old" (albeit frozen) Defined Benefit pension plan would eventually be given a Hobson's choice of "retiring" under that plan, or being forced into the "Cash Balance" plan. This is entirely legal given the decision in the Cooper lawsuit at the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, that was later codified under the so-called Pension Protection Act of 2006 sponsored by (now Speaker of the House) John Boehner.

    Moreover, given that IBM Employees do NOT have a Labor Contract (as most IBM Senior Managers do), there is absolutely NOTHING preventing IBM Management from making this change anytime they wish. Also, forcing Medicare-eligible IBM retirees into a commercial healthcare exchange is probably only the first step in moving ALL IBM retirees to an exchange. So, what will probably come down from on High next year is something like: "Retire from IBM by the end of 2014, or you will lose your Defined Benefit pension, and your FHA scrip account." -Ginni Madoff with my Pension-

  • Comment 10/05/13: To Blue_Flu_Lou - yes, you are correct. It won't be much of an incentive to leave. It will be a situation where you are caught between a rock and a hard place. If you stay your benefits will be further eroded and if you leave you will lose benefits you would have had if benefits were to remain the same (but are now being eliminated). Whatever happens, you won't like it if you stay, and you won't like it if you leave. -more pain to come-
  • Comment 10/07/13: To -Ginni Madoff with my Pension- This sounds like a no brainer to the crew plotting the course for Roadmap 2015. I know I'm not going to give up my defined benefit pension for the privilege of sweating out a couple more months or years of waiting for the axe to fall. There's got to be at least a couple thousand more of my U.S. colleagues in the same boat, and IBM can be rid of all of us for free. So now the only thing I wonder is when it will be rolled out. -preparing for separation-
  • Comment 10/07/13: It's time to start investing in the IBM Corporation again, Ginni, and stop wasting all of our free cash flow on these ill-conceived stock buybacks. Just because your predecessor came up with this ridiculous notion of announcing earnings five years in advance doesn't mean you need to be a mindless lemming and follow his boneheaded ideas right over a financial cliff.
  • Comment 10/08/13: Resignation is in - and I'm feeling very relieved. I'll miss the great people I've worked with, but I won't miss the company. It's too hard to justify staying, constantly looking over my shoulder for the next round of RAs, and dealing with the toxic PBC system. My manager sadly agreed with most of my reasons, but she knew that she's powerless to stop them. All the best to my fellow IBMers. -Anonymous-
  • Comment 10/08/13: I heard lay-off in October for BTV. By the lack of chatter I'm hoping it's bogus. I'm mfg and need this job for now -Holding my breath for later on-
  • Comment 10/09/13: Former US IBM employee. Left IBM on my own terms and started my new job yesterday (after looking for a year and a half). I will be making more money, more potential for bonus and I still work from home. The weight lifted is indescribable. Thanks for all that you do. Associate Member and will remain so -IndiaBusinessMachines-
  • Comment 10/11/13: Phil Gilbert, the new IBM GM of Design, recently announced in an internal IBM broadcast that IBM is on track to hire 100 new designers by year end, and will hire 150 more in 2014. Nearly all are new college hires and US. He's doing this while 'simplifying' the IBM software product portfolio from 3000 to 300 products. With a 10-fold reduction in products, and the mass hiring of new college hires, it won't be long before most experienced IBMers get marginalized or surplused. These dates fully coincide with the dire 2015 Road Kill predictions. What's an IBMer to do? continue to keep the blinders on? -Little Chance-
  • Comment 10/13/13: So looks like this year we get to pick our benefits for next year MUCH later than usual. We start mid Nov and it goes all the way into early December. I've been with IBM for substantial amount of years and this is the first time (that I can recall) the benefits selection is happening THIS late. Perhaps this will now be aligned nicely with Nov RA? As a lot of people speculated on this board, IBM is likely to cut people in Nov as to not to pay 401K match in December. This benefits change seems to make "sense" if this is in face the case and RA's are coming in Nov. -Gloomy Thanksgiving?-
  • Comment 10/13/13: I retired effective July 31. Late in September I received an invoice for "Outstanding Uncollected Amount Due for Past Benefit". After numerous phone calls and letters, I still cannot get an answer as to what this invoice is for and why I am being billed. Benefit payments were taken out for both of my July paychecks. Has anyone else been billed for "past benefits"? -gone-

IBM Retiree Issues

  • Comment 10/05/13: I sent the following to ExtendHealth: "I have sent in 2 surveys dealing with 2 conversations with an"ADVISOR" (I use the term loosely). I have also experienced issues with the website (it sucks!)? can't print, get timed out, error messages, etc. IBM has done another dumb thing to screw its retirees and it is also getting snookered by EnhanceHealth." -Anonymous-
  • Comment 10/07/13: If you are already in a supplemental Medicare plan (Medigap) via AARP or other companies beware. Extend Health reps don't seem to be be trained well enough on this aspect. You may or may not be able to use the monies to pay for pre-existing plans. You may or may not be able to have them manage or change your existing AARP plan unless you cancel it out first. There needs to be CLEAR guidelines published for this so that retirees can read and there is NO question a to how pre-existing plans should/can be handled. Right now there is nada and it's a crap shoot depending on which rep you talk to. -long_retired-
  • Comment 10/08/13: From reading the comments here and just simply reading comments in the local newspapers it seems that NO ONE is truly "on board" and knowledgeable enough to advise anyone as to selecting a plan that would benefit them further than the plan that we had last year. My advise , early on, is to stick with your plan of 2013 (if still available). Let everything "churn out" in the year 2014 and ask around, throughout the year of your neighbors, friends, family and the barber, "how is that new plan working out for you. Are you getting the same or improved coverage. Is the plan costing you more or less." etc.etc. -Claude-
  • Comment 10/09/13: IBM needs to publish FAQs that cover ALL circumstances and policies that Extend Health is using. I understand from others that if you are on Aetna IBM medical now as a 65+ retiree you can stay on that for next 2 years. Don't recall seeing that published anywhere. Also if you think you can take one of those low or NO premium Advantage plans that don't have Medicare D and then just add it guess again...you can't.

    Those plans are for those already on a Medicare D plan. That's not in writing anywhere either, other than a federal guideline that one of the Advantage plan providers was nice enough to educate me on when the Extend Health rep had NO CLUE! I can go on and on with info I have learned from either the plans themselves or Medicare.gov that Extend Health could not help with and/or there are not enough FAQS published to help. I have spend hours on the phone educating myself on info that should be readily available, but is not. -long_retired-

  • Comment 10/11/13: These guys are up to their old tricks. In the late 1980's when trying to figure out what the parameters should be to offer special packages we sat in a conference room and we would change parameters of the search until we got the right numbers and then develop the script to announce an IBM action (not too many minorities or females, but get the highest average age and the lowest average appraisal rating. Nothing was done with respect for the individual in mind. I will bet you a million $$ they cut the pie over and over to come up with the the monthly stipend of either $3k/$3.5K that the higher number of people were in the retire after 1992 so they set the lower amount at 1992+.

    A message to young employees who will never have to worry about Health Net be very aware. Just because you are working 60 hours a week, required to be on the road 5 days a week and have no personal life does not guarantee you continued employment. Watch for my next lecture after I meet with my health care advisor next week. -Ex Senior IBM HR manager-

News and Opinion Concerning Health Savings Accounts, Medical Costs and Health Care Reform
  • New York Times: The Soaring Cost of a Simple Breath. By Elisabeth Rosenthal. Excerpts: Asthma — the most common chronic disease that affects Americans of all ages, about 40 million people — can usually be well controlled with drugs. But being able to afford prescription medications in the United States often requires top-notch insurance or plenty of disposable income, and time to hunt for deals and bargains.

    The arsenal of medicines in the Hayeses’ kitchen helps explain why. Pulmicort, a steroid inhaler, generally retails for over $175 in the United States, while pharmacists in Britain buy the identical product for about $20 and dispense it free of charge to asthma patients. Albuterol, one of the oldest asthma medicines, typically costs $50 to $100 per inhaler in the United States, but it was less than $15 a decade ago, before it was repatented.

    “The one that really blew my mind was the nasal spray,” said Robin Levi, Hannah and Abby’s mother, referring to her $80 co-payment for Rhinocort Aqua, a prescription drug that was selling for more than $250 a month in Oakland pharmacies last year but costs under $7 in Europe, where it is available over the counter. ...

    With its high prescription prices, the United States spends far more per capita on medicines than other developed countries. Drugs account for 10 percent of the country’s $2.7 trillion annual health bill, even though the average American takes fewer prescription medicines than people in France or Canada, said Gerard Anderson, who studies medical pricing at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. ...

    While the United States is famous for break-the-bank cancer drugs, the high price of many commonly used medications contributes heavily to health care costs and certainly causes more widespread anguish, since many insurance policies offer only partial coverage for medicines. ...

    Unlike other countries, where the government directly or indirectly sets an allowed national wholesale price for each drug, the United States leaves prices to market competition among pharmaceutical companies, including generic drug makers. But competition is often a mirage in today’s health care arena — a surprising number of lifesaving drugs are made by only one manufacturer — and businesses often successfully blunt market forces. ...

    Pharmaceutical companies also buttress high prices by choosing to sell a medicine by prescription, rather than over the counter, so that insurers cover a price tag that would be unacceptable to consumers paying full freight. They even pay generic drug makers not to produce cut-rate competitors in a controversial scheme called pay for delay.

    Thanks in part to the $250 million last year spent on lobbying for pharmaceutical and health products — more than even the defense industry — the government allows such practices. Lawmakers in Washington have forbidden Medicare, the largest government purchaser of health care, to negotiate drug prices. Unlike its counterparts in other countries, the United States Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, which evaluates treatments for coverage by federal programs, is not allowed to consider cost comparisons or cost-effectiveness in its recommendations. And importation of prescription medicines from abroad is illegal, even personal purchases from mail-order pharmacies. ...

    Dr. Dana Goldman, the director of the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at the University of Southern California, said: “Producing these drugs is cheap. And yet we are paying very high prices.” He added that because inhalers were so effective at keeping patients out of hospitals, most national health systems made sure they were free or inexpensive.

    But in the United States, even people with insurance coverage struggle. Lisa Solod, 57, a freelance writer in Georgia, uses her inhaler once a day, instead of twice, as usually prescribed, since her insurance does not cover her asthma medicines. John Aravosis, 49, a political blogger in Washington, buys a few Advair inhalers at $45 each during vacations in Paris, since his insurance caps prescription coverage at $1,500 per year. Sharon Bondroff, 68, an antiques dealer in Maine on Medicare, scrounges samples of Advair from local doctors. Ms. Bondroff remembers a time, not so long ago, when inhalers “were really cheap.” The sticker shock for asthma patients began several years back when the federal government announced that it would require manufacturers of spray products to remove chlorofluorocarbon propellants because they harmed the environment. That meant new inhaler designs. And new patents. And skyrocketing prices. ...

    Twenty years ago, drugs that could safely be sold directly to patients typically moved off the prescription model as their patent life ended. That brought valuable medicines like nondrowsy antihistamines and acid reducers to drugstore shelves. But with profitable prescription products now selling for $100 per tiny bottle, there is little incentive to make the switch, since over-the-counter drugs rarely succeed if they cost more than $20.

    As a result, a number of products that are sold directly to patients in other countries remain available only by prescription in the United States. That includes a version of the popular but expensive steroid nasal spray used by Abby Hayes, which is available over the counter in London for under $15 at the Boots pharmacy chain.

  • Washington Post opinion: The myth about job-killing Obamacare. Excerpts: For years, Republicans have labeled President Obama’s Affordable Care Act a “job killer.” But as the essential elements of the law begin to phase in, conservative critics have become more specific, latching onto alarming stories about certain businesses cutting employees’ hours or declining to hire workers — all, apparently, because of the health-care law’s dictates.

    As usual with Obamacare, it’s not that there isn’t something to be concerned about. But Republicans have blown the law’s potential problems so far out of proportion that their attacks sound like a “Saturday Night Live” parody.

    “Americans all over this country are suffering because of Obamacare,”Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said last month. “It is the single biggest job killer in America.”

    Well, here’s what the law requires: All firms that employ 50 or more full-time workers — or the equivalent in part-time workers — must provide health-care coverage to all of their full-time employees. If they do not, starting in 2015 the government will assess a fine based on the number of employees the businesses have. The fear is that companies on the cusp of hiring their 50th full-time employee might hold back. Other businesses might try to cut their employees’ hours.

    The potential for some reduction in the availability of low-wage work is real. But mainstream economists aren’t seeing anything like the catastrophe Republicans have foretold, and they don’t anticipate a calamity, either.

    That is because only 3 percent of small businesses — those with fewer than 500 employees — have more than 50 workers, so 97 percent of small employers are exempt from the law’s mandates. Meanwhile, virtually all large companies already offer health insurance to their employees. Aside from things such as reporting requirements, Obamacare’s mandates will directly obligate only about 1 percent of American businesses to do anything different.

  • Washington Post opinion: Obamacare saved my family from financial ruin. By Janine Urbaniak Reid. Excerpts: House Speaker John Boehner and his tea party friends shut down the U.S. government because of people like me. I am the mother of an insurance hog, someone who could have blown through his lifetime limit of health coverage by the time he was 14. My son has managed to survive despite seemingly insurmountable challenges, and he wears his preexisting condition like a Super Bowl ring. ...

    Mason spent most of eighth grade in the hospital. In the six months he was hospitalized, he spent 65 days in the pediatric intensive care unit. He underwent four brain surgeries. Halfway through his hospitalization, the Affordable Care Act was passed, alleviating lifetime limits on coverage and saving us from the financial abyss. Mason moved to a rehabilitation hospital where he was retaught the most basic skills — sitting up, eating and standing. We faithfully paid the premiums on the employer-sponsored plan through which our family is covered, along with the rest of our bills, thanking God and whoever else would listen for our good fortune to have coverage.

    The biggest fear for families such as mine is that we will lose our health insurance and be rendered uninsurable because one of us has been sick. The Affordable Care Act does away with dreaded clauses barring preexisting conditions. It also enables us to keep Mason on our insurance until he is 26; then, he will be able to purchase his own coverage on an insurance exchange. At least, that was the plan until last Tuesday, when the government was shut down in protest of such excesses. ...

    As far as the brain tumor goes, our family might have drawn the short straw. Maybe our story lacks a certain universal appeal. People might thinking to themselves, “I’m so sorry that happened to you, but odds are it won’t happen to me.” I hope it doesn’t, really.

    But having lived in hospitals with Mason for months, I have seen that bad things — accidents, freak illnesses — happen to smart, cautious and otherwise undeserving people. It’s one thing we all have in common. We are fragile beings. So what is wrong with allowing us to purchase a financial safety net? What’s so un-American about that?

    If I could get John Boehner and Ted Cruz on a conference call, I would explain this to them. I would tell them that, while they were busy trying to derail the Affordable Care Act over the past two years, Mason has again learned to walk, talk, eat and shoot a three-point basket.

  • Health Care Blog: Calm Down, America: ObamaCare Is Far From A Revolutionary Change In Our Health System. By Stuart Altman and Harry Selker. Excerpts: Three and half years after passage of President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), the law is about to reach an important milestone. On January 1, 2014, millions of Americans will no longer be uninsured and a new system for obtaining coverage will be put in place throughout the country. Yet controversy remains about how the law will impact individuals, businesses, and the US health system. Opponents call it revolutionary. They declare it “socialized medicine” and a “government takeover of the health care system.”

    The truth is the law will have limited impact on how most Americans receive medical care and pay for it. Far from a radical change, the ACA (or “Obamacare”) builds on parts of our health care system that have evolved over the last half-century.

    As the law was being debated, approximately 47 million Americans were uninsured, with millions more having limited coverage against the high costs of care. It was expected that the ACA would reduce the numbers of uninsured by over 30 million. The Supreme Court ruling that allows states to opt out of expanding their respective Medicaid programs will reduce the number obtaining coverage to 23 million. That millions of Americans will now have access to good and comprehensive health care is something we should all be proud of. ...

    The US has embarked on a unique experiment in how to create a universal health insurance system while preserving a dominant employer-supported private insurance system. Obamacare will reduce the numbers of uninsured and underinsured by half. It will require some to pay more for expanded coverage, and it will add a mandate for individuals and large firms to obtain and pay for insurance. Far from a revolution, under Obamacare most Americans will not experience any change in their health insurance; they will continue to receive coverage through their job and visit a physician or hospital as they have in the past.

If you hire good people and treat them well, they will try to do a good job. They will stimulate one another by their vigor and example. They will set a fast pace for themselves. Then if they are well led and occasionally inspired, if they understand what the company is trying to do and know they will share in its sucess, they will contribute in a major way. The customer will get the superior service he is looking for. The result is profit to customers, employees, and to stcckholders. —Thomas J. Watson, Jr., from A Business and Its Beliefs: The Ideas That Helped Build IBM.

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