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Highlights—December 7, 2013

  • The Register: Australian State to sue IBM over $AUD1bn project blowout. Queensland pulls out the big stick to whack Big Blue. By Simon Sharwood. Excerpts: The Australian State of Queensland has reportedly filed a statement of claim against IBM to recoup some cash from an SAP disaster.

    Queensland's keen to bash Big Blue because its Health Department engaged the company to build a new payroll system. IBM quoted $AUD6m for the SAP-based project, then upped the quote to $27m. A few years down the track the payroll still wasn't working properly and had racked up $1bn of bills and more than a little pain for employees who weren't paid properly, if at all.

    The State launched in inquiry that found IBM did not act ethically in pursuit of the contract. That inquiry also found that public sector workers in Queensland were less-than-stellar managers of their suppliers. To make things worst, a previous State government settled with IBM because it feared that if it was hostile to Big Blue it would walk away and leave it with an even smaller chance of delivering a working payroll.

  • The following was sent to the Alliance@IBM by a manager:
    IBM continues to prepare for another round of job reductions. Currently, the management discussions for this year's performance assessment are ongoing. Despite the fact that most if not all "low performers" have been laid off during this June's resource action, the directive is to create a PBC distribution that contains 2-5% of the dreaded "3" grade ("among the lowest performers"). This means we will be forced to select solid and even above average performers for the "3" grade and possibly for elimination. Also it has been communicated that managers will now be ranked together with engineers...indicating that the ranks of particularly first-lines may be targeted to achieve a reduction in management levels.

    Latest surveys among management show that there will be a significant population of "3" grades for 2013. In most cases these grades happen only because management has to achieve the preset quotas. This means that a lot of these prospective "3"s did NOT have a clue this is going to happen to them...no mid-year review or any other feedback during the year as required by HR policy. There will also be a sizable number of IBMers whose grade will drop from a "2+" to a "3", i.e. two steps down compared to the previous year. Without any feedback, this will lead to a lot of amazement come PBC time.

    Most in lower management are outraged by this. Especially after the RA, this is perceived as an unjust punishment, and absolutely contrary to the "performance culture" that HR keeps advertising. While we are trying to speak up, our influence is in the end rather limited. May I ask you to make IBMers aware of the possibility of escalation after the PBC delivery, and encourage them to take this step if a "3" has been given?

    I think a powerful message needs to be sent, and clogging the system with escalations will draw attention.

  • Glassdoor IBM reviews. Selected reviews follow:
    • Dinosaur struggling” Architect (Current Employee), San Francisco, CA. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 5 years. Pros: Good for college grads to get the label on your resume. Will get to work on cool technologies depending on the specific division you work for. Cons: Terrible management overall. No growth and some divisions are downright career black holes. Benefits are archaic with very high health insurance premiums. No stock grants. Advice to Senior Management: Clean up shop. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • Information Developer” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee). Pros: You can gain experience as a newbie. Looks very good on CV. Flextime. Cons: Very poor compensation. Lousy benefits (no complementary fruit or soft drinks). Awful office culture (no one speaks to anyone else). Middle-aged demographic. A manager who insists all technical writers must sit in the same room (for no good reason at all). Poor performance review systems. Advice to Senior Management: Modernize. The culture is not in line with competitors. It's stuffy, arcane, odd, and the benefits and joy just aren't there.
    • Great company to work for” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee). I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Strong commitment to employee's life/work balancing. Cons: Limitations for career moves within company if in development organization. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • It's not IBM of your father's day” Applications Engineer (Former Employee). Boulder, CO. I worked at IBM as a contractor for more than a year. Pros: It's a job. They have a good lunch service. It's a job. Plenty of free parking. It's a job. You get to supply your own office supplies. You do get a desk. It's a job. Cons: IBM's main concern is profits. Making their workers work a weekend a month without additional pay. No real concern for their employees' career. Advice to Senior Management: Think about your investment in your employees. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Business Development Manager” Data Center Sales Leader (Former Employee), Cincinnati, OH. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 5 years. Pros: Able to work independently and make as much money as you want. Cons: Too much forecasting. Large IT sales can not be managed on a weekly basis. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Good first experience, leave after a year.” GL Accountant (Current Employee), Kraków (Poland). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: Stable employment; the salary is OK compared to other opportunities in Krakow; the workload is absolutely bearable; chance to advance in the smaller bands. Cons: This company does not care about the employees and work relations do not build on trust. It is like a factory, where the environment is dull and suppressing. It simply makes you bitter in the long run. Also, if you are not Polish, you can only advance until being a team leader if you know Polish.. Above that or without Polish, forget it. Advice to Senior Management: Care more about the employees' needs; this way you make sure you keep the best of them. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • The kingdom where you must do everything alone” Accountant (Former Employee), Budapest (Hungary). I worked at IBM full-time for less than a year. Pros: Goods offices, many open positions, cool and young peoples. Cons: No organisation and no help; everything is disorganized and outsourced; salaries are bad and there is more managers than people to do the job. They don't care about the quality; the only important thing is the communication. Advice to Senior Management: Change the organisation and choose the quality! No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Rewarding and fulfilling” Software Developer (Current Employee), Hursley, England (UK). I have been working at IBM full-time for less than a year. Pros: Rewarding and fulfilling—put in the time and effort and reap the rewards. Great atmosphere and surrounded by helpful colleagues, very challenging at times. Cons: Competing against fellow colleagues might not be the best approach for promotion (especially that the bottom 10% will be deemed to be not good enough). Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Positive and frustrating at the same time.” Anonymous Employee (Current Employee), Portsmouth, South East England (UK). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 8 years. Pros: 1) People, technology and projects are world class. 2) "You always have a friend in IBM" - back up in tight situations can be fantastic, when you finally find the right person or team. Finding the right person or team is the challenge.

      Cons:

      • Internal processes are like pulling hens teeth at times.
      • The company can be seriously disjointed. Too much cross brand BS when trying to integrate an IBM stack for a client. This can be very difficult as the client sees the person on the ground as "IBM" without realizing that person has little or no sway over the resolution of their problem if it crosses IBM organizational boundaries. The root cause is down to different incentives applied to different brands/companies. They therefore they don't always work well together.
      • The company is far too big for it's own good, applies global policies that make little or no sense to the shop-floor and does not seem to know where it is going. It's spent the last decade or more trying to re-invent itself ("On Demand", "Smarter Planet", Hardware, Software - who knows?)

      Advice to Senior Management: Stop focusing on Earnings Per Share, stock prices and the race to the bottom of the cost barrel. Start focusing on what IBM actually is, what it can deliver and the people who work for the company. Start treating your workforce as stakeholders (not an inconveniently costly cost center), listen to them and learn.

      If the company starts listening, actively engages with the people who really know what is going on and acts on the collective experience the staff bring to the table then IBM can revolutionize anything it puts its mind to. This spirit - borne out of the Apollo program; many, many radical inventions used daily by millions without knowing seems to have been lost today. It's the spirit that historically drove IBM in the past and made it hugely successful.

      Sadly I'm not expecting a change from a company that now seems more interested in accountancy as opposed to engineering quality. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.

    • You are just a number part of a selling machine. Customer relationships are not valued.” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee). Pros: Interesting work done in Research. Cons: All about selling. That is all that matters. Customer relationships and being a solid business partner are not valued. The quality of the work of some of the employees is very low in respect to other organizations. The population of the poor workers is higher at IBM (in my opinion) than other corporations. The company does not care about its employees. You are just a number. Advice to Senior Management: Should be a customer driven organization rather than a product driven organization. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Company is tanking: Poor professional services business model, poor management, lack of professional development opportunities.” Consultant (Current Employee), New York, NY. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 3 years. Pros: Global brand equity and longstanding reputation. Cons: Horrible business model, Poor Compensation, Poor Management, Lack of ease of mobility in switching divisions or exploring other internal opportunities. Advice to Senior Management: Invest in human capital and employee retention programs. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Contractor thru Kelly Services, then contract awarded to CCI, they didn't honor terms and conditions of my contract” Morgan Stanley Desk, Night Supervisor (Current Employee), Boulder, CO. I have been working at IBM as a contractor for more than a year. Pros: None, except my manager at IBM is fair and treats me like a human being. Cons: Doing work as manager with no pay increase; took night shift was promised hire at IBM; promise was broken, stuck on night shift. Advice to Senior Management: Temp needed termination; he created hostile environment; no action taken because fear of lawsuit. He quit for another job after being written up multiple times. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Soul Crushing Torture” Senior Development Engineer (Current Employee), Hopewell Junction, NY. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: All the positives of working at IBM are in the rear view mirror. If you are an executive who gets stock options then IBM is a great company to work for. You don't have to worry about growing the business. No matter how bad the business performs IBM will keep your options afloat by buying back billions in stock. If you just draw a salary, maybe you should look elsewhere.

      Cons: IBM thinks that paying 90% of the midpoint of the market range for a position is competitive. If IBM wants to only hire people 45th percentile then maybe so. There are no raises for anyone making more than 45% of the range. If you are well above average and contribute value that is well above average then why would you settle for having your salary capped a a level that is below average?

      Employees are discouraged, stressed, broken, frightened and afraid. Mass layoffs, over and over and over have decimated their ranks and destroyed all trust in management and in managements ability to run the business.

      Every year IBM increases the cost of benefits to the employees but salaries never seem to keep up.

      IBM's hardware business is imploding and the executives are clueless. But if we use social media and Tweet and Like about how great IBM is maybe things will get better. :-(

      Turnover at IBM is very high and the number of people who know how to get things done keeps deceasing as the brain trust gets fired, retires or decides to leave the mess that IBM has become.

      Advice to Senior Management: Stop shooting the troops and instead fire the generals who can't figure out how to keep the business from failing. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.

  • Glassdoor IBM Canada reviews
  • The Globe and Mail (Canada): Brace for the end of the share buyback binge. By Tim Shufelt. Excerpts: Like a rich uncle, corporate America has been buying the affections of investors, by way of a simple financial manoeuvre: the share buyback.

    Ever since the market began to recover in 2009, companies flush with profits have poured their cash reserves into buying back their own stock.

    But critics question whether the buyback binge may be lulling investors into a false sense of security. Companies that use share repurchase programs can boost their earnings per share even if profits are stagnating. It’s not clear if shareholders are any better off as a result. ...

    “I’m watching for signals where the market starts rejecting companies growing their earnings [with buybacks],” said Mike O’Rourke, chief market strategist at brokerage firm JonesTrading. “I think we’re very late in the cycle of companies doing this.” ...

    International Business Machines Corp. is a fine example of what share buybacks can – and can’t – do. Last month, the tech giant approved a $15-billion increase to its repurchase program, prompting a 2.7-per-cent share spike the same day. But the announcement came soon after the company posted a decline in sales for the sixth straight quarter. The bad news extended across a number of IBM’s divisions.

    “The news and trading action in IBM personify what is unhealthy about the current environment,” Mr. O’Rourke said at the time, pointing to IBM’s “financially engineered earnings growth.” Those who share that view worry that IBM is more concerned with supporting its own stock price than with improving operations.

  • InformationWeek: Too Old For IT Jobs? 7 Fight-Back Tips. Excerpt: For older IT job seekers, ageism occurs in subtle ways during the application and interview process. Use this advice from recruiters to tackle the challenges.
  • New York Times: You Plan Your Retirement, Then You Get the Health Bill. By Ann Carrns. Jeff Strack, a 61-year-old sales manager in Charlotte, N.C., enjoys his work and is in good health. But the prospect of paying for health costs after he retires weighs on him. “Within health care,” he said, “there’s all kinds of uncertainties.” ...

    Mr. Strack isn’t alone in his concern. As the American population ages and insurers try to rein in costs, the share of health and medical costs that retirees can expect to shoulder is becoming more formidable.

    A look at estimates of retiree health costs suggests that, if long-term care costs are included, it is not difficult to come up with a situation in which a couple’s tab for out-of-pocket costs post-retirement could approach — or even exceed — $1 million. ...

    Fidelity Investments estimates that the average married couple retiring this year at age 65 need $220,000 to cover health costs throughout retirement. That has actually fallen from last year’s estimate of $240,000 because of lower-than-expected Medicare spending, Fidelity said; also, people have cut back on medical care during the lackluster economy, and increases in payments to doctors and health plans have slowed under the Affordable Care Act. But the number is still daunting.

  • The Fiscal Times: Who’s Being Swallowed Up by the Income Gap? By Rob Garver. Excerpts: It’s no secret that there is an increasing divide between the wealthy and the poor in the U.S., but the Americans suffering the greatest increase in income inequality are those entering their prime earning years – which means an even deeper division is looming down the road.

    The income gap is the spread between the highest-paid members of the workforce and the lowest-paid– typically the top 20 percent of earners and the bottom 20 percent. According to an analysis by BankRate.com of the U.S. census data on age and income, the spread between high earners and low earners has spread across all age cohorts, but has been most pronounced among those between ages 35 and 54, the period when most individuals are trying to become financially stable and to build for retirement. ...

    When you change the focus from income disparity to wealth disparity, Census Bureau figures show that the age cohort in the U.S. with the largest gap between rich and poor is individuals aged 65 and older.

    The fact that the income gap among individuals in their peak earning years today had grown so significantly sends a worrying signal about future increases in wealth disparity among the older population. ...

    Berube pointed out that the numbers may be even worse than they appear because today’s current retirees are among the last to benefit from defined benefit pension programs, which guarantee a certain level of income in retirement. Today’s private sector workers, if they have a retirement program at all, are almost exclusively participating in defined contribution programs, in which employers contribute either a set percentage of earnings or match a maximum contribution to an employee’s retirement fund.

    For those in defined contribution programs, low wages mean low contributions, which translate into a smaller retirement nest egg.

  • Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert. This week's headlines:
    • Budget Conference is Close to a Deal that Addresses Sequestration
    • Republican Plan Would Go After Federal Employees’ Pension Benefits
    • Bankruptcy Judge Rules Detroit Can Cut City Retirees’ Promised Pension Benefits
    • Alan Simpson Calls Social Security and Medicare Lies
    • Affordable Care Act Saves Seniors $8.9 Billion
    • Conservative Group ALEC Loses Many of its Supporters
    • Alliance Raises Money on GivingTuesday
News and Comments Concerning ExtendHealth (New Medical Plan for Medicare-Eligible IBM Retirees)
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  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA Election Form" by "retiredyeah". Full excerpt: Does the HRA Survivor Form still have to be completed if one is staying with an Advantage Plan (Aetna PPO) for the next year?
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA Election Form" by Dave Haynes. Full excerpt: I wondered the same thing, so I called Budco, the collector of the forms. They said, "YES, all forms MUST be submitted this year by the date indicated in the IBM letter even though you may not get any HRA money for a year or two."
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: More pension liability offloading by corporate plans expected" by "hankharty". Full excerpt: "I suspect the primary reason for the HRA Election Form was really to make IBM pension-payment streams more attractive to potential buyers."

    The reduced benefit for a surviving spouse is for only one reason, that is, to save IBM money. There is no other reason. There is no benefit to the retiree.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: More pension liability offloading by corporate plans expected" by "hdttraveler". Excerpt: The notarized letter required for HRAs, even for single folks, was a head-scratcher for me. But the HRA may have only been a secondary reason.

    My point was that since I am single with no dependents and have been for 35 years, why did I have to send in a notarized form? My supposition is that there must be an ulterior motive - pension payment de-risking.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: More pension liability offloading by corporate plans expected" by "hankharty". Excerpt: "Actually, there is the benefit of helping support your spouse after your death..." Apparently you don't understand the change. Instead of the surviving spouse receiving the full benefit ($3500/$3000), they will now receive less than half of the previous annual benefit or nothing at all, depending upon the selection made by the retiree. If the retiree has passed, the surviving spouse receives the default less than half of the previous annual benefit.

    Once again, you can thank the greedy bastards at IBM for this so-called surviving-spouse 'benefit'.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: More pension liability offloading by corporate plans expected" by "madinpok". Excerpt: > My supposition is that there must be an ulterior motive - pension payment de-risking. Not sure how you think this information would help IBM with pension de-risking. Anyone who has to send in the HRA form is already retired and therefore has already made their decision on the pension Joint and Survivor option, which can not be changed after the fact. So IBM already knows what its pension liabilities are for all current retirees. The HRA form provides them with no useful information as far as de-risking goes, IMHO.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: More pension liability offloading by corporate plans expected" by "hankharty". "That may be, but it doesn't appear to have anything to do with the requirement of returning a notarized form." By signing the notarized form, you are accepting the reduced surviving spouse benefit (either $0 or less than half of the $3500/$3000). The greedy bastards have given you no alternative if you wish to receive HRA money in the future. Those that don't understand that this is a benefit reduction are ignorant to what is happening.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: More pension liability offloading by corporate plans expected" by Dave Haynes. Full excerpt: The most plausible reason is "it saves IBM money." Some single retirees for whatever reason (does not read the letter carefully, has no spouse and thus thinks it does not apply to him or her, ...) will not send in the form. Their HRA is thus reduced to $2600 or $2374, saving IBM money.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: More pension liability offloading by corporate plans expected" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: OK, what is your more plausible reason why IBM required a notarized form from single retirees? It creates one more opportunity for the retiree to make a mistake by either not submitting the form or failing to have it notarized, resulting in a lower benefit for life and savings for IBM.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: More pension liability offloading by corporate plans expected" by "redrock_5432". Full excerpt: One more aspect of the HRA option/selection: if one selects no survivor option then I think that a non-Medicare survivor (upon death of retiree) is no longer considered a 'participant' in IBM health plans, that is, they cannot purchase health plans via IBM and also receive no HRA. I do not know if the prices on survivor health plans are attractive or not for a non-Medicare survivor. I suppose the surviving spouse option would then be to purchase plan on open market.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: More pension liability offloading by corporate plans expected" by "hdttraveler". Full excerpt: "The most plausible reason is it saves IBM money. Some single retirees ... will not send in the form. Their HRA is thus reduced to $2600 or $2374, saving IBM money."

    I'm not trying to be antagonistic or belittle your opinion, but I am truly amazed.

    Many folks repeatedly post on this forum with an underlying message that seems to be: IBM fundamentally broke their word to us multiple times - don't trust them. I agree. All of the past legal disclaimers may protect IBM legally, but not morally.

    But you appear to be saying that IBM is using a new strategy. Let's call it a rebate campaign - if folks don't follow the terms, they'll lose a potential benefit and reduce IBM's cost.

    I'm very disappointed that IBM violated my trust, but am not as cynical as you appear to be.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: More pension liability offloading by corporate plans expected" by "rmeggy@be". Full excerpt: I believe the level of cynicism is proportionate to the number of times that an IBM employee/retiree was burned by the changes in IBM's corporate environment that saw changes in the treatment of their employees/retirees.

    I recall that in 1991 we were told that if we retired before Jan 1, 1992 that the costs for our Medical benefits would never be capped. So, I retired. A couple of years later we received a letter that basically said, we changed our minds and your costs are also capped and because we changed we will cap your costs at $500.00 over people that retired after 1/01/1992. $8500.00 vs $8000.00 if I recall. I still see the $500.00 delta that is carried over to our HRA funding. ($3500.00 vs $3000.00) Then years after that, nobody was capped.

    Always remember the fine print on all benefits documentation, for example: 2014 IBM Benefits Enrollment Guide for IBM Retirees not Eligible for Medicare. This is for my non-Medicare eligible spouse.

    The company reserves the right,in its sole discretion, to amend,change, suspend or terminate any benefit or plan, program,practice or policy of the company at any time.

    Nothing here about a moral obligation. Bottom line here is that we can expend our energies bitching about our current events or try to ensure that clean, concise, accurate information is made available for all effected IBM personnel. We have to play the cards we are dealt in the best way we know how.

    In my case I don't think I will succeed in getting my present carrier to give EH Agent of Record for my MA policy that I like. I just found out that I can not just replace that MA policy with a Medigap policy purchased on the open market while getting my HRA by purchasing the Humana Walmart Drug plan through EH. BCBS told me I would have to go to Medicare and get a Special Election Privilege to allow BCBS to replace my 2013 MA plan with a BCBS Medigap plan. Further investigation, s in order. Has anyone else run into this issue?

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: More pension liability offloading by corporate plans expected" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: > I do not know if the prices on survivor health plans are attractive or not for a non-Medicare survivor. I suppose the surviving spouse option would then be to purchase plan on open market.

    For non-Medicare retirees and spouses, the IBM plans do not appear to be any great bargain vs buying a policy on an Obamacare exchange. In NY the exchange prices look like they are about 1/3 less than the FHA prices for similar coverage.

    For Medicare policies, the EH prices are the same as the open market prices for the exact same policies.

    Bottom line - I don't see any disadvantage for a surviving spouse who loses access to the IBM retiree insurance program.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Finished Mom's Enrollment" by "sethompson2". Full excerpt: I do apologize if this is a repeat email, my computer was freezing up the other day and I've been out of town and not checking to see if it went through.

    So I finally finished the process of switching my almost 80 year-old mom over to her new plan. I have to say, I am no brain surgeon, but am pretty computer savvy and am a college graduate—but this whole process stressed me out!

    I know NOTHING about the Medicare yet personally, and navigating between plans, and wanting to get her the best coverage possible with her limited income was complicated to say the least. I'm still not convinced I made the right choices (she deferred to me as her POA to decide). I can only pray and wait to see. At least she does have the $1300 HRA to reimburse some of her upfront costs. I'm curious if that will continue after this year, or is a one time "perk"?

    To add to the process even after all the time researching and filling out all the online stuff we still had to finalize it all on a conference call. The process (including being disconnected once) took almost two hours on the phone.

    The GOOD news is that I found YOU DO NOT HAVE TO WAIT FOR AN APPOINTMENT to finalize your plan if you have filled out everything already online. At least here in MD we did not. Which made us both very happy as their next online available date wasn't until December 9. I would suggest anyone still waiting if you have completed EVERYTHING (there are a lot of questions at the end to answer) online and you have an hour or two in the next few days, get it done ASAP to avoid any delays and have to go through a reimbursement process. Can't hurt to try at least! :) I am hoping we got ours in enough time.

    Seriously, how are some of the elderly whom are not computer savvy or alone supposed to navigate this? My heart goes out to those going it alone and pray not too many lose coverage (or make a poor choice) by not getting it done in time.

    Thanks for this site. I found it very helpful along the process. My Dad (who passed in '92) worked for IBM for over 40 years in the DC area. Anyone remember the Rusty Bucket? That was one of the buildings I remember him talking about. Take care all, Sharon.

  • IBM Pension, Retirement Issues, Medical & Extend Health message board: "Surviving spouse and health plan survivor election" by Larry Wiedemann. Full excerpt: I just spoke to the IBM Employees Service Center regarding the Health Plan Election Form to be sent to Budco.

    The rep said that if you are a retiree that has chosen to stay with the IBM Group Plan with Aetna HMO or PPO, you do not have to submit the election form at this time. This is the opposite of what was told to me several weeks ago. He said that many retirees has expressed dismay of having to make a choice at this time since they would not be accessing the HRA until 2015 or 2016. He said that they recently changed the policy due to this input.

    If the retiree should pass while on the IBM Aetna plans the surviving spouse would automatically get the surviving spouse amount to buy insurance through EH.

    I don't know how they will handle the forms that were already submitted from retirees that did not have to submit them.....especially those who marked NO SURVIVAL OPTION

  • IBM Pension, Retirement Issues, Medical & Extend Health message board: "Extend Health is still adding new plans" by "lefutrell". Full excerpt: Even though I have already enrolled, I got a recorded phone call from Extend Health today to tell me that new Medicare Advantage plans have been added in my area (Hudson Valley NY) and to suggest that I go to their web site for more information. The web site now shows nine Medicare Advantage plans available to me instead of the three that were shown previously.

    Although this specific information may not be of general interest here, it does indicate that plans are still being added, and I hope that information may be of interest to others.

  • IBM Pension, Retirement Issues, Medical & Extend Health message board: "Changes to Lump Sum Amount in NetBenefits" by "n2fanham". Full excerpt: I just noticed a disturbing trend in my 2nd Choice Netbenefits calculation. Starting from last April (2013) my ALSO lump sum amount is decreasing. To date, that Lump Sum amount is 8.65% lower or about $25K!

    Also some active employees who are on the TTR (Transition To Retirement) program all received letters stating they had to be punch out by 11/29/13 instead of the offered 12/31/13 or they would be a loss of benefits in the 2 to 5% range.

    A fellow co-worker missed the 11/29/13 cut off date and was shorted $40K off of his lump sum offering.

    For those of you that are still active check your NetBenefit outputs. I do have a disturbing theory: A lot of large corps are farming out their pension obligations to Insurance companies. Looks to me like IBM is getting ready to do the same. Hence lowering the lump sum amounts (that's how the obligation is transferred). Thus resulting in about a 10% lower annuity pension for life.

  • IBM Pension, Retirement Issues, Medical & Extend Health message board: "RE: Changes to Lump Sum Amount in NetBenefits" by Kathi Cooper. Full excerpt: "...farming out their pension obligations to insurance companies." In the business, this is known as de-risking. We have it tagged and have been posting about it for about a year now. Keep watching.
  • IBM Pension, Retirement Issues, Medical & Extend Health message board: "RE: Changes to Lump Sum Amount in NetBenefits" by "lastdino". Excerpt: So what would be the impact to the existing retirees if IBM were to farm out our pensions to an insurance company. I haven't seen any discussions of other companies who have done this nor have I read about other retirees experiences. Is there protection from ERSIA or any existing laws. Maybe a short summary of the pros and cons is in order. After all this may very well happen in the years ahead.
  • IBM Pension, Retirement Issues, Medical & Extend Health message board: "RE: Changes to Lump Sum Amount in NetBenefits" by Gideon Wright. Excerpt: There are people on this site a LOT smarter than me when it comes to what's going on under the covers, but I suspect the lowering of the lump sum amount has to do with changes in the interest rates going into 2014, rather than any precursor to de-risking the plans by selling the annuities to a third party.

    There's a good article here... http://pensionblog.com/2013/07/18/lump-sum-interest-rate-update-june-2013/ ...that explains the impact that interest rates have in lump sum calculations.

    Bottom line, if you wait until 2014 to take your lump sum, you're likely to get less money. Making it the perfect time for companies to offer lump sum buy outs (which I would expect IBM to do in this upcoming year).

    I would think the selling of the remaining annuities to a third party would only come after IBM got as many people with old pension obligations off their books as possible.

  • IBM Pension, Retirement Issues, Medical & Extend Health message board: "RE: Changes to Lump Sum Amount in NetBenefits" by Gideon Wright. Excerpt: Even assuming the companies buying out the annuity offered a comparable rate of payment, a big negative in IBM selling off our annuity would be that they would no longer covered under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), which currently guarantees payment of basic pension benefits earned by workers and retirees participating in defined benefit pension plans. Once that pension is converted into an insurance annuity, those protections go away.

    What that means in simple terms is that IBM could off load their pension obligation to an insurance company who could then, in turn go belly up, and the employee would be left with nothing.

    In terms of pros and cons, that is one huge "con" in my book.

  • IBM Pension, Retirement Issues, Medical & Extend Health message board: "RE: Changes to Lump Sum Amount in NetBenefits" by "madinpok". Excerpt: > What that means in simple terms is that IBM could off load their pension obligation to an insurance company who could then, in turn go belly up, and the employee would be left with nothing.

    It's not that simple. The law requires that when a company terminates a pension plan, they select a top-tier insurance company to lessen the chances that the insurance company will go belly up.

    But even if that does happen, insurance companies re-insure each other to spread the risk. So if an insurance company goes bankrupt, the liabilities to pay the annuities are usually picked up by other companies. And if all else fails, then there are state-level insurance funds that will step in and take over some of the obligations. How much the state fund pays depends on the state you live in. Some states are better than others.

    While it is true the PBGC coverage is lost when a pension fund is terminated by a company, that may or may not be a bad thing. For some people, if a company goes bankrupt and the PBGC steps in, they face a reduction in their pension, particularly if there was an early retirement subsidy included in the pension (as is the case with IBM).

    With an insurance annuity, the early retirement subsidy would not be lost. So you might make out better in the case where the insurance company goes bankrupt than if the IBM pension fund was underfunded and IBM went bankrupt.

    In short, it's not a simple, clear cut answer as to whether a termination of IBM's pension plan would be good or bad for retirees.

    Finally, the insurance industry likes to point out that despite a number of big bankruptcies in the 2008 financial crisis, not one customer lost their annuity.

New on the Alliance@IBM Site

Job Cut Reports

  • Comment 12/10/13: One reason there may have been no large RA in December is that there is already be a large number of people forced to leave IBM within 3 weeks. In 2012, many IBMers including me received an email offering us the chance to work 24 hours a week for 70% of our pay. I declined because I knew there was no way I could work only 24 hours per week and still do my job effectively and support clients and IBM teammates. So I'd wind up working the usual 40+ hours per week at 70% of my pay. But I know many people did accept the offer, and they'll all be gone by 12/31. At least they got their 401K match for this year! -Anonymous-
  • Comment 12/10/13: Hold onto your hats. The Blue Harmony program is being terminated. Possibly hundreds of workers to find new jobs in next 30-60 days. Many employees will really be blue now... -Blueallover-

IBM Retiree Issues

News and Opinion Concerning Health Savings Accounts, Medical Costs and Health Care Reform
Minimize
  • New York Times op-ed: Unacceptable Realities. By Paul Krugman. The hysteria over Obamacare is being well documented, of course; Sahil Kapur’s piece on “Obamacare McCarthyism” — the instant purging of any Republican who offers any hint of accommodation to the law of the land — is getting a lot of well-deserved attention. One thing Kapur doesn’t emphasize, however, is what I see a lot in my in-box (and in my reading): the furious insistence that nothing resembling a government guarantee of health insurance can possibly work.

    That’s a curious belief to hold, given the fact that every other advanced country has such a guarantee, and that we ourselves have a 45-year-old single-payer system for seniors that has worked pretty well all this time. But nothing makes these people as angry as the suggestion that Obamacare might actually prove workable.

    And it’s going to get worse. For two months, thanks to the botched rollout, their delusions seemed confirmed by reality. Now that things are getting better, however, you can already see the rage building. It’s not supposed to be this way — therefore it can’t be this way. If, as now seems highly likely, Obamacare has more or less achieved its enrollment goals by 2015, and costs remain reasonable, that won’t be accepted — there will be furious claims that it’s all a lie. ...

    On both the healthcare and inflation fronts, what you have to conclude is that there are a large number of people who find reality — the reality that governments are actually pretty good at providing health insurance, that fiat money can be a useful tool of economic management rather than the road to socialist disaster — just unacceptable. I think that in both cases it has to do with the underlying desire to see market outcomes as moral imperatives.

  • Daily Kos: California GOP creates fake health care website to discourage constituents from obtaining insurance. Excerpts: California Republicans are desperate and shameless. In the past two weeks, GOP Assembly members have sent mailings out on what appears to be the state's dime to their constituents about health insurance. Only, they don't direct those people to CoveredCA.com to sign up. Instead, they send them to their own astroturf version with the URL CoveringHealthCareCA.com.

    On their version, there are links to negative articles and twisted messages intended to sour people on signing up for health insurance before they ever land at the official health exchange site. ...

    This is yet another of the reasons the current incarnation of the Republican Party is little more than a political oozing sore. There is probably a downside to trying to kill off your own voters to score a momentary political point, but let's just say the members of the party brain trust in my state could meet in a closet and still have enough room for the vacuum and boxes of Christmas decorations.

  • New York Times: As Hospital Prices Soar, a Stitch Tops $500. By Elisabeth Rosenthal. Excerpts: With blood oozing from deep lacerations, the two patients arrived at California Pacific Medical Center’s tidy emergency room. Deepika Singh, 26, had gashed her knee at a backyard barbecue. Orla Roche, a rambunctious toddler on vacation with her family, had tumbled from a couch, splitting open her forehead on a table.

    On a quiet Saturday in May, nurses in blue scrubs quickly ushered the two patients into treatment rooms. The wounds were cleaned, numbed and mended in under an hour. “It was great — they had good DVDs, the staff couldn’t have been nicer,” said Emer Duffy, Orla’s mother.

    Then the bills arrived. Ms. Singh’s three stitches cost $2,229.11. Orla’s forehead was sealed with a dab of skin glue for $1,696. “When I first saw the charge, I said, ‘What could possibly have cost that much?’ ” recalled Ms. Singh. “They billed for everything, every pill.” ...

    A day spent as an inpatient at an American hospital costs on average more than $4,000, five times the charge in many other developed countries, according to the International Federation of Health Plans, a global network of health insurance industries. The most expensive hospitals charge more than $12,500 a day. And at many of them, including California Pacific Medical Center, emergency rooms are profit centers. That is why one of the simplest and oldest medical procedures — closing a wound with a needle and thread — typically leads to bills of at least $1,500 and often much more. ...

    The main reason for high hospital costs in the United States, economists say, is fiscal, not medical: Hospitals are the most powerful players in a health care system that has little or no price regulation in the private market. ...

    In other countries, the price of a day in the hospital often includes many basic services. Not here. The “chargemaster,” the price list created by each hospital, typically has more than ten thousand entries, and almost nothing — even an aspirin, a bag of IV fluid, or a visit from a physical therapist to help a patient get out of bed — is free. Those lists are usually secret, but California requires them to be filed with health regulators and disclosed.

  • The Health Care Blog: The Presidential Healthcare Curse – Why Do They Even Try? By David Blumenthal, M.D. Excerpts: Until now, virtually every president who has dabbled with comprehensive health reform has failed spectacularly, often at huge political cost. Think of Harry Truman’s lonely campaign for national health insurance, Jimmy Carter’s devastating conflict with the late Senator Edward Kennedy over universal health care coverage, the first George Bush’s ineffectual (and little-remembered) health insurance proposal, or Bill Clinton’s damaging first-term effort to pass health reform.

    Health reform is a presidential nightmare. No sane presidential consigliere would ever recommend his or her boss try it. Our health care system is so complicated and convoluted that any conceivable proposal is bound to make someone worse off. And in health care, worse off can mean real pain and suffering that creates powerful, emotional stories that echo through the news cycle. There is simply no way for presidential health care reformers to avoid grievous political harm, as the experience of President Barack Obama is now demonstrating in spades.

    Which raises the question: why bother? It would have been so easy for President Obama, in the midst of the Great Recession of 2008, to kick the health care can down the road, saying that his all-consuming priority was economic revival, and that health reform could wait.

    The answer provides critical context for the relentless stream of troubling news—and the cacophony of charges and counter-charges—about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that fill the media each day. The reason to proceed with this painful technical and political process is that there is no alternative. Before the ACA, the current health care system—and especially its private insurance market—was collapsing before our eyes, like a house tipping into a sinkhole.

    Recently the Commonwealth Fund released its 13th cross-national survey documenting health care experience in the developed world. Based on responses from more than 20,000 individuals in 11 countries, the survey shows unequivocally that the United States has the worst health insurance among industrialized nations. Whether you’re talking administrative hassles, out-of-pocket expenses, costs of administration, complexity of policies, or adequacy of coverage, the U.S. consumer gets a bad deal. ...

    The individual and small-group insurance markets in the United States—now ground zero in the ACA rollout war—are particularly dysfunctional, and were imploding prior to the enactment of the law. In these markets adults report paying high premiums and facing high deductibles and copayments for plans that are often insurance in name only: they lack prescription drug and dental coverage, exclude services covered for subscribers in larger groups, and limit annual payouts. Not surprisingly, consumers in the individual market spend a larger share of their income on out-of-pocket costs and experience medical debt and bill problems at higher rates than those with employer-based insurance.

    And people with these problematic policies are in some ways the lucky ones. Prior to reform, insurers had the unfettered ability to set premiums based on an individual’s age and health history, creating financial barriers that were difficult or impossible to overcome for many older adults or those with chronic health problems. A 2011 Fund survey found nearly half of those who tried to purchase individual coverage never ended up buying a policy, with 80 percent of those who tried to buy it saying the premium was too high, the deductibles and copayments were too high, or the plan did not cover a preexisting condition. ...

    Reforming the individual and small-group markets is precisely the purpose of the ACA marketplaces and their regulations, which set a floor under the quality of individual and small-group policies. It is these minimum standards and expanded consumer protections that many pre-reform individual and small-group market policies did not meet. The new regulations have prompted insurers to notify many subscribers that such plans would not be available beginning next year. Policies meeting new minimum requirements will cost some currently insured individuals more, especially the young and healthy, who were more likely to purchase the skimpy policies that have been so prevalent. While some of these consumers will be unhappy with premium increases, they will be grateful later if they get sick. They will also be guaranteed that, as they age and come to really need insurance, a private insurance industry will exist from which they can purchase meaningful protection against the cost of illness.

  • Washington Post opinion: Republican fallacies on Obamacare: the greatest hits. By Matt Miller. Excerpt: Before the holiday spirit makes Republican-bashing a little unseemly, it’s time to get in a last ornery blast at the party’s Obamacare stance. Republicans have enjoyed themselves immensely during the Affordable Care Act’s bungled rollout, but most of the claims they’re making are preposterous and phony. Since anyone able to take a longer view knows we’ll one day be well past Obamacare’s self-inflicted wounds, I’d like as a public service to catalog the GOP’s shabbiest arguments, so we’ll all have a handy reference once the worm fully turns.
  • M.I.T. Technology Review: Diagnosis for Healthcare.gov: Unrealistic Technology Expectations. The website for the Affordable Care Act was doomed by an inordinately complex setup that tried to link disparate databases in real time. By David Talbot. Excerpts: The fiasco with the $600 million federal health insurance website wasn’t all bureaucratic. Forcing slow and disparate databases run by government and insurance companies to work together in real time—and then launching the service all at once—would have challenged even technology wunderkinds.

    In particular, the project was doomed by a relatively late decision that required applicants to open an account and let the site verify their identity, residence, and income before they could browse for insurance. That meant the site would have to interface in real-time with databases maintained by the Internal Revenue Service and other agencies.

    “You could put 100 Google engineers on it, and it’s not going to fix [the fact] that the scope of the project is flawed or fix the IRS system if it’s slow,” says John Halamka, chief information officer of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “You don’t want to query 10 downstream systems and be reliant on their performance, because you are only going to be as good as the slowest one.” ...

    In contrast, the federal site took on complications that would befuddle even the best technologists. “The scope of ‘we will provide all the functionality for 34 states, and linkage to 1,000 insurance companies, and an online real-time marketplace’ was probably too big to accomplish given the time available,” Halamka says.

News and Opinion Concerning the "War on the Middle Class"
Minimize "It is a restatement of laissez-faire-let things take their natural course without government interference. If people manage to become prosperous, good. If they starve, or have no place to live, or no money to pay medical bills, they have only themselves to blame; it is not the responsibility of society. We mustn't make people dependent on government- it is bad for them, the argument goes. Better hunger than dependency, better sickness than dependency."

"But dependency on government has never been bad for the rich. The pretense of the laissez-faire people is that only the poor are dependent on government, while the rich take care of themselves. This argument manages to ignore all of modern history, which shows a consistent record of laissez-faire for the poor, but enormous government intervention for the rich." From Economic Justice: The American Class System, from the book Declarations of Independence by Howard Zinn.

  • The Smirking Chimp: The Banksters Are Getting Off Easy… By Thom Hartmann. Excerpts: The banksters could be forced to pay tens of billions of dollars more in settlements for crashing our economy. But, these fees are just a small fraction of the price that American taxpayers paid for the economic collapse. So far, the too-big-to-fail banks have forked out about $80 billion dollars in legal fees related to the crisis, and the ratings agencies predict that the banksters will be on the hook for another 50 to 100 billion.

    Although that sounds like a lot, it’s simply a drop in the bucket compared to the $6 trillion dollars that their gambling cost our economy. And, many of these settlements were so-called “no-admit-no-deny” agreements that did not even require the banksters to admit to their crimes. To make matters even worse, many of these settlements could be written off of banks’ taxes, which means that the actual amount that banksters are responsible for is even less than that $80 billion.

  • New York Times editorial: Keeping Shareholders in the Dark. Excerpts: Protecting investors and ensuring proper corporate governance are the essence of the mission of the Securities and Exchange Commission. But you wouldn’t know that from the recent actions of the agency and its chairwoman, Mary Jo White.

    Last week, the S.E.C. unwisely removed from its regulatory agenda a plan to consider a rule to require public companies to disclose their political spending — even though the case for disclosure is undeniable. Basic investor protection requires that shareholders know how corporate executives are spending shareholder money. Good corporate governance requires that companies are transparent about their use of corporate resources. Shareholders know this and have demanded disclosure.

    Even before 2010, when the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United opened the floodgates for corporate political spending, shareholder proposals requesting information on such spending were growing. Since the ruling, those requests have increased along with the political spending. Trade associations and politically active tax-exempt groups are not required to disclose their donors, but there is mounting evidence that much of the money they spend is from companies that want to influence elections in secret, without fear of alienating shareholders, customers or legislators they target for defeat. ...

    Opponents of the rule, including Republican lawmakers, some conservative academics and trade associations, have said that the S.E.C. should not be involved in issues of campaign finance or free speech. But that is not the point. Without disclosure, shareholders have no way to assess whether corporate political spending benefits them, and every reason to believe it is fraught with risks to the corporate brand, business reputation, the bottom line and, by extension, shareholder returns.

  • New York Times opinion: Obama Gets Real. By Paul Krugman. Excerpts: First, about those truths: Mr. Obama laid out a disturbing — and, unfortunately, all too accurate — vision of an America losing touch with its own ideals, an erstwhile land of opportunity becoming a class-ridden society. Not only do we have an ever-growing gap between a wealthy minority and the rest of the nation; we also, he declared, have declining mobility, as it becomes harder and harder for the poor and even the middle class to move up the economic ladder. And he linked rising inequality with falling mobility, asserting that Horatio Alger stories are becoming rare precisely because the rich and the rest are now so far apart. ...

    And there was this: “When it comes to our budget, we should not be stuck in a stale debate from two years ago or three years ago. A relentlessly growing deficit of opportunity is a bigger threat to our future than our rapidly shrinking fiscal deficit.” Finally! Our political class has spent years obsessed with a fake problem — worrying about debt and deficits that never posed any threat to the nation’s future — while showing no interest in unemployment and stagnating wages. Mr. Obama, I’m sorry to say, bought into that diversion. Now, however, he’s moving on.

  • New York Times opinion: What Obama Left Out of His Inequality Speech: Regulation. Excerpts: But there’s a crucial dimension the president left out: the revival, since the mid-1970s, of the laissez-faire ideology that prevailed in the Gilded Age, roughly the 1870s through the 1910s. It’s no coincidence that this laissez-faire revival — an all-out assault on government regulation — has unfolded over the very period in which inequality has soared to levels not seen since the Gilded Age.

    History tells us that in periods when protective governmental institutions are weak, irresponsible companies tend to abuse their economic freedom in ways that harm ordinary workers and consumers. The victims are often less affluent citizens who lack the power either to protect themselves from harm or to hold companies accountable in the courts. We are in such a period today. ...

    Corporate activists — responding in part to a call to action by William E. Simon, a financier and architect of the modern conservative movement, who served as Treasury secretary under Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford — devoted tens of millions of dollars to the creation of right-leaning think tanks, media operations and free-enterprise centers in academia, as well as lobbying and public relations firms and “grass-roots” (but actually business-financed) organizations. ...

    The third assault came with the inauguration of George W. Bush in 2001. With the assistance of the Heritage Foundation, the president filled the top levels of the regulatory agencies with devoted deregulators. Agency budgets, which had begun to creep upward in Mr. Clinton’s second term, were slashed once again, and voluntary compliance became the preferred enforcement tool, despite its demonstrated ineffectiveness. When several deregulatory bills drafted by the Bush administration failed, it sought to achieve its goals administratively. When an agency did try to promulgate a stringent regulation — often because it was required by statute — the regulatory czars in the Office of Management and Budget rewrote the rules to make them weaker or to create generous exemptions. ...

    The three assaults did not succeed in repealing the bedrock regulatory statutes and common law innovations of the Progressive, New Deal and Public Interest Eras. But they were remarkably successful in disabling the institutions charged with establishing the rules of responsible corporate behavior and with holding irresponsible companies accountable for breaking those rules. By the mid-2000s, those resource-starved federal agencies that had not become thoroughly captured by the industries they regulated were at best reluctant regulators. ...

    The laissez-faire revival also contributed to the growing disparities in wealth and well-being that became painfully obvious during the last decade. While corporate executives, Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers greatly benefited from the three waves of assault on regulation, the fortunes of blue-collar workers and the working poor steadily declined. Median incomes have fallen over the last decade. ...

    The disparities brought on by the laissez-faire revival, however, go far beyond the vast disparities in income and wealth. It is of fairly small consequence to the disabled miner whose boss violated federal safety standards that the mining company’s revenues, profits and executive bonuses are on the rise. But the disparity becomes unconscionable when lax pension-protection regulations let the company spin off its “legacy liabilities” (pension and health-insurance guarantees) into an undercapitalized shell for the sole purpose of filing for bankruptcy protection.

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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