Today's News

Today’s Federal Register is here. Elizabeth MacDonald for Forbes Magazine reports via Yahoo! News.com: “Pension Pangs: Some big companies are in for an earnings jolt when they own up to the reality of rotten pension fund performance.”

Reuters has reported that the House Subcommittee on Capital Markets will hold a hearing, entitled “The Accounting Treatment of Employee Stock Options,” on June 3, 2003.

Louis Lavelle for Business Week Online offers this commentary: “Shareholders Unite to Expense Options.”

Benefitslink.com points us to this insightful article by Accounting Today–“GAAP for pensions: Sanctioned fraud must go“–and this article by Fred Reisch for PlanSponsor.com–“Doing Well While Doing Good“–which talks about the selection of socially responsible funds as an 401(k) plan investment option.

TRI Pension Services reports in its Recent Developments on the Field Assistance Bulletin issued by the DOL regarding allocation of expenses to participants and also reports on the new deemed IRA regulations.

Article Discusses New COBRA Notice Regulations

Thompson Publishing provides this article discussing the new COBRA notice regulations.

Bonds Preferred Over Stocks in Retirement Plans?

Today’s Federal Register is here. This article by Andrea Combes for CBSMarketwatch.com: “Mismanaged options: stock option plans confound many workers, experts say.” Today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal has this article–“A New Retirement Tactic for a New Tax Law: Changes Mean Investors Should Now Favor Bonds Over Stocks in 401(k) Plans“–by Jonathan Clements and Tom Herman. The article talks about how, under the new tax law signed by President Bush yesterday, bonds, real estate investment trusts, and short term stock holdings could be better investment choices for 401(k) plans than stocks.

FASB Agrees Today to Reconsider Cash Balance Plan Accounting Proposal

Reuters just reported: “FASB to reconsider pension proposal under attack.

Bush Signs the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003

The President made these remarks today at the signing of the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003.

Article Regarding Benefits Provisions Dropped from the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act" (H.R. 2)

This very good article by Thompson Publishing Group details the benefits provisions dropped from the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act” (H.R. 2): “Comp and Benefits Provisions Dropped From Tax Bill.”

<![CDATA[Today's News: COBRA Reg.’s, Pension Disclosure, and Signing of the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act]]>

Today’s Federal Register is here and contains the new proposed regulations implementing the notice requirements for the health care continuation coverage (COBRA) provisions of Part 6 of title I of ERISA. The new reg.’s, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, set minimum standards for the timing and content of the notices required under COBRA and establish standards for administering the notice process. They also contain model forms for use by administrators of single-employer group health plans to satisfy their notice obligations.

This article by Reuters says Bush will sign the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act today and this article by MSNBC predicts that investors will benefit, particularly with respect to dividend-paying stocks and technology stocks.

FASB made some decisions about pension accounting yesterday. This excellent article–“FASB Names Key Pension Details Companies Should Disclose“–by Arden Dale for the Dow Jones Newswire at Yahoo! News.com provides a very good summary of the decisions affecting pensions. The article quotes FASB Chairman Robert H. Herz as saying that the Board chose “to propose a number of additional disclosures that could help users of financial statements better assess” the pension plan component and quotes Sherry Thompson, a FASB spokesperson, as saying more will be coming from FASB regarding pension disclosure by the end of the year. Today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal has a very good article reviewing what’s going on in the pension disclosure area. FASB is scheduled to make its decision regarding cash balance plan accounting today.

The SEC has issued proposed rules regarding disclosure required by Sections 404, 406 and 407 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. This article by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants reports on the rules. In addition, today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal also has an article by Deborah Solomon: “Fraud Detector: SEC Sets a New Rule Aimed at Companies’ Internal Controls.”

Today's News

Today’s Federal Register is here and contains the new proposed regulations implementing the notice requirements for the health care continuation coverage (COBRA) provisions of Part 6 of title I of ERISA. The new reg.’s, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, set minimum standards for the timing and content of the notices required under COBRA and establish standards for administering the notice process. They also contain model forms for use by administrators of single-employer group health plans to satisfy their notice obligations.

This article by Reuters says Bush will sign the Tax Cut Bill today and this article by MSNBC predicts that investors will benefit, particularly with respect to dividend-paying stocks and technology stocks.

FASB made some decisions about pension accounting yesterday. This excellent article–“FASB Names Key Pension Details Companies Should Disclose“–by Arden Dale for the Dow Jones Newswire at Quicken.com provides a very good summary of the decisions affecting pensions. The article quotes FASB Chairman Robert H. Herz as saying that the Board chose “to propose a number of additional disclosures that could help users of financial statements better assess” the pension plan component and quotes Sherry Thompson, a FASB spokesperson, as saying more will be coming from FASB regarding pension disclosure by the end of the year. Today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal has a very good article reviewing what’s going on in the pension disclosure area. FASB is scheduled to make its decision regarding cash balance plan accounting today.

The SEC has issued proposed rules regarding disclosure required by Sections 404, 406 and 407 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. This article by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants reports on the rules. In addition, today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal also has an article by Deborah Solomon: “Fraud Detector: SEC Sets a New Rule Aimed at Companies’ Internal Controls.”

<![CDATA[U.S. Supreme Court: Black & Decker Disability Plan v. Nord]]>

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court delivered a unanimous opinion written by Justice Ginsburg on the “treating physician rule” in No. 02-469, Black & Decker Disability Plan v. Nord and settled a division among the Circuits on the propriety of the “treating physician rule.” The case involved an ERISA disability plan which provided benefits for eligible disabled employees of Black and Decker. Employee Nord submitted a claim for disability benefits and at the plan administrator’s review stage, submitted letters and supporting documentation from his physicians who had concluded that he suffered from a degenerative disc disease and chronic pain that rendered him unable to work. Black & Decker then referred Nord to their neurologist who determined that Nord was not “disabled” under the plan and therefore his claim was denied. Seeking to overturn the determination, Nord filed an action under ERISA. The District Court granted summary judgment for the plan, concluding that the company’s denial of Nord’s claim was not an abuse of the plan administrator’s discretion. The Ninth Circuit reversed and itself granted summary judgment for Nord. They based their decision on another Ninth Circuit decision holding that, when making benefit determinations, ERISA plan administrators must follow a “treating physician rule.” This rule required a plan administrator who rejects the opinions of a claimant’s treating physician to come forward with specific reasons for the decision, based on substantial evidence in the record.

The U.S. Supreme Court vacated and remanded the Ninth Circuit decision and held that ERISA does not require plan administrators to accord special deference to the opinions of treating physicians. The Court stated: “Nothing in ERISA or the Secretary of Labor’s ERISA regulations suggests that plan administrators must accord special deference to the opinions of treating physicians, or imposes a heightened burden of explanation on administrators when they reject a treating physician’s opinion.” (The DOL had filed an amicus brief opposing the adoption of such a rule for disability determinations under plans covered by ERISA.) The Court stated further: “Plan administrators may not arbitarily refuse to credit a claimant’s reliable evidence, including the opinions of a treating physician. But courts have no warrant to require administrators automatically to accord special weight to the opinion of a claimant’s physician; nor may courts impose on administrators a discrete burden of explanation when they credit reliable evidence that conflicts with a treating physician’s evaluation.

Monitoring Alternative Investments

We have all seen in the news stories about pension plans gravitating towards “alternative investments.” Benefitslink points us to this article by the Benchmark Companies regarding the challenges ERISA plan fiduciaries may face in monitoring and reviewing the “alternative investments” of pension funds, such as hedge funds and venture capital funds.