Event: 19th Annual Benefits Management Forum and Expo
September 17-19, Hyatt Regency Hotel, Chicago
What: The annual conference brings together about 500 experts and seekers of expert advice on the changing issues of benefits management.
Buzzword: Not surprisingly, the watchword of the conference has already bubbled to the surface and is being uttered universally: consumerism. Attendees here are seeking to move away from paternalism, be it in health care or pension benefits. With an eye toward implementing consumer-directed health care plans, companies are looking for strategies to get employees increasingly involved in understanding and using their health benefits.
Day 2, Monday, September 18
Monday morning: The keynote speaker, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, also a regular commentator on PBS’ The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, showed up healthy and sound and full of comical aphorisms on today's political climate. Here are two examples from the man The Wall Street Journal calls the funniest columnist in America:
On the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy: "It's OK if Uncle Sam wants you; if you want Uncle Sam, however, keep it to yourself."
On former President Bill Clinton and the infamous dress: "Americans got tired of watching the evening news with children in the room and having to explain that fellatio was a Roman soldier."
How does this all relate to benefits? Shields called Americans the most pragmatic and optimistic people in the world. Think of the fact that every immigrant who comes to the United States believes that things will be better here. The implication: The company that exudes optimism and delivers practical results will create a culture employees will be attracted to.
Day 1, Sunday, September 17
Keynoter takes a PTO day: Sunday’s keynote speaker, Michael LaBianca, vice president for human resources at Cisco Systems, called in sick. His address was supposed to be called "From Parent to Partner: The Changing Role of the Company and the Government in the Employee Benefits Equation."
In his place, Dennis Ackley, president of his eponymous health benefits consulting firm, gave a talk on the basics of consumer-directed health care plans, which he renamed "consumer-informed" health care plans. The bottom line: Educate your employees early and often about the connection between rising health care costs and the reason why their salaries may be stagnant.