Each of the five (5) notices directly below contain important information on matters that you need to be aware of and/or that may affect you. Please read them carefully.
Effective April 1, 2024, the expense for early retiree coverage and/or retiree disability coverage under the Health and Benefit Plan will increase by $100.00 a month.
Be advised that the decision to make this increase was not made lightly and was highly deliberated. Nevertheless, it was determined that an increase must be made as the expense to provide coverage to this population of the Plan is neither stabilizing nor abating.
While this is not welcome news, please keep in mind:
- For the past nine years the Board has been able to forestall medical inflationary pressures on this populations monthly retiree coverage expense by keeping it at the same level as it was on April 1, 2015.
- That the Health and Benefit Fund is subject to the same underlying inflationary factors as the rest of the economy.
- That the idiosyncrasies of the healthcare industry often result in medical prices growing faster than prices in the overall economy.
- That the Health and Benefit Fund is not immune to such things.
For the sixty (60) or so of the participants who are affected by this increase, please be on the lookout for a letter later this month which explains the monthly impact of this increase. Should you have any questions, please contact the Fund Office at 219-940-6181.
In an effort to add both clarity to its current benefit offerings, and to remove any confusion as to when and under what circumstances a participant should be calling and utilizing the Teladoc benefit or the Included Health benefit, the Board is simplifying its telemedicine offerings.
Effective, May 1, 2024, the services performed by both of the aforementioned entities will be provided by just one. Specifically, that entity will be Included Health.
So, why make this change now?
Well, the change is being made for the following reasons:
- Healthcare works better when it is simple, efficient, and convenient.
- For the past four to five years the Board has been utilizing each of these entities for their respective core specialties. (Meaning; the Board determined that one firm was better at delivering a particular service than the other was. It is important to note that this was not a matter of one provider being predominantly bad at some services, but rather, one firm being primarily much better than the other in providing that service. Consequently, the more qualified firm was selected to provide that particular service, and to avoid overlap or worse, subpar results, the firm less qualified was not permitted to offer the same services as the other.)
- Recently the gap that used to separate these two firms service offerings has closed and as of this writing the services that they offer are almost identical.
- However, due to the depth and quality of service and systems, and how they are integrated to provide better outcomes, one firm has emerged as a clear leader within the telemedicine industry.
- That firm is Included Health.
Consequently, effective May 1, 2024, and future forward, Included Health will be the Funds sole telehealth benefit service provider. Said differently, but equally accurately, on May 1, 2024, Included Health will be the “one-stop-shop” for any eligible participant and/or family member to call to address their:
- Tela-health urgent care needs.
- Second opinion needs. And/or,
- Needs as they relate to the desire to find high quality physicians and surgeons.
You can reach Included Health’s electronically, through their app or via phone at 800-929-0926. That number can also be found within the Funds website, SPD and of course, on the reverse side of your Medical Identification card either under Included Health or Grand Rounds.
Please be advised that the Board of Trustees of the I.B.E.W. Local 697 Defined Contribution Plan recently performed a rigorous benchmarking study of Vanguard institutional recordkeeping services versus those that exist within the industry.
Said study consisted of:
- The examination of the institutional recordkeeping service industry that supports Taft-Hartley Funds,
- The creation of a custom request for proposal and issuance of said proposal to those providers,
- The collection of each providers information, legal documents, reports and the recording and organizing of candidate responses to the requests for proposals,
- Reference calling, and of course,
- Candidate meetings, interviews, and presentations.
The result of the study found that the Vanguard recordkeeping platform and service department is not as robust and deep as what their competitors are able to provide today. Equally important, the study revealed that:
- What Vanguard charges to provide recordkeeping services are moderately higher than that of their competitors,
- That said competitors offer more services and tools to help participants prepare for their golden years, and,
- That Vanguard is less Taft-Hartley centric than its competitors.
Regarding the latter, changes within Vanguard over the past few years has resulted in that firm becoming less and less knowledgeable of the Taft-Hartley space and the nuances of their Plans. Whereas each of the prospective firms reviewed have dedicated Taft-Hartley divisions and are extremely experienced and knowledgeable within the Taft-Hartley space.
Further, Vanguard has retained the services of Infosys, an Indian multinational technology and outsourcing service company to help modernize their recordkeeping platform. When pressed by both the Fund and Fund Counsel about the “industry buzz” that Vanguard is in discussion to sell its recordkeeping platform business to Infosys, Vanguard’s attorneys would neither confirm nor deny that speculation.
Needless to say, that comment does not instill confidence that Vanguard wants to be a player in this segment of the retirement business going forward. Further, and if true it suggest that Vanguard’s primary focus at some point in their future may be the selling of the recordkeeping platform, and their secondary concern will be helping the participants of the Plan prepare for retirement.
Taking all this into account, the Board determined that the Vanguard recordkeeping platform and service department, while not inherently bad, are nevertheless not great and as such neither the right system nor people to take the participants and the Plan into the future.
To that end, the Board selected and is pleased to announce that effective, Monday, June 3rd, 2024, the new recordkeeping, and service provider for the I.B.E.W. Local 697 Defined Contribution Plan will be Empower.
There is no action you need to take at this time. However, please pay attention to your mail as well as the Funds website as there will be further communication on this important transition to Empower over the ensuing months.
Lastly, the Plan wishes to remind the participants that Vanguard has two lines of business. Their primary line of business and revenue are the creation and management of mutual funds and ETF investment funds, and the other is recordkeeping. As stated directly above, the Board has elected to sever its recordkeeping relationship with Vanguard. The line-up of Vanguard mutual funds and/or ETF funds, and all other investment offerings inside the Plan are not affected by this switch of platforms/recordkeepers.
The Board of Trustees are pleased to announce that they have approved the suspension of the Pension Plan’s provisions that prohibits retirees from receiving a monthly Pension check if they engage in work within the industry during their retirement for another calendar year.
Therefore, if you are a retiree who is looking to supplement their monthly Pension check from the I.B.E.W. Local 697 Pension Fund by using your electrical skills, expertise, and knowledge working for a signatory contractor to an I.B.E.W. Local 697 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) or working for a company signatory to the CBA of another I.B.E.W. Local, you can.
But there are rules. Which are as follows:
- Ninety (90) calendar days must have elapsed from the date of your first monthly I.B.E.W. Local 697 Pension benefit payment, and,
- Your ERTS election remains set to the Benefit Funds of the I.B.E.W. Local 697 during this return-to-work period.
- Don’t remember how to set your ERTS election or need to verify what it was set up as before retirement? Don’t worry, just call the Fund Office. We can help you with that.
Be advised that Pension contributions received during the year for any retiree working in their retirement will be tallied and recalculated in the beginning of the year following the year in which they were earned.
These credits can positively affect your monthly Pension benefit, but they generally do not as actuarial accounting for previously received monthly amounts and any lump-sum distribution generally offset any credit amount that these contributions may provide. Should this be the case, there will be no adjustment to the monthly Pension benefit.
As it relates to the Health and Benefit Fund, all retirees are reminded that this is a “420-friendly” Plan. Meaning: Should a retiree achieve eligibility status by working four hundred and twenty hours (420) within a work quarter, they will again regain active status in the Plan in the corresponding quarter of coverage. Be advised that regaining active eligibility status cannot be waived and that all corresponding provisions, rules, and policies will be in effect. Including those that relate to shortage of hours and how that interacts with a participants Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) credit benefit.
A special shout out to the Medicare eligible retirees.
The same rules mentioned above apply to you as well. However, we wish to make it clear that should you regain active eligibility status within the Plan, that means that the Health and Benefit Fund becomes your primary insurer during the corresponding quarter of coverage. Generally, this also means that you and any eligible dependent will be disenrolled from the Medicare Advantage Program during that same quarter of coverage. Reenrollment into the Medicare Advantage Program will occur on the day after your eligibility for active coverage terminates.
The Board of Trustees would like to remind:
- All active members that effective, January 1, 2024, the Pension accrual rate is $88.50. And,
- All retirees on the rolls of the Pension Plan as of December 31st, 2023, that you received a 2% increase in your annual benefit.