Advisories & Publications

April 25, 2017 - Retirement

In the 11 sectors of the S&P 500, investors saw a wide dispersion in returns. The technology, health care and consumer discretionary sectors performed the best (with returns of 12.6%, 8.4% and 8.4% respectively) while energy, telecom and financials lagged (with returns of -6.7%, -4.0% and 2.5% respectively). Click here to read more from this quarter's market commentary.

January 31, 2017 - Retirement

Click here to read more from this quarter's market commentary.

October 28, 2016 - Retirement

The Internal Revenue Service announced cost-of-living adjustments applicable to dollar limitations for pension plans and other items for the 2017 tax year. Participant deferral limits remained unchanged from 2016, while the annual compensation limit increased to $270,000.

October 26, 2016 - Retirement

The U.S. Presidential election may cause short-term market volatility, but do not let it dictate your long-term investment goals. U.S. oil rig counts continue to climb as oil prices break through $50 per barrel, and the U.S. Federal Reserve left rates unchanged, but forecast a possible increase by year's end. Click here to read more from this quarter's market commentary.

July 19, 2016 - Retirement

Great Britain voted to leave the EU on June 24 sparking market volatility and uncertainty. Global monetary policy saw an increase in negative interest rates as investors ran to safety. The S&P 500 returned 2.5% for the quarter with the largest gains coming from energy, as commodity prices continued to rebound from first quarter lows. Read more for a macroeconomic review, equity market summary, fixed income summary and more.

May 31, 2016 - Compliance

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently issued final regulations that clarify how employers can design and administer wellness programs to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

May 31, 2016 - Compliance

Last month, federal agencies released a new SBC template, instructions, and other related materials. The changes to the SBC template are intended to improve readability for participants and consumers. Health plans and health insurers will use the new SBC template beginning with the first open enrollment period that begins on or after April 1, 2017. 

May 31, 2016 - Compliance

Keeping up with the abundance of rules and considerations affecting health and welfare benefits is a challenge for benefits administrators, and compliance is a big part of that picture. This checklist is intended to assist administrators with respect to benefits compliance in 2016.

May 09, 2016 - Health & Welfare

The IRS recently released Revenue Procedure 2016-28 announcing the 2017 inflation-adjusted limits for high deductible health plans and health savings accounts.

April 27, 2016 - Retirement

The U.S. financial markets saw increased volatility during the quarter as the S&P 500 declined over 10% before recovering to finish the quarter with a positive 1.4% return. International returns were led by emerging markets, which gained over 5%, largely due to a recovery in commodities, while international developed markets fell 3%. Oil remained dominant in conversation as well. Read more for a macroeconomic review, equity market summary, fixed income summary and more.

April 14, 2016 - Retirement

Expect significant changes in the retirement plan adviser community. The Department of Labor (DOL) released regulations that clearly define the true meaning of a fiduciary − an agnostic role with legally mandated responsibilities − and traditional brokers don’t necessarily fit the mold. The relationship has fundamentally changed between the financial industry and employers who sponsor retirement plans governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).

April 04, 2016 - Compliance

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, recently initiated phase two of its HIPAA audit program to review the compliance efforts of covered entities and business associates. The results of the audit program will provide OCR with valuable insight into where compliance is generally lacking. 

April 04, 2016 - Compliance

Among the sweeping changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act, it put in place dollar limits on the total cost-sharing that may be paid by participants. These limits are subject to change each year due to inflation, and on February 29, 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services released the limits for plan years beginning in 2017. Click here for more information about the 2017 limits as well as other important nuances related to the limits.

March 04, 2016 - Compliance

Subrogation is a valuable and important tool for a self-funded plan. It helps employers recover claims dollars that should have been covered by another plan. A recent Supreme Court ruling serves as a reminder to everyone that self-funded plan sponsors should review their plan’s current subrogation practices to ensure claims involving personal injuries caused by third parties are moving swiftly. 

March 04, 2016 - Compliance

With rising health care costs and the looming possibility of the Cadillac Tax, many employers consider adding Voluntary Benefits as a way to supplement and enhance traditional employee benefit programs. Voluntary Benefits are exempt from various compliance requirements under federal law if they meet certain qualifications. Read more about the qualifications needed to ensure your plan can avoid additional compliance requirements.

March 04, 2016 - Compliance

Insurers and applicable large employers must complete and distribute IRS Form 1095 by March 31. The same forms, along with IRS Form 1094, must be filed with the IRS by March 31 (if filing by paper), or June 30 (electronic filing due date). Read more for additional information regarding the Health Coverage Information Reporting requirements.

February 18, 2016 - Health & Welfare

Deviations from a normal work schedule can have important implications on benefit plans, as these plans frequently specify a minimum number of hours and other criteria defining eligibility. Read this advisory for a list of benefits and careful considerations plan sponsors need to be aware of during a furlough.

January 05, 2016 - Compliance

As the 2015 Holiday Season was unfolding, lawmakers and regulators joined in the festivities by giving employers two additional presents—a delay to the Cadillac Tax and automatic extensions to ACA Information Reporting due dates.

December 03, 2015 - Health Care Reform

Ascende analyzed the implications of the Cadillac tax on the energy industry, and the results yielded staggering findings. Cadillac taxes in 2018 are estimated to be $18 million, and they increase to $180 million by 2022. Read more to see what this means for each sector of the energy industry.

October 22, 2015 - Retirement

The Internal Revenue Service announced cost-of-living adjustments applicable to dollar limitations for pension plans and other items for the 2016 tax year. Most major limits for qualified retirement plans remain unchanged from 2015.

October 07, 2015 - Wellness

An increasing number of U.S. employers (over 60%) find value in offering worksite wellness. In response to current business challenges, some employers have cut their wellness programs to save money. But eliminating wellness from an organization’s overall health plan strategy ignores the harmful effects unhealthy employees can have on the bottom line – they can be less productive at work and have higher health care costs.

July 28, 2015 - Health & Welfare

On July 24, Cigna and Anthem definitively announced the two will merge to form one global health service company. The transaction is expected to go through in the second half of 2016.

July 01, 2015 - Compliance

On June 26, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges and overturned same-sex marriage bans in four states (Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee). The decision also effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Read more to learn how this impacts employee benefits.

June 25, 2015 - Health & Welfare

In a decision handed down on June 25, 2015, the Supreme Court held in King v. Burwell that the Internal Revenue Service may extend premium tax credits to eligible tax payers who purchased coverage offered by the federal health care exchange. This ruling significantly defeats the latest attempt to curtail implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

June 18, 2015 - Pharmacy

Specialty drug trend is projected to run in excess of 30% in 2016. Why? Unchecked manufacturer inflation and new drugs coming to market. A pharmacy consultant helps companies put the appropriate management programs in place to ensure the most effective, low-cost drug therapy. 

May 29, 2015 - Retirement

It isn’t often the Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service both release regulatory changes that have such a significant impact on retirement plan management. As a registered investment adviser and plan fiduciary to more than 50 plans with more than $3 billion in plan assets, Ascende Wealth Advisers, Inc. is in favor of any rules that provide conflict-free advice to plan sponsors and plan participants. These new rules should strengthen the U.S. retirement system.

May 12, 2015 - Wellness

There are key differences between the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's proposed notice and the wellness requirements employers must adhere to within the existing Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This advisory pinpoints these distinctions and explains the proposed EEOC ruling in further detail for employers to consider as they plan for the future of their wellness programs.

May 07, 2015 - Health & Welfare

The IRS recently released Revenue Procedure 2015-30 announcing the 2016 inflation-adjusted limits for high deductible health plans and health savings accounts.

April 22, 2015 - Global Solutions

The downturn in the oil and gas industry has impacted major energy markets around the globe. This white paper addresses the shifting dynamic of $50 oil in the United States, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Mexico and Brazil.

April 14, 2015 - Pharmacy

PCSK9 Inhibitors are expected to transform cholesterol management, but at a very steep price. They will cost approximately $12,000 per patient annually compared to $1,000 for atorvastatin (generic Lipitor). Due to the prevalence of high cholesterol in the United States, these drugs could significantly impact employers if not managed properly (even more than Hepatitis C drugs and compounds).

April 13, 2015 - Wellness

It isn’t easy to pinpoint an employer’s legal responsibilities when it comes to the design and implementation of employer-sponsored wellness programs. However, looking back at a few lawsuits filed in 2014 gives an idea of where we’re headed. Read this advisory to learn more about these lawsuits, including what our wellness expert recommends employers do now to minimize future legal challenges.

February 25, 2015 - Wellness

All commercial drivers whose current medical certification expires on or after May 21, 2014 must be examined by a medical professional listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. Companies employing commercial drivers may soon experience a reduction in their workforce due to new federal regulations strengthening medical examiner training requirements. After all, before new standards took effect, training requirements for medical examiners did not exist.

February 20, 2015 - Pharmacy

On January 26, Teva announced they received approval from the FDA to launch generic Nexium (esomeprazole). Teva started shipping product to pharmacies earlier this week, but because Teva is currently the only supplier of generic esomeprazole, pharmacies could experience inventory challenges due to limited supply.

February 10, 2015 - Health Care Reform

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case King v. Burwell to determine whether the Internal Revenue Service can legally extend tax-credit subsidies to coverage purchased through exchanges established by the federal government under the Affordable Care Act. The decision will have a major impact on employers in the 34 states that opted not to establish their own exchanges. This advisory walks through the plaintiffs’ argument and three potential decision scenarios.

November 19, 2014 - Retirement

The maximum employer matching contribution is calculated by multiplying the maximum employer matching percentage by the annual compensation limit. Since the annual compensation limit for the 2015 tax year is increasing, the amount of matching contributions participants can receive from their employer will also increase.

November 05, 2014 - Health & Welfare

The Internal Revenue Service recently announced the inflation-adjusted annual dollar limit on employee contributions to health care flexible spending accounts. Many employers will need to amend their plan documents before the beginning of the 2015 plan year to adopt the new limit.

November 01, 2014 - Retirement

Stay up to speed with suggested guidelines from the Department of Labor on selecting target date fund investments.

October 29, 2014 - Health Care Reform

The Internal Revenue Service recently issued new guidance, which lets employers amend their cafeteria plans to allow two newly permitted election changes. Both of these election changes give employees an additional opportunity to revoke medical plan coverage and elect to purchase health insurance through an Exchange.

October 23, 2014 - Retirement

The Internal Revenue Service has announced cost-of-living adjustments applicable to dollar limitations for pension plans and other items for the 2015 tax year.

August 12, 2014 - Retirement

On July 23, the Securities and Exchange Commission voted in favor of major structural reform to money market mutual funds, including one of the most significant changes—a “floating NAV.” While new mandates aren’t anticipated to go into effect until September 2016, plan sponsors are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the changes, understanding all types of money market funds are affected differently. 

July 29, 2014 - Retirement

On July 1, the Treasury Department issued final regulations that give employers the option to offer Qualified Longevity Annuity Contracts (QLACs) through their retirement plans. This advisory outlines key regulatory provisions and compliance requirements plan sponsors must consider when evaluating offering QLACs to plan participants.

June 23, 2014 - Human Resources

As the demand for and supply of energy steadily increase, now is the time for HR professionals to create strategies to develop the next generation’s workforce.

June 22, 2014 - Human Resources

The Department of Labor is reviewing salary basis and duties tests in response to a presidential memorandum to update overtime regulations. President Obama believes too many Americans are left without the protection of overtime or the right to minimum wage. 

May 13, 2014 - Health & Welfare

The IRS recently released Revenue Procedure 2014-30 announcing the 2015 inflation-adjusted limits for high deductible health plans and health savings accounts.

May 09, 2014 - Health Care Reform

The IRS recently issued final regulations on the Affordable Care Act’s employer reporting requirements related to minimum essential coverage and the pay-or-play mandate. These reports must be filed in 2016 but will be based on 2015 information. Employers are encouraged to begin preparing for the filings now by collecting and tracking all required information.

May 05, 2014 - Human Resources

Houston’s Energy Institute High School is the first magnet school in the country solely dedicated to the study of energy. Located in the energy capital of the world, the school has teamed up with the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Petroleum Equipment Suppliers Association to prepare young students for a career in geosciences, energy alternatives and offshore technology.

April 28, 2014 - Health Care Reform

The Department of Health and Human Services issued a set of proposed regulations requiring covered entities to register for a health plan identifier (HPID). The HPID should be used in secured transactions to standardize electronic exchanges of protected health information.

April 02, 2014 - Retirement

A $7 trillion retirement savings gap in the U.S. confirms Americans are not on track to meet recommended retirement savings goals. While a reliance on defined contribution plans, low savings rates, the 2008 financial crisis and other factors may be to blame, three public policy changes could help solve the retirement crisis.

March 27, 2014 - Ascende Panorama

A competitive and compliant global HR strategy is fundamental to the success of a multinational energy company. To respond to HR concerns, Ascende asked a panel of experts from Mexico, Singapore and the U.K. to weigh in on regulatory changes and trends affecting multinational employers.

March 19, 2014 - Health Care Reform

On March 5, the Department of Health and Human Services issued final regulations regarding the transitional reinsurance program. These regulations further define the fee payment process, who is required to pay the fee and the cost per covered life for 2014 and 2015.

March 04, 2014 - Compliance

A number of changes are affecting health and welfare plans. To help plan sponsors keep up with the requirements, Ascende created a summary calendar outlining primary requirements for 2013 – 2015.

March 03, 2014 - Mergers & Acquisitions

CFOs and merger and acquisition specialists often estimate that as many as 50 to 80 percent of merger failures are a result of problems integrating the corporate culture. Fortunately, these problems can be addressed by: including HR early in the deal, assessing cuture compatibility, providing leadership direction and communicating consistently.

February 20, 2014 - Health Care Reform

Proposed regulations offer new alternatives to employers for dental and vision plans and EAPs. Plans that were once required to comply with ACA may now have an opportunity to be viewed as excepted benefits and avoid some compliance requirements.

February 11, 2014 - Health Care Reform

The most recent delay in the employer mandate extends the effective date for employers with 50-100 employees to 2016. New rules also offer guidance on the definition of seasonal employee, measurement periods and dependent coverage.

January 31, 2014 - Retirement

President Obama introduced the myRA concept in his 2014 State of the Union address, describing it as a “starter” retirement plan. Employers are not required to offer the myRA option, but will be able to register in a pilot program if they would like to offer it to employees in 2015. This advisory describes the myRA concept and outlines when it may present opportunities for employers and employees.

January 22, 2014 - Health & Welfare

Sinced the Mental Health Parity Act was first enacted in 2008, parity between mental health and other medical benefits has been a struggle to implement for some plan sponsors because of outstanding questions or gaps in further regulations issued in 2010. The final regulations and accompanying FAQs were issued in November 2013, clearing up some of the confusion and changing previous assumptions. This advisory provides plan sponsors an overview and plan of action.

January 03, 2014 - Global Solutions

On November 25, the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) announced a long-anticipated change to the local health care requirement. This was followed by the December 11 passage of a new energy bill by the Mexican Senate. Houston-based multinational organizations, particularly those in the energy industry, may be significantly impacted by these changes.

December 30, 2013 - Retirement

IRS Notice 2013-74 states that plan sponsors must amend their plan documents before December 31, 2014, to allow for in-plan Roth rollovers for the 2013 calendar year.  This new stipulation allows for employees to report their in-plan Roth rollovers on their 2013 tax returns, even if their employers do not adopt this feature until later in 2014.

December 05, 2013 - Ascende Panorama

President Obama recently bent to political pressure and responded to the troubled rollout of the Health Insurance Marketplace with a policy to allow insurers to renew previously cancelled policies. This Ascende Panorama explores the Market Transitional Policy, what precipitated it, what it does and does not do, and its potential long-term impact.

November 08, 2013 - Compliance

On October 31 the IRS issued Notice 2013-71 allowing plan sponsors to amend their cafeteria plans to carry over up to $500 of unused health care flexible spending account (FSA) funds to the next plan year. This change is effective immediately, and may be implemented for the current plan year.

November 01, 2013 - Retirement

The Internal Revenue Service recently announced cost-of-living adjustments applicable to dollar limitations for pension plans and other items for the 2014 Tax Year.

November 01, 2013 - Pharmacy

With over 900 specialty products in the research pipeline, employer costs are expected to rise as drug manufacturers continue to focus on generating high-dollar agents designed for hard-to-treat conditions such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. However, there is good news on the horizon with the advent of generic “biosimilars.”

October 21, 2013 - Health Care Reform

There has been a lot of recent media coverage describing national employers and their approaches to comply with ACA – many of these are aimed at penalty avoidance. In this advisory, we outline two alternative strategies for penalty avoidance and the corresponding financial and workforce implications.

October 15, 2013 - Wellness

The final HIPAA wellness regulations were issued on June 3, 2013, and are effective January 1, 2014. There are significant changes from the 2006 regulations and the former proposed regulations issued in conjunction with health care reform. Employers and plan sponsors should be mindful of the required changes to wellness programs, particularly for outcome-based programs.

September 05, 2013 - Compliance

In its decision in Windsor v. U.S., the Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Last week the IRS issued guidance clarifying that a same-sex couple married in a state that has legalized same-sex marriage will continue to be recognized as married regardless of the state in which they reside for federal tax law purposes. This guidance provides direction to employers and plan sponsors for amending and administering employee benefit plans.

September 05, 2013 - Compliance

On March 26, 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services released final regulations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). These regulations update HIPAA’s privacy, security and breach notification requirements, and strengthen enforcement under the law. This advisory summarizes requirements to provide employees a new notice of privacy practices, as well as required updates to policies, documents and agreements. September 24, 2013, is the due date for these new requirements.

August 26, 2013 - Mergers & Acquisitions

With M&A back in vogue, buyers must not forget to review employee benefit programs to avoid costly surprises.

August 20, 2013 - Global Solutions

Concerns over compliance issues with local national benefits programs are leading to greater corporate oversight of these programs.  The 2013 global survey results demonstrated a shift toward a more active and involved role at the corporate level of the organization.  

August 05, 2013 - Retirement

On July 22, 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued Field Assistance Bulletin 2013-02 (FAB 13-2) addressing the timing for distribution of the required annual fee disclosure to plan participants.  

July 08, 2013 - Health Care Reform

The ACA will require large employers to offer full-time employees health care coverage. Employers can use the 20-factor analysis provided by the IRS in Revenue Ruling 87-41 to evaluate whether or not an employee meets the criteria to be considered a common-law employee.

July 03, 2013 - Health Care Reform

The Obama administration announced that certain reporting requirements, and consequently the employer pay or play penalties, under the Affordable Care Act will be delayed until 2015.

June 28, 2013 - Compliance

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) §3 unconstitutional. The effect of the Supreme Court opinion is state laws will govern the definition of marriage for purposes of eligibility in employee benefit plans, creating a cornucopia of laws by which a plan must comply when it offers benefits to spouses of employees. 

May 14, 2013 - Health & Welfare

The IRS recently released Revenue Procedure 2013-25 announcing the 2014 inflation adjusted limits for high deductible health plans and health savings accounts.

April 18, 2013 - Pharmacy

In pharmacy compounding, a licensed pharmacist combines or alters ingredients to create a medication tailored to the medical needs of an individual patient. This article describes the increasing prevalence of compounds - a trend that should concern plan sponsors because of safety issues and the unnecessary increased pharmacy costs.

April 01, 2013 - Ascende Panorama

Local national operations often represent a significant component of an energy company's growth strategy and the success (or failure) at a local level can have a meaningful impact on the company's results. In this Panorama, Ascende brings together experts from five countries to provide insight on the employee benefit issues that are prevalent in the local marketplace.

March 27, 2013 - Global Solutions

This advisory addresses the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document that was recently released by the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Treasury. The FAQ provides temporary, transitional relief for expatriate health plans with respect to the applicability of some of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

March 04, 2013 - Retirement

Searching for a 401(k) plan vendor is like buying in bulk by shopping for and purchasing services that support the needs of hundreds or even thousands of consumers (plan participants).

February 14, 2013 - Health Care Reform

Beginning in 2014, employers offering group health plans will be required to "contribute" funds to stabilize individual health policy rates.

January 04, 2013 - Retirement

With all the talk in Washington about raising taxes to avoid the fiscal cliff, a little noticed provision was added in the fine print of the law which affects 401(k), 403(b) and 457 retirement plans.

November 14, 2012 - Human Resources
October 18, 2012 - Retirement
September 05, 2012 - Health Care Reform
August 30, 2012 - Benefits Administration
June 01, 2012 - Health Care Reform
June 01, 2012 - Health Care Reform
June 01, 2012 - Health Care Reform
June 01, 2012 - Human Resources
May 01, 2012 - Health & Welfare
May 01, 2012 - Mergers & Acquisitions
April 01, 2012 - Ascende Panorama
March 01, 2012 - Global Solutions
March 01, 2012 - Health & Welfare
March 01, 2012 - Retirement
March 01, 2012 - Retirement
January 01, 2012 - Retirement
December 01, 2011 - Health Care Reform
November 01, 2011 - Communications
October 01, 2011 - Health Care Reform
October 01, 2011 - Retirement
September 22, 2011 - Health & Welfare
July 01, 2011 - Retirement
June 01, 2011 - Global Solutions
May 01, 2011 - Global Solutions
May 01, 2011 - Retirement
April 01, 2011 - Communications
February 24, 2011 - Health Care Reform
February 08, 2011 - Global Solutions
February 08, 2011 - Global Solutions
January 02, 2011 - Compliance
January 02, 2011 - Retirement
December 01, 2010 - Communications
November 09, 2010 - Retirement
October 01, 2010 - Health Care Reform
September 29, 2010 - Health Care Reform
September 23, 2010 - Health Care Reform
July 21, 2010 - Health Care Reform
July 01, 2010 - Ascende Panorama
July 01, 2010 - Communications
July 01, 2010 - Retirement
June 25, 2010 - Health Care Reform
June 10, 2010 - Retirement
June 04, 2010 - Health Care Reform
May 25, 2010 - Health Care Reform
May 01, 2010 - Ascende Panorama
March 01, 2010 - Communications
February 10, 2010 - Health & Welfare
October 05, 2009 - Health & Welfare
October 01, 2009 - Ascende Panorama
July 01, 2009 - Health Care Reform
June 01, 2009 - Ascende Panorama
March 01, 2009 - Health & Welfare