EBRI 2022 Year in Review

This year, the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) focused on financial wellness, relaunched our retirement security calculator, and investigated new challenges facing the provision of employee health benefits. In addition, EBRI continued recognition of retirement security leadership and prepared for the retirement transition of our own CEO. In this year in review, we recognize these goings-on and more.

1. Collaborative Research — This year marks the third anniversary of the Public Retirement Research Lab (PRRL), a collaborative effort between EBRI and the National Association of Government Defined Contribution Administrators (NAGDCA). Over these three years, PRRL has released a dozen research reports on the savings experiences of public defined contribution plan participants. In the most recent study, conducted in collaboration with JPMorgan (with which EBRI commenced a consumer research collaboration in 2021), we found that households with public-sector DC plan participants who have a primary DB plan feel more comfortable spending than those without a primary DB plan. The comfort level of those with a primary DB plan may be misplaced for the households with newly hired participants, as the benefits from the primary plan are likely to be less than those of longer-tenured or retired cohorts. As a result, the households with new hires may not be as prepared for retirement as they expect.

2. Retirement Summit —Joined by representatives of the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, EBRI hosted a full-day Retirement Summit on December 1, 2022. The event convened high-ranking thought leaders in the retirement industry, including employers, consultants, policymakers, regulators, and academics to tackle the important challenge of creating a more integrated, equitable, and effective U.S. retirement system. The Summit drew upon a history of public and private convenings aimed to improve American savings, namely the 1998, 2002, and 2006 National SAVER Summits. Topics of the Summit were (1) improving individuals’ access to the retirement system; (2) reducing leakage from the retirement system; (3) helping people spend down their assets in retirement (generating income); and (4) improving the investment outcomes for American workers within the retirement system.

3. Ray Lillywhite Award —EBRI awarded Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) this year’s Ray Lillywhite Award, which honors individuals for their extraordinary lifetime contributions to Americans’ economic security. Sens. Cardin and Portman were selected for the award in recognition of their tireless and inspirational leadership and advocacy in advancing policies to improve the retirement system for workers and retirees alike. The award also comes as Sen. Portman retires from the Senate.

4. CEO Retirement —We can’t talk about retirement security leadership without recognizing the contributions of our own CEO, Lori Lucas. Her history with EBRI dates back to 1999: Before signing on as president and CEO in 2018, she held roles that included vice chair and research chair. Lori coincidentally began her tenure as EBRI president and CEO in the same year the organization celebrated its 40th anniversary, and she was instrumental in implementing a new vision — one that took EBRI into the future while honoring and preserving the organization’s deep history, founding mission, and established reputation as the premier research organization across all aspects of the employee benefits space. The entire EBRI team wishes Lori the best on her next adventure and looks forward to remaining connected as she becomes CEO emeritus.

5. Ballpark E$timate Relaunch — In honor of National Retirement Security Week, EBRI announced the launch of a re-envisioned Ballpark E$timate® calculator to help individuals estimate their savings needs and future spending during retirement. Originally launched as a part of the EBRI Emmy-Award-winning “Choose to Save” campaign several decades ago, the Ballpark E$timate has been redesigned to better help people connect with their future retired selves — and be more apt to engage and take steps to improve retirement outcomes.

6. Financial Wellbeing —EBRI conducted its fifth annual Financial Wellbeing Employer Survey (FWES) and its fifth Financial Wellbeing Symposium in 2022, exploring how employers are adapting their financial wellness solutions to their employees’ evolving needs — and to their own new budgeting constraints. Another key focus of EBRI research in this area was learning how employers are gauging and measuring the success of their financial wellness offerings.

7. Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Pre-Deductible CoverageEBRI’s work on this topic underscores two convergent themes: the intersection of health and wealth and value-based insurance design. IRS Notice 2019-45 allows HSA-eligible health plans the flexibility to cover 14 medications and other health services used to prevent the exacerbation of chronic conditions prior to meeting the plan deductible. EBRI found that expanding coverage for these services would have a small impact on premiums. Similarly, if employers were allowed to expand coverage beyond the IRS-allowed 14 services, the impact on premiums would also be small.

8. Virtual Care — COVID-19 changed the landscape of health care in the United States in 2020, and telemedicine offered a unique solution for addressing health care needs within the challenges of a pandemic. EBRI’s research series on telemedicine found a significant decline in face-to-face services and a significant increase in telemedicine visits at the onset of the pandemic. Use of telemedicine does not necessarily induce higher health care spending, however, as patients who used telemedicine also used in-person services more frequently compared with patients who did not use telemedicine, and the successful management of chronic conditions can help prevent the onset of more serious illnesses and more costly care in the future.

9. Preventive Services —Coverage for certain preventive services that are covered under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) may be in question, as a case before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas challenges that mandatory coverage. A new EBRI pulse survey of employers asked what actions they might take if allowed to reintroduce cost sharing on preventive services, and 80 percent of HR decision makers who responded said they would continue to cover preventive services. EBRI research also found that adding cost sharing for these preventive services would have next to no impact on employer spending.

10. Mental Health — Mental health is an increasing concern in America, with rising rates of both adults (1 in 5) and youth (1 in 6) experiencing mental illness each year and over 20 million Americans having a substance use disorder. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated this problem nationally and in the workplace. With increases in both the number of individuals diagnosed with mental health disorders and use of health care services, higher spending is of great concern to plan sponsors of health benefit programs. EBRI’s work on mental health spending and the inclusion of mental health issues in the FWES help demonstrate the growing connection between insurance coverage, financial security, and mental health.

11. Diversity — EBRI continued to apply a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) lens on employee benefits this year with new analyses on the LGTBQ community, women, and the Hispanic and Blackcommunities. In addition, we formalized EBRI’s DEI Council — which, among other goals, informs EBRI’s research from a diversity, equity, and inclusion perspective. The DEI Council’s initial output was a roundtable discussion of the impact of student loan debt on diverse workers’ financial stability. The Council addressed findings from the student loan debt research of EBRI and others, including key takeaways and possible implications and solutions.

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President and CEO, EBRI

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