The recession plus changes in health-care law and in taxes have made companies' benefit-planning efforts so challenging that the Cable and Telecommunications Human Resources Association hoped to establish some benefit benchmarks.
The results of a survey of its member were shared with participants in April and released in more general form to Multichannel News. CTHRA's 2011 Benefits Survey focused on medical plans, including total and net medical cost per employee and covered employee, costs as a percentage of salary, contribution levels, relative benefit values (RBV), and plan features such as co-pay levels, deductibles and co-insurance for each major medical offering.
Data also were collected and compiled for life insurance, disability insurance, dental insurance and retirement plans.
Anthony Amato, vice president of Global Benefits for Discovery Communications and an active CTHRA member, said the survey took little time and effort to respond to, and provided useful data about other programmers and Discovery's customers. "This spoke to our industry, and we were able to look at our company data on the survey cut against our peer companies."
SIMILAR CORE BENEFITS
CTHRA retained Willis, a global financial and human-resources consulting firm and insurance broker, to conduct the survey and report the results.
Participating firms were: Bright House Networks, Cablevision Systems, Charter Communications, Comcast Cable Communications, Insight Communications, Time Warner Cable, A&E Television Networks, CBS Corp., Crown Media Holdings-Hallmark Channels, C-SPAN, Discovery Communications, Home Box Office, HBO Latin America Production Services, NBCUniversal, AMC Networks, Scripps Networks Interactive, Starz Entertainment, The Weather Channel and Turner Broadcasting System.
CTHRA found core benefit packages to be similar. All 19 survey respondents offer medical coverage, dental coverage, life insurance, accidental death and disability, long-term disability and a retirement savings plan.
Medical insurance is probably the most highly valued benefit among the workforce. In the survey group, the most prevalent forms offered are preferred provider organization (PPO) and point of service (POS) plans, but a few companies offer health maintenance organizations (HMOs) or exclusive provider organizations (EPOs).
On average, CTHRA's survey respondents spend about $10,000 on medical costs per eligible employee.
But in some aspects of healthcare expenses, MSOs and programmers differed widely.
For example, MSOs' average net medical cost was 18% of the average employee salary. For programmers the average was 9%.
Discovery's Amato said the disparity could be attributed to differences in the average ages and genders of employees at cable operators and programmers. Cable operators might have an older, more male-centric workforce, he said.
In their medical contribution targets (meaning the employer's estimated cost-sharing with employees for both employee and dependent contributions in total), the findings for MSOs and programmers were much closer.
Among MSOs, the employer's share of medical coverage was 82% and for programmers it was 78%.
Next to health benefits, retirement plans rank high on most employees' must-have lists. All of CTHRA's survey respondents provide one.
Two types of retirement plans are in place: a defined-contribution retirement plan, where the payout is determined by the amount contributed into the plan (such as a 401k), and a defined-benefits (DB) plan, a more traditional pension plan, where payouts are determined by personalized factors (such as length of employment).
Most of CTHRA's survey respondents - 67% of MSOs and 62% of programmers - offer defined-benefits plans. Additionally, 18 of the 19 survey respondents offer a defined-contribution retirement plan.
Amato said MSOs have traditionally offered pension plans, but that they might be frozen in terms of adding new eligible participants, and newer employees would be offered a 401k. Discovery, which is a little more than 25 years old, has never offered a defined-benefits or pension plan, he said.
Employers varied in the time they require employees to be on the job before they become eligible to participate in a defined-contribution plan. Half of the MSOs surveyed enroll new hires immediately, 33% offer participation in the first 90 days, and 17% require employees to serve 90 days before they begin to receive benefits.
On the programming side, 54% of those surveyed provide enrollment from day one, 8% allow employees to participate 30 days after they join the company, 15% require two months on the job, and 23% stipulate a 90-day waiting period.
Individual employers also differ in their matching contributions for defined-contribution plans. The survey determined that, on average, MSOs matched $3,600 per employee contribution and programmers matched $4,145 per employee.
CTHRA plans an Employee Benefits Webinar on Aug. 9 at 12 p.m. (CT) during which data from the survey results will be discussed in detail. More information is available on CTHRA.com under educational events.