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A victory for ntca benefits.

Over the past several years, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association members and other small, rural providers have endured mounting uncertainty on a variety of regulatory issues affecting your businesses. But, the tides are changing, with some important incremental wins on the policy front. With all of the uncertainty facing our industry, it's especially important to celebrate those victories when they happen.

On April 7, President Barack Obama signed the Cooperative and Small Employer Charity Pension Flexibility Act of 2014 into law. The bipartisan legislation, backed unanimously by both houses of Congress, secures permanent relief for multiple-employer retirement plans like NTCA's Retirement & Security (R & S) Program from certain funding requirements of the Pension Protection Act of 2006.

NTCA's policy team and R & S trustees have been advocating for this change on behalf of our members and more than 17,500 participants in the program for several years. The success of the legislation is not only a testament to the importance of "staying at it" and building like-minded coalitions, but also a sign that when given the right information, members of Congress understand the unique circumstances facing rural and small businesses--and will act in a bipartisan way to support them.

It's a big success, but it's just a piece of the puzzle that NTCA is working on to control costs associated with our benefits program. Over the past three years, the trust committees overseeing the program have done an exceptional job introducing almost 70 amendments to the benefit plans, and many were made to contain costs and increase flexibility for members. Amendments have expanded preventive care benefits, and added a lower-cost long-term disability plan and additional waiver-of-contribution options to the Group Health Program (GHP). GHP is also now partnering with UnitedHealthcare to provide one national preferred provider organization network, giving participants access to more in-network health care providers and lower-cost services. GHP also offers supplemental life coverage for participant employees and their spouses, and increased flexibility so retirees can reduce life coverage elections annually. The changes also included launch of a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan.

In addition to our terrific advocacy work on the R & S Plan, the program's trust committee has implemented changes to reduce the minimum allowable benefit formula, added options for employee-required contributions and eliminated requirements for mandatory funding of benefits for employees subject to a two-year or minimum-age-21 eligibility period. Changes have also been made to keep costs down within the Savings Plan, with over 18,150 participants. Investment funds have been replaced with lower-cost options, using institutional share class funds. Participant account fees stayed at the same level for the most recent three-year period and were reduced for 2014.

The recent pension legislation will allow the R & S Program to continue to provide retirement benefits without being subject to rules that would require hundreds of millions of dollars in unwarranted increased pension costs and impede your companies from continuing to offer this valuable benefit and great retention tool to your employees. Through the daily work of our trust committees, policy and benefits administration team, and member relations managers, we allow participants in all of our benefit plans to focus on what you do best: provide high-quality services to consumers in rural America.

Shirley Bloomfield is chief executive officer of NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association. She can be reached at
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Title Annotation:Connections; Small Employer Charity Pension Flexibility Act
Author:Bloonifield, Shirley
Publication:Rural Telecommunications
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2014
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