Playing Moderator: The Benefits Questions to Ask Trump and Clinton

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By Kristen Ricaurte Knebel and David B. Brandolph

Sept. 26 — Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been vocal on a lot of things, but virtually mum on employee benefit issues. With the first presidential debate kicking off this week, retirement and benefit leaders are hopeful that the candidates will be asked to give their ideas for addressing the nation’s retirement and health-care concerns.

But what if those benefit leaders were able to moderate the debate? What would they want to know? Bloomberg BNA found out by asking a number of health and retirement benefit leaders to imagine that they were standing in as the debate moderator and able to pitch their burning questions to the candidates.

Here’s the questions they would ask:

On Retirement Benefits—

  • With the average retiree receiving Social Security benefits only roughly equal to the minimum wage, and half of the private workforce not participating in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, how do you propose to address the retirement income crisis facing the nation? — Karen Ferguson, director, Pension Rights Center
  • We’ve learned the hard way that most people won’t save for retirement unless it’s done for them and that tens of millions are unprepared for retirement as a result. Should government require more saving, or at least require automatic savings from which people could opt out? — Joshua Gotbaum, guest scholar, economic studies, Brookings Institution
  • Employers are struggling to find ways to support their employees’ ability to save for retirement who are also paying off student loans. What policies would you implement to enable employers to assist employees with saving for retirement while paying off student loans? — Will Hansen, senior vice president, retirement policy, ERISA Industry Committee
  • It seems that the good news on retirement policy is that there are ideas that enjoy bipartisan support. But the bad news is that there is no national retirement policy against which policymakers measure whether their actions are advancing or impeding a particular goal. What is your vision of the components of a sound national retirement policy? — James A. Klein, president, American Benefits Council
  • After three decades of moving toward a “you’re-on-your-own’"retirement system, and considering all the data showing that Americans are not prepared for retirement, what solutions do you believe we should pursue to rebuild retirement security in America? Daniel Doonan, senior pension specialist, National Education Association
  • Presently only about half of private sectors employees have access to retirement plans, as employers only must provide such plans on a voluntary basis under federal benefits law. If elected, how will you ensure that more American workers have access to retirement plans in the workplace? — Paul M. Secunda, professor of law and director, Labor and Employment Law Program, Marquette University Law School

On Health Benefits—

  • Much of the focus since passage of the Affordable Care Act and even in presidential campaign proposals has been on expanding coverage and limiting patients’ out-of-pocket expenses. How would you deal with the underlying cause of our health-care crisis and the need for reform? What proposals do you have to transform health-care delivery and drive out financial incentives that lead hospitals, specialists and other suppliers of health care to waste between 20-30 percent of every health-care dollar we as a society spend? — Steve Wojcik, vice president of public policy, National Business Group on Health
  • The ACA includes an excise tax on high-cost plans, the so-called “Cadillac tax,” which is set to begin in the year 2020. Research shows that this tax is poorly designed and actually taxes benefits based on geography, gender and age. Would you do away with the excise tax or keep it, and, either way, would you tax employer-sponsored health insurance? — Doonan
  • It seems that the good news on health policy is that we are having a substantive debate about what our nation’s health-care system should look like—build upon the ACA or repeal it and start over. But the bad news is that the debate continues to be highly partisan. What is your strategy to get beyond the partisanship and find common ground to make needed changes? — Klein
  • Would you support preserving the current tax-favored treatment of health benefits?— James Gelfand, senior vice president, health policy, ERISA Industry Committee

To contact the reporters on this story: Kristen Ricaurte Knebel in Washington at; David B. Brandolph in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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