As 2017 approaches, many employees will be setting resolutions and goals for their future health, finances and looking for how to improve their lifestyle over the next year. Also heavy on many people’s minds are how their health care may change under new President-elect Donald Trump with his proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act. It is well known that health care costs continue to rise; many employees are looking to their employers to give stability and financial comfort through voluntary benefits. As an employer, the New Year is a great time to start planning which products and services will help meet employee needs more comprehensively — to help ease their concerns and stress related to medical bills and other finances.
Below are a few options to consider when looking at adding new benefits to your offerings:
Part-time and seasonal employee benefits packages may offer some perks that your full-timers have. These packages can include benefits such as discount Rx, wellness programs or limited medical plans and more. Offering benefits to this group can help with recruitment.
Patient Advocacy Services
Many employers are offering patient advocacy services to assist employees through their health care process. This can include bill negotiation to reduce their out-of-pocket expense, doctor referrals and cost comparisons for procedures and medications.
Identity Theft Protection
Identity Theft Protection Programs include credit monitoring, fraud alert and services to help employees restore their identity and fix any damage that has been done. Many pla n tiers are available based on service a price needs.
Financial stress may not be a highly talked about issue, but some employers are starting to provide educational benefits to their employees various financial needs. Outside of 401(k)s and HSAs, services are available including student loan refinancing, debt repayment, credit score improvement and financial education for the future.
With telehealth programs, employees can consult with a doctor via phone or video for medical advice and treatment of minor illnesses with the need to leave work. This can help employers with absenteeism and reduced productivity.
The month of September is Life Insurance Awareness Month coordinated by Life Happens. This is an industry-wide campaign to educate Americans about the importance of life insurance and helping them get the coverage they need. According to the 2016 Insurance Barometer Study by Life Happens and the Life Insurance and Market Research Association, 1 in 3 households would have immediate trouble paying living expenses if the primary wage earner died.
Life insurance has many different purposes, more than just helping loved ones handle daily expenses after a death. With life insurance policyholders can leave a legacy. Ways to do this include making a significant donation to a charity or cause, ensuring that children or grandchildren will be able to go to college and create a scholarship fund or other endowment.
There are different types of Life insurance that can be offered to employers and their employees. These include:
• Term-Life Insurance provides protection for a specific period of time, or term. Most often, you will see it offered in 10-, 15-, 20- and 30- year terms. The premium does not change throughout the term. If the insured person dies during this period, the beneficiaries receive the proceeds income tax-free. At the end of each term, the insured may renew the policy, generally with a higher premium.
• Whole Life Insurance builds value which the policy holder will know the exact cash value of your policy on each policy anniversary. The policy holder can choose to take a loan or withdrawal from the policy. However, if they choose to do so, the cash value and death benefit will decrease.
• Universal Life Insurance earns a fixed interest rate on the cash value in the policy. While the interest rate may change over time, it will never dip below a guaranteed minimum rate.
Though many employers and their employees may already have life insurance, this month is a good time to remind everyone to check on their policy to make sure it still fits their needs. Marriage, having or adopting children or other life events can greatly impact the amount of insurance needed. For those who do not already have life insurance, the first step is to get quotes on policies and choose one. Finally, even if the policy holders deem that they have plenty of coverage, they may still want to suggest looking at other policies as they may find similar coverage for less.
Identity theft is a growing threat due to data breaches and hacking incidents on the rise. Due to this growing trend, identity theft protection is quickly becoming as important as home or auto coverage. Many employers looking to attract and retain top talent have been adding identity theft protection to the company’s benefit offerings. With 12.7 million US adults falling victim to identity theft in 2014, your employees can be at risk.1
Identity theft has grown to more than just using someone’s credit card or taking out credit cards in someone’s name. Criminals may use the stolen identity to obtain a driver’s license and other documents and to commit fraud. In these cases, sorting out the situation requires much more than simply canceling credit cards and opening new accounts.
Victims of ID theft sometimes spend hundreds of hours trying to resolve problems that arise when their name, Social Security number, credit card numbers and other financial information are used to commit fraud. Lasting effects for victims of identity theft include debt collector calls, denial on new credit requests, closed credit cards, loan denial, utilities being cut off, criminal investigation or civil suit and difficulties obtaining or accessing bank accounts. From a productivity perspective, any employee who is a victim of identity theft and trying to address the resulting problems is unlikely to be fully focused on his or her work.
ID theft protection services can provide counselors to walk victims through the process. Some services provide access to network attorneys but not all reimburse for losses incurred. In addition, companies can help employees protect themselves from identity theft with education about the basics of identity theft, how to monitor their personal records for evidence of fraud or theft, and about what steps to take to rectify the situation.
1“2015 Identity Fraud,” Javelin Strategy & Research, 2015
Since the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) employers have been looking for ways to decrease the costs of offering health care to employees. Due to the high expense, many employers are pushing costs off to employees. To offset the extra cost being pushed along, employers are also choosing consumer driven benefits options, such as High Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs) and offering voluntary benefit options to offset the costs of the HDHP and supplement their major medical plans.
HDHPs feature higher deductibles than traditional insurance plans and can be combined with health savings accounts, reimbursement accounts and voluntary benefits to pay for qualified out-of-pocket expenses. As an employer, you can offer voluntary benefits such as Accident, Critical Illness/Cancer and Hospital Indemnity to your employees at no cost to you unless you decide to contribute to the premiums.
Though the premiums on HDHPs are low, the out-of-pocket costs that come along with the high deductible can hit hard with an unexpected injury or illness. Along with the deductible cost, individuals must also factor in copayments, treatment, medications and follow up appointments. It isn’t uncommon for individuals to delay treatment or doctor visits due to out-of-pocket costs knowing medical bills will continue to come through if one is too injured or sick to work.
Employees enrolled in voluntary insurance have more stability and security with their financial well-being due to the safety net. They can focus more on their jobs and not have such a concern about health care costs. Additionally, many employers who offer voluntary insurance policies experience lower workers’ compensation clams since they have the ability to handle the expenses of their care with the cash benefits that are paid out after injury or illness claim.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) programs began in the 1940s to assist employees with alcohol problems that were hired by companies with a shortage of skilled workers during WWII. EAPs evolved in the 1970s to be a comprehensive program to address mental health, family problems, child care, elder care, stress management, legal and financial services.
Over the years, EAPs have been widely adopted by companies across the US to help their employees deal with personal problems, which can have adverse effects on their job performance, health and general well-being. EAPs provide services such as short-term counseling and referral services for employees and their household members. EAP services are funded by the employers and 80% are delivered by outside vendors who operate as for-profit companies.
EAPs help with improving employees’ behavioral health, comprising of mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. The programs provide therapy to help employees learn the coping skills to deal with depression, workplace stress and other mental health issues. These programs will help improve employee performance and employers need to show that they have their employees’ best interests in mind. According to experts, when employees are feeling their best they will have better productivity and engagement.
An estimated 43.6 million (18.1%) Americans ages 18 and up experienced some form of mental illness according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. New York-based Towers Watson & Co. found that 85% of employers of all sizes offer stress management services as a part of their EAP, but only 5% of employees choose to utilize the aid.
To help promote EAPs, companies should communicate the benefits of the programs to increase employee utilization. Due to the stigma around mental health and sickness, many people may not want to reach out for help. Employees may also be hesitant to reach out to use the program with worries about employers finding out about illness or their stresses, but they must be educated that all information is private and any transfer of information would be a HIPPA violation. As mental health issues have become more prevalent in recent years (or at least more widely publicized), companies are more likely to encourage their employees to take advantage of these great programs.
Over the last few years, more and more companies have implemented Wellness Programs as part of their benefit programs for their employees. As health care costs continue to rise, primarily due to changes imposed by the Affordable Care Act, many companies are seeing the impact on their bottom lines. The studies referenced below demonstrate a correlation between wellness programs and a reduction in health care costs, as well as evidence the programs boost morale and encourage healthy lifestyles.
Wellness Programs are a great voluntary approach to show employees that their employer is invested in their well-being. Employees take note when their management and executives take the time to show that employees do more than just fill a chair and clock in and out but understand that their lives outside of work and their health are also a priority.
Focusing on building healthy habits such as smoking cessation, exercise, clean eating and stress management, just to name a few, will result in fewer employee health claims, thereby reducing companies overall health care costs. In 2014 Harvard Business Review held a study with 20 companies and found an average annual health care cost increase of 1-2% for companies with wellness programs, compared to the 7% national average.
The 2012 Aflac WorkForces Report found that 92% of the companies with a wellness program in place recognize the effectiveness of the programs. In addition, 44% of employers agree they are able to offer lower health insurance premiums as a result of their wellness program.
Researchers recommend offering voluntary health screenings to help make employees aware of their own health. This will empower them to set goals and make choices to work towards achieving those goals. In order to motivate employees to participate, offering bonuses in the form of cash, vacation days or prizes are good ways to encourage employees to engage in the programs. If your company doesn’t offer the voluntary health screenings, you can offer bonuses for going to the doctor and getting annual check-ups and physicals.
Rising healthcare costs have increased pressure on employers and employees alike to reduce expenses on health insurance while maintaining sufficient coverage. In the struggle to cut costs, voluntary benefits have taken the back burner, yet some studies question whether this really helps or hurts employers and employees. Voluntary benefits often fill in the gaps that other insurance leaves behind, providing affordable and personalized coverage for employees and their families. Though some businesses have been keen to cut voluntary benefits,MetLife Inc.’s 12th annual “Employee Benefit Trends Study” recorded that 65% of employees said they would feel more loyal to their employer if they were offered voluntary benefits.
Personalization is key with voluntary benefits.
The idea is to offer employees the opportunity to choose affordable coverage that serves their needs, as well as the needs of their family. One way to find the right coverage for your employees is to conduct a survey to find out more about their lifestyles and other specific needs. Furthermore, it is important to consider effective communication methods for different generations of employees — Baby Boomers might prefer paper while Millennials prefer an electronic campaign.
A PricewaterhouseCoopers study found that 83% of employers are now offering high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), and 25% are offering only HDHPs. This trend will continue to see a rise over the next few years. The good news is those with HDHPs are more likely to take advantage of wellness and find ways to save costs through employer sponsored programs.
Since employees are looking for ways to save money and help with paying the high deductible, they can choose accident, disability plans and hospital indemnity plans that will pay cash directly to the policyholder that they put back towards their deductible and towards treatment that may not be covered by major medical.
The rapidly changing healthcare landscape has seen a shift in decision-making power from employers to employees. While different businesses may take different approaches with regard to the availability and selection of voluntary benefits, greater personalization and a freedom to choose offer employees more options while reducing costs and headaches for employers.
Health Savings Accounts, or HSAs, have seen a massive boost in popularity as both employers and employees look for creative ways to keep healthcare costs down while retaining high-quality benefits. The flexibility and cost-effectiveness of these plans allow individuals to save for the future and unlike FSA accounts, the participants don’t have to use the money or lose it, but instead unspent funds roll-over from year to year.
Recent surveys show that over 15 million employees have enrolled in HSA-linked plans in 2015, a more than 20.3% increase over the previous year. Health Savings Accounts offer flexibility, portability, and efficiency for employers, employees, and their families and they are a great option for those seeking quality care at a reasonable price.
When paired with a high-deductible health plan, HSAs help employees save money on premiums and receive tax advantages. Health Savings Accounts are tax-deductible for employees and tax-free for employers, meaning that both sides get to keep money that can be put towards healthcare costs or other expenses. Employees can contribute to an HSA even after they are maxed out on 401K or IRA contributions for the year and once they turn 65, employees can withdraw remaining funds for nonmedical expenses with no tax penalty.
As an employer, it’s important to find an HSA provider that provides tools and calculators so that employees can research and understand the different types of Health Savings Accounts and their benefits. It’s also important to make sure that the HSA provider allows for an easy conversion to an individual account for employees that change benefits plans, leave the company, or retire.
Open enrollment can be a stressful time for employees and employers alike. Studies show that more than one-quarter of employees don’t understand the benefits offered by their company, while one half wish there was a simpler way to enroll. One of the most effective ways to reduce stress and boost enrollment is to clearly communicate what benefits are offered, how to enroll, as well as a timeline for enrollment. Simplifying and clarifying the benefits offered and the enrollment process aids employers and employees, saving time, frustration, and money .
Here are a few ways to communicate with your employees about open enrollment:
Consider Going Digital – Though sometimes it is helpful to have a piece of paper or booklet to flip through, more often than not, you’ll simply be adding yet another piece of paper to your employees’ already-crowded desks. Instead, consider going entirely digital. You can replace letters, posters, and flyers with emails or links to online content. You’ll save money on paper and ink but your employees still have access to the material they need.
Explain Why – Present what benefits are offered along with why they are important and valuable to your employees. In addition, this is an excellent time to promote healthy lifestyles, along with any wellness programs that your company offers.
Explain Changes – Introduce changes in carriers and explain if/why premiums have changed or increased from the prior year. Telling your employees why these changes were made and how it works with their best interests in mind will keep them feeling in the loop.
Utilize Multimedia – By repeating the benefits offered through different mediums, you can ensure that your employees have a greater understanding of the benefits and plans being offered to them, so that they can make the right choice for themselves and their families. Videos and webinars are two excellent ways to communicate benefits, with content available year-round to answer any questions that might arise.