BY JESSICA WORD
Of the many lessons and changes coming out of the pandemic, none has been greater than the painful reminder of the
fragility of personal health. No
matter the age, many across California are prioritizing their physical health and personal wellness.
To that end, employers and employees have come to appreciate health insurance benefits more than ever over the course of the last 12 months. More pointedly, employers and employees are seeing the value in personalized benefits packages and plans that meet their individual and family needs. These needs extend beyond “traditional” benefits, such as being able to continue to see a preferred doctor, copays that won’t break the bank or prescription drug benefits.
Post-pandemic employees are now more conscious of health, and they are making lifestyle changes that go beyond more frequent hand washing and healthier diets. For example, there is increasing interest in benefits that include chiropractic care, acupuncture and wellness services. Access to health programs through wearable devices (such as Apple Watches and Fitbits) have become a more common element in packages largely supported by insurnce carriers.
Employees have come to expect that these perks will continue to be included in benefits moving forward. It’s a trend that will extend into 2022 and beyond, especially because it leads to a healthi-er workforce.
Here are three other trends every broker and their clients should closely monitor:
Encourage greater integration of standalone Employee Assistance Programs (EAP).
One important health element that COVID-19 has brought to the forefront is the need for teams to have access to services that help to address the integration of work, home and relation-ships. Enter EAPs.
EAPs, of course, are not new, and have been used by employers for years to address work-related problems that may impact an employee’s job performance, health, or mental or emotional well-being. Still, while an EAP benefit has been offered by the vast majority of employers (often at no cost) for years, prior to the pandemic, less than 7% of North American employees took advantage of these benefits.
Today, EAP programs are specifically designed to offer high quality and personalized benefits that can range from estate planning and identity-theft services to confidential mental health counselors. Because workplace stress and burnout accelerated in the last year, it’s important that business own-ers recognize (and embrace) programs where employees can regularly access mental health services to support their professional and personal lives.
In many cases, these benefits can be accessed through online apps, helplines and videoconferencing. They can provide workers with the tools to address marriage challenges, drug or alcohol abuse, adolescent behavior and emotional difficulties. The end result is helping to provide the individual with coping mechanisms and strategies that can help reduce overall absenteeism.
Brokers should regularly check-in with employer groups, especially those already using EAPs, to ensure that they find the programs helpful. And encourage them to communicate about the EAP benefit to their employees all year round, not just during open enrollment. It’s also a solid business development strat-egy to reach out to those clients that haven’t taken advantage of an EAP yet. Given the toll that COVID-19 has had on everyone, employers might now be more interested in giving employees the opportunity to access such a program.
Pairing employees with passes to local yoga studios, gym discounts and more are becoming a “must have” in the eyes of many employers.
Consider alternative funding.
Gone are the days of the one-size-fits-all approach to health insurance, especially related to the overall cost. Companies expect more flexibility when it comes to funding benefits for their employees.
Now, many businesses are starting to explore self-funding (or self-insuring) employees’ health benefits; that’s because it can offer potential savings and stabilize or reduce costs since they aren’t subject to a carrier’s Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) guidelines or profit goals. A majority of large employers
(1,000 or more employees) are already in self-funded plans, but according
to the Employee Benefits Research Institute, the number of smaller organizations moving toward self-funding is steadily rising.
Another option is a Level Funded Premium program. It offers the benefits of a self-funding solution with the predict-able costs of an insured plan. This type of program is especially beneficial for employers with 25 or more healthy employees.
Clients may also consider a funding switch to save money or increase employee options. To help them with this decision, it’s important that they intimately understand and consider how any switch will affect administration of their employee plans. For example, they might not realize that various self-funding plans can also trigger increased compliance requirements, including bud-geting for employee benefits, employee contributions for coverage, COBRA pre-miums and more. Plan ahead as much as possible, especially when it comes to compliance requirements.
Introduce Wellness Passes.
In addition to carrier-sponsored health initiatives (think healthy weight and heart programs), pairing employees with passes to local yoga studios, gym discounts and more are becoming a “must have” in the eyes of many employers.
Not only do these fun benefits serve as a great stress reliever, but they also help to encourage healthy behaviors that can lead to lower elevated health risks, less chronic disease and reduced health care costs. The ultimate benefit is a healthier workplace, but don’t minimize the effect that this kind of benefit can have on employee morale and hiring in a competitive talent marketplace.
Brokers who help their clients pro-mote a healthier workplace demonstrate their support for a culture of emphasizing employee and family health at work and at home. Caring for the overall physical (and emotional) health is one positive byproduct of COVID-19. Ultimately, it creates more value for employers today, with the added benefit of employee appreciation and loyalty.
EAPs, alternative funding and wellness passes will continue to drive employer benefit plan design and decision making in the next 12 months. Benefits that pair physical and mental health for employees and their families remain highly valued. Benefits professionals who follow these trends are able to bring comprehensive solutions that extend beyond traditional medical care, and they will reap the business expansion benefits now and in the future.
is president of Word & Brown General Agency. Established in 1985 and headquartered in Orange, Calif., Word & Brown is one the state’s largest general agents. For additional information, visit www.wordandbrown.com.