More product choice calls for better communication
Employers offering their staff more complex benefit packages need to help workers understand their options
Employers offering their staff more complex benefit packages need to help workers understand their options.
Manufacturing, healthcare, education and retail employers are offering more choice to their employees and increasing the need to improve benefits communications.
Based on benefit election choices made by workers in 260 employers across those four industries, cloudbased benefit provider Benefitfocus found that more employers are offering high-deductible healthcare plans alongside more traditional plans, and are communicating the value of voluntary benefits to ensure success with these plans.
“Educating employees on new options and the pros or cons of each plan in context of their own needs is as important as the plan offering itself,” says Jeff Oldham, senior vice president at Benefitfocus. “The differing adoption rates also speak to an important trend — choice in benefits.”
The number of education industry employers offering HDHPs doubled to 44% over the past year, notes Benefitfocus’ report. Employees who work in that field, however, still prefer traditional plans, primarily HMOs, which accounted for 37% of enrollment choices. HDHP adoption also increased 30% among retail employees over the past year.
More manufacturers adopted HDHPs (61%) than any other type of employer. The investment paid off for employees who saw their individual-coverage HDHP premiums decline 9%, while employer premiums climbed 11% — defying customer averages.
Slightly more than half of healthcare employers offered an HDHP in addition to traditional plans, which was up from 37% in 2016, the data also shows. But employees in the medical field also experienced increases in monthly premiums for individual-coverage HDHPs and PPOs increased (19% and 17%, respectively) compared to average increases of 12% and 1%, respectively.
Benefitfocus also found that near- ly 40% of retail employees elected at least one of three income-protection benefits and 11% elected all three, which produced year-over-year increases of 77% and 1,000%, respectively.
Oldham says employers should keep in mind that one size does not fit all when it comes to benefits packages.
“It’s not about matching a specific plan with a specific industry,” he says. “It’s about giving a diverse workforce, which every industry and employer has, whether due to age or lifestyle, the option to pick what benefit will support them best.”
Oldham says there are two key takeaways for employers from the report. One is that employers should offer a wide selection of healthcare plans and voluntary benefits to fill coverage gaps. The second is that they also need to provide proper education so that employees understand their choices.
“The perfect benefits package means nothing if an employee doesn’t know how to properly choose and use it,” Oldham says. “[Employers] can do their part by strengthening benefits education so employees can make the best choices for their individual needs. Due to the additional risk and responsibility this new healthcare landscape places on employees, income-protection benefits, financial wellness and digital health will begin to play a more significant part in an employee’s tool box.”
Therefore, Oldham says, employers should look beyond traditional benefits to best help them.
Benefitfocus also recently released a regional edition of the annual report based on employee benefit election data from more than 500 employers on the service provider’s platform. The Midwest led in terms of HDHP and voluntary benefit adoption, while HMOs are on the wane out West as more employees there invest in health savings accounts.