More prod­uct choice calls for bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion

Em­ploy­ers of­fer­ing their staff more com­plex ben­e­fit pack­ages need to help work­ers un­der­stand their op­tions

Employee Benefit News - - CONTENTS - BY BRUCE SHUTAN

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.

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