Question: How can employers improve benefit plans in spite of increasing health care costs?
Answer: Voluntary benefits.
Often overlooked by many employees, voluntary benefits may help improve their financial security, especially in these economic times.
Voluntary plans, such as disability, life, accident and long-term care benefits, can be offered to employees as part of their benefit options. Typically, employees pay 100% of the premium through payroll deductions, but they get the cost benefit of being part of a group plan.
Some employers offer voluntary benefits, but miss an opportunity to communicate the value of the plan to their employees. If plans are currently offered, employers should market plan benefits to employees so they understand how these plans can contribute to their overall financial health.
Enrollment can usually happen at any time of the year, so communications can happen outside of the typical annual enrollment cycle. This can give employers the opportunity get the message out without the "clutter" of annual enrollment activities.
If not currently offered, employers should consider adding voluntary benefits to their program. It's an opportunity to increase benefit offerings, while other health care cost-containment decisions may be increasing employee medical costs and decreasing benefits.
In addition, employees may not have the savings they once had to cover them through a life-changing event, such as a long-term illness. Adding short- and/or long-term disability options go a long way in giving employees peace of mind should they become ill and are unable to work for a period of time.
Voluntary benefits are portable. Employees can continue coverage if they lose or change jobs. Critical illness and hospital confinement coverage, for example, can provide benefits in the event there is a lapse in health care coverage. Long-term care coverage can save an employee from the very high cost of long-term care facilities for themselves and family members.
Employers need to get creative in how they view and offer benefits. Many employees are used to robust, reasonably priced benefit plans. But the landscape for employer-sponsored health insurance is changing.
Costs continue to rise and employers should look to take steps to improve benefit programs with other plans and benefits.