Voluntary benefits key to helping employees with rising health costs
As workers continue to struggle with out-of-pocket medical bills, there’s a growing opportunity for benefits managers to hold more conversations with employees on voluntary benefits that can help offset costs.
“The rising cost of healthcare has driven many employers to offer supplemental group insurance products, often in conjunction with a health savings account,” says Elias Vogen, director of group insurance client relationships for financial services firm Securian. “This combination can be cost-effective for both employer and employee … and when employees are aware that these benefits are available to them through work they opt in at a high rate.”
According to a recent survey from Securian, 28% of employees with health insurance through work facing an out-of-pocket expense of $5,000 or more would use their personal savings to pay rather than other means, including an HSA (8%) or supplemental group insurance (7%).
Further, a majority of respondents said they do not know how they would pay for an out-of-pocket expense (21%), or that they would need to rely on credit cards (12%), a loan from their 401(k) (7%) or family/friends (4%), their tax return (5%) or by selling/pawning a personal possession (2%).
“Healthcare costs continue to rise and that almost certainly will not change anytime soon,” Vogen says. “As a result, employers and employees will continue to look for options to help ease the cost crunch. The popularity of benefits like accident, critical illness and hospital indemnity insurance will continue to rise. These benefits are here to stay.”
A multi-touch strategy is the best way for employers to communicate with employees about voluntary benefits, according to Vogen.
“We recently conducted accident and critical illness insurance enrollment campaigns with a large employer that involved six points of contact: direct mail, e-mail, videos, digital materials, an interactive benefits guide and webinars,” he says. “By using a variety of channels, we were able to educate employees on the value of these voluntary benefits in ways that were convenient and comfortable to them.”
Voluntary benefits relieve a key concern for employees: While the survey revealed that paying for out-of-pocket medical expenses would be the top financial concern for a plurality (42%) of workers facing a debilitating injury, a critical illness diagnosis or a hospitalization, 58% say their top concern would be lost wages from work, the ability to pay for regular monthly expenses such as groceries, or the need to take on additional expenses such as lawn care or cleaning.
“If you break your leg, or your critically ill spouse needs specialized medical care out of state, these benefits can be used to help pay for expenses like hiring out your household chores, paying for travel costs, extra child care and more,” says Vogen. “You don’t have to turn in your receipts; you’re able to use the funds as you wish. The flexible nature of these benefits can be instrumental in warding off financial troubles from an unexpected health event.”
According to the survey, employees were asked if they are offered six different voluntary benefits by their employer:
· Life insurance (54% said yes)
· Disability insurance (38%)
· Health savings account (36%)
· Accident insurance (24%)
· Critical illness insurance (15%), and
· Hospital indemnity insurance (9%).
Further, 12% of employees said they are offered none of these benefits, and 18% said they are not sure if these benefits are offered by their employer.
Of these six benefits, life insurance is the most popular, with 75% of employees who have access to life insurance through their employer saying they are enrolled. “Accident insurance ranked second, with 64% of employees offered this insurance enrolled. Hospital indemnity insurance came in third at 59%, followed by disability insurance at 54%, health savings account at 52% and critical illness insurance at 47%,” says Vogen.
Employers recognize that healthcare costs have become burdensome to their workers and their families, and it’s important to remember that these cost increases have impacted employers’ bottom lines as well, according to Terry Holloway, an employee benefits adviser and executive vice president with insurance broker Cobbs Allen.
“Supplemental group insurance benefits are a cost-effective solution for both employers and employees,” Holloway says. “We have seen a significant increase in employer interest in these and other voluntary benefit platforms in the past five years, along with innovative enrollment solutions from insurance carriers.”