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Three Strategies for Maximizing the Value of Voluntary Benefits Plans

Employers know that finding the right benefits offerings is critical to employee satisfaction and retention. Supplemental health plans such as critical illness and hospital indemnity can make a huge difference in the lives of employees amid the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. However, employee needs are constantly changing, requiring employers to reevaluate their voluntary benefits offerings to ensure employee needs are met.

The subject of benefits, however, raises the issue of balancing cost with value - by measure of return on benefits investment and in value to employees. The good news is that three strategies can help ensure a company’s voluntary benefits plan meets employee needs as they evolve.

Nearly 70% of U.S. employees have less than $1,000 in savings, making it difficult to pay for expenses not covered by core insurance.

1. Conduct a Voluntary Benefits Plan Audit

Employers often perform an audit of their core health plan but doing one for their voluntary benefits plan is just as important.

A voluntary benefits plan assessment can help employers achieve better value and offer more comprehensive coverage that accurately reflects the benefits people use. Hospital indemnity, for instance, is quickly becoming one of the fastest-growing supplemental benefits products with an increased focus on hospitalization benefits because of the pandemic.

To find the right voluntary benefits plan design, employers should consider the following:

  • Evaluate current coverage. A plan audit does not need to result in a carrier change; rather, the audit can identify opportunities to enhance coverage and add or consolidate carriers.   
  • Review current benefits utilization and plan satisfaction. Employers should review employee participation in voluntary plans and gauge satisfaction with current plan participants.
  • Analyze population health data. Use core health plan audit results to assess the impact of specific voluntary benefits. Gaining a full picture of employee demographics can further influence plan design. For instance, if a company has a large population of female employees, it might make sense to explore hospital indemnity coverage because of childbirth, and related labor and delivery costs.

In addition, an audit allows an organization to see how it compares with competitors by measure of benefits and coverage, which can also help direct plan offering and design. Aon consultants can provide specific industry benchmarks so companies can see how they stack up.   

61% of U.S. employers are considering either making a change to their voluntary benefits or making an addition related to hospital indemnity

Employers are becoming more rigorous in proving the value of plan designs, resulting in increased coverage requests for spouses and dependents. This adjustment makes sense, as dependent exposure is the same as the primary insured and providing coverage of up to 100% for spouses is valuable for employees who might otherwise have to cover the remaining expenses out-of-pocket.

In the case of critical illness protection, carriers and partners have been quick to respond to employer interest in this area, offering new ideas around plan designs. Improvements could include coverage for diabetes, Crohn’s disease, transient ischemic attacks (mini-strokes), post-traumatic stress disorder, and expanding infectious disease to include coronavirus.

1 in 6 employees are going to seek medical treatment this year due to an accident or an injury

2. Integrate Voluntary Benefits with Core Enrollment

Even before the pandemic, many employees lacked a full view of what medical plans will cost, what they didn’t cover, and where their own financial responsibilities lay.

Integrating voluntary benefits enrollment with core enrollment can help employees make more informed choices across the full spectrum of benefits.

Companies such as Aon can integrate decision-support tools, such as benefits calculators, into the enrollment process to help employees navigate benefits enrollment, making it easier for them to compare plans, see where coverage gaps exist, and opt for supplemental coverage to fill those gaps.

For instance, when comparing health plan options, employees could identify varying out-of-pocket exposures on medical benefits, which may influence the health plans they choose and what supplemental health plans (critical illness, hospital indemnity, or accident) are added to fill the gaps.

3. Explore Bundling and Third-Party Premier Partnerships

Multiline insurance carriers can help employers maximize their human resources budgets by offering bundled pricing options for voluntary benefits with group and medical lines such as life and disability or medical and dental. Bundling can also help organizations offer more of the voluntary benefits employees want at a discounted price while also avoiding juggling several carrier contracts at once, alleviating the administrative burden of plan implementation.

In addition, many third-party organizations (such as benefits administration platforms) are forming exclusive or premier partnerships with carriers to help streamline and offset the costs of implementing voluntary benefits plans. Employers should ask their third-party providers if they have preferred carrier partners and how that could help reduce administrative fees.

While the pandemic has accelerated the need to review and update voluntary benefits plans, employers that adopt these strategies should succeed in providing valuable, cost-effective benefits long term.