Improving your employee experience during open enrollment

Often, employers struggle with employee participation during open enrollment season. Switching company enrollments online is one way to increase employee participation. Read the following blog post for more tips to help ease this open enrollment season.


For HR professionals, open enrollment is one of the most stressful and demanding times of the year. Many employers struggle with employee participation and expensive, time-consuming roll-outs. They also have to provide resources to help employees make the right plan selections for themselves and their families. As we head into another open enrollment season, consider these tips to ease the process.

Switch your open enrollments to online platforms.

If you’re still relying on paper enrollment forms, you are likely spending more money and time than you need to in pursuit of your manual work process and its many inconsistencies. Online platforms provide optimum efficiency, accuracy and convenience for your workforce, offering employee self-service options that encourage employees to take initiative in selecting the best plan for their situation. Not only will members of your workforce benefit from the convenience of being able to explore their options on their own time, but you’ll be able to offer them multi-lingual enrollment materials and have more time to assist them than ever before.

Prioritize and diversify communication.

One of the top ways to ensure a smooth open enrollment period is to use multiple communication channels, including frequent reminders regarding open enrollment deadlines. Without consistent outreach on the part of your HR officers and general managers, you will likely find yourself hunting people down to meet your enrollment and extension deadlines. Using an online self-service portal as well as traditional in-person meetings allow you to remind your employees of critical dates and changes as enrollment closes in.

The robust benefits administration system you choose should offer enrollment tracking and reporting features so you can see at a glance who still needs to begin open enrollment, who has left enrollment documents incomplete, who has made changes to their benefits (such as adding a dependent) and more. You can arrange for the system to send automatic reminders to signal the employee that further actions are needed. Providing multiple reminders will improve participation and the completion of on-time enrollments.

Help employees choose the best health plan for their situation.

In order to have the most successful open enrollment period possible, educating your employees on the different plan options available will go a long towards ensuring employee satisfaction. Studies have shown that most employees don’t have the necessary understanding of terms like “deductible” and “coinsurance,” let alone the tools to know which plan is best for their individual needs. Incorporating at-a-glance comparison tools and charts into your online or print enrollment materials can help employees make the most informed decision possible. It can also be helpful to provide educational materials like videos and simplified plan charts or cost calculators.

Keep Up with Benefit Trends and Voluntary Offerings.

Given the current labor shortage and competitive talent market, you’ll want to make sure your company is up to speed on which new benefits your competitors are looking to add, as well as which ones are appealing to specific roles, locations or generations within potential candidates from your hiring pool.

Voluntary benefits, for example, are playing an increasingly important role in employee benefits portfolios and they don’t cost you anything. Some of the most popular voluntary benefits right now include identity theft protection, pet insurance, long term care insurance and critical illness protection. If you aren’t currently offering these types of additional benefits, they could be a cost-effective way to boost employee morale, increase participation in enrollment and attract more workers to your business.

SOURCE: Smith, M. (2 December 2019) "Improving your employee experience during open enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/improving-your-employee-experience-during-open-enrollment


IRS increases retirement contributions for 2020

Workers who contribute to 401(k), 403(b), 457 and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plans will be able to contribute up to $19,500 in 2020, according to a recent announcement from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Read the following to learn more about this increase in retirement contributions.


The IRS said this week that workers contributing to 401(k), 403(b), 457 and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plans plans can add $19,500 next year, an increase from $19,000 in 2019.

The move could help workers save more for retirement, but it may be inconvenient for employers who’ve already started open enrollment, experts say. Employees are now able to set aside $500 more for retirement.

“Every penny counts when you’re saving for retirement, and the higher contribution limit is definitely going to help,” says Jacob Mattinson, partner at McDermott, Will & Emery, a Chicago-based law firm. “But since companies are in the midst of open enrollment, employers may have to go back in and change the entries for employees who want to contribute the max.”

There are about 27.1 million 401(k) plan participants using roughly 110,794 employer-sponsored 401(k) plans, the Employee Benefit Research Institute says. Ninety-three percent of employers offer a 401(k) plan, and around 74% of companies match workers’ contributions, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management.

While the vast majority of employers do offer retirement savings plans, employees may still be struggling to sock away money. Around 70% of workers say debt has negatively impacted their ability to save for retirement, EBRI says.

“Thirty-two percent of workers with a major debt problem are not at all confident about their prospects for a financially secure retirement, compared with 5% of workers without a debt problem,” says Craig Copeland, EBRI senior research associate.

The IRS also upped contribution limits on Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees plans, or SIMPLE retirement accounts, to $13,500 from $13,000. The agency did not change the contribution limits to IRAs, which remain at $6,000 annually.

SOURCE: Hroncich, C. (7 November 2019) "IRS increases retirement contributions for 2020" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/irs-increases-retirement-contributions-for-2020


A benefits wishlist for millennial employees

Only six percent of millennials feel like they make enough to cover their basic needs, according to an Economic Innovation Group study. Many employers are now tailoring their job postings, descriptions and benefits to correspond with the millennial wish list. Read this blog post to learn more.


Millennials are the new core workforce. Their concept of work is different than the standards set by previous generations. They bring bold, new approaches of what work should be, how and where it should be performed, and what the rewards for work should be.

While this has made some employers uncomfortable, millennials are not likely to change their ways. Employers must reassess their concepts to bring out the best of the unique millennial personality.

When I look at the U.S. workforce, I see a dramatic shift in the attitudes, personalities and attributes of millennials, which makes up the majority of the workforce. Millennials bring many positive attributes to the table, including a preference for flat management structures, multiple degrees, technological skills, energy and self-confidence. They also have high expectations for themselves, prefer to work in teams, are able to multitask and seek out challenges.

However, millennials have the highest levels of stress and depression of any generation. About 20% of millennial workers have suffered work-related depression. Millennials want their own living space, but they’re less likely to become homeowners because of student loan debt. Only 6% of millennials feel they're making enough to cover basic needs, according to an Economic Innovation Group national survey of millennials. As a result, 63% of millennials would struggle to cover an unexpected $500 expense. This generation wants to live within their means, but they’ve never been taught how — they need and want to be educated on how to achieve financial independence.

Think about your corporate strategy for attracting millennials. Here are just a few of the ways companies are tailoring their job postings, descriptions and benefits to correspond with the millennial wish list.

Working with meaning. Millennials want to have meaning in their work. Past generations may have worked simply because they needed to pay the bills. Millennials want to get paid too, but they also want to know that their employer is doing more than making and selling products or services. They aspire to social causes and want to know why the organization exists and how they can personally participate and contribute in that culture.

Continued personal growth and career advancement. Millennials want to be coached and have work-life balance. They want management feedback, even if it’s negative. Regular pay increases and promotions are important to them too. It shows that you’re invested in their career path and value their contributions.

Flexible hours and the ability to work remotely. They want flexible hours and the option to work from a location of their choice. This flexibility also contributes to their desire for no added workplace stress. Technology has made it possible to connect 24/7 from anywhere on any device. If you have yet to adapt your culture to accept this new norm, you’ll likely be missing out on this generation of candidates.

Technology. Millennials are smart-device people. Who better to move your organization forward than the individuals who grew up knowing how to download and use an app, or create a widget that solves a problem? They think technology-first and is required for any organization looking to remain competitive.

Financial wellness. A robust financial wellness program that includes self-directed education, competitions, games and rewards will pique millennial interest. Products and services like financial coaching, cashflow tracking, early wage access and credit resources that address their financial challenges will keep them engaged. Above all, a financial wellness program must be tailored to each individual employee to achieve maximum participation and behavioral change.

Employers must be vigilant in order to keep the best and brightest talent. They should also be proactive in managing their employees on a personal level, especially millennials. Otherwise, they are likely to be disengaged and move on — and that will cost money.

As managers and leaders of the organization, it is your responsibility to ensure that millennials understand their future in the company and to communicate that they don’t have to go somewhere else to advance. Employers and leaders have a responsibility to provide millennials with a desirable place to land, and a culture that encourages them to thrive. Don’t give millennials reasons to leave your organization. We need to support them, engage them, reward them and give them reasons to stay.

SOURCE: Kilby, D. (6 November 2019) "A benefits wishlist for millennial employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/what-employee-benefits-do-millennials-want


‘Lifestyle’ choice: An emerging benefit could attract and retain employees

Are you competitive in the employee benefits marketplace? An emerging perk, lifestyle spending accounts (LSA), are one way employers can stay competitive. An LSA is an account that is funded solely by an employer. Employees can use the funds to purchase goods or services as long as they fall into specific categories set by the employer. Read this blog post to learn more about this emerging benefit.


Employers seeking new ways to stay competitive in the employee benefits marketplace might consider an emerging perk, lifestyle spending accounts, whose aim is to broaden employee access range of health and happiness-oriented goods and services.

There’s really no limit to the types of things LSAs can fund, but that endless range of choices can make it difficult for employers to get started.

But first, the basics: An LSA account is funded solely by the employer (and which is taxable as income to employees. The employee can use the funds to purchase goods or services, as long as they fall into the categories of the employer’s choosing. Think investments in physical and mental well-being, environmentally friendly goods or childcare.

The accounts are popular on the West Coast and in Canada. and is gaining traction throughout other parts of the U.S.

Employers can choose to fund a wide range of options, depending on what they think will appeal most to their workforce. For instance, while some carriers reimburse employees for gym memberships, employers can supplement a healthy physical lifestyle by adding workout studios to the options menu; personal or small-group training; workout equipment such as weights, a stationary bike or a treadmill; workout clothes; or nutrition counseling.

And while mental well-being is a new benefits focus of many employers, health plans typically only cover a limited number of counseling sessions. Employers can supplement this benefit by providing funds for therapy or counseling sessions.

Some employers are also using LSAs to help employees with child-related expenses, starting at the very beginning with help with fertility treatments, progressing to doulas and midwives and on to baby gear and then childcare.

But back to the too-much-choice dilemma. To figure out what to fund, start by identifying gaps in your current benefit offering. For example, offering funds toward gym and studio memberships is an obvious place to start if you don’t already have a program in place. Consider what types of employees you want to recruit and retain, and think about what sort of behaviors you want to influence. LSAs can be offered to an entire workforce, or different fund amounts can be offered to different classes of employees.

Other issues to consider: how will you deliver the funds and what happens when an employee leaves or is terminated. These are minor details, but they could leave you with headaches if you don’t address them prior to rollout.

LSAs are typically managed by a TPA that will adjudicate claims and approve purchase reimbursements, removing the hassle of managing a program for large employers.

For employers hoping to encourage employees toward certain healthy behaviors and sweeten benefits packages, LSAs can help round out offerings and act as another recruitment and retention tool.

SOURCE: O'Connor, P. (25 October 2019) "‘Lifestyle’ choice: An emerging benefit could attract and retain employees" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/lifestyle-benefits-for-attraction-and-retention


Employers can help employees catch some Z's with new wellness benefit

According to a study in the Journal of Sleep Research, about 45 percent of the world's population has chronic sleep issues. Employers are starting to offer employee benefits that are focused on a long-ignored but crucial aspect of employee health - sleep. Read this blog post to learn more about this new wellness benefit.


Employers are taking a greater interest in employees’ emotional and physical well-being by offering specialized programs focused on mental health, weight loss, financial health, and now one long-ignored yet crucial aspect of health — sleep.

Beddr, a sleep health technology company, has launched a comprehensive, personalized solution to identify and treat the root causes of chronic sleep issues, though a voluntary benefits platform. The program leverages clinical data captured from Beddr’s app that uses an optical sensor and accelerometer to measure blood oxygen levels, stopped breathing events, heart rate, sleep position and time in bed.

About 45% of the world’s population has chronic sleep issues, according to a study in the Journal of Sleep Research. Poor sleep costs U.S. employers an estimated $411 billion each year, according to a report from Rand.

Employees using the Beddr benefit will have access to an expert-led sleep coaching program and a nationwide network of sleep physicians to provide targeted treatment options to help employees improve their sleep health. The program has the potential to save an employer up to $5,700 per employee, per year in productivity improvements, lower healthcare costs and decrease accident rates, Beddr says.

“Sleep is the foundation to every employee’s mental and physical health. High quality sleep has been shown to both reduce healthcare costs as well as improve productivity, but most employers haven’t found a comprehensive program that addresses the primary root causes of sleep issues and that benefits their entire workforce,” says Michael Kisch, CEO of Beddr. “We have seen a dramatic increase among our users relative to the overall population in their understanding of their sleep health and how their choices impact their overall sleep quality.”

Beddr partners with benefits teams to design a customized program specific to each employer and their employees. The company developed a screening process that makes it easy for an employer to engage their employee base, while providing Beddr the ability to identify employees who are a good match for the program.

In some cases, the company heavily subsidizes the cost of the benefit to employees, while in others it is the full responsibility of the employee. In the latter instance, the company negotiates a discount that is passed on to all participating employees. That discounted price is less than what an employee would pay to purchase the program directly from Beddr.

“Beddr was founded on the belief that the most important thing a person can do to improve their physical and mental health is to get consistent, high-quality sleep,” Kisch says. “We see employers as natural partners in fulfilling this mission because the goals of a company and its management are highly aligned with the goals of our program — to improve the health and productivity of employees. ”

SOURCE: Shiavo, A. (23 October 2019) "Employers can help employees catch some Z's with new wellness benefit" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/beddr-app-helps-employees-get-more-sleep


5 reasons employers should offer student loan repayment benefits

Currently, American families carry more than $1.6 trillion in student loan debt. Because of this, some employers are now adding student loan repayment benefits to their employer-sponsored benefits offering. Continue reading for five reasons why employers should add student loan repayment benefits to their benefit packages.


As every employer knows, benefits can be both expensive and difficult to manage. So then, what could possibly be the advantage of adding more expenses to the budget — especially ones that go beyond traditional benefits like health insurance and paid time off?

Candidates have options in the current job market, which allows them to be picky about where they choose to work. With employees in the driver’s seat, we’re seeing a workforce that is increasingly focused on companies that show they value their workforce.

One way some employers are doing this is by adding perks such as student loan repayment benefits. American families currently carry more than $1.6 trillion in student loan debt, the question of providing student loan assistance is not an “if,” but a “when.”

Will your company alone solve the country’s student loan debt crisis? No. But, ultimately, going beyond the standard of offering traditional benefits is a mark of your authenticity and genuine nature as an employer. An investment in student loan benefits demonstrates your investment in the financial wellness of your people.

Luckily, student loan repayment benefits are easy to implement and require very little maintenance once launched. Because this voluntary benefit doesn’t have to align with open enrollment, you can set the new standard for how employees should be treated immediately. Here are five reasons employers should already be offering student loan benefits.

1. Employees are actively seeking this benefit

The amount of student loan debt is staggering — currently, more than $600 billion more than the amount of credit card debt in the United States, according to LendingTree. Considering nearly everyone has a credit card and only some have student loan debt, it’s safe to say the path of higher education can have a negative financial impact for those relying on loans.

Most often, employers think the only way to help employees with their student loan debt is through contributions, but that’s not the case. Contributions aren’t a prerequisite for student loan benefits. As roughly 250,000 borrowers default on their loans each quarter, employees are actively seeking help in managing their student loan payments. With delinquency and default of student loans on the rise, you can still set employees on the right track with a student loan repayment benefit, even if you can’t afford the price tag of contributions.

2. You’ll be the employer of choice for top talent

With a low unemployment rate, the battle for the best talent is fierce. Student loan repayment assistance is a huge advantage when employees have a choice in which company to work for. Nearly three years ago, 86% of workers said they would commit to a company for five years if the employer helped pay back their student loans, according to the nonprofit American Student Loan Assistance. Yet, the Society for Human Resource Management reports only 8% of companies currently offer this type of benefit — which means those who do, may have an edge over the competition.

Today, the most successful companies don’t just focus on seeking out incredible candidates, they’re looking for ways to make the most desirable candidates come to them. Student loan assistance is a very differentiated offering — but it won’t be that way for long.

3. The benefit can help employees reach life milestones

Today, the millennial generation makes up a significant amount of the working population — but, as they’ve continued to enter the workforce over the last decade, millennials have held off on making major life purchases. Why? Because some of the most prominent markets in our economy, such as housing and higher education, have gotten drastically more expensive and salaries haven’t increased at a rate to match these rising costs.

However, if you think student loan debt is only an issue for younger generations, think again. All generations are making sacrifices because of student loan debt. In fact, 57% of Baby Boomers feel student loans are getting in the way of retirement.

Naturally, people with less debt have more money to spend in other areas. When companies help employees reduce their student loan debt, significant life milestones — like buying a house, starting a family, sending their children to college or saving for retirement — are more attainable.

4. Improved employee retention

The smartest companies aren’t just looking to attract the best talent, they’re looking to keep it. Turnover has a negative impact on business — both financially and culturally. The average cost of each employee departure is one-third of that worker’s annual earnings and, in 2020, roughly one in three workers will voluntarily quit their job.

Voluntary benefits like student loan repayment might seem like they will cost your business but, even just for the sake of keeping exceptional employees, they’re a worthy expense. Aiding employees in tackling some of their debt makes a significant difference in whether or not they want to continue working for you. Your workers are human beings. When they’re cared for in such a way, employees are more inclined to stay with a company where they’re valued.

5. Employees will be happier

Happiness is contagious. Happy employees are both more productive and have a positive impact on company culture, which absolutely makes a difference for your business. But, when more than half of people are regularly stressed due to financial issues, it has a personal and professional impact on employees.

Financial stress is one of the biggest burdens a person can face — and not something your employees can simply leave at the door. By offering student loan assistance, you’re not only eliminating some of the stress affecting your employees, but you’re also opening more financial doors for them and creating a company culture they’ll want to shout about from the rooftops.

SOURCE: Grewal, S (17 October 2019) "5 reasons employers should offer student loan repayment benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/5-reasons-employers-should-help-with-student-loans


The Open Enrollment Checklist: Are You Poised for a Successful Season

Did you know: Fifty-six percent of U.S. adults with employer-sponsored health benefits said health coverage satisfaction is a key factor in deciding whether they should leave their current job. Read the following blog post for an open enrollment checklist.


It’s here… the moment we’ve all been waiting for — or, in the case of HR, preparing for (at least we’d hope). That’s right, open enrollment season has arrived.

Open enrollment is a major opportunity for HR to contribute to their company’s performance — both in terms of healthcare savings and employee productivity. The better employees understand their benefits, the more likely they are to make cost-conscious decisions about their plan choices and their healthcare — saving themselves, and their employers, money. Not only that, but a recent survey found that 56% of U.S. adults with employer-sponsored health benefits said that whether or not they like their health coverage is a key factor in deciding to stay at their current job. And, interestingly, satisfaction with benefits and benefits communications have a tremendous impact on job satisfaction and engagement.

Not sure you’ve done everything you could to turn this annual necessity into a true financial, educational game-changer for your organizations? Ask yourself, did you:

Take stock of last year’s enrollment?Before diving into enrollment for 2020, employers should have taken stock of how the company fared last year. Post-mortem meetings with the enrollment team (along with key internal and external stakeholders) to assess what went well (or didn’t) can ensure the coming enrollment season runs smoothly.

In particular, identify the most time-consuming tasks and discuss how they could be streamlined in the future. Second, determine what questions employees asked the most about last year — and be prepared to answer them again this year. Third, consider whether the company achieved its overall open enrollment goals, and what contributed to those results. By addressing the peaks and pitfalls of last year’s season, HR should have a head start on planning for 2020.

Plan your communications strategy?With a defined approach to open enrollment in place, HR at this point should have developed an organized, well-communicated strategy to keep employees informed about their plan options at enrollment and throughout the year. Have you:

· Defined corporate objectives and how to measure success? · Assessed what messages to share with employees, especially anything that is changing — such as adding or eliminating plans or changing vendors? · Determined what information is best delivered in print (e.g. newsletters, posters, postcards, enrollment guides), online or in person through managers or one-on-one enrollment support? Adopting a multi-channel engagement strategy will ensure key messages reach the intended audience(s).

Make sure employees understand the deadline and process for enrolling — and the implications of missing the enrollment window. They must understand whether their existing coverage will roll over, if they’ll default to a specific plan and/or level of coverage (perhaps different from what they currently have), or end up with no coverage at all.

Take a pro-active approach to open enrollment?Ninety percent of employees report that they roll over their same health plan year over year — though this doesn’t indicate overwhelming plan satisfaction. More typically, it’s because they’re intimidated about what they don’t know, are confused about their choices or just don’t care. Employees don’t have the information they need, and aren’t likely to seek it out on their own.

Offering — or even requiring — one-on-one meetings with benefit experts during open enrollment provides a forum for employees to discuss their individual needs and ensure they are selecting the right coverage. These services — often available through brokers or outside engagement firms — provide employees with a safe space to ask specific questions about their health conditions, family history and potential life changes that could affect their insurance needs. This is the ideal time to remind employees that there is no one-size-fits-all plan, and that the least expensive plan on paper may not, ultimately, be the most cost-effective plan over time.

Revisit your SPD?The document we all love to hate, summary plan descriptions (SPDs) remain the best source for information about how each plan works, what it covers and the participant’s rights and responsibilities under that plan.

Having an SPD that is current, appealing (or at least not off-putting) and easy to access can answer many employee questions before they find their way to HR. Simple fixes like adding charts, callout boxes or icons can make your SPDs easier to navigate. Many employers are taking it a step further and offering interactive SPDs, which include robust search functionality and links to definitions, important forms, modeling tools and calculators, vendor sites and even short video clips. By making SPDs digital and interactive, employers can provide employees access to important information about their coverage 24/7 via any device. And, by adding a data analytics component, HR can track which sections employees visit most and pinpoint knowledge gaps about their benefit options to enhance understanding and drive increased benefits usage.

Account for all demographics?With all the focus on today’s multigenerational workforce, it’s important to remember that there’s more to “demographics” than age and gender. Worksite (office vs. shop floor vs. construction site vs. road warrior) can have a tremendous impact on the communications channels you use and when you use them.

And while some “generational generalizations” hold true — many older workers prefer paper, and most young people prefer mobile communication channels — it’s more important to look at employee cohorts from the perspective of differing priorities (planning for retirement vs. retiring student debt), different levels of education and healthcare literacy, and experience with choosing and using benefits. Employees just starting their careers are likely to need more support and different information than a more seasoned worker who’s had years of experience with the enrollment process. Consider the most effective ways to engage the different demographics of your population to gain their attention and interest in choosing the right plan for them.

Equip employees for smart healthcare choices year-round?For most employees, becoming an educated healthcare consumer is a work in progress — which is why many employers offer year-round resources to support smart healthcare choices. That said, these resources are often under-utilized because employees don’t know they exist.

Open enrollment is the perfect time to spread the word about these programs and address the key question for employees: “What’s in it for me?” For example, many employers offer transparency services, which enable employees to research the potential cost of care and compare prices across several providers in their area.

Other resources, such as benefits advocates, can answer questions from employees in real time — including where to get care, how to get a second opinion and what the doctor’s instructions really mean. When used in conjunction, transparency and advocacy services can lower out-of-pocket spending for the employee and reduce costs for the employer. Does your open enrollment communications strategy highlight that these resources exist, outline how they work and explain how they benefit the employee?

What if open enrollment is only a week away and you haven’t taken most, if any, of these steps? It’s not too early to start your to-do list for next year — perhaps by first tackling your SPD and drafting that communications plan. Most important, get that post-mortem meeting on the schedule now, while the lessons learned from this year’s open enrollment are still fresh.

SOURCE: Buckey, K. (3 October 2019) "The Open enrollment checklist: Are you Poised for a successful season" (Web Blog Post) https://www.benefitnews.com/list/the-employers-open-enrollment-checklist


6 voluntary benefits your employees want

Today’s workforce is no longer finding the run-of-the-mill benefits plans adequate. This is making voluntary benefits more important than ever in this age of the multigenerational workforce and a tight labor market. Read the following blog post for six voluntary benefits employees want.


In this age of the multigenerational workforce and a tight labor market, a one-size-fits-all group benefits model with medical, prescription, dental, vision and a retirement plan just doesn’t cut it. A workforce with Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers, Millennials and Generation Z means that employees are going to find the run-of-the-mill benefits plan inadequate. Ditto for job seekers.

What follows is that voluntary benefits are more important than ever. Offering a range of voluntary benefits can help meet the needs of employees at all life stages.

Voluntary benefits add value to benefit plans and are typically easy to administer. They’re low-to-no-cost because employees pay for them, and maintenance is often handled through a payroll deduction. Many voluntary benefits also offer guaranteed acceptance at a lower rate than medical benefits, so even if a small group within your company chooses a particular benefit, they’ll be covered.

This landscape is changing quickly. Here are six trending voluntary benefits your employees want.

Student loan debt repayment assistance

Debt among college graduates has grown to nearly $1.6 trillion. It’s preventing the largest employee segment at most companies from buying houses or cars, saving for retirement, having kids and getting married. To help employees repay their student loan debt, some employers are helping employees pay down student loan debt through a direct payroll deduction.

Others are offering a new, IRS-allowable retirement plan match swap where an employer can opt to increase its defined contribution match, enabling employees to reduce their retirement match and contribute funds to repaying student loans instead.

Interest in this benefit continues to grow. Employers looking to offer student loan debt repayment should be aware that not all platforms are created equal. Look out for high per-employee, per-month fees.

Individual long-term care

A growing number of people are beginning to understand the value of long-term care insurance because they have taken care of or currently care for a friend or relative who needs round-the-clock care. Long-term care insurance covers home or institutional care if a person is no longer able to perform at least two activities of daily living--eating, bathing, dressing, moving from a bed to a chair or using a toilet.

Employees are interested in buying long-term care insurance through their employer because they can offer better rates for simplified issue plans. If you plan to offer long-term care as an employer-sponsored benefit, I recommended rolling it out with a strategic project plan and a benefit counselor or a technology platform capable of providing decision-making tools for a smooth application process.

Executive reimbursement plans

Employee retention — especially executive retention — is on the minds of many employers in the midst of this thriving economy. Filling gaps in medical and prescription coverage is one way to provide executive teams with premium benefits they may be looking for.

Executive reimbursement plans provide reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses, access to facilities and level of service not normally covered under most group health plans. Rather than simply increasing compensation to help cover out-of-pocket expenses, premiums for these plans are tax-deductible for the employer, and benefits are non-taxable for employees.

Executive individual disability insurance

Traditional employer-sponsored long-term disability (LTD) is likely not enough coverage for highly-compensated employees or some sales staff who depends heavily on commission and bonuses. Normally, LTD pays employees 50-70% of their salary up to a certain amount.

Employers can carve out additional coverage for employees based on their management level, performance or tenure. Individual disability insurance plans can protect employees until they turn 65; they can also protect job titles or levels until employees are well enough to return to work. Executive individual disability insurance, like executive reimbursement, can be offered as a form of compensation, or a form of financial asset protection for higher incomes.

Telemedicine

The rise of consumer-driven health plans has led to the need for telemedicine. Telemedicine provides a way for employees to see a physician or provider by video and get a diagnosis and/or prescription quickly. The success of telemedicine is leading some carriers to integrate it within their plan. However, standalones still exist and can provide employees with an easy way to get care faster and cheaper than before.

Pet Insurance

Pet parents spend nearly $70 billion on veterinarian costs for their pets, but just 10% of dogs and 5% of cats are covered by medical insurance. As pets begin to play a larger role in our lives, more employers are offering pet insurance to their employees to help defray the cost of unexpected medical expenses.

There are a number of plan options, and setting up a plan for employees’ pets is simple. However, it’s vital that employers do their research to ensure the veterinarian network includes the best vets.

As part of a voluntary benefit offering, be sure to develop a rollout strategy and communications plan so employees are thoroughly educated and you meet group minimums.

SOURCE: Park, N. (25 September 2019) "6 voluntary benefits your employees want" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/6-voluntary-benefits-your-employees-want


‘Eye’ spy a savings opportunity for health and vision benefits

Traditionally, vision benefits were offered as an elective, with coverage is focusing on vision tests or discounts for corrective eyewear, but this often can result in inadequate coverage for employees and their dependents. Read this blog post to learn more about vision benefits.


Sixty-one million adults are at high risk for serious vision loss, according to the National Eye Institute, but most U.S. employers don’t include eye care as part of their benefits package. Vision benefits have traditionally been offered as an elective, where coverage is focused on vision tests or discounts for corrective eyewear.

This often results in inadequate coverage for employees and dependents, which can result in unrecognized and untreated issues that impact employee health and productivity, as well as an employer’s bottom line.

Comprehensive eye exams are recommended for adults under the age of 65 at least every two years, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA). These exams are the only way a doctor can detect signs and symptoms of serious conditions without cutting into or scanning body parts.

The total economic burden of eye disorders and vision loss in the U.S. was $139 billion in 2013, which includes $65 billion in direct medical costs strictly due to eye disorders and low vision. Loss of vision among workers results in $48 billion in lost productivity per year.

When it comes to benefit management priorities employers often focus more on chronic condition management. Yet, eye health is often linked to common chronic conditions including diabetes and hypertension. Without early detection of eye and vision health issues, employees cannot properly manage these conditions. Delaying medical treatment can lead to increased absenteeism and reduced productivity, eventually resulting in treatment that comes too late, and at a much higher price tag for employers, employees and family members.

About 68% of Americans with diabetes have been diagnosed with eye complications, many of which could have been prevented through a comprehensive eye exam. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among adults, according to the National Institutes of Health. Its prevalence is increasing as one in 10 people worldwide may be affected by 2040, according to research from the International Diabetes Federation.

Nearly half of Americans don’t know that diabetic eye diseases have visible symptoms, according to a 2018 AOA survey. More than one-third of respondents didn’t know a comprehensive eye exam is the only way to determine if a person’s diabetes will cause blindness. These exams, considered the gold standard in clinical vision care, should be covered under the employees’ medical benefits.

Three years ago the Midwest Business Group on Health began a collaboration with the AOA to better understand how employers think about and implement eye health and vision benefits. As part of this partnership, a no-cost eye care benefits toolkit was developed to support employers in evaluating their current eye health and vision care benefits to:

  • Understand the importance of early detection so that employees can effectively manage chronic and more serious conditions
  • Recognize how to integrate primary and preventive eye care into an overall medical benefit design
  • Educate employees on the importance of periodic eye examinations

It’s important that employers better understand the impact of vision care benefits, including lower costs, better employee health, improved job satisfaction, better employee quality of life, and work productivity.

SOURCE: Larson, C. (20 September 2019) "‘Eye’ spy a savings opportunity for health and vision benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/vision-loss-resulting-in-billions-in-lost-productivity


Simple Open-Enrollment Tips That Can Make a Big Difference

Thirty-three percent of employees stated their primary emotions when thinking about open enrollment season as annoyance and dread. Read this blog post from SHRM for a few simple tips that can make a big difference this open enrollment season.


Trepidation is what comes to mind for many employees when asked their feelings about open enrollment, the annual period when they select employer-provided benefits for the coming year.

According to a nationally representative sample of 1,000 employees polled earlier this year, 33 percent cited "annoyance" or "dread" as their primary emotions when they thought about open enrollment and just 10 percent of workers said they were "confident" in the benefits choices they made when the enrollment process was over, according to VSP Vision Care's annual Open Talk about Open Enrollment survey.

In another survey, HR software company Namely found that 31 percent of employees give their employer a "C" or lower when it comes to open enrollment.

Here are some tips from benefits experts that will help you raise your grade this open-enrollment season.

What to Do, and Not to Do

Jennifer Benz, national practice leader at benefits communications firm Segal Benz, shared three bad HR practices that undermine open enrollment and three best practices for doing open enrollment the right way.

  • Don't hide vital information from employees. Benz recalls how one company sent out its benefits materials but didn't include monthly costs. "A group of enterprising employees crunched the numbers and came up with estimates and circulated a rogue spreadsheet. Dealing with this communications fiasco took more work" than being upfront about costs, she noted.

Best practice: Be transparent and share the reasons you are making benefits changes. Break down the details and do the work for the employees. Provide scenarios so employees can better understand their options and cost breakdowns for different life situations.

  • Don't cram in every benefit at once. Some companies hand out pages and pages of text, jamming a year's worth of communications into a few weeks, and figure they have done what they need to do. "What they have done is confused their employees," Benz said.

Best practices: Communicate the technical details of your various benefits over time. "Don't assume employees will weed through all your materials to make sense of the benefits offered to them," Benz said. Also make full use of visual aids. "Photos, icons, infographics, memes, charts, graphics and more—they all help to attract, and more importantly hold, people's attention," noted Amber Riley, a communications consultant to Segal Benz. "Whether you're driving an open-enrollment campaign, creating a new benefits guide or promoting a wellness program, when you increase the visual pleasure of what you are communicating, your people are more likely to engage, learn, understand and ultimately take action."

  • Don't give employees too little time to process their open-enrollment choices. While many people wait until the last day to fill out the health care selection forms, they may have been considering their options with family members for weeks, so giving them just a few days to make decisions is not going to be enough.

Best practice: Build in a time frame that gives HR staff and employees the time they need. Benz recommended three weeks.

"People are always talking about learning from the best practices and success stories, but you can also learn a lot from other companies' mistakes," she noted. "When you prepare for enrollment in advance and anticipate issues—including those you and others have experienced in the past—you are better-equipped to avoid missteps. Your employees will notice and appreciate the extra effort."

Help Employees Ace Open Enrollment

"Open enrollment is often time-consuming and confusing for employees, but these choices can make a huge financial impact," said Julie Stich, CEBS, vice president of content at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, an association of benefit plan sponsors. She suggested that HR share the following advice with employees to help prepare them for the upcoming enrollment season:

  • Take your time. Take time to really read through the enrollment materials you receive. If you are invited to a face-to-face meeting, make time to attend. It's possible you'll be offered different plan options and coverages this year. The better you understand the changes, the better decisions you'll make.
  • Look ahead. Consider what the next year will look like for you and your family. Are you planning to have a baby? Knee replacement surgery? A root canal? Does someone need braces? New glasses? Keep this in mind as you look at your coverage options.
  • Dive into the details. It's important to note whether the plans' provider networks have changed. Make sure your doctors are still in-network. Is your chiropractor also covered? Does the plan cover orthodontics? Is your spouse's daily prescription drug covered, and did the coverage change? Also consider areas of need like access to specialists, mental health care, therapies, complementary and alternative medicine, and chronic care. Look at the options offered in all plans, including health, dental, vision and disability.
  • Get out your calculator. Add up the amount you'll need to pay toward your health premium plus deductibles, co-payments (flat-dollar amounts) for prescriptions and doctor office visits, and co-insurance (a percentage of the cost you'll pay) for services. Understand what you'll be asked to pay if you seek care outside your network. This will give you a clearer picture of how much you're likely to spend. The plan that looks to be the cheapest option may not really be the cheapest for you.
  • Determine what's right for you. Consider your comfort level with risk. If you want your family to be covered for every eventuality, a more traditional plan, if one is offered, might be right for you. If you're comfortable taking on some upfront costs, a high-deductible plan with a lower premium ight be your plan of choice.
  • Take advantage of extras. Your employer may offer the option to reduce your health premiums in exchange for your participation in a wellness program or health-risk assessment. It may match some or all of the money you save in your 401(k) plan. It might let you set aside tax-deferred money into a health savings account or flexible spending account. Also, check with your employer to see if it offers voluntary insurance with a group discount and payroll deduction for premiums—like critical-illness, pet, auto and homeowners coverage. If these options work for your situation, sign up.
  • Ask questions. Don't be shy about asking your HR or benefits department to explain something if you're not sure. They're there to help and want you to make the best decisions for your situation.

"Taking the time upfront to carefully choose the best options will help employees better manage their finances throughout the year, alleviating stress and promoting productivity," Stich said.

SOURCE: Miller, S. (24 September 2019) "Simple Open-Enrollment Tips That Can Make a Big Difference" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/benefits/Pages/simple-open-enrollment-tips-make-a-big-difference.aspx