Originally published on BenefitsPro
The pressure has never been greater on health benefits consultants. Companies are tightening their belts amid economic uncertainty, inflation concerns, raising salaries to hire and keep talented employees, and projecting that health care costs will rise again in the coming year.
A study by Mercer predicts a 5.4% increase in the cost of providing health benefits to employees in 2024, and that’s after making plan changes. For employers who make no changes and provide employees with the same benefits as they did in the previous year, Mercer data shows their health care costs will rise 6.6%. The study suggests many employers in recent years have been reluctant to cut actual benefits or the mix of their offerings because of the demand from employees on myriad struggles around mental and financial well-being.
It will be increasingly challenging for advisors, benefits administration vendors, and HR teams to hold the line while providing all the support employees need and have come to expect from their employers.
The challenge is exacerbated by the proliferation over the past few years of employers offering benefits meant to address employees’ needs with a more holistic approach. These offerings aim to provide support beyond traditional core benefits. For example, at the onset of the pandemic, many employers responded by expanding their benefits offerings to support their people — shifting to a “whole person” mindset around benefits. That strategy became key to demonstrating that an organization cares about its people and aided efforts to boost employee engagement, hire the best talent, and retain skilled employees. Many of those new benefits that employers have added in recent years, such as mental health and financial well-being services, are wildly popular among employees.
However, sustaining this approach and offering holistic benefits is increasingly challenging amid current economic conditions. The challenge for health benefits advisors working with companies that want to implement a whole-person approach to their offerings is this: Finding a way to cut or hold the line on costs while continuing to provide the same level of support to employees.
Perhaps, it is time to re-examine the potential of core benefits from the perspective of the demand and desire for benefits that offer holistic wellbeing. Even small organizations or companies on a tight budget can provide a foundational benefits package. And these benefits hold underutilized features that, when brought to bear through a comprehensive health care lens, can replicate the whole-person approach.
To help employers do that, brokers need to work closely with HR leaders and benefits administration providers to look at budgets and help them re-discover how core benefits can provide a total wellbeing approach to employees and their dependents. Here are nine ways brokers can do just that.
- Health education. Aiming to enhance overall health literacy, health education is a core benefit integral to holistic wellbeing. Providing information about nutrition, disease prevention, and mental health increases employee wellness knowledge. This fosters healthier habits and contributes to the overall improvement of organizational health.
- Primary care. With comprehensive health care, primary care stands as the pivotal first line of defense. This benefit ensures employees receive the necessary attention they need, from seasonal allergies to chronic illnesses and emotional or mental distress. Primary care further aligns with a holistic strategy by proactively identifying potential health issues, saving lives, cutting health care costs, and guiding employees toward specialized care.
- Preventive care. The benefits of preventive care play a crucial supporting role in an all-encompassing health care strategy because they focus on averting health problems, mitigating risks, and ensuring early diagnosis and treatment. As a result, preventive care assists employees in reducing lifestyle-related conditions like diabetes, depression, and chronic diseases. Detection of such conditions is vital to preserving overall employee wellbeing.
- Specialty care. This coverage gives employees access to physicians and hospitals for specific injuries and illnesses, making it an exceptionally holistic benefit for people with chronic or ongoing medical needs. By facilitating access to specialty care in this way, core benefits alleviate stress and anxiety when they need treatment beyond their primary care physician, in turn, contributing to enhanced wellbeing overall.
- Mental health services. Essential for maintaining complete physical and mental well-being, mental health benefits are integral to comprehensive health care. Offering access to therapists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals — including through virtual or online programs — these benefits provide crucial support. This not only helps employees in their mental health journey, but also reduces absenteeism and improves employee retention.
- Dental and oral health. Optimal oral health also contributes to holistic health care in the long run. Promoting the proven association between good oral hygiene and overall health helps support a healthier overall person.
- Coordination of care. Care coordination emerges as the linchpin that enables employees to receive comprehensive and personalized health care. The results in improved health outcomes, greater employee satisfaction, and lower healthcare costs, in turn reducing financial and emotional stress.
- Access to medications. Providing access to medications at lower costs supports the entire employee by aiding in the effective management of chronic diseases. By alleviating stress around medication costs, this empowerment not only enhances overall health but also increases employee productivity.
- Long-term care. Increasingly common as a core or optional benefit, long-term care coverage contributes to a holistic well-being strategy by assisting with the costs of services ranging from activities of daily living (ADLs) to skilled nursing and memory care. This plays into a holistic health care approach by reducing the emotional and financial stress over having the necessary resources for long-term care. This benefit is particularly appealing to baby boomers.
Brokers should start emphasizing to employers the power of the core benefits package for creating a comprehensive approach to employee health. As the nine points above have shown, the existing package of basic core benefits covers a wide array of needs that become duplicated (perhaps unnecessarily) with add-on benefits. For that reason, core benefits leveraged to their full potential can cover a variety of health needs and create a whole-person approach to benefits coverage for the unique needs of a diverse workforce.
Brokers should look at these nine ways and consider others that can provide holistic health care, control costs, and address employee satisfaction, engagement, and retention.
Craig Stephens is Chief Revenue Officer for Selerix, a provider of benefits administration solutions for employers and carriers.