Attracting and retaining top-notch talent is the number one reason employers provide competitive benefit packages. Interestingly, Mercer found that 89 percent of employers are now including voluntary benefits as part of their comprehensive benefits offering. Simply put, employees are used to seeing these options in their new-hire paperwork, and the trend isn’t likely to change for good reason.

Voluntary insurance benefits were originally added to benefit packages as a way to fill gaps in health insurance plans. While provided by employers, they’re paid for entirely (or near entirely) by employees through payroll deduction.

Typically, life insurance, disability, dental and vision are the most common options. But competitive employers are getting creative with their suite of benefits. In fact, we’re starting to see employers offer financial planning, online education, pet insurance and other employee-requested plans. Before we talk about the benefits most requested by employees, let’s review the three reasons voluntary benefits aren’t so voluntary anymore.

  • Employees are demanding them. With the workforce changing and employees leaving companies more frequently, your best talent is likely to choose an employer who offers the benefits they want.
  • Employees are worried about their financial future more than ever. Voluntary benefits like life and disability provide financial security. By offering these plans, employees are more focused on their work, and less so on the day-to-day financial demands during stressful times.
  • They’re inexpensive. Buying voluntary benefits under a group plan is more cost-effective than it is for employees to purchase them on their own. 

What are the newest trends and most requested voluntary benefits?

  • Identity theft protection
  • Pet insurance
  • Long-term care insurance, including cancer care
  • Discounts on things like everyday purchases at retail outlets and travel benefits
  • Wellness, nutrition and fitness discounts

Not surprisingly, employees are asking for benefits that help them better balance competitive, demanding careers with healthy, enjoyable personal lives. The best employees appreciate employers that ease that burden. But education is key for employees to really understand (and respond positively) to the value of the total benefits package. If your goal is to attract and retain the best staff, then start by asking what benefits they value most. Then consider deploying the following methods to communicate their worth:

  • Use financial benefit statements during the new hire process, as well as annually during open enrollment.
  • Provide hypothetical cost modeling for employees so they understand the potential financial implications of a short/long-term disability or illness compared to the modest cost of the insurance.
  • Offer monthly education via email about the financial risks of being uninsured
  • Encourage employees to use voluntary benefits such as financial planning and lifestyle enrichment.

Turnover will always be part of running a business. Fortunately, a thoughtfully designed voluntary benefits package can mitigate the loss of great employees.

Interested in adjusting your voluntary benefits package? Please talk with your PBG representative.

All Affordable Care Act health plans include 21 preventive care services that are covered 100 percent by health insurance as long as you go to an in-network provider. That means no copay, no deductible and no coinsurance. Examples include cancer screenings, annual physicals and other screenings that help minimize long-term health risks and/or focus on early detection when treatment protocols work best. Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans use these preventive services at only half the rate available.

Forgoing preventive health care is one reason why Americans spend so much on health care services. The CDC reported recently that treating chronic diseases that are often preventable such as type-2 diabetes accounts for 86 percent of the nation’s health costs. More importantly, these statistics mean we’re sicker than we need to be, which impacts our quality of life, as well as contributes to higher health insurance premiums. 

What can employers do?

Start by educating employees of the health insurance plan’s preventive benefits and provide time away from work to complete the assessments. The scheduled time away will pay for itself in spades with lower health plan utilization and unexpected absenteeism. Help them understand how prevalent chronic health conditions are among Americans. As of 2012, half of all adults had one or more chronic health conditions according to the CDC, and it’s only getting worse. It’s vital that employees get screened for heart disease, arthritis, cancers, diabetes, etc.

The reality, however, is most employees don’t know all the preventive health screenings available to them through the employer-sponsored health insurance plan. Let’s review them and then look at effective ways you can communicate them to your employees.

  1. Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm screening (for men who have smoked)
  2. Alcohol abuse screening and counseling
  3. Aspirin use
  4. Blood pressure screening
  5. Cholesterol screening
  6. Colorectal cancer screening
  7. Depression screening
  8. Type 2 Diabetes screening
  9. Diet counseling
  10. Falls prevention
  11. Hepatitis B screening
  12. Hepatitis C screening
  13. HIV screening
  14. A variety of immunization vaccines
  15. Lung cancer screening
  16. Obesity screening and counseling
  17. Sexually transmitted infection prevention
  18. Statin preventive medication
  19. Syphilis screening
  20. Tobacco use screening
  21. Tuberculosis screening

Knowing that chronic diseases lead to 7 out of every 10 deaths and account for 75 percent of the nation’s health care costs is reason enough to encourage employees to maximize their preventive health benefits. You can do this by asking employees to comply with the health insurance company’s annual health assessment. It’s often just a simple online questionnaire that helps the insurance company identify early risk factors.

Other ideas to increase use of preventive health care benefits include:

  • Offering additional paid-time-off for annual physicals
  • Hosting a flu clinic or time off to get a flu shot
  • Emailing wellness education every month
  • Providing access to healthful snacks in the workplace
  • Organizing lunchtime walking groups and sponsoring employees who take part in charity 5k run/walks

At Partners Benefit Group, our goal is to help employers manage the costs of their health insurance plans. While we can’t predict the health care needs of employees, we can encourage them to best care for themselves. Have additional questions? Please talk with your PBG representative.

We’ve heard the stories of drug manufacturers charging hundreds of dollars for a single course of treatment. Two years ago, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch found herself the center of a congressional hearing about her company’s decision to increase the cost of the EpiPen. Just one example of many high priced drugs, Americans report that they struggle to afford the cost of brand name drugs at a rate of one in four. What can we do?

Despite our wishes, bringing a new drug to market in the United States is very expensive. Between research, innovation, testing and FDA approval, the process can take years and cost millions, so it’s to be expected that drugs will be protected for several years by a patent. During this time, the drug manufacturer is aiming to recoup its investment and make a profit.

But patents end, and that’s why the one question patients need to ask their doctors is if there is an acceptable generic alternative. You might be surprised to know that 80 percent of brand name drugs on the market today have generic versions. Generic drugs work in the same way and provide the same clinical benefit as the brand name. They’re also approved by the FDA just as the brand name drug was years earlier, but at a significant lower cost because the research, innovation and testing need not be repeated.

What’s the difference in cost between brand name and generic?

According to the IMS Health Institute, generic drugs saved the American health care system $1.67 trillion from 2007 to 2016. How? A generic alternative is typically 85 percent less expensive than its brand name. And that cost savings is passed down to health insurance companies and, ultimately, patients.

Most health insurance plans have prescription drug tiers listed on their member ID cards. Often, you’ll see tier one is in the $5-30 range for a 30-day supply, while tiers two and three rise rapidly. (It’s important to note that some carriers have as many as five tiers, but that’s not the norm.)

How do you know which tier your drugs fall into?

The health insurance company provides a drug formulary that members can review. Not exactly practical to do while in your 20-minute physician appointment, but you can also ask your doctor. They often have a great deal of knowledge about the drugs they prescribe and can alert you if the drug is likely to be in a higher tier before you head to the pharmacy.

In some cases, there is no generic version of the drug being prescribed. But it doesn’t always mean you have no other option other than to pay a high tier copay. Most drugs fall into a class where there are several drugs designed to treat the same condition. While the newest drug might be all the rage, there is often an older drug that has years of proven efficacy that you can try first.

Bottom line…take control of your health care costs and ask your doctor if there is a generic drug that may provide the clinical benefit you need.

If you happen to face a situation where the only viable option is an expensive brand name drug, resist the urge to avoid treatment due to high cost. Most drug manufacturers offer rebates, discounts and financial assistance to Americans who can’t afford their prescription medication. Ask your doctor or the pharmacist for more information about how to apply.

We’re fortunate to live during a time of great medical innovation. We’re living longer lives as a result. So while there is much debate about the high costs of prescription drugs, we can find solace in knowing many conditions that were fatal or diminished a great quality of life in the past are now very manageable.

Have additional questions about your prescription drug benefits? Please talk with your human resources department or your PBG representative.

It was recently estimated by the National Business Group on Health that the total cost of health care (including premiums and out-of-pocket costs for employees and dependents) would rise to an astounding $14,800 per employee this year. After surveying 170 large U.S. employers, the results suggested that employers would cover approximately 70 percent of those costs, while employees would pay 30 percent. As employee benefit advisors, Partners Benefit Group sees similar statistics among employers in Georgia and the Southeast.

Obviously, it goes without saying that health insurance continues to be a significant expense for employers and employees, so maximizing its value is essential. With a new year upon us, most health plans have hit the proverbial reset button on deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. Let’s review these important aspects of health insurance to empower ourselves to make wise health care choices.

Deductible: The deductible is the amount you pay for health care before your health insurance policy pays anything. According to widely-reported data, the average deductible varies between $1,500 for single coverage to as high as $8,000 for high-deductible plans. While many people will not use their health plan enough to satisfy the deductible, it is wise to plan that such an event could occur, especially if you have from more than one plan to choose.

Coinsurance: Once the deductible is satisfied, you share health care costs with the insurance plan by paying coinsurance. Coinsurance is a percentage. It’s common to see an 80/20 or 70/30 health plan, which means that the health insurance company will pay 80 percent and you will pay 20 percent of health care costs.

Copay: Most people are used to paying copays for certain health care events like office visits and prescriptions. They are often tiered. For example, visiting a specialist often carries a higher copay than visiting a general practitioner. Where confusion often sets in is when your physician orders further care or testing. Lab work is one such example. Because this falls outside your office visit, the services are subject to the deductible. Knowing this ahead of time allows you to question your physician about the medical necessity of all ordered tests, as well as verify that service providers are in your medical plan network. 

Out-of-pocket maximum: Most plans carry a maximum amount you’ll pay during the plan year. After the amount is satisfied, any further care is paid 100 percent by the insurance plan. Keep in mind that copays and out-of-network providers may be excluded.

There’s good news…

All Affordable Care Act plans include a list of preventive care services that are covered 100 percent by health insurance as long as you go to an in-network provider. Considering these services are designed to keep you healthy, be sure to take full advantage. For a complete list, click here. Also, check with your health insurance carrier about any financial incentives it may offer for completing health assessments, getting flu shots, etc. Many offer generous rewards that may help pay for future health care expenses.

Have additional questions? Please talk with your human resources department or your PBG representative.