More voluntary benefit options likely to be on offer during this year’s open enrollment

Open enrollment is not just about health insurance and retirement savings benefits. During this year’s enrollment period, many employers are expected to offer a variety of new voluntary benefit options along with making changes to long-standing benefits. Trends to watch for include:

  • Expanded wellness programs (health and financial);
  • Increased opportunities for workflex;
  • Voluntary benefit offerings that allow employees to customize their benefits to their needs and interests; and
  • Changes designed to control the increasing costs of prescription drugs.

“HR professionals should consider using an employer benefit communication portal, short educational videos, webinars on specific benefit topics and in-person consultation,” said Bettina Deynes, vice president of human resources and diversity at the Society for Human Resource Management. “The more on-demand and interactive, the better.”

Health, wellness and workflex.

Of course, the granddaddy of benefits is health insurance. The majority of organizations that participated in the SHRM’s 2017 Employee Benefits survey indicated that they offer health care benefits to their full-time employees (99 percent). Thirty-four percent of organizations also offer health care to part-time employees. While health care reform has been in the news from the nation’s capital, experts at SHRM do not believe that talk of repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act will have a large impact on this year’s open enrollment.
SHRM’s benefits survey results also indicated that 24 percent of organizations increased their wellness benefits in the 12 months before the survey was taken. Anticipate other benefits to increase as well.
“More opportunities for flexible work schedules and remote work may also be on the table this enrollment period as employee demand for flexibility increases,” said Sylvia Francis, total rewards manager, Regional Transportation District and a SHRM Special Expertise Panel member.

Voluntary benefits.

Additional voluntary benefit offerings could include supplemental life insurance, supplemental health plans (especially as high-deductible health plans become more prevalent), identity theft protection, legal plans and pet insurance.
“The usual supplemental plans such as pet insurance and EAPs [employee assistance programs] — which include counseling and legal advice — still are in place,” said Rodney Alvarez, vice president of talent management at Celtra Inc. and a SHRM Special Expertise Panel member. “The new things that I’m seeing are a trend toward offering supplemental maternity benefits and student loan repayment assistance. Also, I have seen a lot of companies offering summer Friday’s off — or half off — as an extra perk.”

Prescription drug cost controls.

Deynes says that as organizations look for ways to control the cost of benefits, some may incorporate prescription drug cost controls. These controls may include step-therapy, prior authorization requirements and additional co-pay or co-insurance tiers.

SOURCE: Society for Human Resource Management.
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