Josh Roland looks at standard life, disability and voluntary benefits and sees possibilities — but also lost opportunities. So he spends much of his time designing new products to meet the challenges of companies that want to keep their employees satisfied and productive.
Roland, a principal for Atlanta’s OneDigital Health and Benefits, is busy working on an approach that integrates wellness into ancillary and voluntary benefits such as vision, dental, disability and life insurance. The concept is simple: If an employee takes better care of herself, she’ll get a break on the cost of copays and premiums.
“In the unified benefit theory, your wellness permeates all of your benefits,” says Roland. And some wellness programs work better than others. Plans with strong personal coaching components tend to generate the best results, he adds.
Roland works with numerous hospitals that employ 2,000 to 5,000 workers. He’s worked closely with Phoebe Health System based in Albany, Ga., for the past 10 years on both a unified program and specialty hospital indemnification coverage.
The system started with the unified program two years ago and it now ties participation in its wellness program to enhanced disability benefits. “We are starting to migrate that concept into a lot of our other voluntary products,” says Will Peterson, assistant vice president for human resources for Phoebe Putney. That includes dental coverage. Other future areas of incorporation could include life insurance and paid time off.
On the hospital indemnity side, OneDigital and The Standard have worked with the hospital system to offer a cash benefit that kicks in when an employee is hospitalized. It’s meant to help cover copays and deductibles, says Roland. If the employee is cared for at a Phoebe facility, the payout is higher. Peterson likes it so much the hospital system is now offering it to businesses in its service areas as a separate product.
Also see: “Top benefit trends of 2017.”
“It’s an opportunity that brings about an enriched benefit for our local employers and adds a navigational component,” says Peterson.
The future of customization will go beyond adjusting benefit levels within a life, disability, accident or cancer plans, says Roland. “It will be in designing completely new features and even whole products that do not exist today to meet specific needs of an industry or employer group.”
During his 17-year career in the business, Roland has found that companies tend to spend most of their energy on medical policies, while skimming over the equally important life and disability benefits.
“Eighty-five percent of their time is spent on medical and they barge through the rest really fast and move on,” Roland says. Most of the time they make their choices based on price alone, he adds.
While death and disability underwriting can be dry, those details become terribly important when things go wrong. “The finer points inside contracts can affect families for life,” he says. Long-term disability can pay for 30 or 40 years and Roland feels the benefits just don’t get the attention they deserve from employers.
So, he focuses on them specifically, even if that sometimes means leaving the medical benefit planning to another consultancy.
Roland regularly offers to analyze the fine print on existing contracts so he can explain what an employer has purchased. “In insurance, you’re trading premiums for risk,” he points out. A company skimping on premiums can put its employees in difficult situations. For example, some disability policies require rehab or they stop paying out benefits.
His goal is to point out the tradeoffs. “We’re advising people to buy long-term disability coverage on value, not price,” Roland says. “It’s equally bad to underpay for insurance.”
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