Because large employers can typically shoulder a greater portion of the health care cost burden than small employers, they enjoy a greater benefit participation rate, as well. Benefit advisers working with small to mid-size employers to boost benefit participation can focus on cost-saving measures that limit the amount of that burden being passed off to employees.  

Employer-sponsored medical benefits were available to 69% of private-industry workers in the United States in March 2014, but availability of medical care benefits varied by establishment size, with 53% of employees in establishments with fewer than 50 employees being offered medical care benefits, compared with 89% of workers in establishments with 500 employees or more, according to data released Tuesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And, just as larger employers were more inclined to offer medical benefits, employees of larger companies were more inclined to take advantage of the benefits. Seventy-seven percent of employees in companies with 500 employees or more chose to participate in the plan, compared with 71% of employees in small companies (those with 500 or fewer).

“Larger employers have higher participation rates because they tend to pay a greater portion of their employees’ premiums,” says Diane Boyle, vice president of federal government relations for the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors. “This is part of the reason why insurance agents and brokers are so important to mid-size and small businesses. Agents can help them reduce costs and find plans that are best suited to their and their employees’ individual needs.”

The Bureau’s data did show larger employers tend to pay a higher portion of the premium rates for family coverage than small employers. Yet, the average employer share of the premium payment for single coverage varied little by company size, suggesting enrollment activities and education play a part in higher engagement rates, as well.

Benefit advisers hoping to increase their small employer clients’ benefit engagement rates can also suggest enrollment and education activities that larger companies are more inclined or able to invest in.

Boyle says this is another area in which benefit agents play a crucial role with small employers, as advisers “often act as these smaller companies’ de facto HR departments, providing advice and services that aren’t available elsewhere.”

See related: Education heightens employee satisfaction with benefits, employers

Enrollment tactics

Sixty-three percent of employees say group in-person meetings would be helpful during benefit enrollment periods and 64% of employees say a toll-free helpline would be beneficial, according to MetLife’s 2014 U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study released earlier this year.

Further, 63% of employees say a company benefit website would be helpful, but surprisingly only 18% of employers provide one, the study found. Fifty-one percent of employees said they find benefits webinars helpful, but only 11% of employers provide them.

While large employers typically have more money than small employers to invest in benefits education and enrollment activities, the payoff for such an investment can translate into greater benefit participation and health care cost savings for the employer down the line.

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