Employees must be urged to fill their benefit gaps

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In this day of high-deductible health plans, one of the biggest challenges facing employees is the need to fill in the gaps in their healthcare and benefit coverage. Sure, major medical may be provided, but what about vision and dental? And what happens if a true emergency visits them?

This is the topic of a key session at the upcoming Workplace Benefits Renaissance conference in New Orleans March 1-3. The panel, entitled “Increasing profitability: A crack in the benefits foundation,” will address how advisers can help clients to fill the gaps that commonly occur in modern workplace insurance and benefit plans.

“As healthcare plans continue to deteriorate in terms of the richness of their offerings — the plans have more high deductibles and greater out-of-pocket maximums that employees have to pay — it creates a number of gaps. Employers and advisers are going to be competitive and stay profitable and [therefore they] had to reduce the richness of their plans,” says Michael Meredith, executive vice president of Lockton Companies and one of the WBR panelists.

“As a result, it has created a need on the part of the employees and their dependents for options to help fill those gaps,” he says.

It’s not easy. Employers face a sea of benefit plans with a varying degree of options and features. This has boosted competition among benefit advisers who need to stand out in order to capture future clients. For example, Meredith explains that in the past, products were only available on an individual platform, and now more are available on group plans that come loaded with more features and options.

Changing landscape
This has brought uncertainty and complexity to the benefit landscape. Many of these plans qualify for pre-tax participation so the employee can buy on a pre-tax basis. “We'll be talking about what types of plans employers should consider offering because there's so many out there that it can be very confusing,” he says, adding that benefit managers should avoid offering plans that are “duplicative and overlap” too much.

“You want to work on the front end of the plan offering so that what you offer is meaningful and valuable and then you want to make sure you have something that's very competitive from a cost perspective,” he says.

Meredith will be joined by other leading benefit professionals for this panel: Gene Lanzoni, assistant vice president, market & customer insights, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America; Jerry Horton, regional practice leader, western division, Guardian; and Kristin Myers, benefits director, TSG Resources. These benefit thought leaders will present case studies that show open enrollments of new plans that went well and those that missed the mark, as well as take questions from the audience.

Meredith says he hopes that his portion of the panel will help brokers make sure that they're communicating effectively so that the employees understand the core benefits that are being offered and what new benefits would be valuable to them.

“Not only how to use effectively the core benefits to the maximum, but also take advantage of the voluntary benefits that would be best suited for them based on their age, their gender and their personal needs,” he says. “Because employee benefits are very personal … there are certain things that are more important to women rather than to men, and to someone who is post 50 vs. under 30. There's a lot to consider.”

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