Employees are skimping on supplemental health benefits. Here’s what clients can do

As healthcare has evolved, so have supplemental health insurance benefit offerings.

While traditional supplemental benefits — dental, group term life insurance and short-term disability insurance — serve a critical role in helping attract and retain top talent, additional health-related benefits, such as accidental injury, critical-illness, hospital care and indemnity insurance, can be a unique differentiator in employer benefit plans.

Increasingly, employers are finding ways to pair these benefits with a medical plan, which can offer additional out-of-pocket protection for employees.

But Cigna's recent Consumer Benefits Survey found that employees may not understand the value of supplemental health coverage. Many don’t know they can use supplemental coverage to help cover both medical and non-medical costs, such as childcare, transportation and other out-of-pocket and living expenses. In fact, the study found just 34% of individuals enrolled in employer-offered benefits say they would call on these offerings to cover non-medical expenses due to a serious injury or illness, compared with 49% who would use their savings, 32% who would use a credit card and 22% who would borrow from retirement savings.

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The good news is that roughly half of employees who aren’t currently enrolled in critical illness, hospital indemnity or accidental injury coverage say they would do so after learning more about their benefits from their employer. More than one-third say they would spend time understanding these coverage options during this enrollment season.

So, what can employers do to prepare for open enrollment in the not-too-distant future? How can they equip their employees with the resources they need to understand the full value of their supplemental health benefits? Below are three critical steps to help enrollment success.

Ensure an active annual enrollment. Encouraging employees to consider a new benefit offering is best when the enrollment period is active. Active enrollment requires workers to select or decline coverage, regardless of their benefits from the previous year. Requiring the employee to make a proactive decision is a catalyst for the worker to seek information about the benefit before making a decision.

Conducting an active annual enrollment is also beneficial, as people’s lives change from year to year. For example, if an employee has a child who plays sports, it might be wise to enroll in an accidental injury policy, should they encounter an unplanned injury.

Start early and keep the enrollment process simple. Start planning for open enrollment early. That way all benefits offered by an employer are integrated. For the best employee enrollment experience, it’s important that supplemental health benefits are on the same platform and offered at the same time as medical enrollment.

Don’t forget that tracking enrollment metrics, successes and challenges year-over-year is also very important. Establish a baseline to help create a complete set of success metrics for the upcoming open enrollment season. Information gathered at that time can be used to assess what to prepare for the upcoming enrollment period. Employers should plan a multi-year enrollment strategy, thus promoting enrollment growth using metric-supported best practices, year-over-year.

Communicate clearly. Clear communication and benefits education is perhaps the most important step. This is critical prior to the enrollment period, especially for supplemental health benefits. Consider hosting mandatory meetings to encourage employees to learn more about what is available to them. Provide benefits information in digestible bites using simplified language and tailor open enrollment messages to various employee locations — office, home or in the field — to ensure the content resonates with their differing individual and family needs.

While supplemental health benefits play a critical role in a holistic benefits strategy, the opportunity remains to raise awareness among employees. Employers must continue to help them understand the overall value of supplemental health plans well-ahead-of and during open enrollment. This will ensure employees have the appropriate financial, emotional and physical support should they encounter a potentially challenging scenario.

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