‘Lifestyle’ choice: An emerging benefit could attract and retain employees

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Employers seeking new ways to stay competitive in the employee benefits marketplace might consider an emerging perk, lifestyle spending accounts, whose aim is to broaden employee access range of health and happiness-oriented goods and services.

There’s really no limit to the types of things LSAs can fund, but that endless range of choices can make it difficult for employers to get started.

But first, the basics: An LSA account is funded solely by the employer (and which is taxable as income to employees. The employee can use the funds to purchase goods or services, as long as they fall into the categories of the employer’s choosing. Think investments in physical and mental well-being, environmentally friendly goods or child care.

The accounts are popular on the West Coast and in Canada. and is gaining traction throughout other parts of the U.S.

Employers can choose to fund a wide range of options, depending on what they think will appeal most to their workforce. For instance, while some carriers reimburse employees for gym memberships, employers can supplement a healthy physical lifestyle by adding workout studios to the options menu; personal or small-group training; workout equipment such as weights, a stationary bike or a treadmill; workout clothes; or nutrition counseling.

And while mental well-being is a new benefits focus of many employers, health plans typically only cover a limited number of counseling sessions. Employers can supplement this benefit by providing funds for therapy or counseling sessions.

Some employers are also using LSAs to help employees with child-related expenses, starting at the very beginning with help with fertility treatments, progressing to doulas and midwives and on to baby gear and then childcare.

But back to the too-much-choice dilemma. To figure out what to fund, start by identifying gaps in your current benefit offering. For example, offering funds toward gym and studio memberships is an obvious place to start if you don’t already have a program in place. Consider what types of employees you want to recruit and retain, and think about what sort of behaviors you want to influence. LSAs can be offered to an entire workforce, or different fund amounts can be offered to different classes of employees.

Other issues to consider: how will you deliver the funds and what happens when an employee leaves or is terminated. These are minor details, but they could leave you with headaches if you don’t address them prior to rollout.

LSAs are typically managed by a TPA that will adjudicate claims and approve purchase reimbursements, removing the hassle of managing a program for large employers.

For employers hoping to encourage employees toward certain healthy behaviors and sweeten benefits packages, LSAs can help round out offerings and act as another recruitment and retention tool.

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