By Karen Gustin, LLIF, Ameritas Group Dental and Eye Care
When you need to purchase a major appliance, do you drive to the closest home store and buy whatever looks like a good deal? Would you spend $500 for a new set of tires without checking to make sure they’re the right size and style for your vehicle?
Most Americans invest considerable time in evaluating their choices before making major purchases. They talk with friends or coworkers to gather feedback on brands and stores, review consumer information about the products or visit several stores for comparison shopping. Most consumers want high value for their purchases. They don’t want to end up with a lemon.
Employers, however, don’t enjoy this kind of consumer confidence about the decisions they must make for their health-care benefits because their employers may not be investing sufficient time in helping them evaluate plan options.
One size does NOT fit all
Many employers select health-care benefits without listening to employees’ needs and understanding their concerns. They have a one-size-fits-all philosophy about benefits, believing all plans are the same, only the price is different, or thinking employees should be thrilled just to have access to health-care benefits.
WageWorks, a provider of consumer-driven tax-advantaged spending accounts for health and dependent care, reports employers across the country are acknowledging the increasing importance of retaining and recruiting quality benefits. These employers recognize the right mix of health-care benefits as a vital component of maintaining a high level of employee satisfaction.
Right plans, high value, best price
Employers can maximize their benefits plans by following these guidelines:
1. Listen to employees’ ideas, fears and benefits needs. Gather feedback on benefits from unbiased individuals in the organization, especially if employees work under a union contract. Listen to their suggestions and priorities on benefits options. Ask for evaluations of previous benefits plans and insurance carriers. Find out their concerns and fears, and health-care needs. (Avoid making promises you may not be able to fulfill.)
2. Define what you hope to accomplish with employee benefits. It’s important to clearly understand why you provide employee benefits. Are specific benefits required by union contract or necessary to recruit and retain quality employees? Look for benefits that are a good match for those considerations.
3. Identify critical benefits plan needs. Review plan utilization trends and employee demographics. (Your insurance broker and/or carrier can provide this information.) Look for large segments of workers with specific needs, certain types of diseases or health conditions, or those nearing retirement age. List critical features for each benefit option.
4. Work with your insurance brokers/agents. To help your broker shop for the right mix of benefits, explain your benefits goals, insurance carrier preferences and plan design requirements.
5. Find the best insurance carrier and plan options. All carriers are not the same. Each has different strengths, areas of expertise, and operational philosophies. Few have the flexibility to design a range of plans, with many offering canned options and a few set features. Ask carriers for specific details on their experiences with businesses of similar size and scope to yours, and for a history of premium increases. Identify carriers that will be good partners in providing the best benefits plans.
6. Communicate benefits to employees. National surveys report employees are increasingly becoming more interested in their health-care plans and decisions. However, they’re often overwhelmed by the complexity of health-care benefits and the pressure of making the right choices for their families. Invest time in communicating benefits to employees. Invite the insurance carrier to employee meetings to explain benefits plans, costs and options. Clearly communicate the reasons for any changes in plan components from the previous year so employees understand they are not receiving lesser-quality plans this year.
The increased retirement of workers from the baby boomer generation means that recruitment and retention of quality employees will be more important than ever. The one-size-fits-all philosophy toward benefits won’t create high employee satisfaction. There are many insurance carriers and plan design options, so invest the time to find the right fit for your company and employees.
Karen M. Gustin, LLIF, is vice president-group marketing and managed care for Ameritas Group Dental and Eye Care in Lincoln, Nebraska. Her tenure with Ameritas Group spans 23 years. She’s involved with the National Association of Dental Plans (NADP), serving on the foundation board and chairing the Statistical Task Force.