General benefits literacy has long been lacking among America’s workforce. The pandemic has been a wakeup call for many. It’s encouraging workers to pay closer attention and employers to take greater steps in providing supplemental education. But so much of the focus of those efforts (understandably) goes to medical insurance benefits. And it is necessary to communicate with employees about how pandemic relief legislation will impact their HSAs and more. However, this year could be the perfect opportunity to bring attention to certain, often-overlooked voluntary benefits.
A recent survey conducted by The Hartford captures how employee and employer attitudes are shifting as the pandemic drags on. Employers planning to offer voluntary benefits like hospital indemnity coverage and EAPs grew significantly between March and June. At the same time, employee interest in many benefits slipped, but even those lower interest levels outpace the percentage of employers offering them.
While developing a benefits communications strategy for annual enrollment this year, consider how you’re addressing common and timely voluntary offerings. Explaining these benefits in the context of how they work for those diagnosed with COVID illuminates the advantages of enrolling.
Globally, the Critical Illness market is expected to grow significantly in the next few years, partly as a result of the pandemic. It threw insurers for a loop since Critical Illness Insurance only applies to certain specified diseases and conditions – and infectious diseases aren’t often on the list. Many have since clarified which elements of their Critical Illness coverage apply specifically to COVID circumstances. For instance, certain tests and procedures (like chest x-rays) are largely going to be covered. The nuances of policy details and special-circumstance exceptions that certain insurers are making can further confuse anyone looking to learn “is X covered?”
HR leaders and benefits managers need to work with insurance providers to gain as much clarity around how Critical Illness coverage will be defined moving into the new plan year. Are your providers adjusting their coverage to now explicitly include COVID as a qualifying diagnosis? Or are they going to stick to the piecemeal application many are using now? Once you have the details, you can better educate workers on just how your Critical Illness option is tackling COVID as they consider enrolling.
Because Hospital Indemnity coverage focuses on hospitalization, it’s application in the current pandemic is a bit clearer. For those who do find themselves hospitalized with COVID, the stays are often long and the costs quickly pile up. The tricky aspects with filing claims in this area could arise in regions where the healthcare systems are overwhelmed. Most providers are expanding their lists of qualifying care facilities in response to how states and their hospital networks have organized their COVID-response plans.
Of course, Hospital Indemnity coverage and its benefits are already more tangible to many workers. While they may not have direct experience with the specific conditions required of something like Critical Illness Insurance, hospitalizations for an accident or the birth of a baby are quite common. You can add the possibility of hospitalization for COVID to the list of reasons workers have to enroll this year.
Mental Health and Wellness
The pandemic has made more people aware of the importance (and difficulties) of maintaining one’s mental health. According to Fidelity Investments, services around mental health and counseling saw a 39% increase since early March. Everyone suffers stress in different ways and coming from different directions. For some, the economic concerns are weighing heaviest. Others (particularly those with higher-risk conditions) are trying to balance anxiety around their personal health. Disrupted care services for friends and family range from visiting care workers for elderly parents to questions of where children will be as a new school year starts. Because of the broad range of needs, mental health and wellness options also take a variety of forms leaving greater room for employers to expand their offerings.
Employee Assistance Programs can be a good way for employers to provide support for a large portion of their workforce. Benefit communications just need to make sure the range and flexibility of these programs is clear. The available services for mental health and wellness don’t always require formal enrollment or monthly premiums. However, when listed alongside voluntary benefits that do have premiums, employees may think they do too.
Telehealth services are also providing reassurance to many hesitant about potentially crowded waiting rooms. Sometimes medical benefits plans include these services, but services focused on counseling and mental health may have more depth when part of a voluntary option.
Education Is Key
Simply offering certain benefits options can improve well-being, regardless of whether or not they’re used. Knowing they’re there provides a peace of mind everyone can use more of these days. But even that small peace of mind can only be found with the knowledge that those options are available. It falls to HR leaders to communicate and educate the workforce about all available benefits options and, this year, people might just be ready to really listen and learn.