Plan selection mistakes

Rounding Out Your Benefits Menu with Voluntary Offerings

Depositphotos_39604145_s-2015How can employers offer a comprehensive and well-rounded benefits package that protects employees and their families when economic pressures are fierce? This is a common question we hear from our clients. When employers are fighting to keep benefits in place yet stay mindful of budgetary constraints, we suggest adding voluntary plans to enhance employer paid programs, which help make an overall employee benefit package more robust.

Voluntary benefits include life, disability, accident, cancer, and even medical gap insurance. These policies provide benefits that support employees and their families in the event of death, disability, or serious illness. Disability plans help replace lost income while life insurance provides a financial resource in the event of an untimely death.  Medical gap plans help reduce exposure when employees have higher deductible medical plans.  Most people don’t like to think about the many scenarios these policies are meant to cover, but should these catastrophic situations occur, people have a better chance of maintaining financial stability if they have voluntary benefits.

Despite their importance, it can be challenging to enroll in voluntary benefit programs. Time and time again, we find the most successful programs incorporate employee education.   We understand that companies hesitate to conduct mandatory meetings about benefit programs, but participation rates are better when they do.  Studies have shown that group meetings provide a unique opportunity for benefit experts to show employees which benefits best suit their specific situation.   Voluntary benefits are never marketed with a “one size fits all” approach therefore; benefit counselors take into consideration income, age, and family status in addition to health history while being mindful of the cost of what is being recommended.  An advisor giving personalized, real-life examples also helps people appreciate why these benefits are important.

Taking time to introduce the benefits is another key to successful implementation. Companies shouldn’t roll products out just once and expect an overwhelming response. We tell clients to stay the course and give employees time to understand the benefit offering and often suggest adding new programs during the annual enrollment period. A successful voluntary benefit program is a multi-year effort, and we have found that popularity increases with each year, especially once a few employees have had occasion to actually use the benefits which are when their value becomes most evident.

Once employees understand the importance of voluntary benefits, they often choose to participate. There are obvious cost savings by buying coverage at group rates instead of individual rates and people appreciate the savings.  Overall, we have found most employees are willing to spend the equivalent of one hour of their weekly salary to cover the cost of voluntary benefits. It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.  When individuals and families face difficult times due to a serious health issue or loss of a loved one, it can be heartbreaking. However, voluntary benefits can help by lifting financial burdens and giving people time to recover without losing everything they have worked for — and all because an employer chose to offer the additional protection these plans offer.

About the author: Macee Keelan is Vice President of Creative Benefits, Inc. She has been with the company for more than 11 years and specializes in benefits administration.