Employee benefits Featured

12:12pm EDT September 21, 2006
In just a couple of short decades, health insurance, when provided, has gone from an employer-paid benefit to one paid for almost exclusively by the employee. And sometimes employers, assuming that employees can’t afford or don’t need certain products, don’t include them in the portfolios they present.

“We tell our employers that they cannot assume that an employee does not need or want a particular coverage,” says Dawn Bowers-Card, the employee benefits practice leader in the Sarasota office of Hilb Rogal & Hobbs.

Smart Business talked to Bowers-Card about how to set up health insurance packages so that they benefit everyone.

What are voluntary benefits?
Within employee benefits, there is a whole segment of products that we refer to as voluntary benefits and worksite products. What that means is 100 percent of the premium is paid for by the employee. The products are sponsored by the employer, which allows access for enrollment and payroll deduction of the premiums. These products can range from life and disability, accident and cancer insurance to home, auto, even pet insurance and pre-paid legal services.

How customized is each company’s benefit package?
Initially, we talk to each company and try to come up with a creative approach to address employees’ specific needs. As we work with the group and we talk to the employees, we can find different ways to continue to build the program over time.

This type of product can improve the overall image of the insurance program and also help to make it a broader program. Instead of just medical and dental insurance, the employees have a plethora of other products to choose from to meet their specific needs. These products are also offered at more favorable group discounted rates. There are also usually more lenient underwriting guidelines or guaranteed coverage amounts offered regardless of health status. In many cases, the coverage is portable so that when employees leave the employer and no longer can have the their premiums deducted from payroll, they can be billed directly to their homes. They don’t have to lose access to their coverages.

Are there specific benefits that are requested by all groups?
Each person is unique, and that is why employers get in trouble when they try to assume what employees want. One person might have a high incidence of cancer in the family and really have a need for a cancer policy, while another person may have several children and feel that the accident policy is useful because they are always in the emergency room getting stitches. Participation requirements are generally very low, which allows employers to select multiple products to meet the different needs of employees.

How much of the financial burden is on the employee today?
It largely depends on region. In the Northeast, many employers offer life, disability, dental and vision as part of a standard medical program. Down here in the Tampa Bay area, many employers still don’t offer medical coverage, let alone evolving into other products.

Are employees still willing to pay for coverage if it’s offered at a reasonable cost?
With proper education, employees will evaluate their needs and participate in these programs. When the enrollers we use for these products meet with each employee, one of the main goals is to make sure that the employee understands the coverage. All employers — white- and blue-collar — would be a good fit for these products, but they are especially effective in industries that normally wouldn’t provide employer-paid coverage.

Retail, construction, manufacturing, food services, and medical offices are good examples of industries that don’t always provide employer-paid programs. However, since these industries support many lower-income occupations, it’s very important to make sure the employees have assistance in evaluating their needs and are not overspending.

Are agencies available to help employees make the right choices?
As an agency, we assist our clients and their members in making informed decisions. Many of the carriers also provide enrollers to assist in education and gathering elections. This is especially useful when companies have staff in multiple locations or states. In some cases, multiple-site employers have great programs; they just need help with communication. In that case, we would partner with voluntary or worksite carriers to further enhance the benefits and assist with communicating the core programs like medical and dental.

DAWN BOWERS-CARD is the employee benefits practice leader in the Sarasota office of Hilb Rogal & Hobbs. Reach her at (941) 554-3130 or dawn.card@hrh.com.