It is clear that American workers, and their employers, are taking a fresh look at their benefits this open enrollment season during the coronavirus pandemic, experts say. Most notably, workers are interested in critical illness and disability insurance, as well as help with financial wellness, paid leave and child care.
“What we have seen from companies at this point is that benefits like mental health, child care and paid leave are coming more into focus for this open enrollment season, with each of these being tied to the issues being raised by the pandemic,” says Kathy Barber, vice president, benefits and compensation at Ayco.
This year, more than ever, workers appreciate the benefits their employers are offering them and realize that they are “a key source for providing financial wellness and protection for themselves and their families,” says Alice Cotti, vice president and head of customer solutions at Prudential Group Insurance. “Many workers are looking for supplemental health insurance, such as critical illness, hospital indemnity and accident insurance—along with sources of income protection, such as disability insurance.”
Employers are also making sure they provide employees with tools and calculators to help them determine the right amount of coverage for themselves and their families, Cotti says.
Eric Levy, executive vice president, group retirement, at AIG Retirement Services, says the pandemic has “created a lot of unique ways that employers and individuals need to think about open enrollment.” Because people are working from home and curtailing any excursions, their expenses are down, and now is an excellent time for employers to encourage workers to establish an emergency savings fund or add it it, Levy says.
Now is also an excellent time for employers to educate people about the benefits of a health savings account (HSA), its triple tax advantages and how helpful it can be to cover medical expenses in retirement, Levy says. Employees might also want to consider opening a flexible spending account (FSA) to cover child care costs, he says.
The overall theme for the 2021 open enrollment season, Levy says, is “it is an opportunity for plan sponsors to help their employees solidify their financial condition.”
Another big theme of this year, adds Kelly Conlin, health practice leader and chief actuary at Buck, is telemedicine.
Certainly, with many workforces operating from home, plan sponsors must be able to hold open enrollment virtually by supporting it with webinars, access to counselors at call centers and an online, condensed digital enrollment package, says John Rownd, vice president of product management at HSA Bank.
Finally, it is important to note that “employers are obviously concerned about costs,” Barber says. “Employers are looking at various options, one being to eliminate costs in other areas. For example, having found that employees are reluctant to use employee assistance programs because of the misperception that their employer can access details on mental health benefits they’re using, some companies are eliminating these programs and replacing them with individual mental health benefits, like apps.”
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