Employers Expanding Voluntary Benefit Offerings

July 18, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - An estimated 300,000 companies, roughly a quarter of the nation's employers, are looking to introduce or expand their voluntary benefits offerings, according to a new report.

Those so-called “voluntary” benefits, programs that employees pay for, but are able to get at lower cost through their workplace, are increasingly seen as another way to get a leg up on the competition, without breaking the bank. “Despite the flat economy and higher unemployment levels, employers are still concerned about maintaining competitive benefit packages,” said Patrick Leary, manager of distribution research for LIMRA International, the firm that conducted the survey.

While typically condensed into such benefits as life, accident, and disability programs, employers are also looking to move into other voluntary benefits, such as long-term care insurance, critical illness insurance, and Section 529 college savings plans. In fact, more than 5,000 of the larger employers surveyed, about one-third of the sample of firms with more than 1,000 employees, offer a voluntary long-term care insurance benefit. “Despite the fact that these large firms already have multiple voluntary benefits in place, more than half are considering adding more,” Leary said.

Most of the interest appears concentrated in the service and manufacturing industries, which typically represent the oft underserved middle-income market. Due to the underserved nature of this market, they tend to be more receptive to worksite programs.

Among small employers, well over half offer at least one voluntary benefit, with many offering three or more. Strong growth potential in this market is seen in offerings such as:

  • Cancer insurance
  • Accident insurance
  • Dental coverage
  • Supplemental medical plans.

Firms may look to benefits such as these to help offset some of the adjustments they have needed to make in their increasingly costly medical plans, Leary concluded.