Employee health care benefits costs were projected to increase 5.6% this year, according to human resources consultancy Mercer. What have you seen?
That’s a pretty fair assessment. A lot of it ties back to basics; it’s utilization. In the Midwest, we have some of the chronic conditions that tend to drive some of those utilization costs, which in turn will drive premium. A big piece of what I want to bring to the table here at BPJ is to try and put a little bit more of a focus on the wellness factor and preventative care. A lot of the producers here would agree that the more forward thinking we are in heading off diseases and managing on things like diabetes and (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), it helps keep those cost drivers down.
Are insurance companies providing more incentives toward preventative care or participating in wellness programs that benefit employers and employees?
We’re seeing a lot of that. I came from the Medicare side, and I’ve always had a history in carriers. I spent the last 10 years at Humana, and it was all primarily focused around Medicare Advantage. What we used for engagement to enrollees on that side is starting to bleed over into the commercial side. I was really relieved to find when I got here that there’s been a real ramp up from the commercial carriers in terms of awareness and creation just from the foundation up with these wellness programs. A lot of them do offer pretty substantial rewards if you participate in their healthy activities. Through a Fitbit or Apple Watch, you can log those numbers to their database and in turn you earn rewards. In the long term, that helps drive that behavior of saying, OK, if I get that colonoscopy ahead of the game, I’ll get this reward and it’s a win-win.
President Joe Biden last month announced a proposed rule that would require private insurers to cover mental health care as any other type of care. How are plans currently covering this care?
We’re starting to see a little bit of an increase, more focus on mental health benefit. We’re kind of in a time of thinking outside the box in terms of what our clients, vis-a-vis, local employers, what they need and what would be the best fit for their organizations. With that innovative piece of people thinking outside the box, a lot of it kind of falls to the (employee assistance program). We’re starting to see a lot of carriers come to the table with a more robust EAP program while they kind of circle the wagons and get things organized to help beef up those mental health benefits from a plan perspective. We are seeing it become more of the norm as opposed to the exception.
A recent Forbes Advisor study found 40% of employers say that workers leave their jobs to find a role that offers better benefits. There’s those core health benefits around health, but are you seeing any other voluntary benefits offered by employers gain traction?
As I made the move over here, I was really surprised at how robust and important those ancillary lines are, things like short-term disability, long-term disability, long-term care, vision and dental. Those separate lines really are important to employers and especially with some of the industries that we deal with, a lot of construction, industrial. It does become important to their enrollees that they have a good benefit package that isn’t just focused on medical, but takes into account those things like, should an accident occur, critical accident coverage. We do have some [employers] that will contribute to that. We’ll also offer something similar to an Aflac product; we’ll shop those around for our clients and it’s been something that’s been quite successful. If you get hurt at work or if you need to be away from work for any particular reason that qualifies, it’s supplemental coverage for lost wages. Pet insurance is another one. While we haven’t really seen it take off, it’s one of those things that we’re getting more and more questions about.
The Kaiser Family Foundation finds, on average, workers contribute 17% of premiums for single coverage and 28% for family coverage. Is that in line with what you’re seeing locally?
I would agree with that first number. That second number might be a little bit higher, just more geographically here in the Midwest. I’d say there’s a fair amount of our clients that will pay anywhere from 50% to 100% of the employees’ premium costs. It’s a main attractor for talent, and I think a lot of the industries around here are aware of that. They know wages; salary just is no longer the biggest part. Many of them are stepping up to the plate to offer those employee benefits.
What other shifts in the industry are you seeing?
A few years ago, everything was done either by the broker or by the insurance carrier. Over time we’ve started to see, with an influx and improvement in technology, it kind of puts those tools back in the hands of the employer. They’re able to be more hands-on with their enrollments and terminations. There’s less of a dependency on having to go directly to the carrier. It gives them the tools to be able to operate more independently and then we can act more of a guardrail. We would always typically see that with a larger company because they need that automated process, but now we’re even starting to see that on the smaller group side. Some carriers have an employer portal, and we also have other independent platforms that we have licenses for that will collaborate technologywise with carriers.
Surgical tech workers are in high demand, officials say.