Published in America’s Benefit Specialist Magazine, October 2021
Life has felt like a proverbial rollercoaster over the past year and a half. It seems no matter how much more prepared the industry is or how much better it gets, the more outside forces continue to disrupt business continuity, constantly challenging the industry to think differently and more strategically as employers plan their annual benefit offerings. Couple this with the most hectic time of year—the fourth quarter— and health and welfare insurance agencies are feeling the pressure from all angles.
These influencing forces, typically called workforce dynamics, can hit employers globally, nationally, regionally, or even locally.
For the 2021-2022 open-enrollment period, examples of such dynamics are COVID-19, damaging hurricanes in the south and east, ongoing fires in the western portion of the United States, and workplace violence.
Cultural and generational changes also impact the way we view plan designs for the year, such as gender diversity, Baby Boomers aging out and Generation Z entering the workforce. Last but not least, the labor market has seen its share of ups and downs over the past year and a half. The unprecedented labor shortage may leave employers wondering how to design their benefit plans to attract and retain qualified employees in such a competitive market. Trusted advisors are needed to be knowledgeable on all these considerations as employers are looking for a one-stop strategic agency.
MEDICAL SPEND INCREASE
With COVID-19 and its variants continuing to plague the globe and confound the medical community, U.S. health plan carriers are making this fourth quarter a bit more of a challenge as they navigate through skyrocketing healthcare costs. While carriers had waived deductibles and copayments for COVID-19 related treatments for insureds, these waivers are ending and it is anticipated that premium increases are on the rise. According to PWC, medical spend is expected to increase six percent for 2022—higher than it was between 2016 and 2020.1 Driving factors in the cost increases are a result of COVID-19 expenses, increased mental-health and substance-abuse services, return to regular care that had been deferred, and health of the overall population, which worsened due to a lack of exercise, isolation and increase substance abuse during COVID-19. Employers will be weighing all their options and strategizing if and how they can pass on increases to their workforce.
TO SURCHARGE OR INCENTIVIZE
Advisors are being called upon to provide guidance on the question “Should employers incentivize or pass on surcharges to employers to encourage vaccinations?” Not only does this question generate serious compliance concerns over equal employment opportunity, HIPAA privacy rules, and the ACA, it also spotlights challenges with employee relations. In a labor market where it is difficult to attract and retain quality employees, would employers be further damaging their ability to maintain or grow their workforce by penalizing unvaccinated workers through surcharges, mandates for only vaccinated hires, or incentivizing the vaccinated? Who is being affected? It is both internal staff and external candidates. It is important to also question whether it is the disenfranchised who are only being affected by policy decisions. Advisors should engage their human resources consultant for a holistic approach to plan and policy development alongside the company culture, turnover, and organizational growth.
Typically when we think of plan design, we think of stereotypical employees and their medical needs. Gender diversification, parental needs, generations leaving and entering the workforce, and the emotional wellbeing of employees working through workforce dynamics are a primary are a focus of this fourth quarter for employers. We should also be promoting a holistic well-being culture. Be fluid, resourceful, and strategic, and think holistically.
Physical, emotional, financial, and social wellbeing create a productive and profitable culture in the workforce—no matter the size of the client.
In addition to the potential of carrier increases and plan-design considerations, advisors are still faced with the continuing challenges of timing, communication, participation, and compliance with new legislation. Lessons learned throughout the pandemic continue to be strategies to put into play to work through these challenges.
Don’t assume because the client is small that it doesn’t need technology to be more efficient. Smaller clients are run on tighter staff and tighter budgets and could use the added assistance. Also, many employees are still working remotely and need access to current technologies that will allow them to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.
Challenges exist for employers in the age of technology, including budgets and employee access. Brokers should align themselves with resources that can vet the most efficient, cost-effective technology solutions.
Effective communication is key to making sure benefit plans are clearly, concisely presented. Be creative and flexible with presentations and style. Engagement surveys show employees don’t know or understand their benefits. Communicate and educate in ways that make it easy, fun, and impactful to learn.
THE TOTAL PACKAGE
Benefits are part of a total rewards package. Broadening your scope of services to offer human capital management solutions is necessary to continue to be competitive in today’s marketplace. Total rewards encompass compensation, well-being, benefits, recognition, and development. Together, these lead to optimal organizational performance.
Be innovative, be strategic, and think holistically. Remember that health and welfare is a competitive market—not only against the traditional competitors but HR consultants are also now at the playground, and they have friends in benefits. If advisors are not talking about and presenting strategies and creative ideas to clients concerning holistic thinking in innovation, organizational growth, flexibility, technology, and compliance, someone else is.
Bobbi Kloss has served as BAN’s director of human capital management services since 2014. She also oversees all HR-related functions for BAN internal practices. She has a deep
understanding of the increasingly complex and diverse HR industry, with more than 20 years of human resource generalist and executive-level human capital management experience. Bobbi began her career as an employment law compliance paralegal for a national PEO after graduating with high honors from the Career Institute for Paralegals. She has a passion for service and has helped establish two nonprofit organizations in
Texas, co-founding Teenage Parent Program Scholarships in Houston and founding Heritage Children San Antonio in 2003 to help at-risk youth develop necessary life skills. She currently volunteers her time mentoring women in addictive behavior recovery.