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Firms Find New Solutions in Voluntary Options


As rising health care costs take their toll on traditional benefits offerings, voluntary options are emerging as a “win-win” situation for employers and employees alike.

While voluntary benefits, in which employers pay little or nothing toward the cost of coverage, may seem like a downgrade compared with traditional employer-paid benefits, experts say many employees prefer having more choices through voluntary options and appreciate employers’ help in securing the best choices.

“Employers and employees agree on the value of voluntary benefits,” Bob Patience, a vice president with Prudential, said in a recent press release. “Employers see an increase in employees’ satisfaction with their benefits program, while employees appreciate their employers’ endorsement of the products offered, and believe they get good value because of their employers’ involvement and diligence.”

A recent poll by Prudential found that among workers whose employer offered at least one voluntary benefit, 63 percent said the voluntary option increased the value of the overall benefits package. The number of employees who said they would like to see more voluntary choices was 34 percent — a 10 percent jump from last year.

Of all voluntary benefits, Prudential’s research predicts that critical illness has the most growth potential, according to its survey results.

Critical illness coverage is especially attractive for employees in high-deductible health plans because it can ease the massive out-of-pocket costs that can be incurred under such plans if a participant becomes seriously ill, experts say.

“A lot of folks market critical illness as a health care complement — and it is — but it also needs to be marketed as a financial protection benefit, as well,” said Rob Shestack, senior vice president with AmWINS Group Benefits, told Employee Benefit News.

Voluntary benefits, though, aren’t limited to health care-related coverage. The Prudential survey notes that accident, disability, dental and life insurance likely will become more popular in the future, as well.

Legal assistance programs also are seeing a bump in popularity, according to a separate survey by MetLife. Two-thirds of employers without such a benefit said they’d consider adding legal assistance if they knew more about the product.

“The interest in legal plans by both employers and employees has been steadily building,” Bill Brooks, CEO of Hyatt Legal Plans, told EBN. “This is a benefit that spans the generations and suits a diverse workforce because there is a broad range of situations where an attorney can help.”

Whatever the choices, employers are beginning to view voluntary benefits as a key component to their efforts to build a happier and more loyal workforce. The MetLife survey found that 69 percent of companies that offer voluntary benefits do so to boost employee satisfaction, while 44 percent said they rely on voluntary offerings to boost their retention rates.