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Most workers worry benefits will fall short

Originally posted October 18, 2013 by Dan Cook on benefitspro.com

The twin promises of “affordable” and “protection” contained in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act sound great. But they’re not enough, at least yet, to assuage the health insurance concerns of most employees.

Because most folks still receive health insurance at work, the throw-the-cards-up-in-the-air nature of health care reform has people worried that their employer may not provide coverage that protects them from the vagaries of life.

That’s the major contention of a white paper from Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Co., which advises employers that they need to look at their benefits plan from a holistic viewpoint if they want it to serve as a recruiting and retention tool.

“Although medical insurance is the cornerstone of a good benefits package, we encourage employers to think about their benefits as a whole right now,” intoned Steve Bygott, assistant vice president of core market services at Colonial Life. “Small and large employers face ongoing cost concerns, in addition to new legal requirements, that challenge their ability to remain competitive. Taking their eye off the big picture of employee benefits could be a costly mistake.”

Employers need to reassure their workers that their coverage will protect them and their families from both routine and unforeseen medical costs — if it does. And if not, employers need to address coverage gaps and serve as a resource to employees for filling those gaps in a cost-effective manner.

When Colonial’s researchers delved into whether employees trusted that their coverage would offer enough protection and be affordable, here’s what they found:

  • 83 percent of U.S. employees (full-time and/or part-time, with or without coverage) are at least somewhat concerned about their ability to pay for health premiums.
  • 82 percent are concerned with expenses no longer covered by their health insurance plan and the addition of or an increase in co-payments and deductible amounts.
  • 81 percent express concern about unexpected medical expenses (emergency room visits, major surgery, etc.).

Given this level of concern, Colonial’s white paper emphasized the need to master a way to talk to workers about health coverage so that their concerns could be alleviated.

“Both large and small employers will need to pay more attention to benefits communication in the years ahead to help them attract and retain a strong workforce,” said Bygott. “Workers will look to their employers to provide them with good, reliable information so they can make the best benefits decisions for themselves and their families.”

Colonial suggested that employers that can’t afford to pay for coverage for their workers offer them voluntary benefits combined with a clear education about how those benefits work and what they cost.

“Voluntary benefits and personalized benefits education can be a tremendous asset to employers looking for a cost-effective way to offer a competitive benefits package,” says Bygott. “Though health care reform has everyone asking lots of questions now, staying focused on the big picture will help employers stay competitive in the long run.”