Voluntary benefits are products offered through an employer but paid for partially or solely by employees through payroll deductions. The attraction of these benefits is that they can offer group rates to employees that they would likely be unable to obtain on their own. Voluntary benefits can also help fill coverage holes when an employer cuts back on or eliminates a specific benefit program. Voluntary benefits are a good way for employers to enhance their employee benefit offerings at little or no cost.
Voluntary benefits have historically encompassed a few basic policies. Today, however, many employers are expanding their offerings to consider their employee demographics (age, marital status, family members), lifestyle, and financial habits. Decisions regarding which benefits should be offered should be made with care. Voluntary benefits should provide clear and convenient options that are easily accessible by employees when needed.
Milliman recently conducted an employer-based survey focused specifically on the menu of “expanded” voluntary benefits. Across a range of voluntary benefits, employers indicated which benefits they were currently offering in 2017 as well as those benefits they planned to offer in 2018.
Voluntary benefits already offered in 2017
As shown in the table in Figure 1, accident insurance options, standing desks, and critical illness insurance options were the top three offered voluntary benefits in 2017. Others also leading the pack included paid leave for new parents and to care for dependents, telemedicine, financial education/counseling, and wearable fitness devices.
Voluntary benefits planned to offer in 2018
The table in Figure 2 shows that the top three voluntary benefits where employers planned to expand in 2018 were financial education/counseling, student loan repayment program, and pet insurance. Other options of interest included paid leave for new parents and to care for dependents, telemedicine, standing desks, and identification of insurance options.
Health insurance (i.e., medical, Rx, dental) still makes up the main health and welfare offering. However, an ever-expanding range of voluntary benefits gives employers more flexibility and employees more options. As a general rule, the selection of a voluntary benefits programs must be strategic. These benefits must be chosen, managed, and communicated with care, keeping in mind the employer’s overall financial goals as well as its employee population needs. There are many voluntary options available but an employer should only choose those that will provide the most relevance and appreciation to its employees.
This article first appeared in the March 2018 issue of Health and Group Benefits News and Developments.
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