Health+Benefits the June 2020 issue

Simplifying Voluntary Benefits

Q&A with Beazley’s Brian Thompson, Head of U.S. Life, Accident & Health, and Matt LaMarche, Head of U.S. Accident & Health Sales and Business Development
Sponsored by Beazley Posted on May 31, 2020
The voluntary benefits industry continues to exhibit signs of growth for nearly every benchmark. Virtually every broker in the benefits market will tell you that voluntary benefits products are a significant part of their business. What does the shift in voluntary benefits offerings tell us about the changing workforce demographic?

Thompson: In part it is a response to more employers using larger numbers of non-benefit eligible classes of part-time employees to manage benefit costs following the passage of the Affordable Care Act. More now than ever, these employees are struggling to find affordable insurance coverage options and are looking for ways to close these gaps. Some who do have access to major medical insurance struggle to pay their deductibles when something serious happens, so they rely on other products like gap, accident, hospital indemnity (HIP), or even critical illness. One of the biggest challenges for brokers and the decision makers for the groups they advise is offering the right product(s) and making sure employees have good information when making benefit decisions. We continue to see the market shift to a hybrid approach where employers are trying to offer more options to classes of employees who might not have been offered benefits before. We see brokers and consultants thinking more creatively to develop new communication methods, strategies and product offerings.

More than ever, insurers need to be acquainted with evolving technologies and with their clients’ changing coverage needs. As you evaluate the technology landscape, what trends are you seeing part-time employees and full-time employees engage with?

LaMarche: Traditionally enrollments for large groups were handled via paper apps and fax machines in order to keep the part-time and full-time populations separate.

Part of the rationale behind Beazley’s new Voluntary Benefits Simplified program was to enable employers to assess their benefits and their employees’ exposures and offer simple packages that include benefits we know can really help in a crisis. It’s often a relief to the employer to move away from a huge benefit menu full of individual products, and it helps employees avoid “enrollment fatigue.”

Is there differentiation in questions you’ve received from clients with larger full-time versus part-time populations since the onset of COVID-19?

LaMarche: It depends on the industry. Some of our largest clients are grocery or convenience stores that have experienced tremendous growth and an increasing need for part-time benefits to help them attract and retain talent. There has been more talk about Special Enrollment Periods, so employees have a chance for an open enrollment “do-over.” Others in the service industry have expressed interest in moving from payroll deduction to direct bill to allow members to keep access to the coverage they already have. We’re having a lot of conversations about different flexible administration solutions allowing for quick pivots to address these differing client needs.

It’s been inspiring to see brokers working extremely hard to ensure all classes of employees continue to receive access to benefits. This new market is creating opportunities for brokers who find more creative ways to help clients.

For employers who begin pivoting or restructuring their companies, how do you think the voluntary benefits industry can meet them where they are and/or design new supplemental health offerings for their employee populations?

LaMarche: Guaranteed-issue products that aren’t tied to experience can help meet the needs of all classes of employees and keep the overall plan costs down. Instead of adding to the benefit platform, why not simplify to offer the most effective products.

One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned on this side of the ACA is that benefits brokers are resilient, creative and adaptive. They look at a benefit landscape that has shifted overnight and rise to a whole new set of challenges.

How is Beazley building relationships with brokers to better understand a more long-term supplemental health strategy tied to their overall health benefits?
LaMarche: Our team focuses on building strong strategic partnerships. We are always looking to work with parties who are ready for a change, with whom we can make a positive difference. We aim to get the right balance between offering easy solutions versus offering suggestions when someone needs expertise to solve a more complex problem. We review each opportunity to make sure we are providing a valuable benefit to employees as part of a viable long-term strategy.
How does COVID present challenges and opportunities for employers in this space?

Thompson: COVID is shining a light on a lot of disparities that weren’t quite so apparent just a few months ago. Companies working on leasing more space are rethinking that now that everyone is working from home—if the world permanently shifts to more flex time, the lines between full-time and part-time may blur in certain markets.

It will be interesting to see whether we see an expansion of the gig economy as we did post 2008 and whether employees retain the same mix of full-time versus part-time employees or if they move to another model.

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