Health+Benefits the June 2024 issue

The Critical Intersection of Health and Wellness

Q&A with William Kramer, Head of Group Benefits, AXIS
Sponsored by AXIS Posted on May 26, 2024

In this Q&A, William Kramer digs into what else has changes, as well as how good design for benefits plans is crucial for both employee retention and maintaining employee wellness in areas like mental health—which can ultimately keep costs down across the board.

What does the current employee benefits market look like today? How have the pain points for employers and employees alike evolved?

The range of employee benefits policies has evolved to include more choices, flexibility, and elevated service. From traditional packages of life, health, and dental, there are now supplemental health, critical illness, hospital indemnity, and expense reimbursement policies like AXIS’s gap product. Employers and employees are also looking for benefits that address mental health, telemedicine, prescriptions, and even their pets. I think it’s safe to say that wellness and health are both critical components of any benefits package.

For employees, access to and the cost of benefits are always of critical concern. Seasonal or part-time workers, in particular, cannot necessarily afford several hundred dollars of premium for a product they might not use. Benefits products need to be well thought through and carefully designed with the employee in mind, priced correctly, and simple to understand and access.

From the employer’s point of view, attracting and retaining talent is still top of mind. This has become even more topical since the pandemic with the additional pressures on employers to find and keep great people. Providing a benefits package that strikes the right balance with employees can be the difference between winning and losing in the competition for talent. After salary, we know that the employee benefits package is one of the main factors that job seekers take into consideration when deciding on a new role.

A challenge for the industry is to step up and address the growth of the gig economy. How can we develop flexible specialty products suitable for the millions of people working irregular hours, often for multiple organizations? Traditionally, employee benefits have been designed for W-2 employees rather than 1099 contractors. As more people move to flexible working arrangements or contracting, our industry must flex and innovate to ensure we serve this population.

Healthcare costs are a big issue both employers and employees face today. What solutions has AXIS deployed to mitigate those costs?

Within the limited benefit medical space, we have made a concerted push to provide coverage to individuals within industries and groups that haven’t previously had access to these products. Access to healthcare helps maintain employee general health and well-being. The investment in benefits by employers for their workforce ultimately keeps costs down in the long term in terms of sick pay and hours lost, as well as being the right thing to do as a responsible organization.

As an example, last year we rolled out a gap product that provides expense reimbursement for employees who are enrolled in high-deductible health plans.

Our gap product reduces the out-of-pocket costs for services that aren’t covered by an employee’s health plan. We’ve also partnered to offer access to mental health services in response to a hike in reported mental health issues among workers.

Harnessing digital technology is a game changer for this industry. Access to benefits should be as easy for employees as online shopping.
What new health needs have emerged as a result of the pandemic, and have you seen coverage gaps emerge in traditional plans?
A positive has been that attitudes about mental health issues have changed considerably in recent years. Organizations and individuals have become much more comfortable speaking openly about mental health issues. Another big area has been the exponential growth since 2020 in telemedicine and virtual health and well-being service provision. Supplemental insurance plans that recognize the importance and make available these types of services go a long way to deliver the support employees need.
How has technology changed the employee benefits space? What role do you see it playing in building solutions?

Harnessing digital technology is a game changer for this industry. Access to benefits should be as easy for employees as online shopping. Recognizing this, we’ve partnered with technology providers to help empower people to find the highest-quality and most cost-effective providers within their networks. They can even negotiate and agree on the terms and costs of a procedure from their phone.

We are very much still on this journey—but the application of digital technology has really advanced in recent years, particularly on the enrollment side. Most of the information we share with employers and employees is in digital format, making enrollment much easier and more efficient. However, we also believe that at the specialty end of the market where we operate, this remains at heart a people-focused business. Brokers must be well represented in the enrollment process and thereafter to ensure there are sufficient touchpoints with customers and we stay aligned with their needs and evolving businesses.

The employee benefits market remains incredibly dynamic and responsive to economic cycles, the changing world of work, and expectations of employees and employers. At AXIS, we continue to harness the specialty expertise of our people, developed over many years serving this space, with elevated solutions that meet and exceed the evolving needs of our customers.

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