Costs keep employees from buying voluntary benefits

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Voluntary benefits can help employees close their healthcare gaps, yet 39% of employees don’t know what they are, according to a recent survey.

The study, conducted by financial services company Sun Life Financial, found that only 30% of employees are familiar with voluntary benefits, which range from long-term disability to pet insurance.

Even for employees who are familiar with these benefits, there is a major factor that stands in the way: price.

With a growing amount of income being designated for medical insurance, add-ons are not feasible for many employees, experts say. Worker contributions have more than tripled from about $318 for a single employee in 1999 to about $1,129 in 2016, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

See also: Employers turning to high-deductible health plans

Nearly eight in 10 employees (79%) say voluntary benefits sound great, but they aren’t completely convinced to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for it.

Sixty-three percent of the 1,000 full-time employees with employer-provided benefits surveyed said they are concerned about how they will pay unexpected out-of-pocket costs, while 45% don’t have emergency savings to tap into if an emergency arises.

Meanwhile, 34% of employees do not make enough money to cover additional expenses like voluntary benefits.

See also: Do voluntary benefits help financial well-being?

The inclusion of voluntary benefits — a recent Conduent HR Services survey found that two-thirds of employers are using voluntary benefits to supplement core benefits packages — comes at a time of healthcare uncertainty, especially as many employers are switching over to high-deductible health plans.

The change, which requires a lot of money paid up front, gives employees sticker shock, says Kevin Seeker, AVP of benefit communication strategy at Sun Life Financial.

“For quite a while, more employers were going with high-deductible options,” he says. “There was a concern about how do you message that to an employee. You’re being forced financially to make changes. How much do we want to communicate that?”

The consultant says his clients found that employees understand their health plan once it’s explained, and that they overwhelmingly want personalization, customization and options to make their benefits work for them.

The study reinforces that notion, noting that 88% of employees like the idea of having choices to customize their benefit packages, while 69% of employees do not trust their employer to know what benefits are right for them.

See also: Recommendations fuel purchases on private exchanges

Eighty-seven percent of employees feel more customized benefit choices that better fit their lives would help them feel more confidence in their plan choices. Currently, 92% of employees are confident in their decisions, according to the survey.

As employees move toward purchasing voluntary benefits, two products stand out to Seeker: critical illness and accident policies.

“There’s been double digit growth in those products,” Seeker says, adding that they have been “parallel with this growth in HDHPs.”

“Employees know they have more risk now, but they’re willing to buy products if it makes sense for them,” he says.

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Voluntary benefits Benefit strategies Employee engagement Benefit communication Employee communications Pet insurance Health insurance