How innovative benefit offerings can close the health protection gap and turbocharge employee engagement
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As healthcare costs increase and government finances continue to be squeezed by the COVID-19 pandemic and related macroeconomic factors, the health protection gap is projected to widen and become more persistent.
For most employees in mature economies such as Hong Kong and Singapore, there is high dependency on public healthcare systems for healthcare needs beyond what is offered by the company’s benefit plan.
Sudden medical complications and illnesses that fall outside employer-provided benefits reveal a significant gap in protection. Most public healthcare systems in the world witness longer than ideal wait times to see specialists, leading to delays in diagnosis, preventing timely treatment and often, serious complications. In cases where families can afford to fund the associated costs for emergency cases, many choose to pay private clinics to get immediate attention and circumvent the long wait times in public healthcare systems.
Closing the protection gap
In 2020, navigating the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis sharply highlighted the size of the health protection gap and the fragility of existing public healthcare systems. Several countries in Asia witnessed a shortage of hospital beds, many public hospitals did not have enough intensive care units, and painful health conditions were relegated to ‘elective procedure’ status and delayed.
More concerningly, as of July 2020, 73 countries were on the verge of being out of antiretroviral medicine due to COVID-19. These concerns, compounded with an aging population, mean consumer demand for coverage to fill the protection gap is increasing.
Assisting in closing the protection gap represents a significant opportunity for employers.
Many employers in Asia are still focused on managing disease and mortality rather than on wellness and prevention as the core of their healthcare offerings. Employees, on the other hand, remain heavily reliant on public healthcare and do not have enough information on supplementary health insurance. Complicating matters further, product recommendations are often full of jargon and difficult to understand — making it that much more difficult for an employee to understand what they may need let alone convince employees to make the necessary purchase to manage their risk exposures.
When personal protection solutions and offerings are facilitated within the employer environment — with adequate education, well-planned communication, in partnership with appropriate insurers and the removal of traditional barriers, such as limited windows of enrolment and lack of portability — it strengthens a company’s employer brand and the employee experience.
Employers can differentiate themselves from their competition with a comprehensive employee benefit strategy that addresses the needs of a diverse workforce.
Innovative benefits, such as voluntary benefits, can be added to existing programmes at little or no additional cost.
Put simply, voluntary benefits are additional insurance products that an employee can self-purchase, often at negotiated corporate rates. These should ideally sit alongside the employer’s core benefits offerings. The different types of insurance usually covered under voluntary benefits schemes include Term Life, medical, dental, vision, and critical illness.
- Voluntary benefits can be added to an employer’s benefits programme and serve to enhance their overall benefits proposition. By doing this, companies can provide more flexibility and choice to their employees. An increasingly millennial, mobile and culturally diverse workforce means that a ‘one-size-fits all’ policy does not work anymore. Not everyone wants or needs all benefits. Giving employees the choice to opt in or out gives them the freedom to decide what is best for them and their families.
- Voluntary solutions are also ideal for helping employees control their out-of-pocket costs and delivering financial protection. When associated with high-deductible health plans, they can help cover costs that are not traditionally covered by company medical plans.
- Another one of the many upsides is corporate discounts on plans and unique features and benefits compared to those which can be found in the market. By giving employees access to unique solutions, employers give people the peace of mind that their healthcare needs will be met affordably and in a timely manner.
As more companies transition to these types of benefits, employees will only be more likely to choose a voluntary solution if these are simple to understand and are accompanied with appropriate education and communication.
The obstacles for employers and how to address them
There are some challenges that employers face when offering voluntary benefits to employees.
- A common challenge is educating employees and getting their buy-in. Several deterrents exist, such as a lack of decision-assistance, a limited choice of personal products, and low or no coverage for spouses and dependents. Short, limited enrolment periods also tend to prevent employee action. Most employees need more education on their risk exposures and their employer benefits to understand what additional solutions and products they require.
- Employers need to have a well-planned voluntary benefits communication strategy to drive better employee experience, participation, and satisfaction. This can be done using a variety of mediums – employee sessions, employee guides, and repeat communications.
- For enrolment, it is important for employers to have some options too. Communication options, such as call centres and technological benefit platforms, can address enrolment challenges.
It’s vital for policy holders to understand how voluntary programmes work in conjunction with employer benefits. Employees accustomed to employer-provided coverage may not clearly understand the details and may find integrating voluntary benefits into their overall package quite confusing.
For example, a Top-up Medical Plan can provide protection in conjunction with the company health insurance. This can extend to employees as well as their nominated family members. Parent Care covers enable working individuals who provide monthly allowances to their parents to continue to do so should there be an unfortunate accident. Critical Illness and Personal Accident cover are also great examples of complimentary protection.
Understanding how all the different solutions work together and can satisfy an employee’s need for protection is critical from both the employer and employee’s perspective. Not only does it help the employer attract and retain talent, it also helps them manage their bottom line.