Employers spicing up benefits
Would you like some pet insurance to go with the health coverage your employer provides? Or maybe you need help paying student loans or saving for your kid’s college.
Companies have been broadening their menu of benefits to meet the changing demands of younger employees and to make up for health insurance that covers less. In the next month, many businesses will start giving employees a chance to sign up for coverage or change benefits plans for next year. It’s worth taking a look at all options available to you. Some employers help pay for these extras, others don’t.
Key points to consider.
What’s on that menu?
Popular extras — called voluntary benefits — include accident and critical illness policies. Generally, these plans provide a lump sum to help cover expenses if you wind up hospitalized with a broken leg or if you are diagnosed with a serious condition like cancer. Benefits experts say companies are offering these more to help workers handle bigger medical bills that they pay now because their insurance covers less.
Employers also are offering programs that monitor for identity theft or compensate for losses from it. Some also will help with mortgage payments or provide insurance that covers unexpected veterinary bills.
Next year, the health insurer Aetna will start matching employee student loan payments, paying up to $2,000 annually with a $10,000 lifetime maximum.
Benefits consultant Willis Towers Watson says that only 4 percent of its customers offered that coverage last year, but that could rise to 26 percent by 2018.
What will I have to pay?
This depends on the benefit and your employer. Some companies may simply offer employees the chance to sign up for these extra benefits, possibly at a discounted rate, but without help paying the premium.
For instance, employees typically pay the entire bill for an accident policy, and decent coverage can cost an employee as low as $12 or $15 per pay period, said Mary Tavarozzi, a group benefits expert with Willis Towers Watson.
A survey by the nonprofit Society for Human Resource Management found that 11 percent of its members made a 529 college savings plan available to their workers. But only a small slice of those employers actually contribute to the account, said Evren Esen, the group’s director of workforce analytics.
Will my employer join in?
It might if your company has a lot of young workers or so-called millennials. They view benefits differently than older generations like the baby boomers, who focus mainly on getting decent health and dental with reasonable out-of-pocket costs for care.
“Millennials want choice and customization more than anything,” Tavarozzi said. “Boomers wanted more certainty.”
Offerings also depend on competition for employees in your market. Health care workers living in a city with several hospitals can expect a big menu of benefit choices because they have many employers vying for their expertise.
Any words of caution?
Don’t focus solely on an extra benefit’s price. Accident coverage that only costs a few dollars each pay period may not be worth it if it doesn’t provide a lot of money when you need it.
Think about your needs. Accident coverage, which would help with an emergency room bill, may be appropriate for a family with young children. Critical illness coverage may be better for a middle-age employee saving for retirement and worried about being ruined financially by medical bills.
Consider, too, what you give up in order to buy an extra benefit. Buying pet insurance and accident coverage could mean investing less in a retirement plan.
Don’t feel pressured into signing up for all the extra benefits during your company’s open enrollment window. Those not tied to health care could be available at other times of the year.