The COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant financial impact on businesses and has left many business owners wondering how they should prepare for an uncertain future. The pandemic also poses a huge threat to individuals’ long-term health and financial well-being. Because of this, it has become increasingly more challenging for employers to develop an employee benefits plan that will make sure their employees have access to affordable healthcare while also remaining budget-conscious.
It is a difficult process for business owners to decide where to cut operating costs to make sure their business can stay afloat; employee benefits are often one of the first areas to get trimmed down. During these times, it is more important than ever for employees to feel a sense of security in having access to the healthcare resources they might need. Partnering with a broker who can design a best-fit benefits package that is economical for both the business and its employees is essential.
At MFG Benefits, we’re here to help by sharing with you some of the significant changes we are seeing employers make to their benefits offerings.
1. Virtual & Telehealth Programs
a. Many employers have started to expand virtual and telehealth program access for their employees. Telehealth programs are an incredible way to increase access to essential health services when it might not be a feasible option to visit a doctor in person. Telehealth programs can help employees who need to regularly see a doctor or specialist for a chronic condition, take part in physical therapy, follow up with a doctor after a hospitalization, or receive low-risk urgent care. 
b. Access to virtual appointments can help individuals who have (or suspect they might have) COVID-19 get an initial consultation from a doctor without needing to leave their home which can assist in reducing the spread of infection within local communities.
2. Mental Health Support
a. The COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely stressful for just about everyone. Besides the anxiety brought upon by the fear of a new disease, many people have been forced into months of isolation which has amplified depression and loneliness. Essential workers, people caring for others, people who belong to certain ethnic or racial groups, and those with preexisting conditions might have stronger feelings relating to COVID-19 and its consequences. Access to mental health resources ensures that employees have the support system they need to be able to care of themselves and those who depend on them. If social distancing continues to be a necessity in the future, gaining critical care like this could be especially valuable to an individual’s well-being.
3. Adding/Expanding Voluntary Benefits
a. Voluntary benefits are a great option for employers looking to give employees the ability to enhance their coverage while not having to incur an additional cost to the business. Voluntary benefits programs provide group rates for insurance to employees. If an employee elects to add the supplemental insurance, they take on the additional cost. Some examples of voluntary benefits include: accident insurance, critical illness insurance, disability insurance, and hospital indemnity insurance. 
4. Evaluating Carrier’s Contingency Plans
a. When deciding on a benefits plan, an important area to investigate is their policies for furloughed and laid off employees, as well as their COVID-19 specific policies. Making sure these contingency plans align with what you feel comfortable with can help be a deciding factor between plans.
We understand that it can be overwhelming to take into consideration many new potential additions when deciding if you want to alter your current benefit offerings. Here are some of the ways MFG Benefits can be your partner in navigating these changes together.
1. Evaluate Current Benefits Package & Compare It to Current Needs
a. Here at MFG Benefits, we conduct a holistic benefits analysis for both our new and existing clients to construct your best-fit benefits package. When designing your benefits package, we take into consideration everything you are hoping to offer, your budget, the cost to your employees, and ease and access to care. As an insurance broker - as opposed to an insurance agent who works for a specific insurance company - we work with over 30 insurance companies to find you the provider (or providers) that will meet all of your needs.
2. Consult on How to Break Down Cost Sharing
a. Deciding how to divide the cost of insurance between you and your employees (and between employees, i.e. individuals vs. families) can be extremely difficult. We can help by developing solutions to questions like:
i. How much of the premium will you require employees to cover for themselves and their dependents?
ii. When employees (and their dependents) receive care, what will be the cost of out-of-pocket expenses like copayments, co-insurance, and deductibles?
b. We can also help explain the relationship between premiums and cost-sharing to help you make an informed choice. It’s important to consider the maximum amount your employees could be expected to pay out-of-pocket during a time of need. Plans that have lower cost-sharing (lower deductibles, copayments, etc.) usually come at a higher premium; plans that have a higher out-of-pocket cost at times of service have lower premiums. 
3. Develop a Tiered Election System
a. A great option for businesses looking to allow employees to choose the level of coverage and cost-sharing they feel comfortable with is to develop a tiered benefits election system. This can often look like offering a basic plan that meets all needs at a certain cost, but also provides options to “upgrade” to a higher tier and elect for increased coverage at a more expensive premium.
We want to help you prepare for the road ahead and make sure you have the benefits you and your employees need. It’s important to work with a broker who understands your objectives and how to meet them in this complicated and continuously evolving landscape. When making big changes, it is critical to effectively communicate changes to your employees. We can advise you on how to conduct these conversations for a smooth transition to a new benefits plan.