Must-do strategies: Close benefit gaps with meaningful choices 

February 02, 2023

The more benefits offered, the higher the level of employee satisfaction. Everyone expects benefits to address their particular wants and needs – and everyone is special! Meeting a wider range of employee need doesn’t mean you have to spend a whole lot more. Focus on making benefits more inclusive and more flexible.

It’s important to step back and examine the inclusivity of your benefits from multiple angles. First, is healthcare affordable for all employees? Are equitable benefits available to all members, regardless of gender, age, race or ethnicity, or whether they have disabilities? Can employees access care in a way that fits into the flow of daily life? True accessibility – a foundational element of a successful benefit strategy – requires more than just checking a box. As you address gaps, you should see improvements in member experience and health outcomes. If not all employees benefit equally from your organization’s programs and providers, you may have work to do.

Address accessibility

Where you begin to improve accessibility will depend on where you have identified gaps. You may need to consider changes to eligibility requirements, health plan contributions, plan design, provider networks, and program offerings. While it’s not a silver bullet, virtual care can address a number of barriers to accessibility. For starters, text-based asynchronous virtual care doesn’t require time off from work to access medical advice. For employees with limited flexibility in their work schedules, these services can greatly increase access to the healthcare system through a familiar channel – their cell phone. Virtual solutions can also help match individuals with providers who reflect their personal and cultural values but may not be readily accessible in all parts of the country. In particular, enabling virtual access to a more diverse panel of behavioral health care providers may be meaningful for people who are racial and ethnic minorities. Finally, virtual visits will often be less costly for the patient than an in-person visit – and cost can be a significant barrier to care, especially for individuals enrolled in a high-deductible health plan.

Meaningful choices make a difference

Over the past few years, people’s expectations about work have changed. Employers seeking to differentiate themselves in a tight labor market are giving employees more flexibility in where they work, when they work, and even in how their jobs are structured. As personalization becomes an increasingly critical element of the employee value proposition, employers are infusing more meaningful choices into their benefit programs and policies as well.

We’re starting to see some leading organizations moving away from the standard array of three health plan options where the main difference is the size of the deductible: low, medium or high. Instead, they are offering plans that are structurally different, with the goal of meeting diverse needs and ensuring healthcare affordability. In this new world, the three plan options might differ in makeup of the provider network, the role of the primary care physician, and the emphasis on virtual care. One option might require co-pays but no deductible. Decision support tools and strong communications help employees understand and select the option that best meets their needs.

Voluntary benefits can both fill gaps and allow for greater personalization. In today’s economic climate, the majority of workers are feeling financial stress. Employers can offer a source of protection from a range of unexpected costs, such as hospitalization, vet bills and identity theft. A well-designed voluntary benefit program can provide choices for employees at every life stage. New long-term care plans are worth considering – given longer lifespans, rising care costs and concerns about Medicaid funding, there’s growing awareness of the need to plan for the final years.

Whatever your path to a more inclusive, flexible program, these three guidelines apply: Consider employee demographics and lifestyles; take advantage of new market innovation and solutions; and build awareness of program offerings with engaging, multi-channel communications.

This blog post elaborates on one of the six “must-do” strategies Tracy Watts shared in her post, 2023: The Year to Get Creative with Strategic Planning. Check out the other articles in this series: Optimize Benefit Spend and Minimize Cost ShiftingAll Paths Lead to Value-Based Care and Prioritize Support for Substance Use Disorders.

Related insights