Offering benefits that matter 

Offering benefits that matter
April 11, 2024

As employers review their benefit programs for 2025, managing cost is top of mind – but so is offering an array of benefits and coverages that employees – and potential employees – will value.  It can be helpful to consider your offerings through the lens of inclusivity – which simply means thinking about how well the program meets the needs of different employee groups within the workforce. The range of benefit offerings discussed below have the potential to make an especially meaningful impact on workers and their families.

Expanding access to behavioral healthcare

In our Survey on Health and Benefits Strategies for 2024 we asked employers what steps they have taken within the past few years to increase behavioral healthcare utilization and create a supportive work environment, and how effective those actions have been.

Enhancing or expanding the EAP was the most common action taken within the past three years – over two-thirds of large employers (those with 500 or more employees) have enhanced their EAP services. This might include increasing the number of sessions: Where three to five sessions was once the norm, many employers are now offering eight to 10 sessions, or even more. Other enhancements include the ability to schedule an appointment with a provider online, and integration with the health plan to allow for continuity of care if sessions beyond those EAP sessions are needed. The majority of large employers that have recently enhanced their EAP services believe that doing so has been effective or very effective (59%). 

The action rated most effective was adding a supplemental provider network for virtual or in-person care, which directly addresses the shortage of behavioral health providers and makes it easier for people to get care when they need it. About two-fifths of large employers have added a supplemental network within the past few years; of those, 69% say it has been an effective or very effective strategy.

Addressing health disparities

For many employers – especially very large employers -- reducing health disparities and ensuring that benefit programs support the organizations Diversity, Equity and Inclusion goals is an important priority. Our most recent National Survey of Employer-sponsored Health Plans found that nearly two-thirds of employers with 20,000 or more employees are actively working toward this goal. Most commonly, they are collecting information on race, gender identity, or other demographics to facilitate data analyses, and over a third are requesting health equity reporting from their health plans – such as utilization or outcomes data for specific groups. Many are pushing their plans to include more diverse and culturally competent providers in their networks – an important step in addressing health disparities for racial and ethnic groups.

Supporting members with cancer

The great strides that have been made in cancer diagnosis and treatment mean that today we can expect that many employees with cancer will recover and continue working. To address the needs of employees dealing with cancer, a growing number of employers are adopting comprehensive strategies that include a range of elements.  Awareness campaigns and genetic testing coverage assist with prevention and early detection, while other elements are focused on helping members get the right care – expert opinion programs, specialized case management, Centers of Excellence, and hospice services. Still others provide support – hotlines, advocacy services, financial planning services, and return-to-work programs.

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Adding reproductive health benefits

Employers have also begun to focus on the special needs of women with regard to reproductive health — from preconception family planning to support during menopause. Last year, nearly half of large employers (46%) said they planned to offer one or more of these specialized benefits in 2024. Of note is that 23% now provide coverage for doulas, midwives, birthing centers or other alternatives specifically as a way to improve maternal outcomes for Black women, who have much higher mortality rates than white women.

We’ve tracked the prevalence of coverage for fertility treatment for a couple of decades now. For most of that time, coverage for in vitro fertilization, or IVF, was offered by around 20% of large employers. Over the past few years, however, that percentage has been on the rise, reaching 45% in 2023. Coverage for elective egg freezing has also grown – it is now offered by 19% of all large employers, and by 33% of employers with 20,000 or more employees. Fertility benefits like these won’t be used by many employees but are very important to those who need them. Some employers are adding or enhancing fertility benefits as part of an effort to offer more inclusive benefits. In the majority of organizations providing fertility benefits, eligibility is not limited to women who meet the clinical definition of infertile – which means the benefits can be used to support all types of families.

Expanding parental leave

Time off can be especially important during life events like welcoming a new child into the family. Three-fourths of large employers planned to offer paid parental leave in 2024 – a big change from just five years ago. In 2018, according to our Absence and Disability Management Survey, only 46% of large employers offered this benefit (and in 2015, only 27% did so). Given the potential impact on recruitment/retention and productivity – and the expansion of complementary state mandated paid family leave across the US -- employers need to evaluate their leave programs against fast-changing industry norms. This means considering how well policies support different kinds of families. Large employers have rapidly added paid leave for parents welcoming an adopted or foster child, and a fourth planned to provide paid surrogacy leave in 2024.

While the prevalence of paid parental leave has increased steadily since 2015, the median number of paid weeks provided increased for the first time this year, from six to seven weeks. While modest, the increase demonstrates that employers are gradually expanding the amount of time parents have to bond with a new child.

What are your workers’ unmet needs?

Employer benefit strategies that are focused on providing these kinds of holistic inclusive benefit offerings can support not just the organization’s DEI goals but also meet shifting worker expectations. If you don’t know what benefits your workers would most value, a great place to start is by asking them.

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