Coming out of our COVID haze, it can be difficult to remember a time when employers could be truly strategic and proactive without priorities evaporating due to lockdowns, staffing shortages, travel bans or taking a U-turn due to pressures in other areas of the business. The time is now to pivot back to your strategic plans related to employee benefits. We recommend the road to an optimal benefits program be lined with solutions to specific pain points and cultural considerations at your organization. However, I advise at least considering the following within your strategic roadmap to see if they are a fit and can close gaps within your current program. 

1) Employee Surveys

Priorities within your workforce have likely changed considerably in the past two to three years.  If you haven’t asked employees about their priorities related to employee benefits, it is time!  Some of your more traditional benefits or office-affiliated perks that may have been linked to attraction and retention in the past are no longer a value add to employees.  It is not enough to talk about perks and flexibility; needs must be better understood to ensure you are providing something that actually attracts and retains talent, instead of the

2) Lifestyle Accounts

Financial accounts within employee benefits are not new (e.g., a Flexible Spending Account), but recently employers have started using these account-based perks in different ways to fill a gap that exists in their offering while providing ultimate flexibility.  These accounts are taxable but can be used within the parameters set by the employer.  Organizations may use them to support just about anything, but common categories today include:

– Medical procedures that may not be covered within the medical plan (i.e., infertility services, elective procedures, etc.)
– Travel expenses for medical services
– Family-focused benefits (i.e., doula, etc.)
– Legacy wellness support (i.e., fitness equipment, fitness classes)

The beauty of these services is that they can be selected based on employee needs as well as organizational culture and budget.

3) Absence Policies and Processes

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are at the top of the list of internal initiatives, and goals are uniquely defined based on how much progress has already been made.  It goes without saying that DEI is critical to the success of all companies, but I think a key area of DEI that requires some additional attention is your corporate absence strategy.  Over the past few years, organizations have developed additional absence policies around COVID-19 and Monkey Pox, but there has also been a large push toward more family-focused leave of absences surrounding bereavement, parental leave, and the like.  It’s important that DEI initiatives within employee benefits focus not only on the services but also on the time off that may be required, and viewing this through the many lenses of your diverse workforce. 

4) Oncology Support

As benefits professionals, we have worked diligently to identify point solutions for high-cost and highly disruptive conditions.  While point solutions continue to be part of a strong strategy, most employers have or will see an increase in oncology prevalence and spend due, in part, to expensive treatments but primarily driven by disrupted or delayed care and screenings. 

Initial concerns with COVID-19 not only decreased primary care visits but snowballed, as providers later had limited appointments available due to overwhelming demand, which has translated into undiagnosed cancers.  Now as participants are getting back to their primary care physicians, many cancers have progressed further or upstaged, creating the need for more intense and complex treatment. 

In addition to the direct cost of cancer care, employee productivity is significantly less after a cancer diagnosis, even if that diagnosis is within their extended family. 

Spring encourages employers to seek a proactive and holistic approach to oncology support, including some or all the following:

– Monitor screening engagement
– Encourage prevention including reminders and other communications; consider incentives
– Educate and support initial and ongoing care decisions
– Concierge support
– Clinical support

Of paramount importance is to educate and engage employees before a diagnosis, so they know where to go for initial support.  Those first few weeks after a diagnosis are critical to setting the stage for appropriate treatment and clinical review and/or second opinions.  There are some free and buy-up options in the market provided by top-tier cancer care providers/facilities.  Those have brand recognition and are designed to provide unbiased support but, in many cases, they also funnel patients to their service centers.  Another consideration available is point solutions that are agnostic to cancer care providers/facilities and provide concierge support but do have an add-on charge, typically as a per employee per month (PEPM) or per referral model.

5) Healthcare Disparities

One of the most complex items that should be on your roadmap is to examine what healthcare disparities exist in your population. For starters, ensure multilingual communications are available to close healthcare gaps for those with language barriers.  From there, it is important to begin to stratify your population – if your size warrants – and begin to examine if health outcomes are impacted by race, location, earnings, and/or other social determinants of health.  This strategic initiative must be performed in collaboration with your insurers and third-party administrators and will take dedicated time to set a methodology and refine your findings over time.  The key is to at least get started by looking at the data and talking about how you can improve your understanding of the current state to work toward better data in the future.

Setting the strategic plan for your employee benefit package should be customized to your organization’s priorities and complexities that are identified through claims experience and survey information.  Given each organization has its own culture, demographics, and business priorities, it is impossible to set a perfectly standard list of considerations when it comes to your employee benefit strategy. But as you drive toward the best vision for your company – off in the horizon – be sure to stop along the way to check out these five hotspots of benefits planning.

Spring frequently helps employers assess different solutions, plans, and programs and build them into their roadmap. One client, edHEALTH, is currently organizing three solution committees to refine areas of opportunity and prioritize solutions based on demand and change readiness.