Stronger On The Other Side

Benefit strategies to move businesses through and beyond the pandemic

Study conducted by Aflac delves into the different ways being tested to navigate through the pandemic in the coming months and years. Access full study here.

In the months since a national state of emergency was declared to aggressively combat the coronavirus pandemic, industry and society have shown tremendous resilience and resolve. We are testing ways to navigate the coming months – and possibly years – until vaccines, testing and treatments help us move more confidently into a new normal.
Times are not typical. Benefits strategies shouldn’t be either

The coronavirus pandemic is a worldwide experience. The virus or mitigation efforts have affected nearly every person and business. Three questions companies have considered for quite some time have taken on new urgency:

  • Are workers equipped to navigate unexpected health events?
  • What creative tools can help workers better cope with challenging situations?
  • How can we adapt benefits-enrollments challenges that call for multiple, flexible alternatives?

This white paper provides insights into how businesses can use learnings from the pandemic to develop more-equipped, better-engaged workforces. It evaluates the questions above against three key current-event themes:

  • The complications are complicated.
  • Health care delivery and navigation have been disrupted.
  • The ways workers will participate in enrollment have changed.

The Complications Are Complicated

We learn more each day about the virus that caused today’s pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coronavirus recovery far outpaces mortality. This is encouraging as we consider what the next 12 to 24 months might bring. Still, despite this promising news, there are significant concerns about the virus’ long-term effects on the body. This means we’re dealing not just with the virus, but also with its complications.

According to the University of California at Irvine, “Coronavirus infects the upper respiratory system but also attacks the lower respiratory tract. This attack triggers an inflammatory response to try to kill the virus referred to as a cytokine storm. Under normal circumstances, the response peaks early, clears the virus and helps produce antibodies. It can stick around too long and too strongly and cause severe lung, kidney and heart damage and blood clots.”

Coronavirus has been connected to pneumonia, heart attacks, kidney damage and more, significantly increasing the expense and length of recovery. While the elderly and immunocompromised are at higher risk, we also see infections and complications in younger, otherwise healthy people. People who previously did not think they were vulnerable to these types of conditions must now consider the possibility that coronavirus will leave them susceptible.

An Added Layer Of Protection Becomes Two Layers

The possibility of contracting the virus – and the chance of severe complications – should prompt businesses to reconsider the role of supplemental insurance in their benefits packages. Supplemental coverage helps people better prepare for unexpected illnesses or injuries by paying cash benefits that help them through financially difficult situations. It does not typically coordinate with health insurance and, unless assigned otherwise, benefits are paid directly to insured individuals to use as needed.

While not new, supplemental products merit a second look because they offer employers and employees added peace of mind in uncertain times. These plans serve a dual role: In addition to helping pay expenses health insurance doesn’t cover, they also serve as a financial safety net if covered illnesses arise as complications of the coronavirus. They provide:

Protection during treatment

  • Hospital indemnity insurance plans pay when an insured is admitted or confined to a hospital. If a hospital is unavailable, they pay for treatment of a covered illness or injury at an alternative site that provides hospital-level care.
  • Critical illness insurance plans pay in the event of covered critical illnesses, such as heart attacks.
  • Mixed-benefit insurance pays benefits in several categories. These might include critical illness, hospital indemnity, accident and life insurance and they provide well-rounded coverage for a variety of circumstances.

Protection during recovery

  • Disability insurance plans pay benefits when insureds are unable to work due to covered illnesses or injuries.
    More than 80% of employers have expressed interest in offering supplemental insurance plans that cover costs associated with coronavirus or a future pandemic. It is worth noting that many carriers are actively developing new plans and enhancing existing plans that pay benefits for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a variety of virus strains.

Health Care Delivery and navigation have been disrupted

  • The initial phases of the coronavirus shutdown created ripple effects for health care delivery:
  • Non-urgent care was suspended.
  • Priorities around coronavirus care and bolstering personnel, infrastructure and supplies
    were put into place.
The study revealed that while fears related to the virus itself were the most common, participants were acutely concerned about the financial consequences of the pandemic...

Restrictions limited hospital entry only to patients and essential health care workers. Restoring a normal cadence to scheduling, care delivery and the opportunity for advocates and loved ones to participate in the health care process will take time. Creative health care and health support solutions are available to reduce the impact of these ripple effects, and businesses can offer them more easily and affordably than they might think.

Creative Health Care Solutions

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 48% of U.S. patients have either deferred or skipped medical care because of the pandemic, and 11% of those patients reported their medical conditions have worsened as a result. Foregoing care might negatively affect not only individuals with chronic or acute conditions, but also those who delay routine screenings or have undiagnosed symptoms.

Telemedicine is increasing in popularity because it provides access to remote consultation and care. A recent survey showed a 29% increase in employers offering telemedicine over the previous year. Pre-pandemic, these services were often less likely to be covered or reimbursed by some insurance plans. However, times are changing, because more people are unwilling or unable to participate in in-person appointments. Telemedicine has even become a de facto triage for determining next steps in potential coronavirus cases.

The New York Times cites the incorporation of telemedicine that has emerged from coronavirus as a transformative development in routine medical care. While it will not replace regular, physical examinations, telemedicine provides a solution when in-person care is not feasible, realistic or required. Market estimates published about a month before large-scale quarantine efforts were put in place predicted nearly 15% growth in telemedicine by 2026.

Employers can incorporate telemedicine into their benefits strategies to increase employee access to care. Supplemental insurers may include these services as part of a partnership or can help make these services available at low or no direct cost to employers. It’s a simple step that can pay big dividends in employee health and well-being.

Creative Health-Support Solutions

Aside from the physical health impacts of the virus, the mental and emotional impacts are profound. In June, University of Connecticut researchers published a study providing the first snapshot of the virus’ effects on Americans’ stress levels and coping strategies. It identified three stress categories:

  • Stress related to the virus itself.
  • Stress related to changes in daily routines.
  • Financial or resource-related stress.

The study revealed that while fears related to the virus itself were the most common, participants were acutely concerned about the financial consequences of the pandemic. Of the stressors experienced, loss of job security or income was the most intense, followed by the risk that a loved one might become ill.

Equip To Engage

There are four generations in the workforce, each with unique preferences for consuming content. Still, there are commonalities employers can leverage to reach workers and enhance their enrollment experiences. For example, when asked which tools and resources they wanted to use for benefits enrollment, all four generations placed benefits consultants and enrollment websites among their top three choices. Beyond those similarities, unique generational preferences included text messages, live chat and printed materials.

Benefits Communication

With all the communication options available to employers, possibilities for reaching employees are virtually limitless. From traditional methods to the latest technologies, there are efficient and affordable ways to partner with companies to create and execute custom benefits-communication strategies. These strategies can address the employee population as a whole or drill down to the individual level, based on personal preferences, generational trends, life stages and other parameters.

Benefits Counseling

Benefits seem to operate in the background until people actually need to use them, so it makes sense that workers tend to make their decisions on autopilot. A recent survey showed 56% of employees spent less than 30 minutes researching their benefits options during their last open enrollments. And more than 90% say they choose the same benefits each year.

Benefits counselors who are licensed, trained and experienced provide a valuable service to businesses and employees. They can explain a company’s entire benefits package, discuss each employee’s unique situation and answer questions that will help workers make more informed decisions. Through this process, they can also help employers by collecting and updating information, verifying benefits eligibility and more.

Conclusion

This is an unprecedented time for industry and society. The pandemic has forced us to reassess activities taken for granted in the past, and our responses will help determine how we deal with future events of its kind. American business magnate and philanthropist Bill Gates said, “A company’s ability to respond to an unplanned event, good or bad, is a prime indicator of its ability to compete.” As employers make and execute benefits decisions, they will have opportunities to improve both circumstantial and conventional situations – not only for their businesses, but for the employees who rely on them. Together we can come out stronger on the other side.