In light of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a compliance focus has bolted to the forefront of most employee benefit conversations and articles. Sadly, this has relegated the “why” of employee benefits to the back burner.
Last week, during a client open enrollment meeting, I was reminded of the importance of focusing on why employers provide employee benefit programs to their employees. As I reflect on that experience I am reminded of scores of other instances I have seen in my relatively short career where lives have been saved, finances preserved, and confidence restored all because employers cared enough about their employees to provide them with benefits.
In the specific example from last week, a business owner stood up during our open enrollment meeting to explain that the core reason he was providing his employees with a strong health plan (and paying generously for it) was so that they would not have to worry if a serious illness were to befall them or their immediate family members.
You see, this business owner’s wife has recently been diagnosed with cancer and he has seen, in a very personal way, the importance of having strong health insurance coverage. Thankfully, his wife’s employer provides a health plan which absorbs a great deal of the cost associated with her medical care while also giving her access to the best doctors and facilities. This strong health insurance coverage allows her the opportunity to focus all her energy on beating the cancer rather than having to focus on the financial aspects associated with her medical treatment. This employer, because he cares about his employees, wants to ensure that they are similarly protected.
In another example, a young employee passed away in his sleep, leaving behind his wife and two young children. His employer had never thought much about their decision to provide employees with a generous life insurance benefit. My recollection from initial conversations was that they wanted to provide the benefit in order to be “market competitive.” In that moment when the death claim was being filed and later when the benefit check for $250,000 was delivered to the newly widowed spouse, the importance of that life insurance benefit was very clearly seen. What had been initially seen as an inexpensive way to bolster the benefit plan had proven itself immensely valuable. In fact, the life insurance provided by the employer enabled the young, now single parent, family to stay in their house and maintain financial dignity as they dealt with their unexpected loss.
And, it is also important to remember that benefits are not just there to make tragic situations less tragic. A benefits plan which also incorporates work/life components, such as wellness, helps to enrich employee lives. For instance, recently, our firm helped a client organize and orchestrate a Health Fair. The goal of the event was to help employees get a handle on the importance of wellness and encourage them to embrace many of the health and wellness resources the employer made available.
One of the key components of the Fair was a voluntary biometric screening opportunity whereby employees could be screened for potential health related “red-flags”. One gentleman who underwent the testing discovered (quite unexpectedly) that he was at serious risk of a heart attack and went straight to the hospital where a stint was inserted and a ticking time bomb was diffused. This gentleman has since determined to lead a more healthy lifestyle and it not an exaggeration to say that he has his employer to thank for the fact that he is still alive.
Prior to ACA, employers were not required to provide benefits. They provided benefits for a number of reasons, chief among them was the fact that the employer cared about its employees. It is important that, in the new ACA environment, we always keep in mind that benefits are so much more than a formula driven, fine avoidance mechanism. To the contrary, an employee benefits package has the ability to impact the lives of employees, in many ways more than a paycheck on its own ever could. Consistently remembering “why” you offer employee benefits is just as important as ensuring that the “how” and “what” of your benefits package enables you to maintain compliance.
David is a monthly columnist in the Cobb Business Journal. To read other articles like this by David Bottoms, you can subscribe to the online edition of the Cobb Business Journal.