Health Care Still at Top of Benefit List

Health Care Still at Top of Benefit List

While  the majority of organizations have offered the same amount (58%) of employer sponsored benefi­ts, over the past year,  or have increased (35%) the number of benefi­ts offered, health care remains the driver for how those bene­fits plans are composed, particularly as employers continue to weigh the various effects of the Affordable Care Act.

According to a study conducted by the Society of Human Resource Managers and Employee Benefits Research Institute, few organizations are eliminating health care bene­fits as a result of federal reforms.

However, many are changing the composition of those plans—in some cases relying more heavily on a preventive approach that can reduce health care expenses—and shifting a greater burden of costs onto employees as well.

Research has shown that many job seekers frequently place greater importance on health care coverage, flexible work schedules and other benefi­ts rather than on their base salaries.

The report covered a variety of benefits and below is a summary of findings:

Health care and welfare benefits: Five-year trends show an increase in the percentage of organizations offering mental health care coverage, contraception coverage, vision insurance, short-term disability insurance, health savings accounts (HSAs), critical illness insurance, employer contributions to HSAs and coverage for laser-based vision surgery.

Compliance with the ACA may be affecting the growing prevalence of these benefits, although steady increases in the cost of health care over the last decade have led organizations to explore health care options that actively involve employees in their health care decisions.

Forty-three percent of organizations offer HSAs, an increase of eight percentage points over the last five years; 30% of organizations offer employer contributions to HSAs, a 10 percentage point increase over the last five years. Meanwhile, there were declines in the percentage of organizations offering health care premium flexible spending accounts over the last five years.

Preventive health and wellness benefits: One of the key strategies many employers are using to reduce health care benefits costs is to boost employee health through preventive health and wellness benefits. The past five years have seen increases in the percentage of organizations offering general wellness programs, health care premium discounts for employees’ participation in various programs, health and lifestyle coaching, and preventive programs specifically targeting employees with chronic health conditions.

Retirement savings and planning benefits: The majority of organizations continue to offer defined contribution retirement savings plans. In fact, more organizations have offered Roth 401(k) or similar defined contribution retirement plans in 2015 compared with 2011. Furthermore, a greater percentage of organizations have provided retirement advice tools such as one-on-one individual investment advice and retirement preparation advice over the last five years. However, there have been substantial declines in the number of organizations offering defined contribution plan loans in 2015 compared with 2011.

Financial and compensation benefits: The results revealed several statistically significant differences between 2015 and 2011. More organizations offered spot bonuses/awards and non-executive sign-on bonuses, and donated for participation in charitable events, while fewer organizations provided automobile subsidy for business use of personal vehicles, credit unions, full flexible benefits plans and payroll advances. Non-executive incentive bonus plans, group/classroom financial advice, one-on-one financial advice and qualified transportation spending accounts increased in prevalence since 2014.

Leave benefits: While there were no statistically significant differences in paid vacation plans, fewer organizations offered a paid vacation leave donation program and a paid vacation cash-out option in 2015 than in 2011. Several leave benefits increased in 2015 compared with 2014: paid sick leave plans, paid family leave, paid maternity leave, parental leave above federal FMLA leave, and parental leave above state FMLA leave.

Family-friendly benefits: There was a five-year decline in the percentage of organizations permitting employees to bring their child to work in an emergency and offering child care referral services and on-site parenting seminars. There were no statistically significant increases in the percentage of organizations offering family-friendly benefits over the last year.

Flexible working benefits: Most of the flexible work benefits examined remained constant, though there were increases over the last five years in the number of organizations offering casual dress day (one day per week) and telecommuting on an ad-hoc basis. Employee programs and services: Several five-year trends were found: prevalence of paycards, employer sponsored personal shopping discounts and pet health insurance increased, whereas prevalence of postal services, on-site cafeterias with fully or partially subsidized items and executive club memberships decreased.

Professional and career development benefits: The majority of professional and career development benefits have remained steady. Percentage of organizations paying for certification/recertification fees in 2015 compared with 2011 increased, and prevalence of college selection/ referrals increased in 2015 compared with 2014. Housing and relocation benefits: Housing and relocation benefits yielded few differences between 2015 and 2011: fewer organizations offered home insurance programs and spouse relocation employment assistance.

Business travel benefits: There were minimal changes in business travel benefits in 2015 compared with 2011: more organizations offered per diem for meals and first or business class airfare for domestic and international travel, whereas fewer organizations reimbursed personal telephone calls while on travel.

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