Health insurance provision that meets employee needs

Mark Ramsook, Director at Willis Towers Watson Health and Benefits, examines some of the key considerations to ensure health insurance schemes meet workforce needs.

Health wood blocks

Employers are increasingly having to box smart when it comes to their benefits offerings – balancing budgetary considerations with a package that delivers on corporate goals, while helping attract, satisfy and retain the very best from today’s increasingly diverse and expectant talent pool. 

Providing an attractive health insurance scheme can be costly but, at the same time, an investment worth making. Invariably, it will sit at the heart of employee renumeration, enabling a company to remain competitive in the recruitment and retention stakes. It can also demonstrate that the employer cares about its employees’ health and wellbeing, helping boost morale and loyalty. The result is a healthy, happy and productive workforce that is well-place to return to work rapidly in the event of illness

Balancing cover with budgets
Health insurance does not come cheap and costs can rise exponentially alongside corporate growth. The good news is that most providers recognise the need for flexibility, so that you can add the extras you need and omit those you don’t.

By working closely with intermediaries to find the best fit, companies can synchronise their needs with budgets. Off the shelf schemes, although often limited in cover flexibility can provide a lifeline when cost is a barrier to provision.

For SMEs or businesses keeping a tight rein on the company coffers, a community rated option, where everyone pays and gets the same, regardless of age, gender or health and wellness, is often a challenge due to minimum headcount thresholds. Another way to keep a tight control over health insurance budgets is by tweaking cover limits, adjusting excesses or diversion of treatment into the NHS. 

These options can provide a meaningful reduction in premiums, but employers should consider them alongside their reasons for offering cover, as too many constraints can act as a disincentive for employees. Cash plans may offer a viable alternative to bring workers, who are not eligible for the core corporate health scheme, into the fold.

At the other end of the insurance scale, multi-faceted providers recognise that one size does not fit all – a diverse workforce has diverse needs and expectations. Many companies will have a very disparate employee age, experience and earnings profile which demand tailored, bespoke, insurance. 

Many larger corporations will consider alternative financing mechanisms, with some opting for healthcare trusts, or hybrid schemes, instead of providing conventionally-insured arrangements. Trusts are effectively a way of self-insuring and are more flexible, with the possibility of changing or adapting benefits more regularly, and more easily, to reflect the needs of individuals, businesses and their appetites for carrying risk. 

Cover to match evolving workforce demographics
According to the Institute of Employment Studies, there are currently more than seven million workers aged 50 to 64 and by next year, one third of Britain's workforce will be aged over 50. 

Faced with an ageing population and changing workplace demographics, employers and health insurers need to work closely to support the needs of older employees and how best to help them prolong their careers. Health management considerations including termination age, conditions more prevalent in older workers such as cancer all need to be factored into health insurance schemes. From bereavement counselling to OH provision, more versatile and innovative answers must evolve to reflect our changing society. 

Another drastic demographic change, which has had a huge impact on health insurance provision is the number of working mothers in the UK which has surged by 1.2 million over the past two decades. There are now around five million mothers with dependent children in work, which drives the need for tailored insurance schemes with a family focus. Savvy businesses wanting to attract and retain calibre female employees will ensure this child-friendly addition features prominently on their benefits agenda. 

Forward-thinking companies will also ensure that they have made provision within their health insurance schemes for all gender identities, abilities and disabilities. From the sudden onset of MS symptoms to gender dysphoria or sex reassignment, all may require pre and post op care and mental health support and some mainstream providers may not be equipped to include such specialist care. 

It is imperative that health insurance provision evolves and aligns with market, population and lifestyle trends if they are to have a meaningful place in a benefits package. 

Matching cover to specific healthcare needs
No two businesses are alike and no two workers either. While some workplaces are sedentary others are manual. Some have a young male bias while mature females dominate in others. 

If companies have a diverse workforce and an unrestricted budget, they are able to consider a wide range of options to support the health and wellbeing of their employees.  This does not limit them solely to insurance schemes. There are many other arrangements that can offer niche, specialist support and services. 

High net worth businesses, such as investment banks, tend to exist in a sedentary and unsociable hours environment which may call for weekly on-site physio or GP visits. Meanwhile, emotionally challenging workplaces may require regular stress management counselling. 

In physical environments, cover for workers predisposed to musculoskeletal conditions may be a consideration. Or a scheme that offers support to women going through the menopause could be a priority.

The key is knowing how to add real value to the people who make your business thrive. 

Prevention less costly than cure
Companies who invest time and effort into understanding the health nuances of their workforce will get the most out of their health insurance schemes – and help them manage the costs. 

By interrogating health data, they are able to implement relevant and preventative wellbeing initiatives which can offset costly debilitating and long-term illness.  

By recognising patterns in rates of absence or chronic conditions for example, companies can weave lifestyle management into their bespoke policies.  

Communication is all too often a barrier to preventative benefit take-up. Employers have access to valuable benefits that go unused because they are either overwhelmed by the information, fearful of confidentiality or they don’t even know they exist. 

By openly and regularly sharing what benefits are available and how employees can claim is an essential element of managing health insurance schemes – don’t just provide it, proactively encourage employees to use it. Both parties will reap the rewards of this streamlined and simple access to care. 

The proliferation of insurance cover means more choice and varied choice, along with more information to disseminate to get to the right cover. That’s why having a specialist intermediary can help create a benefits platform that harmonises your budget with the needs of your business.

There really is a health insurance scheme for everyone and every budget, making it far more valuable than just a work perk.

The author is Mark Ramsook, Director at Willis Towers Watson Health and Benefits.

This article is provided by Willis Towers Watson. 

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