Employee Benefits: Top 5 Truths Exposed by Coronavirus

Times of crisis have a way of revealing things that would otherwise remain hidden. Take the coronavirus crisis, for example. It has revealed some very clear truths relating to a wide variety of topics – including employee benefits.

Yes, coronavirus has shined the spotlight on employee benefits packages. So much so that employers began rethinking their benefits in the run up to 2021 open enrollment. How much of an influence it has had on benefits is not yet known as we are so early in the new year. But we will find out soon enough.

Here are the top five truths of employee benefits exposed by the crisis:

1. Health Insurance Is Still Broken

Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) during the early days of the crisis. One of the provisions of the legislation mandated that Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance plans fully cover the cost of coronavirus testing. The fact that the government had to require this coverage via legislation clearly demonstrates that our health insurance system is still broken.

We do not have a healthcare problem in the U.S., we have a health insurance problem. There is a significant difference. Until we fix that problem, health insurance costs will continue to place a substantial burden on employee benefits packages.

2. Working from Home Works

Work-from-home opportunities are gradually becoming a more attractive employee benefit. By necessity, American companies have been forced to allow their employees to work from home for the last 9 to 10 months. And guess what? It works. In industries for which the vast amount of work is done in an office setting without direct customer contact, the work can be just as easily done at home. Working from home has suddenly become an even more attractive benefit.

3. Telehealth Works, Too

We have also discovered, since the start of the coronavirus crisis, that telehealth actually works quite well. It works well for employees, employers, and even healthcare providers. Insurance companies are finding it works for their bottom lines. The end result has been an increased emphasis on telehealth. Expect more health insurance companies to openly embrace it moving forward.

4. Flexible Scheduling Isn’t the End of the World

Employee advocates have long been calling for more flexible scheduling in industries for which it is practical. Employers have resisted those calls. Whether the resistance has been little more than fear the unknown is hard to say. But we now know that flexible scheduling is not the end of the world. Companies have had to accept it as part of the coronavirus work-from-home paradigm. To their delight, they had discovered that employees are capable of managing their own schedules and still getting their work done.

5. Benefits Are Not Always Sustainable

The last truth on the list is the most uncomfortable of all: employee benefits are not always sustainable. As noted by Dallas-based BenefitMall in a September, 2020 post, some of the hardest hit businesses in the U.S. will have to drop their benefits packages simply because they can no longer afford them.

That likely means more Americans looking for health insurance through federal exchanges. It might mean the end of employer contributions to 401(k) plans. It could mean an end to everything from health and wellness programs to generous vacation arrangements.

If there is any good news here, it is the fact that the coronavirus crisis has forced us to step back and take an honest look at what we are doing. If it results in better employee benefits that do not cost as much, any interim discomfort should prove worthwhile.

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