Pandemic accelerating employers' interest in voluntary benefits: WTW survey

Health insurance benefits form
Employers are exploring new voluntary benefits in the wake of COVID-19, a new survey shows. (Getty/michaelquirk)

The pandemic has accelerated employers' interest in offering voluntary benefits such as hospital indemnity coverage to workers, a new survey shows.

New data from Willis Towers Watson show 94% of employers believe additional voluntary benefits will be key at their organizations over the next three years. By comparison, just 36% of employers said the same in 2018.

Lydia Jilek, senior director of voluntary benefits solutions at WTW, told Fierce Healthcare that this is a trend she's been tracking for some time, and there were fears that COVID-19 could hinder momentum for these benefits as employers instead turned their focus to digging deep on the medical benefit.

However, the pandemic instead highlighted the value of certain types of benefits more, she said, including hospital indemnity coverage and critical illness benefits.

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"It's very heartening to me that we are continuing to see that steady progress," she said.

The survey found that 42% of employers currently offer hospital indemnity insurance, with 65% saying they plan to provide it by 2022, an increase of 23%. Just over half (57%) said they currently offer critical illness coverage, with 76% saying they would provide it by 2022, reflecting growth of 19%.

Jilek said a number of critical illness coverage providers quickly added COVID-19 to the list of conditions they would include, which made the package more appealing to both employers and workers alike.

As COVID-19 hospitalizations and the associated costs rose over the course of the pandemic, additional coverage through hospital indemnity benefits for such admissions also gained steam, she said. The increased interest from both sides is likely to drive further investment in these offerings, as employers don't want to provide programs that workers don't use, she said.

"I think it's going to reinforce it," Jilek said.

Amid the pandemic, WTW is also seeing greater interest in legal benefits, long-term care benefits and financial planning assistance. Jilek said the pandemic forced some workers to realize they need to establish wills and have legal plans in place for the end of life.

However, employers who are interested in exploring these additional options should take stock of their workforce and have a clear understanding of what their employees need before launching a bunch of options, Jilek said.

"It makes sense to do some thinking before you do the implementing," she said. "Historically, some folks have shot before they aimed."