By Ashley Snodgrass, Employee Benefits Analyst
The end of COVID has been up for debate. Some people feel as though the pandemic was over when the mask mandates went away, while others think the pandemic ended as soon as vaccines were available. And then there are some super rosy people who say the pandemic will never be over! What is the truth?
One way to look at the end of COVID-19 is to recall the start of the pandemic. On January 31, 2020, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, declared a public health emergency due to confirmed cases in the United States of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. This official order stated the public health emergency has existed since January 27, 2020. After a long and interesting three years, the Biden Administration is ready to end the public health emergency on May 11, 2023. Even though life has resumed some semblance of a “new normal” for many people, the end of this public health emergency will still have some meaningful impacts for health plans.
For example, health plans will no longer have to cover COVID-19 testing with no member cost sharing. Also, health plans will only be required to cover in-network COVID-19 vaccines, similar to other preventive services requirements. Health plans that offer COBRA coverage must ensure that regular deadlines resume too – such as the 60-day election period for COBRA.
I would recommend that you review this handy document from Zywave for a detailed account of all the changes that will be triggered by the end of the public health emergency. Don’t let these end-of-pandemic changes catch you as off guard as the start of the pandemic.
For questions about what this could mean for your organization, please contact your RISQ Employee Benefits Consultants or Account Executive, or email@example.com.
By Ashley Snodgrass, Executive Account Manager
Have you ever wanted to peek over your neighbor’s fence to get a better view of their garden? Maybe look at their blossoming peonies, size up their tomato plants, or get a clue as to why their grass is always the greenest? There’s something similar that happens in the world of employee benefits; one of the most asked questions by my clients is, “How do my company’s employee benefits compare to what other companies are offering?” In today’s environment where the battle for qualified talent is raging, knowledge of how your benefits stack up is crucial, because the stakes are much higher than neighborhood gardening.
In 2021, we’ve all felt the impact of the worker shortage in several industries. I think it’s helpful to compare the worker shortage to the housing market. As the housing market fluctuates, the market fluctuates between a seller’s market and a buyer’s market. This is all driven by supply and demand. When the inventory (supply) of homes is high, and there are fewer buyers (low demand), sellers are more likely to drop price, pay closing costs for buyers, and make upgrades to meet the buyer’s needs. Oppositely, when the supply of homes is low and there are more buyers (high demand), there is strong competition for homes. Buyers must be aggressive by paying higher prices, offering flexible terms, and accepting homes in “as is” condition.
Let’s consider how this is similar to the employment market. When there are fewer qualified workers searching for jobs, companies must consider raising wages, offering more flexibility, better benefits, and more educational and mentorship opportunities. Compare this to times of the past when the number of job seekers was higher; employees would accept long commutes, sub-par benefits, or a lower salary just to have a chance at any job, and hopefully move up sometime in the future. Some economists view labor as a commodity, which is why the labor market is subject to the fluctuations of supply and demand.
While this is perhaps an oversimplified explanation, and doesn’t account for a variables that impact the market such as COVID-19 related safety concerns, available unemployment benefits, and childcare challenges, it helps to demonstrate that hiring in 2021 is different than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is why employers must know how their employee benefits compare to other options employees may find when exploring benefits packages that come with employment offers.
Benchmarking is the industry term for comparing what an employer offers to employers in similar industries and geographies. Benchmarking data can be provided by insurance brokerages, insurance companies, and third-party research firms. Most studies look at common plan facets like deductibles, coinsurance, out of pocket maximums, employee cost, employer costs, and types of benefits offered. Some surveys expand beyond insurance benefits and focus on other employee rewards such as Paid Time Off, Parental Leave, Retirement, and Wellness Benefits.
Looking to get an insight into your own health plan? Data isn’t always “Apples to Apples”. Here are a few points to consider when comparing data to what your own company offers:
- Geography – Insurance premium pricing is based on the cost of healthcare in that region (Example: Premiums in Alaska are higher than average because healthcare costs are higher than average, and therefore it wouldn’t be correct to compare Alaska costs to a low cost state like Arkansas, and draw any meaningful conclusions).
- Industry – In sectors where there is greater competition for talent, benefits are more generous. Employees in highly technical industries will demand richer benefits.
- Company Size – Size of company aligns with purchasing power, so be aware that larger companies may be able to offer more benefits or special programs than smaller employers. Additionally, groups under 50 employees are provided rates strictly based on the age of the employees, whereas larger companies pay costs based on claims. Costs for smaller companies may be higher simply if the population is older.
- Employer Type (Meaning Private vs. Public Entities or Union vs. Non-Union benefits) – Different types of employers may have different rules to abide by, or other options available to them, that aren’t available to all employers. Try to compare your company with employers who are most similar to your own to control for variables like high-quality Government benefits, or Collectively Bargained benefits
- Funding Mechanism – Fully Insured plan costs are not comparable to Self-Funded plan costs. Fully Insured rates come from the insurance carriers and the rates are set. Self-Funded plans have additional options to implement cost controls and care management programs.
Ask your RISQ Consulting Team to help provide you with some information that can help your own organization. Brokerages typically have access to reports beyond what is available for free online. Here are a couple great resources to check out to get started: