Dental Discount Plan Trend: Voluntary Benefits Options

A plan provider looks at how product design is changing

(Image: Thinkstock) (Image: Thinkstock)

As health care insurance deductibles continue to rise, interest in voluntary benefits are growing. This trend supports another growth area that we’re seeing: companies are looking for innovative, cost-effective ways to enhance their compensation packages and are finding that voluntary health benefits are the solution. We’ve seen a significant rise in sales for dental discount plans that offer additional benefits over the past six months.

The most popular dental plans that we offer to groups and individuals now include telemedicine, medical bill negotiation and health advocacy services – along with our more typical dental care, vision, hearing, and prescription savings plans.

(Related: The Case for Dental Discount Plans [Infographic])

But, no matter how popular they are, these plans still do not sell themselves. The key to success in the group voluntary benefits marketplace is clearly communicating the business return on investment that can be expected from offering voluntary benefits to employees.

Voluntary Benefits Refresher

Of course, you know employers use voluntary programs to offer ancillary benefits, or supplementary benefits, that help fill in the holes in major medical coverage.

If you have not had much direct involvement in voluntary benefits, you may be surprised by how much the menus have grown.

Menu (Image: Thinkstock)

(Image: Thinkstock)

Many of the newest voluntary benefits provide discounted or free access to services that were not typically associated with health care plans. These offerings tend to address concerns related to security, financial management, health care that may not covered by primary insurance (such as dental) and personal improvement.

Today, voluntary benefits may include

  • Automobile, homeowners, or pet insurance

  • Concierge services

  • Critical illness

  • Cybersecurity/Identify theft protection

  • Dental

  • Education

  • Financial counseling

  • Financial planning

  • Fitness

  • Healthcare advocacy

  • Life insurance

  • Medical bill negotiation

  • Telemedicine/Telehealth

  • Vision

Voluntary benefits are typically offered to employees as an optional add-on to their benefits package. While the benefits may be paid for in part by the employer, these are more typically payroll-deducted benefits.

(Related: Health Costs Push, and Pull, Supplemental Policy Sales)

When sold directly to individuals, voluntary benefit offerings are often described as “discount,” or “additional benefit” plans. Target markets in the business-to-consumer space would include self-employed people and owners of very small businesses. Typically, businesses can qualify as a “group” for voluntary benefits purposes if the business employs three to five people.

When sold to groups, these plans offer savings by tapping into discounts for group rates, and discounts pre-negotiated by the plans’ providers. The savings are passed on to plan members, giving the cost-savings of group coverage to individuals. Brokers and agents can tap into this market effectively by working with trade groups, chambers of commerce, and other associations that serve small businesses, contactors and the self-employed.

It is important to note that many voluntary benefits offerings are not insurance. They are intended to complement existing insurance coverage, make health care such as dental and vision more affordable, or provide discounted access to a broad variety of supplementary services.

There are exceptions, of course. Some voluntary plans offer supplementary health coverage, or other types of insurance.

How to Communicate Advantages

Financial benefits are the most obvious advantage to businesses. Adding desirable benefits at no additional (or low) cost to the company is obviously an appealing proposition. But that’s not the whole picture.

(Image: Thinkstock)

(Image: Thinkstock)

Businesses considering offering voluntary benefits plans to their employees will also want to ensure that any solution that they buy into fully delivers on its promises and doesn’t add new complications.

Provider reliability: Who is offering the benefit, who is the provider or underwriter? Voluntary benefits can be backed by a provider, such as a health insurance company that offers both dental insurance and dental discount plans. The benefit may be offered directly by the providing company or by another company that they have partnered with. Look for a proven track record of trustworthiness and experience within the voluntary benefits space by all companies involved in providing the benefit.

(Related: 3 Opportunities in the Health Gap Market)

Easy deployment and administration: What is involved in offering the benefit to employees? What information will be required, how long will it take to on-board people? Will proprietary software need to be installed, or are benefits managed through a platform-generic, online portal? Is there an automatic payroll deduction feature? Obviously, the easier a solution is to set up and use, the more attractive it is. Know the back-end as well as you know the benefits.

Data security: Securing information is an ever-growing concern. Not all companies will ask about data security when evaluating a benefits plan, but an increasing number are vitally concerned about protecting personnel information – both as a service to employees and as a way of warding off digital crime. Cyber criminals can use information about employees to impersonate them and gain access to company networks and data. It is best to be prepared with answers to these questions: How is sensitive information on employees kept secure and private when it is captured, in use, and in storage? If data is stored in the cloud, does the storage solution used meet the organization’s compliance and regulatory obligations?

Education/engagement: Well-designed, informative, and customizable materials that help employees get excited, understand, and use their voluntary benefits are a highly valuable add-on to any offering. Companies expect to see quantifiable results from their benefits packages, and limited adoption reduces return on investment. Keeping employees engaged is central to a company’s happiness with their voluntary benefits plan. Get samples of the employee training material from providers.

Metrics: While many companies will rely on their own data-led decision making tools to measure a program’s success, it’s helpful to point out the ROI voluntary benefits can deliver. Overall, the data points that can be used to gauge the success of a voluntary benefits offering will include an ability to attract and retain top talent, reduced medical absenteeism/presenteeism, increased productivity, and employee interest and usage of the benefits.

Customer care: If employees have problems using their benefits, who provides support? The provider or service partner should offer a single-point-of-contact tasked with solving problems, and a dedicated customer support team that employees can access with questions or concerns.

Interest in Voluntary Benefits is Growing

Voluntary benefits aren’t new, but the interest in these offerings is strong – particularly for money-and-time saving services such as telemedicine. As the marketplace grows, businesses and brokers need to understand how to evaluate these offerings and select the best options.

There are advantages to offering a tightly curated bundle of benefits, or providing a broad variety of options that businesses can mix and match. When offering the latter, it’s important to ensure that administration and access are streamlined as much as possible. What seems simple in isolation – you manage and access your benefits though this app or portal – can quickly become wildly complex when the burden grows to a dozen or more apps and portals. Partnering with service providers who focus on delivering a quality experience end-to-end provides significant advantages to brokers and businesses.

--- Read Help Small Employer Clients Offer Great Benefits on ThinkAdvisor.

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