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In years past, it was a common assumption that employee assistance programs were best suited to producers who sold group health plans.

Today, health insurance industry consolidation has reduced the number of producers selling health plans exclusively. Producers who want to build their client base may want to consider pairing EAPs with group life or disability plans.

For employers, the benefits of EAPs are obvious. Employees face longer hours, higher productivity demands, and pressure associated with balancing work, family and personal needs. In addition, many employees have fears of terrorism or uncertainty regarding war. Debt, child care and elder care issues pile on yet more stress. All that stress increases absenteeism, turnover, and medical and disability claims rates.

Many employers adopted the early EAPs to comply with the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988, which requires businesses with federal contracts of $25,000 or more to maintain a drug-free workplace. The early EAP services focused on mental health, with an emphasis on helping employees cope with alcoholism and drug use.

Although EAPs expanded to help employees deal with depression, emotional problems and family problems, the scope of second-generation EAPs was still limited.

Today, innovative, third-generation EAPs provide services such as assistance with finding qualified child care and elder care resources, financial planning, and legal assistance that can help ease employees sense of time famine.

Look for EAP carriers that offer extensive child and elder care referrals and a strong, employee-focused communications program. Communication is critical since it often influences program usage.

Legal and financial services can help employees deal with a range of personal issues. Producers should pay special attention to the quality of the legal services offered. Look for companies that offer legal advice through a credentialed network of attorneys who feel no financial pressure to push for unnecessary litigation.

is senior vice president and chief actuary for the group insurance business at The Prudential Insurance Company of America, Newark, N.J., a unit of Prudential Financial Inc. He can be reached at wayne.benseler@prudential.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, April 15, 2005. Copyright 2005 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.