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The Benefits Question: Will Employees Use Exchanges?

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A reigning question of the moment is how the employee benefits market will change once the full effects of health care reform are felt in 2014. Will employers continue to offer coverage? Will they keep plan offerings in place, but share an increasing amount of the cost burden with their staff? Or will they turn their employees over to the shiny new health insurance exchanges?

These are all questions of value vs. cost. In the short-term, employers will certainly lessen expenses by dropping health care plans. In the long-term, though, how many valuable employees will they lose with a less attractive benefits package?

Across the board, employers may not realize just how important benefits are to employee satisfaction and retention. A recent study revealed that, post economic downturn, employees place a greater value on their benefits package when evaluating their overall happiness at work. Where employers perceived health care benefits to be valued by just 59 percent of employees, 75 percent said that health benefits were a key component to job satisfaction, ahead of other desirable qualifiers such as advancement opportunities, retirement benefits and company culture.

In light of stats like these, it may be wise for employers to keep this offering on the table. And in Michigan, at least, it seems that the majority of employers are planning to do so. A recent study conducted by McGraw Wentworth, an employee benefit brokerage/consulting firm based in Troy, Mich., showed that just 7 percent of southeast-Michigan based employers plan to discontinue offering health care coverage in 2014.

The survey examines health benefits and costs for the current year, including decisions made around health care reform, among 470 southeast Michigan-based employers with 100-10,000 employees.

These next few years will tell how these decisions will play out in other states. While it’s likely too early to make any truly accurate predictions, this early study is a favorable sign for benefits agents nationwide — who, much like the plans they sell, may very well see their services become increasingly valuable to employers and employees alike.