In A ‘War For Talent,’ Employers Hold The Line On Health Benefit Costs

Some companies switched to virtual benefit fairs during the pandemic, when employees moved to remote work, and are now using mobile apps to help communicate benefit options. If an employer is not offering in-person benefits sessions, Mr. Bernstein said, “ask what virtual resources they have.”

About a fifth of employers surveyed by Mercer said they would add or enhance options for off-site workers, like home delivery of meals or snacks, subsidized ergonomic furniture or stipends for “services or activities.” Those “lifestyle” perks were spurred by the increase in remote work during the pandemic and will probably continue in some form as workers return to offices, consultants say. Companies may offer allowances for specific services or give workers a fixed amount — say, $100 per month — to use on what works best for them. (They typically must submit receipts for reimbursement.)

Other offerings, like coverage for doulas — experienced helpers who provide support throughout childbirth, and are associated with lower birth complications — are part of a broader effort to provide better prenatal care to people of color and low-income communities, said Ellen Kelsay, president and chief executive of the Business Group on Health. (Black women have much higher rates of maternal and infant death.)

“Employers are really focused on that from an equity perspective,” she said.

Here are some questions and answers about open enrollment:

Caitlin Donovan, spokeswoman for the Patient Advocate Foundation, recommended that employees consider all aspects of a health plan — including deductibles, which must be paid before insurance kicks in, and the co-payments charged for visits and prescriptions — not just what they pay each month in paycheck deductions. “Look beyond your premium,” she said. People with chronic conditions may want to opt for a plan with a lower deductible, even if monthly payments are higher, she said.

Health savings accounts, or H.S.A.s, let people set aside money pretax for health and medical expenses not covered by their insurance plan. There’s never a deadline for using money in an H.S.A., and the account goes with you if you change jobs. The accounts must be paired with a health plan that meets specific criteria, like a high deductible. For 2022, contributions may be as high as $3,650 for individuals and $7,300 for family coverage. People 55 and older can set aside an additional $1,000 in catch-up contributions.

Open enrollment for 2022 health plans sold through Healthcare.gov, the federal insurance marketplace for people who lack job-based coverage, begins on Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 15. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia operate their own marketplaces, and dates may vary.

Source : https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/08/your-money/health-benefits-employer-costs.html

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