The end of the year is when employers start thinking about benefits packages for the following year. For example, the fourth quarter is when they tend to start working with insurance brokers to come up with health insurance and 401(k) programs in advance of open enrollment. And of course, brokers are working with their general agencies to put together the right combination of benefits to meet the widest variety of needs.
Nothing has changed for 2020 in terms of basic planning and implementation. The one thing that has changed is encapsulated in a single word we have all come to hate: coronavirus. Now in its eighth month, the coronavirus crisis has resulted in fundamental and systemic changes. For one thing, it has made employee benefits a lot more personal.
Worries About Getting Sick
Health insurance has consistently been one of the most popular employee benefits since the 1970s. It is not unreasonable to believe that millions of U.S. workers have made job decisions based on this one particular benefit. And why not? If forced to choose between a job offer that includes health insurance benefits and one that does not, which one are you more likely to choose?
The difference in 2020 is that workers are looking at health insurance from a completely different perspective. Prior to coronavirus, the thought of becoming seriously ill was rather abstract to a lot of people. It is a lot more real now. Health insurance has suddenly become more important because people are legitimately worried about getting sick.
Whether or not coronavirus fears are reasonable is a matter of debate. What is not debatable is that millions of people have lost their health insurance due to corona-related layoffs. That could lead to a dramatic surge in Obamacare sign-ups this year.
A Different Environment for Brokers
The more personal nature of employee benefits has created a different environment for brokers. They still have the responsibility of working with their general agencies to come up with the best options for each client. But now they also have to remember that employers are facing serious economic problems that might limit their ability to provide the plans they prefer.
BenefitMall recently published a blog post discussing this very thing. One of the recommendations they offered to brokers was to not forget the personal side of things. In other words, employers may generally want to help their employees by providing platinum- or gold-level health plans. But if they cannot afford it, they cannot afford it.
This translates into a personal experience for the brokers too. Not only do they have to consider the personal struggles of the owners of those businesses they sell to, but they also have their own struggles to contend with. The less they sell, the less they earn. So it affects them too.
Beyond Health Insurance Benefits
Corona’s impact on employee benefits doesn’t even stop with health insurance and retirement plans. It affects many other areas as well. Take a company that never before entertained the thought of providing childcare benefits. If the local school district shuts down, that company may be forced to either provide some sort of supplemental childcare or lose some of their employees who must now stay home to educate their children.
The world is going to look back on 2020 as a year to be forgotten. At the heart of many of the problems we now face is a virus that doesn’t seem to want to go away. Thanks to coronavirus and the disease it causes – COVID-19 – so much in life has suddenly become intensely personal. Even employee benefits.