Firms Stand Pat on Benefits

Recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings supporting same-sex marriage haven’t prompted employers to change the benefits coverage offered to couples. That’s because a good portion of them already did.

Nearly 44 percent of human resources professionals say their companies will not extend their benefit coverage in light of recent rulings because they already offered domestic partner coverage, according to a survey from the Human Capital Media Advisory Group, the research arm of Talent Management magazine (Figure 1).

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The survey, which was administered in June, collected data from 158 organizations of varying sizes and industries. About 85 percent of the companies polled are from the U.S., with 49 percent of the respondents being director level or above. 

About 17 percent of survey respondents said their companies do not plan to extend domestic benefit coverage in light of the rulings, according to the survey, while roughly 16 percent said they would and 7 percent said “maybe.”

The biggest priority benefit for most employees is still health care, and almost all (93 percent) of these organizations offer health insurance, the survey showed.   

The most popular benefits after health care are retirement (57 percent), life insurance (52 percent) and disability insurance (38 percent) (Figure 2). Less popular benefits include elder care assistance (2 percent) and pet insurance (1 percent).

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Most companies (84 percent) offer retirement benefits through a 401(k) or individual retirement account rather than through employer-sponsored defined benefit plans (29 percent).

The survey’s findings also show the rise of nontraditional benefits, such as wellness programs. Almost one-third of the companies surveyed began increasing their wellness programs in the past two years, and 40 percent are expected to do so in the next two years.

Telemedicine, or the ability to provide health care at a distance virtually, has become more accessible with the recent surge of technology, the survey showed. Still, just 9 percent of the surveyed companies offer this benefit, while 18 percent said they expect to offer benefits in the next two years.  

Most companies surveyed still do not offer health care options such as fertility benefits (9 percent), elder care assistance (10 percent) and transgender health coverage (4 percent), but more are expected to offer those in the next few years. 

One-third of the respondents reported that they were dissatisfied with the business impact of their employee benefits plans — even though almost half of the respondents reported their companies don’t even measure the business impact of the their benefit plans. 

The survey asked respondents about the measured success of their benefits on many common business goals, including reducing employee absenteeism, enhancing employee retention and reducing health care costs, among others. 

In general, they have not measured these effects, according to the survey. More than 40 percent of the companies did not research the outcomes of various plans on goals like overall employee health, improving workforce productivity and employee satisfaction.

The ones that did measure the effects of their benefits often don’t find a lot of data to connect their benefits programs and their goals. Only 8 percent of the companies surveyed found a correlation between their benefits packages and workforce productivity, and only 17 percent found a link between their benefits offered and overall employee health (Figure 3).

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One exception to this lack of results is health care costs, as almost half of the companies surveyed were able to link their benefits programs with reducing health care costs, according to the survey.

The passage of the Affordable Care Act may have made health insurance more broadly affordable, but it also created more options and regulations for employers to wade through. Many companies, the survey suggests, don’t have the resources to navigate many of the law’s new rules and regulations. This has put companies in a pinch when it comes to how they go about finding the right information to make benefit decisions.  

When it comes to finding benefits providers, most companies (66 percent) depend on a consultant or broker, the survey showed. And most companies (73 percent) say are likely to use brokers in the future (Figure 4).

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Brokers benefit the company because they have expertise in the area and keep themselves updated on new rules and new plans, respondents said. However, brokers aren’t always viewed as beneficial because they charge fees.  

If they don’t use a broker, companies use their network of colleagues, industry publications or industry analysts, according to the survey. Few said they use social media or advertising.