Pandemic Triggers Benefits Double Take at US Businesses

(BPT) - On Jan. 1, 2020, the world welcomed the beginning of a new year with open arms. Little did we know of the challenges to come and the eagerness to leave 2020 in the dust.

While what lies ahead in the coming year is just as unknown, some experts say a return to normal, whatever that means, is not likely until November 2021 at the earliest.1 Many businesses are following state and local reopening guidelines and revising continuity plans accordingly — all while keeping operations on track, managing overhead, and doing their best to foster productive and satisfied employees.

A core component of a company’s bottom line and employee satisfaction is the benefits package offered to employees. Many businesses decided on their offerings prior to COVID-19’s impact and without consideration for its global effects. Yet, among employers and their workers, the pandemic has created a renewed awareness about health coverage.

A study by worldwide research, consulting and professional development organization LIMRA notes that 40% of employers say the pandemic has altered their views on the importance of the benefits they offer, almost universally shifting toward a view of benefits as more important now.2 This altered perception on benefits is leading employers to reconsider their offerings this open enrollment season. “Stronger on the Other Side,” a white paper from supplemental insurer Aflac, recently analyzed these changes, highlighting the opportunity business owners have to update their current benefits packages in light of the physical and emotional effects of the coronavirus.

Prepare for unexpected health complications

Some symptoms of COVID-19 are distinguishable and tend to linger, including fever, cough, lost sense of taste and smell, fatigue and shortness of breath. A recent CDC report indicated that 35% of patients who tested positive for COVID-19 had not returned to their typical state of health after two to three weeks after testing.3 This can result in chronic conditions like pneumonia, heart attack, kidney damage and more, significantly increasing the length — and expense — of recovery.

“COVID-19 appears to affect everyone differently and is indiscriminate. From healthy 20-somethings to people with more common comorbidities like high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes, it is unknown who is likely to have long-term consequences,” says Stephanie Shields, senior vice president of Broker Sales at Aflac. “Because of the pandemic, people who may have typically overlooked benefits options outside of their health insurance in the past are likely reevaluating the value of supplemental insurance plans such as hospital indemnity and critical illness.”

This increased interest in supplemental coverage is in line with a lack of confidence in the coverage offered by health insurance. Aflac’s annual WorkForces Report found that 33% of employees either do not feel confident or are unsure if their health benefits will protect them or their family in the event they are affected by COVID-19.4

“Our survey shows that a benefits package that includes supplemental insurance and telemedicine options may help boost this confidence level and overall satisfaction,” Shields added.

Getting help with emotional burdens

In addition to the physical effects of the coronavirus, loneliness, stress and fear are also taking a toll on the emotional health of Americans. Extended disruptions in daily routines and social distancing requirements are increasing concern about people’s well-being, with 53% of adults reporting their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.5

“It is easy to see a company’s benefits package as merely insurance options covering medical costs, but it involves more than health insurance alone,” Shields added. “Don’t underestimate the value of services such as an employee assistance program, health advocacy services, wellness programs and financial support services. These give access to specialists who can help with things like work/life issues, medical bill negotiation and explanation, how to stay healthy at a time of remote work, and budgeting counselors.”

As the workforce continues to adapt to changes brought on by the pandemic, employers have learned how to pivot. Understanding the emotional and physical effects of the virus and the benefits options available, businesses can take strides during open enrollment to ensure that when 2020 is finally over, their employees can emerge stronger on the other side in 2021 and beyond.

1 “A return to 'normal': How long will the pandemic last?” Medical Press. Accessed Sept. 30, 2020. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-07-pandemic.html.

2 “Will Employers Make Changes to Workplace Benefits Due to COVID-19?” LIMRA. Accessed Sept. 30, 2020. https://www.limra.com/globalassets/limra/research/research-abstracts/2020/impact-of-covid-19-on-employers-approaches-to-workplace-benefits/2020_insurancebenefitchanges_infographic.pdf.

3 “Symptom Duration and Risk Factors for Delayed Return to Usual Health Among Outpatients with COVID-19 in a Multistate Health Care Systems Network.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed Sept. 30, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6930e1.htm.

4 The 2020-2021 Aflac WorkForces Report is the 10th annual study examining benefits trends and attitudes. The surveys, conducted by Kantar, captured responses from 1,200 employers and 2,000 employees across the United States in various industries. Learn more at Aflac.com/AWR.

5 “The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use.” KFF. Accessed Sept. 30, 2020. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use.

The content within is for informational purposes for broker-facing audiences. This information is not approved to distribute to prospective insureds, or to use as a solicitation. Misrepresenting this, or any, information to solicit or induce an insured to lapse, forfeit, or surrender an insurance policy is prohibited by law. Any use not specifically permitted herein is strictly prohibited. Aflac includes Aflac and/or Aflac New York and/or Continental American Insurance Company and/or Continental American Life Insurance Company.

Z200690 EXP 10/21

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