4 Benefits trends for small business to watch in 2015

4 minute read
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It
can be hard to know what the future will bring. Economic and political drivers
shift, seasonal trends come and go and employees’ circumstances change. But if
there’s one thing for sure, 2015 certainly won’t be a boring year for benefits.
There’s plenty in store for small businesses, including cost-reducing
strategies and dynamic workforce needs. Here’s the pulse on what small-business
leaders can look for in the year ahead.

1. Exchanges take
center stage for simpler benefits administration.

Health
insurance exchanges (also called marketplaces) are now part of the employee
benefits equation. Especially if you’re a small business, these options can
provide tax advantages and do some of the heavy lifting usually associated with
offering employee benefits.

Here’s
what to expect:

  • Privately run exchanges are gaining traction and are
    expected to surpass enrollment in the government exchanges.
    These online private marketplaces have grown in popularity because they can
    offer a mix of benefits products and help to reduce an employer’s time
    spent on administration and paperwork. For example, voluntary supplemental
    benefits, such as accident or hospital indemnity coverage, can be offered
    on a private exchange but not on a government exchange.
  • Separately, government exchanges are expected to open
    Nov. 15, 2014. Though these marketplaces had a rocky start in 2014, they
    can offer tax advantages for certain small businesses – making them an
    increasingly popular option in 2015. In some states, small employers can
    even offer benefits with an “employee choice” option to give
    their workforce more say in their benefits selections.

Bottom
line:
Take a look – these may be a great fit.

Exchanges
can make benefits administration easier for small businesses. Plus, they give
employees the option to purchase health care coverage that fits their needs and
their budget. If your company has fewer than 25 full-time equivalent (FTE)
employees, you may be able to take advantage of tax credits through government
exchange options. And, regardless of your company’s size, private exchanges can
help your company to offer a variety of benefits options.

2. Businesses turn to
multiple strategies to control health care costs.

Controlling
costs is always a top priority for small businesses. In fact, 53 percent say
it’s one of their top business objectives. So when it comes to
rising health care costs, it’s no surprise many are looking to rein in costs
whenever possible. In 2014, 24 percent of small businesses expected to increase
employees’ share of premiums, and 24 percent expected to increase employees’
copays.

Shifting
costs to employees can have an adverse effect. For example, employees at small
businesses say if their employers shift an increasing portion of health
insurance costs to them, it would have at least a moderate impact on their:

  • Financial anxiety – 73 percent.
  • Likelihood to consider a lower premium health plan – 72
    percent.
  • Job satisfaction – 69 percent.
  • Likelihood to consider looking for a new job – 58
    percent.

That’s
why many employers are considering ways to save on health care costs, while
still protecting their workforce. A few strategies to look for in 2015 include:

Account-based
health care

High
deductible health plans tied to health savings accounts (HSA) are growing in
popularity. The number of people enrolled in HSA-eligible plans hit almost
17.4 million early this year, a nearly 12 percent increase since 2013.
Additionally, 49 percent of employers offered a flexible spending plan to
their employees in 2014, up from 37 percent in 2012.

Changes
in spouse coverage

Health
care reform doesn’t require companies to extend coverage to spouses, and some
companies are cutting back on spouse benefits, especially if the spouse can
purchase health care through their own employer. Nearly 1 in 10 (7 percent)
of small companies eliminated contributions to family coverage in 2013, and 7
percent expected to do so in 2014.

Outcomes-based
health care

Companies
are beginning to establish ways to keep providers and employees accountable
for health outcomes. For providers, employers are looking to bundled pricing
arrangements with doctors and hospitals with proven track records for
success. For employees, companies are using health screenings and incentives.
While just 6 percent of small businesses introduced health care incentives in
2013, 10 percent expected to do so in 2014. And nearly half (45 percent) of
small businesses with wellness programs include a wellness screening
component.2

Defined
contribution benefits

Similar
to an allowance for employees to spend on the health care they choose,
defined contribution is a way for employers to control the amount they pay
towards benefits. If the employee wants more robust coverage than their
employer’s contribution can cover, the employee can choose to pay the
remaining portion of the bill. While many details surrounding defined
contribution still remain to be seen, the model is gaining consideration,
especially as exchanges become more popular.

Bottom
line:
Strive for balance and effective benefits communication.

Even
positive changes to a benefits program can be confusing to employees, but not
all changes need to have a negative impact. In fact, 81 percent of employees at
small businesses at least somewhat agree a well-communicated benefits program
would make them less likely to leave their jobs. To prepare for a smooth
transition, communicate with employees frequently and develop a plan to touch base
before, during and after a change takes place. Keep in mind the value your
benefits bring to recruitment and retention, and discuss your options with a
trusted benefits consultant who can help you establish a plan that works within
your budget.

For two more tips on what to expect for changes in benefits in 2015 read this.

Get more health insurance information at aflac.com/healthcarereform.