We spend a lot of life waiting. When we’re kids, it feels like Christmas morning will never get here. As grown-ups, we’re waiting for the weekend. We wait in traffic, at the grocery store and in the doctor’s office. At least the Internet has mostly eliminated the need to wait at the post office and the bank. 

And for nearly a decade, a lot of our clients have been waiting … to see how health care reform legislation is going to pan out. Is it on? Is it off? Is it changing? And what the heck am I supposed to be doing now? 

The uncertainty has caused some employers to sit tight. But that wait-and-see attitude creates a problem for them, for their employees, and for us as benefits professionals. Because waiting to see what happens with just one benefit — major medical insurance — is keeping employers from making positive moves today to create more comprehensive, competitive benefits programs that will help attract and keep top talent. 

Fact is, a strong benefits package includes a lot more than health insurance. Yeah, core benefits tends to have a big price tag, so it’s not surprising they gets most of the attention. But guess what? It’s not just about cost any more. LinkedIn, Fortune, Forbes and others are reporting employee retention has replaced rising costs as employers’ number one HR concern. 

You can encourage your clients to get moving again by showing them options that will help retain talent, improve employee satisfaction, create choice and flexibility, provide better financial well-being protection and yes, even control cost.           

What’s in it for you? Instead of only delivering the dreaded news of a yet another increase in health insurance premiums (along with shrinking commissions), you’ll build stronger relationships and your reputation as an expert resource by offering a solution that also adds to your revenue stream.           

Think differently

You’ve probably advised many of your clients to increase their employees’ share of major medical premium, increase the amount of coinsurance employees pay, or move to a high-deductible health plan. Sure, cost-shifting can help control employers’ costs, but at a price: a bigger burden and potential financial exposure for employees. That tends to be a downer for employee morale and satisfaction, which doesn’t help keep them around.           

Try this instead: Redesign the benefits package with a higher-deductible health plan to reduce health insurance cost and pair it with voluntary benefits to offset employees’ increased financial exposure. Voluntary benefits such as hospitalization, accident, critical illness and cancer insurance can help employees cover out-of-pocket medical costs, including deductibles and coinsurance. The benefits can also help pay expenses medical insurance doesn’t cover, such as transportation for treatment or even household bills while employees are out of work.           

Voluntary coverage can be selected and paid for by employees, so your clients can offer it at no direct cost to their business. From the savings you create, your clients may even find they’re able to pay for some or all of the voluntary coverage. Total costs can be the same or lower than before, without leaving big holes in coverage. 

It’s all about me

When it comes to benefits, employees are interested in their own personal needs. The newbie in her first job doesn’t want or need the same protection as a mid-career mom or a soon-to-retire empty nester. Voluntary benefits allow your clients to offer a more comprehensive benefits package with choices their employees can use to customize their coverage for their unique needs.           

It never fails to amaze me when clients turn down the idea of voluntary benefits with a sweeping, “Our employees wouldn’t be interested in that.” Wanna bet? OK, think that, but say this: “You may be way underestimating the strong interest your workers have in voluntary benefits. In fact, the 2016 Employee Benefits Enrollment Study by Customer Benefits Analytics and Lodestar Advisory Partners showed a third of employees enroll in every type of voluntary coverage offered.” 

One reason is many of America’s workers are skating on thin ice — and they know it. More than 40 percent of surveyed Americans say they couldn’t cover a $400 emergency expense or would have to sell something or borrow the money. And a quarter went without some medical care in the past year because they couldn’t afford it. 

Voluntary insurance can help provide the financial safety net many employees need when the unexpected happens. Benefits are paid directly to the insured to use however needed — for medical or nonmedical costs — and aren’t reduced by other insurance.           

Talk it up

Your clients’ investment in their benefits programs could be for naught if they don’t do a good job communicating them. Employees who don’t understand their benefits options don’t take advantage of them or appreciate them. 

This will probably take some coaching on your part, because many employers are dealing in, shall we say, “alternate facts” when it comes to benefits communication. Nearly all employers in LIMRA’s 2016 “Help Employers Connect the Dots” survey said their communication approach is at least somewhat successful. But employees are saying, “Not so much.” Unum’s 2015 U.S. Worker Benefits Survey showed only a third of employees strongly agree they have a good understanding of all the insurance benefits offered by their employer.           

One benefits communication tool both groups agree on is one-to-one meetings. Colonial Life’s post-enrollment surveys for the past eight years show 95 percent of employees who have participated in individual benefits counseling say it was valuable and 98 percent say they understand their benefits better.           

Move to the head of the line

Your clients know a strong benefits program is an essential tool to keep their talented workforce and bring new folks in the door. And the great news is their benefits package doesn’t have to hinge on changes to major medical insurance beyond their control. With your guidance, they can quit the waiting game and take steps now to create a more comprehensive, flexible and affordable benefits package that will give their business a competitive edge.

Steve Hesler is assistant vice president, product development at Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company.