Jay Starkman, the chief executive officer of Engage PEO, a professional employer organization (PEO), laughed a little at the idea that the midsize employers his firm serves might start thinking any time soon about buying employer-paid dental, vision or disability benefits. "All of the attention these days is on major medical," he says. "The employers are not concerning themselves with ancillary products, for this year or next year."

John Haslinger, a vice president at ADP, the payroll services and benefits administration, has run into the same lack of employer interest in products such as dental insurance, vision insurance and disability insurance. "They're letting these plans go almost into auto pilot," he says. In some ways, that indifference may be helpful to brokers who would like to go skiing while most of the in-force plans they serve keep themselves in force. "I have seen no trend whatsoever for employers to drop benefits," Haslinger says.

But the same forces keeping employers from taking the time to drop benefits may be keeping those same employers from adding benefits. Anita Potter, an insurance researcher at LIMRA, says her group has not yet seen signs of employers returning to the traditional non-medical benefits market. "They're really looking to pare costs," Potter says.

Benefits specialists disagree about whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is responsible for the difficulty with getting employers to think about non-medical benefits. At LIMRA, survey results suggest that the fog in the benefits market rolled in around 2000, as a result of rapid increases in medical insurance costs.

Starkman thinks the non-medical benefits fog intensified around 2009, during the Great Recession. He contends that PPACA terror is now having a bigger, longer-lasting effect on the market than the recession did. "Companies are rebounding," he says. "The job market is stronger. But there's so much uncertainty around the Affordable Care Act. What is this Affordable Care Act thing going to look like when it's finally done?"

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Allison Bell

Allison Bell, ThinkAdvisor's insurance editor, previously was LifeHealthPro's health insurance editor. She has a bachelor's degree in economics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Think_Allison.