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Working to lower costs

Most voluntary insurance plans cover a small percentage ofemployees who experience catastrophic events, but the plans do notaddress most expenses incurred when an employee accesses carebefore they have met their deductible.

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Most voluntary benefit plans were designed to cover the 10percent to 15 percent of the population who experience high claims,leaving 85 percent without significant coverage and withdeductibles they cannot afford.

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Voluntary products that may work alongside an underlying majormedical program can help brokers and employers satisfy two criticalgoals: lower employer premium costs without significantly impactingan employee's out-of-pocket expense.

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Scott Mardis, territory manager, Kemper Benefits

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Related: Better benefits, lower cost

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Protecting financial futures

Ninety-two percent of organizations in the U.S. report voluntarybenefits will be important to their value proposition to employeesover the next three to five years. Benefits like LTC and criticalillness will continue to hold sway while options such as petinsurance and ID protection become popular choices for brokerconsideration.

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We see ID theft and fraud prevention as a growing voluntarybenefit for several reasons. The number of fraud victims hit arecord high in 2016 at more than 15.4 million victims. Moreorganizations see financial wellness as a pillar of their voluntarybenefits programs, and ID theft and fraud prevention servicesprotect employees from financial harm.

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Employees in their 20s and 30s, who spend more time online thanany other generation, are at highest risk of financial misfortune,social and reputational damage, and cybercrime. For this group,benefits like student loan repayment plans and social monitoringproducts will be attractive. Meanwhile, more senior employees andboard members who are more security-concerned can take advantage ofconcierge style identity protection services alongside otherpremium benefits.

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Matt Cullina, CEO, CyberScout

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Choice is crucial

Choice has become a vital component of a strong benefitspackage. I hear many brokers and employers asking about options tohelp recruit and retain millennial employees, who now make up themajority of the workforce. Millennials are an “on demand”generation—they want to be given lots of options and then have thepower to pick only those they deem useful. This mentality hasdriven demand for a wide variety of benefit options.

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Moving forward, technology and choice will continue to play arole in making a wide variety of benefits more accessible topeople, meeting them where they are— which is increasinglyonline.

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Dennis Healy, chief sales officer, ARAG LegalInsurance

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Related: Customizing voluntary benefits goes beyond thegenerations

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Personal priority

Voluntary benefits have evolved from should-offer to must-offerproducts. Here's why, according to MetLife's 15th Annual U.S.Employee Benefit Trends Study:

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The notion of the workplace is changing. The majority ofemployees are interested in “gigs,” with over half saying they areinterested in contract or freelance work for more flexible hours,the ability to work remotely and project variety. This is highestamong millennials, with two-thirds expressing interest.

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Employees expect employers to meet their personal needs. Nearlythree-quarters of employees say having benefits customized to meettheir personal situation is important when considering a job.

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With personalization prevalent in every aspect of employees’lives, workplace benefits must follow suit. As employers focus onretaining talent in the gig era, with more than 80 percent sayingretention is an important benefits objective, it's certain to fuelcontinued growth in voluntary offerings that can be tailored tomeet employees’ unique needs.

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Randy Stram, senior vice president, MetLife

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EAPs improve outcomes

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are quickly expanding beyondtheir traditional boundaries. With increased demand from employersthat EAPs help boost productivity while reducing costs, brokers cansuggest innovative approaches such as bundling customary EAPservices with concierge work/life, wellness coaching, stressmanagement and well-being programs. EAPs can also supportmindfulness, resiliency and positive psychology programs, which canhelp employees eat healthier, lose weight, quit smoking and managechronic pain.

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Integrating EAPs with behavioral health services is anotherstrategy to improve employee health and productivity. Mental healthissues, such as undiagnosed and untreated depression, oftenexacerbated by substance abuse or other health conditions, take aheavy toll on the workplace. An integrated employeeassistance/behavioral health program can help detect and addressthese conditions early, leading to improved outcomes, lower costs,and a better member experience.

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Zachary J. Meyer, senior vice president, Optum

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Related: 5 things your EAP might be missing

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Redefining value

Fifteen years ago, voluntary benefits included supplemental lifeinsurance and dental. How the landscape has changed since then.With legislative changes to health care and attempts to curbskyrocketing costs, employers and insurers are emphasizingvoluntary benefits.

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Voluntary benefits enhance core benefits. For example, with therise of consumer-driven health care and its high out-of-pocketexpenses, group worksite benefits (critical illness, accident andhospital indemnity insurance) offer financial relief to planparticipants. Worksite benefits offered in conjunction with productpurchase programs can address the challenge many employers faceregarding overutilization of loan and withdrawal features of 401(k)plans. In effect, voluntary benefits are critical financialwellness tools for your workforce. Financial wellness reducesemployee anxiety and can increase productivity, all at no cost tothe employer.

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Insurance carriers have expanded and enhanced their voluntaryproducts to address changing demographics and shifts in employmenttrends. Many group products are portable to allow people to changejobs seamlessly. Group legal plans have recognized an agingworkforce by including estate planning and eldercare assistance intheir programs. Increased reliance on technology has opened themarket for identity theft protection plans. These monitorfinancial, medical and social media identities of employees.

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While the future of voluntary benefits will include both newproducts and a refinement of existing plans, the key will be toeffectively communicate and present metrics demonstrating the valuethey provide to their employees.

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Peter Marcia, CEO, YouDecide

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Paul Wilson

Paul Wilson is the editor-in-chief of BenefitsPRO Magazine and BenefitsPRO.com. He has covered the insurance industry for more than a decade, including stints at Retirement Advisor Magazine and ProducersWeb.