Rich Williams | President of Group Benefits | Aflac

After a year unlike any other, insurance carriers and brokers are analyzing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on evolving employee benefits trends. What they're finding, says Rich Williams, president of Aflac's group benefits division, is heightened awareness among employees and a renewed commitment to optimizing benefits on the part of employers.

"A major trend we're tracking is the decreased utilization of benefits caused by the pandemic," Williams says. "In 2020, people simply put off medical care. According to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, half of adults reported they – or a member of their household – skipped or postponed medical or dental care. Obviously, we recognize how vital preventive care is for wellness, and we expect to see regular checkups and preventive care visits rebound in 2021."

Despite the temporary dip in utilization, employers remain focused on maintaining and augmenting benefits that support the physical and financial wellbeing of their employees. The 2020-21 Aflac WorkForces Report found 68 percent of employers are extremely or very certain they'll maintain their current benefit offering.

"Clearly, group benefits are very important to employers," Williams notes. "Recruiting and retention continue to be top strategic priorities, and benefits can play a critical role. Aflac's WorkForces Report shows that among organizations offering supplemental benefits, 50 percent say they improve recruitment, and 60 percent say they improve retention strategies."

Today, in addition to medical insurance, ancillary benefits, including life, disability, absence management, dental and vision benefits are table stakes for employers looking to offer the financial protection tools employees need, Williams says. The pandemic only reinforced their value.

"Research by LIMRA found one in four employers view short- and long-term disability benefits as more important due to the COVID-19 environment," Williams explains. "We're also seeing increased interest in absence management solutions as employers look to facilitate the different types of leave employees may need to take."

At the same time, employers are recognizing how these primary benefits work together with supplemental benefits to provide a critical safety net for employees. "According to Aflac's research, 48 percent of employees say they couldn't pay $1,000 or more for out-of-pocket expenses resulting from a serious illness or accident without relying on debt or credit," Williams says.

To address potential gaps in employee protection, brokers are helping their clients take a more holistic approach to their benefits strategies. "Employers rely on their brokers as a trusted resource to help them navigate the changing benefits landscape," Williams adds. "70 percent of employers say their broker helps their company offer a better benefits package, and 76 percent say they get more for their money by working with a broker."

Aflac's portfolio of solutions is designed with a holistic approach in mind, says Williams. "Our group benefits division has expanded its offerings in recent years to meet the broader needs in the market by adding new absence management, life, disability, dental and vision solutions as a complement to our industry-leading supplemental benefits products."


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