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How Will COVID-19 Change Employee Benefits?

We are currently living through a crisis of unprecedented magnitude. It is safe to say many things will never be the same: many aspects of our economy and the way we work will be changed, possibly forever, by the pandemic.

What about employee benefits? I am starting to see changes already taking place in the world of benefits, and here are three changes I suspect will endure:

  1. Telemedicine

    Virtually overnight, the insurance and healthcare world made a giant pivot to be able to offer medical care in a virtual environment. This change was propelled by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which began to permit telemedicine in the Medicare and Medicaid population for the first time. Much of the healthcare delivery world follows the lead of CMS, so with telemedicine receiving an endorsement at the federal level, we quickly saw many carriers and health plans boost the signal. Suddenly, employees would prefer to meet with a doctor online before going to a brick and mortar facility – or they may be required to. I believe this pandemic is just the shot in the arm (no pun intended!) that telemedicine needed. Most people agreed, in theory, it was a good idea, but had never used it themselves. This goes for both the patient and the doctor. Now that providers are jumping in with both feet, I believe we will all see that it makes a great deal of sense for screenings, basic consultations, and even mental health counseling.

  2. Leave Management

    Before COVID-19, effectively managing employee absenteeism was already a growing priority for many employers. And now, with several new federally-approved paid leaves in the mix, more than ever, employers are going to need a formal leave management program. Many employers have traditionally managed their FMLA and other employee leave, whether paid or unpaid, in-house. But the complexities are quickly becoming more than most employers can – or should – manage on their own. As state paid leave laws have proliferated, multi-state employers have struggled to keep up. I expect states who have been on the fence on this topic to pass paid family and medical leave laws in fairly short order post-coronavirus. Outsourcing and formalizing the leave management benefit is going to be an increased priority for employers – and I don’t see us going back to self-managed leave programs any time soon.

  3. Employee Communications

    One of my favorite memes to have emerged from the pandemic is one that says, “Looks like we’re about to find out exactly which meetings could have just been an email.” We laugh because in the past so much of our time was consumed with meetings, but the truth is replacing meetings with emails is not optimal either. Not being able to have in-person meetings is forcing us all to experiment with – and become proficient in – other modes of communication. Virtual meetings in Zoom or Teams have become ubiquitous, but using other formats such as infographics, podcasts, and video are becoming more popular as well. Information can be shared in many different ways, and benefits information is no exception. Those who have grown tired of the same old employee open enrollment meeting, in which the employees in the back row inevitablely doze off, are now learning new and exciting ways to communicate information. Most people absorb new information better when there are pictures, graphics, or video involved, and when the dosage is small. Being forced to try these different communication methods will cause an information transformation when it comes to benefits education. Open enrollment will never be the same again!

There are no doubt other ways the benefits landscape will change over the coming weeks and months. It is hard to predict the long-term outcome of an event this historic. But when looking for silver linings, I see these three trends emerging in the benefits world as changes for the better that are here to stay. Reach out to your OneDigital benefits consultant for more information about these changes and how they can work for your employees.

For more information on how to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit our OneDigital Coronavirus Advisory Hub, or reach out to your local OneDigital advisory team.