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The Personal Touch with Benefits can be Life Saving

I am haunted by the stories of benefits failures.

A few years ago, a client asked me to meet with one of their employees who was leaving employment and had some questions about COBRA. Of course, I said yes. Then came the kicker: can you go to her house to meet with her? She is disabled and can’t drive. That was a first for me, but I went to the woman’s home and she ushered me into her living room.  This was before COVID, so we sat side by side at a table while I reviewed the benefits for her and talked through her options. As we did, I learned her story.

A young mother, this woman enjoyed the great outdoors, as so many of us do here in Vermont. She loved hiking with her husband and kids and spending time outside. Unbeknownst to her, on one of these excursions she was bitten by a tick and contracted Lyme disease. She began to experience muscle weakness and various other symptoms; by the time she was correctly diagnosed, the weakness had become debilitating and she was now in a wheelchair and continuing to decline. Her doctor did not think she would ever recover. My heart sank as I listened to her, because I knew that her employer did not offer Long Term Disability coverage. She was applying for Social Security Disability, but knew how long that could take and how hard it was to qualify. In the meantime, they were living on her husband’s income and finding it hard to make ends meet. When I showed her the cost of COBRA she said they would not be able to afford it. But how can she go without health insurance when she has a serious health condition?

There was no miraculous solution for her. As I left her house I was sobered, and frankly angry at myself. I had brought up the subject of LTD many times with her employer, encouraging them to add it as a benefit, even on a voluntary basis, but they never got around to it.

Is there more I could have done?  Did I try hard enough to show them how life changing their benefit lineup could be?

For every benefits failure like this one, I know there are many successes. Because of the benefits offered by our clients, people have had their cancer bills covered; have had life insurance to provide for their widowed spouse and children; have had access to a therapist in the darkness of a suicidal depression. These events happen every day, but I don’t often hear about them. When I get brought in, there is often some kind of coverage gap and then I am haunted by the question of whether I did enough?

I have been a benefits broker for 24 years and it is this question that drives me. The benefits an employer offers can be life changing. Most Americans have no life insurance, other than what their employer provides. Most Americans could not afford $200,000 for cancer treatment, nor do most of us have the kind of savings we could live on for years if we got disabled. We all think these events will never happen to us, but the truth is, they could, at any time. Offering employee benefits gives employers the opportunity to help their team members in ways no one could predict until they happen.      And as if that were not enough, taking care of our employees in this way is actually good for business.  Employees who are healthy and feel cared for at work, are better employees who will work hard for your business and take better care of your customers.

For me, the employee is at the center of the benefits discussion with an understanding that cost to the employer is also a driver. There is a delicate balance between the two, but without truly getting to know what the employees need, too often cost becomes the only factor. By asking the right questions, we can develop an employee benefits package that supports both the employee and the company.

Thank you for offering benefits to your employees. Thank you for trusting OneDigital to be your partner in this important effort. The benefits you provide could change someone’s life.

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