By Tom Wiffler, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Specialty Benefits
Employers looking to reduce health care costs might consider eliminating specialty benefits such as vision, dental, or disability. But there are compelling reasons why employers should continue to offer or add these benefits – either paid for partly by the employer or as voluntary benefits with premiums paid by employees – and new programs are enabling companies to save on medical premiums at the same time.
Many employees value specialty benefits (also known as ancillary benefits), and employers can offer them with little or no additional cost. In fact, a recent UnitedHealthcare survey found that 85 percent of employees said having vision and dental benefits is “important” to them.
With growing evidence of a link between oral and eye health to overall health, as well as to an array of chronic medical conditions, offering specialty benefits may prove valuable to employers and employees. In addition, integrating specialty benefits with medical coverage can give employers additional information that helps enable proactive clinical interventions and consumer-engagement strategies, drawing on a wide range of data to help encourage a healthier workforce and more effectively manage medical costs.
To help further enhance the value of these benefits for employers, UnitedHealthcare has introduced uBundle™. This benefits saving program enables employers across the country to save up to 4 percent* on medical premiums when combining a UnitedHealthcare medical with specialty benefits, including dental (2 percent savings); vision (0.5 percent savings); life and supplemental life (0.5 percent savings); supplemental health, including accident, critical illness or hospital indemnity (0.5 percent savings); and disability (0.25 to 0.5 percent savings).
The program can translate to significant savings for employers. For an employer with 500 employees and a traditional health plan, the first-year savings can reach nearly $200,000**.
Here is additional information about specialty benefits for employers and employees to consider:
The eyes are a window to overall health, revealing important information about a person’s well-being and, in some cases, helping detect a range of chronic conditions. In fact, eye exams can help detect and manage diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and others. Employees who are aware of and able to successfully manage chronic conditions can focus on their work, helping improve productivity and reducing the likelihood of sick days or disability leave.
Oral health plays a significant role in overall health, especially for people with certain chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A UnitedHealthcare study showed that people with certain chronic conditions who received appropriate dental care, including preventive services and the treatment of gum disease, had net medical costs that were on average $1,037 lower per year than those who received no dental care. For example: a person with diabetes and periodontal disease who receives the recommended dental treatments or cleanings is at a lower risk of inflammation, which can help improve diabetes management and avoid costly complications.
Benefits such as disability, accident and critical illness coveragecan help provide employees financial protection and additional support following a serious injury or medical event, such as cancer, heart attack, or stroke. For instance, health plans that combine medical and specialty benefits have shown the ability to help reduce the duration of disability claims through improved management, offering plan participants additional support and information, including a case manager and exercise and nutrition advice. These additional resources mean employees may get back to health – and work – more quickly.
Hearing loss is a significant health issue for more than 48 million Americans, 60 percent of whom are still in the workforce or in school, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. By helping employees obtain treatment for hearing loss, employers can help foster a healthier, more productive workforce and reduce the risk of employees developing a range of physical and mental health issues associated with hearing loss, including increased risk of falls, social isolation and dementia.
Offering specialty benefits as part of an employee’s menu of benefit options may help maximize the effectiveness of a company’s health care dollars and, when offered alongside medical coverage, provide families with added peace of mind for both their health and financial protection. Employers that combine specialty and medical benefits may be able to reduce turnover, increase productivity and help build a culture of health.
*Savings apply only to first-year medical premiums for employers with 51-100 employees; savings are perpetual for employers with 101 to 2,999 employees, as long as the benefits remain in-force.
**For illustrative purposes only; savings will differ depending on the group size, plans chosen and premiums.
***The program is available in all states except Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont; in California and Colorado, it is available only to employers with 100 or more employees.