So much changed in 2020: employers and employees contended with the challenges of remote work, unprecedented stress, radical changes in the economy, new strains to work/life balance and ongoing uncertainty. Through it all, work has remained a constant for many people, which is why employer support and employee health benefits matters more than ever.
Once this is over—and it isn’t yet—it will take time for employers and workers to recover from the financial, economic and mental health effects of this period. A comprehensive, innovative approach to benefits can give employees a sense of security, which may be otherwise lacking in their personal and professional lives at this time. Here is a look at some of the early trends in employee health benefits emerging in 2021—and how brokers and employers can interpret them.
The broker-employer relationship remains strong
Given the curveballs of 2020, employers are continuing to look to benefit advisers to guide them in shaping benefit strategies. Recent research suggests that strong, frequent communication between advisers and consultants remain important; that clients are less inclined to switch advisers; and that cost is becoming less of a reason to switch. 
Employers are bracing themselves for continued turbulence and disruption in 2021 as the “new normal” continues to unfold. In this time of change, the benefit adviser role will continue to be strategically important. Advisers who can bring new, flexible solutions and stay focused on emerging workplace and employee benefit trends will prove their value.
Employee health benefits matter
Many businesses have tightened their belts amid the economic uncertainty of 2020—but not when it comes to employee health benefits. In fact, two-thirds of employers say they will not burden employees with additional benefit costs in 2021.  This suggests a recognition of the realities of financial strain employees face when paying for healthcare, as primary plans have shrunk, coverage gaps have widened and out-of-pocket spending has outpaced growth in workers’ earnings.  According to recent research, 62% of employers feel “extremely responsible” for employees’ financial health, a significant increase from a level of 13% in 2011. 
Nearly 80% of employers have actually expanded benefit offerings in response to the pressures of 2020, with 60% expanding access to virtual solutions and support as employees shifted to remote work. 
Employee support for mental health to increase
Effective employee support for mental health emerged as a true priority in 2020. This year accelerated a shift that was already underway, bringing the realities of mental health in the workplace fully into the spotlight. Many employees are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety, exhaustion and depression as they navigate life during this time without a sense of when it will end. Nearly 20% of employed adults report poor mental health, representing a fourfold increase. 
In recognition, employers are expanding access to employee health benefits to support mental health. In a recent survey, over 40% indicate they already have or plan to add new mental health offerings to support employees working from home.  Robust, effective mental health benefits include coverage for prescriptions as well as support in navigating to the right type of care to help employers address evolving needs in 2021.
Personalized benefits gain traction
Some employers may be juggling five different generations currently in the workforce, and these workers have widely varying age-and-stage needs. According to SHRM, older workers tend to value healthcare and retirement benefits more highly, while younger workers may prioritize benefits that help them address financial strain and holistic well-being.  In another survey, 77% of respondents indicated that their benefits are a key part of their compensation.  Benefits that offer employers and employees flexibility and choice can help different workforce groups better navigate the life-changing circumstances this year has brought.
Employers must address coverage gaps
For years, shrinking primary plan coverage and healthcare cost-shifting has increased out-of-pocket spending for employees at all levels. This means more insured workers than ever before are facing serious decisions about affording their premiums, deductibles and other expenses related to even routine healthcare and prescriptions. Financial strain can be damaging to the employer-employee relationship. Employers are realizing that they must address the reality of financial strain, but they can’t always afford to put a richer primary healthcare plan in place for all employees.
Bundling in supplemental healthcare insurance benefits is emerging as a solution to finding the right balance between coverage and benefit budgets. As employers address the evolving needs of their workforce and their benefit planning, they can choose benefits built to address specific coverage gaps by layering over the primary plan. For instance, employers can provide or expand access to mental health support and coverage by layering a supplemental healthcare insurance plan over the existing primary plan—and, with the right solution, they can put it in place any month all year long, not just at renewal time. Other, cost-effective solutions to closing coverage gaps are available for broad or targeted populations as determined by the employer.
For many of us, the end of 2020 marks a figurative finish line. We’ve made it, even though there is a long way yet to go to reach recovery. Savvy advisers can help clients prepare now to be better positioned and provide meaningful employee support moving into 2021.
ArmadaCare’s innovative supplemental healthcare insurance plans can provide new, flexible solutions for employees at every level and benefit budgets of all sizes. Learn more about our plans.