Win-win health plan benefits employees and employers

With demand on health services at an all-time high, and people more health-aware than ever before, employees are increasingly looking to their employer for help and support with their health and wellbeing.

Consequently, workplace wellness is a top priority for organisations. However, issues such as changing workforce demographics and a rise in mental health issues have also made employee wellbeing a challenge for business.

In addition, sickness absence represents one of the biggest costs to businesses in terms of lost productivity and staffing costs.

One solution that can help employers and their staff tackle the myriad of health and wellbeing challenges in a practical way is to introduce a health cash plan as part of a wider wellness strategy. This provides employees with access to a range of everyday health benefits, from dental check-ups and new glasses, to physiotherapy treatments and online GP consultations.

Because they can claim back the cost of these healthcare expenses (up to annual limits), employees tend to seek treatment more quickly, and therefore prevent health issues from becoming more serious and leading to absence from work.

According to Simplyhealth, the UK’s leading health cash plan provider, many organisations are not fully aware of the real value of these benefits. Chief commercial officer Dan Spacie says: “Independent

Dan Spacie - Chief commercial officer

Dan Spacie - Chief commercial

research commissioned by Simplyhealth in 2015 has shown that health and wellbeing benefits feature regularly among the top three things that employees would like to see from their employer. We also know that millennials are increasingly looking to employers to provide cost-effective healthcare solutions.

“Health cash plans help to cover an employer’s duty of care responsibilities and, unlike private medical insurance (PMI), which is more expensive and often available to more senior members of staff, they are cost effective and allow the entire workforce to benefit from them.

“They benefit the employee, by helping them with their everyday healthcare expenses; the employer, by reducing sickness absence and improving employee retention and engagement levels. By encouraging employees to take greater responsibility of their health needs, it can also help ease some of the burden on the NHS.

“According to findings from the Simplyhealth/YouGov Everyday Health Tracker, the majority (56 per cent) of UK adults believe the NHS can’t do everything when it comes to covering all areas of healthcare.”

One advantage of implementing a wellbeing strategy is that it can help people to identify health issues, through regular check-ups and health screening, before they become serious enough to force them to take time off work.

“Dental check-ups are a great example of this,” says Mr Spacie. “Because they are covered by a health cash plan, people will have them on a regular basis. Prevention is always better than a cure and any minor problems caught early can be treated very quickly. Oral health can also be a good indicator of other health conditions, so a visit to the dentist can flag up signs of ill health that can then be dealt with as soon as possible, again reducing the risk of taking time off work.”

Musculoskeletal problems and mental health issues are two of the biggest causes of long-term sickness absence, according to the 2014 CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence Management Survey, and a comprehensive wellbeing strategy can help employers to tackle both.

“Health cash plans that include access to counselling services can be extremely beneficial in managing a number of mental health issues, such as stress and anxiety, and helping individuals to remain supported in the workplace or make a speedier return,” says Mr Spacie.

People are living longer and staying in work longer, with the result that workforces comprising four and five generations of employees are becoming more common. It is important for employers of these multi-generational workforces to understand the differing and often complex health and wellbeing needs of an age-diverse workforce.

From a financial standpoint, as an employee benefit, wellness plans are an attractive alternative to private medical insurance

Increasing longevity has created additional challenges for employers, as workers with ageing parents now find themselves needing to source good eldercare support services. According to the CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence Management Survey, more than a third of employers said that absence levels had increased because members of staff were struggling to cope with their caring responsibilities outside work. Access to eldercare services, advice, and age and mobility-related support can all be included in a workplace wellness plan.

From a financial standpoint, as an employee benefit, wellness plans are also an attractive alternative to PMI. Mr Spacie adds: “PMI is becoming more expensive and a number of providers are now excluding things like dental and optical care from their cover. It also tends to be an exclusive benefit. In a company employing 50,000 people, PMI may only be offered to the most senior managers. What about the rest of the employees?”

Health cash plans can be offered on a flexible basis, allowing employees to pick and choose the benefits that are most important to them, and have the biggest impact on their lifestyles. They encourage employees to be more involved in their own health and can lead to greater employee engagement, resulting in improved productivity. Employers can also offer wellness benefits through a tax-effective salary sacrifice scheme or offer benefits fully paid for by the employer.

Mr Spacie concludes: “Wellness propositions can bring huge benefits to organisations, helping them to deliver an effective workplace wellness strategy, reducing the costs of sickness absence, while also gaining an increase in talent retention, employee engagement and productivity. The NHS, meanwhile, also benefits from an easing on demand for some of the healthcare services that employees can access through a wellness plan. This is a win-win business scenario that makes a significant contribution to health and wellbeing in the UK.”

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