3 Emerging Benefits Trends to Watch for in 2024
Benefits expert Angela Surra says that leaders should pay attention to telemedicine innovations, HSA legislation, and part-time employee benefits in the New Year.
As employers gear up for 2024, one of the top items on their agenda should be building a comprehensive benefits package that satisfies their workforce’s pain points. Many employers have already expressed a desire to improve their retention and engagement. For instance, 87% of small and medium-sized business (SMB) leaders said it was the most critical initiative to their success in Mineral’s 2023 State of HR Report.
Before these leaders can confidently build out their benefits package, however, businesses must understand the latest trends shaping employee benefits and the top benefits issues heading into the new year. Here are three of the most important emerging benefits trends to watch for in 2024.
Access to telemedicine is perhaps the number one benefits issue that employers should closely monitor this coming year. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services allowed certain flexibilities that provided greater access to telemedicine. Employees enjoyed tremendous benefits from these flexibilities, as many were able to seek outcare without geographic restrictions. As the pandemic flexibilities near their end in 2024, however, the fate of telehealth rests on pending legislation.
I personally believe that the impact of not passing pending telehealth legislation would be detrimental to employees, especially those who live far from urban centers. For employers, restricted access to telehealth could lead to compromised employee health and consequently, lost work days. Without telemedicine options at their disposal, employees may also need to travel farther to see their doctor. Suddenly, a quick Zoom call for a doctor’s visit becomes a full day away from work as employees travel to see their physicians.
To mitigate this risk, I suggest that employers focus on offering comprehensive telehealth plans that encompass a wide range of specialists and educational resources. Employers who offer telehealth should also provide regular reminders to their employees about the convenient options in their telehealth plan to encourage them to utilize this option.
A Health Savings Account (HSA) enables employees to lower their healthcare costs by saving pre-tax dollars for qualified medical expenses. HSAs are already very popular with older generations, who are often the largest contributors to these accounts, and the recent expansion of HSA contribution limits allows individuals to save more for their retirement healthcare expenses. The expansion also increases the number of qualified individuals who can benefit from HSA plans.
Employers should recognize the value of these expansions and include an HSA plan as an option in their medical plan offerings. Setting aside HSA dollars saves tax dollars for employers and participating employees, and an HSA account earns interest. Although the IRS sets the maximum limit, this limit is higher than an HFSA limit. An HSA is also owned by the individual and fully portable, meaning they take it with them when they leave—there is no use it or lose it rule like with HFSAs.
Finally, HSAs can be used for qualified medical expenses like deductibles and copays. They can also be used for COBRA premiums, Medicare premiums for individuals age 65 or older, health coverage premiums if unemployed and for receiving federal or state unemployment insurance. Additionally, employers can contribute funds to an HSA as an incentive for their employees. For these reasons, I would argue that reviewing HSA-compatible plans should be a top priority for employers at their next benefits renewal.
Benefits for Part-Time Employees
The percentage of part-time employees continues to rise, especially for small businesses who are often concerned about staff turnover. Offering benefits to this segment of the workforce can be a game-changer for businesses hoping to aid their recruitment and retention. Industries such as hospitality, manufacturing, and retail heavily rely on part-time workers who will be more inclined to work for a company that provides them with benefits.
There are three main options for businesses looking to provide their part-time employees with benefits. First, they can implement Individual Coverage Health Reimbursement Arrangements (ICHRA). ICHRAs help employees pay for individual health insurance premiums and/or reimburses eligible medical expenses. They are also extremely flexible, allowing employers to customize the plan eligibility requirements, such as making part-time employees a designated class.
Second, employers can lower the eligibility threshold to allow more employees to qualify for benefits. While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) set the minimum number of weekly hours at 30 to receive full-time status, employers can lower that threshold as they see fit.
Finally, Minimum Essential Coverage (MEC) plans provide a cost-effective solution to providing basic healthcare benefits to part-time workers. While not as comprehensive as standard plans, they can provide part-time employees who fall short of the eligibility threshold with coverage for a wide range of medical needs.