Standard wellness benefits


Freebies charge up perks

Employers can provide a number of healthcare perks, and as providers vie for business, barter for free or low-cost add-ons

There are a number of common benefits an employer can offer staff that will provide a good foundation for a health and wellbeing strategy. These include private medical insurance (PMI), healthcare cash plans, health screening and an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).

But before rushing out and buying in such benefits, most employers will want to explore whether both they and their employees are getting value for money.

Insurers and product providers are increasingly offering supplementary add-on products to their core offering, either free or at a low cost, so employers are increasingly finding that they can get more for their money.

Norwich Union, for example, offers its group income protection and group PMI customers access to its Personal Health Manager programme. Steve Bartlett, consulting director at JLT Benefits Solutions, says: "This is not very expensive, but enables people to do online medical assessments and importantly it gives the aggregated data back to the employer, so the employer would know how many people have a particular illness [and] how many are smokers [for example]." Employers can then run targeted wellness campaigns based on the feedback they are getting, focusing on aspects such as smoking or diet.

Bartlett points out that there are also some useful services that can be added to income protection schemes. "Canada Life [for example] offers a service called Best Doctors. If the employee is concerned about an illness and wants a second opinion they can get one from a leading expert as part of the income protection policy. That is making use of the benefits you already have rather than buying additional benefits," he says.

Other providers offer access to packages that include an EAP, face-to-face counselling and cash back for dental and optical treatments from £6 per employee. From April, cash plan provider HSA’s offering will also extend to health screening and occupational health from £10 per month per employee for the full package.

In those organisations where employees don’t look after their health and wellbeing, employers may find that they pay the price when it comes to insurance premiums.

Malcolm Emery, managing director of health screening firm Wellness Technology, says: "An insurer who insures a group finds [that] year on year the health risk of the group is getting worse and the only way they can address that is to put the premiums up." He adds that, in general, the health of the workforce is getting poorer. "Seventy-five per cent of disease is created by lifestyle, and the younger generation is worse than the older."

Some insurance offerings now on the market, such as the PruHealth’s PMI cover, are based on the premise that preventative action can pay dividends. With this policy, if staff demonstrate they are looking after their health by going to the gym, for example, and claim less on the policy this can lead to a reduction in premiums for the employer and cashback for the employee to set against their benefit-in-kind tax liability for PMI. Products like these give a financial incentive for employers to look after the health of staff.

Julie Waddington, consultant on the healthcare team at the financial advisory arm of Punter Southall, says: "Companies spend significant amounts of money managing the ill-health of their employees often with little or no focus on managing and maintaining their health and wellbeing. Much of my role is spent discussing PMI spend and premium increases and one of the questions I often ask my clients when they balk at yet another premium increase is what do you do to help keep your employees well, as over a longer term a healthier workforce could have a direct impact on insurance spend."

Employers see value of preventative healthcare
Alex Jones, commercial director at Norwich Union Occupational Health, says organisations are increasingly seeing the value of preventative measures to help stop employees falling ill. "Flu vaccinations are a very proactive thing with a view to mitigating absence relating to flu – particularly over the winter period," he explains.

He adds that increasing numbers of employers are also looking into benefits such as health screening for all staff. "Health screening has been traditionally for senior management but more employers are looking for less complex medicals that can be done for lower levels in the organisation, perhaps with nurses or doctors attending site or via mobile clinics carrying out cholesterol checking or giving advice about weight loss, and so on. This is where those lifestyle aspects can have a direct impact on the individual’s ability to do their job well."

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