Voluntary Benefits & Healthcare Reform (Obamacare)

My apologies to my daily readers who didn’t receive a post from me yesterday. I wanted to make sure this next post was very well researched, and took some time speaking with a few business owners. As I mentioned in a recent post, nobody seems really sure about exactly how businesses will be affected by healthcare reform. However, after conducting one of the most unofficial surveys in history, with absolutely no scientific method, it seems relatively clear to me that a lot of employers really are considering reducing or eliminating benefits, or cutting hours, to keep themselves immune to the laws. And honestly, I can’t say that I blame them. Small businesses are the lifeblood of the American economy, and they are the ones who will most struggle as a result of these new laws.

That being said, there is some hope – for employers and employees both. As I’ve begun my training with AFLAC, my first topic of research was on voluntary and supplemental benefits. What are they, exactly? What do they do? And I like to keep an open mind, so most of my research has been done online. AFLAC provided me with some materials, of course, but in that inevitable thirst for knowledge, I wanted more. I knew what AFLAC did from experience, but I still wanted to know more. I want to learn everything I can about this new journey I am undergoing, so I can serve my clients knowing that I knew everything I needed to know to make sure they received honest, accurate counsel from me.

And although AFLAC has been in the space longer than anyone else, by no means are we alone. There are a lot of competitors out there, and more enter the space every day. And for the American small business, and for employees of those small businesses, I have to say that is a very good thing.

So what are voluntary benefits? I’ve learned there are two key elements that separate them from “traditional” benefits – major medical, vision, dental, etc.:

  • They are paid for mostly or entirely at the employee, though by going through the employer’s payroll a large discount is offered, and;
  • They focus on protecting the employee and their family financially, rather than reimbursing hospitals and doctors.

Traditional medical insurance coverage pays for doctors and hospitals, physical therapy and medical care. It doesn’t pay you, though, for the loss of income from having to miss work, or for the inconvenience of having to drive between doctors. It also doesn’t pay your regular expenses – rent or mortgage, food, etc. – if you have to take off work. That’s what voluntary benefits are for. They’re designed to give employees the ability to be self-reliant in the case of accident or illness, rather than having to rely on credit cards, banks, their employer, friends or family for help. We all want to know that we can take care of ourselves, even if something bad happens. Voluntary benefits make that possible, and at a price that would shock most people.

So how does this play in to healthcare? While many pundits are saying that insurance rates will go up, and the business owners I’ve talked to tend to confirm that, the bigger thing seems to be that plan benefits are going down. With higher deductibles and more coinsurance, America’s employees will be paying more out-of-pocket when they are sick or hurt. This is another place where voluntary benefits help – they can help cover those out-of-pocket expenses so you don’t have to. But that’s the beauty of what they do – they give you the choice of how to spend the money. And, with almost every insurer, they pay out regardless of other benefits. You’re guaranteed to be taken care of. That’s also a very comforting thought.

Although I have my own story to tell regarding these benefits, I’ve heard a lot more since I decided to take this new path. I’ve heard them from colleagues, managers, and even a couple stories from a competing agent with another company. And every one of them shows me just how important it is to be prepared for the worst. Whether you think healthcare in this country is going to get better or worse as a result of the coming changes, the one thing we can all agree on is it is definitely going to get more complicated. And I, for one, intend to be prepared. I would strongly encourage you to do the same.

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