How can employers help with employees’ everyday healthcare needs?

Need to know

  • Employers that provide support with routine health needs are likely to see returns through reduced absence and increased employee engagement.
  • Health cash plans have grown in popularity as a means of helping employees with the costs of routine healthcare because they are affordable and cover a range of benefits.
  • Poor dental and eye health and hearing loss can impact an employee’s general wellbeing. It can also affect their productivity and performance, and increase sickness absence.

Workplace wellness is now a top priority for organisations, with many developing strategies to support all aspects of their employees’ health and wellbeing through a broad range of benefits, including health cash plans, hospital treatment plans, private medical insurance (PMI), group income protection, and employee assistance programmes (EAPs).

However, it is often everyday health needs, such as dental care, eyecare, chiropractic treatment, and hearing tests where people look to their employer for help.

Ed Watling, healthcare business development manager at Mattioli Woods, says: “There is a growing focus on employers assisting employees with routine healthcare. They have a range of options available, including standalone schemes for eyecare, hearing and dental available via voucher plans or insurance. Employers [that] provide support in these areas are likely to see returns through reduced absence and increased employee engagement.”

Low-cost healthcare support

Health cash plans are a popular option, providing cover at a relatively low cost and enabling staff to access a range of benefits, from dental check-ups and new glasses, to hearing tests and physiotherapy treatments.

Courtney Marsh, commercial director at Health Shield, says: “When it comes to everyday healthcare needs, health cash plans have represented the go-to option for employers for many years. They are low-cost, very easy to use, help [organisations] meet and exceed their duty-of-care responsibilities and with fast, no-quibble pay outs, the returns are obvious. What’s more, they can be tailored to individual and corporate needs and budgets.

“The product has evolved over the years in line with market need, and while the core everyday benefits such as dental, optical and chiropody remain at the heart of health cash plans, providers are also widening their wellbeing support.”

At Health Shield, for example, new services include workplace health screening, physio triage and cancer screening, which complement other innovations such as virtual GP surgery, 24/7 counselling and support helplines, online health portals and home assistance cover, adds Marsh.

According to Willis Towers Watson’s Health and wellbeing barometer 2017, published in July 2017, health cash plans have become the second most popular benefit in the UK behind workplace pensions. Mike Blake, director at Willis Towers Watson Health and Benefits, says: “Their great value lies in the fact that, unlike most other insurance products, they are designed to be used regularly to recover unavoidable everyday, healthcare expenses. As a consequence, they can prove to be of particular value to lower wage earners and the [just about managing] JAM population.”

Some industry experts also advocate a broader, more proactive approach to routine health needs in the workplace. John Dean, chief executive officer at employee benefits consultancy Punter Southall Health and Protection, says: “Everyday healthcare schemes such as cash plans are much more widely used in the workplace than medical insurance, which is only usually used when someone is ill. For those who struggle to pay for [optical] or dental appointments they can be really useful, particularly as the benefit can usually be extended to spouses and children.

“However, the use of cash plans is restricted by two issues: firstly, insurance premium tax is applied at a rate of 12%, and secondly, cash plans are treated as taxable benefits in kind, increasing the cost both for employers and employees. A more forward-thinking approach to workplace benefits by the government would make [employers] more likely to proactively support their employees’ wellbeing.”

Proactive approach

A proactive approach to employee wellbeing could reduce the impact that problems such as poor dental health or loss of hearing can have on an employee’s overall health, including their physical and psychological wellbeing.

Luke Prankard, practice lead, health and wellbeing at Thomsons Online Benefits, says: “The key thing is to provide employees with the ability to look after their health in a way that is convenient and personal to them, while ensuring they have the support they need to understand how their health concern affects them and their work on a daily basis.

“For loss of hearing, offering support through an EAP programme is part of the wider physical support [employers] can provide to address the psychological side of the health concern, before it becomes a bigger issue. Too often, we focus on the physical impact of a condition and don’t think to consider the psychological.”