Key Insights from Fall 2020 Industry Benchmarking Calls

Summary of new programs launching during open enrollment 2021, and the various ways to support employees through the COVID-19 pandemic.

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November 23, 2020

In fall 2020, employers took part in conversations with their industry peers to share new programs being launched for 2021. While the pandemic may have disrupted some employers’ plans for new initiatives, employers found numerous ways to communicate to employees during open enrollment. Changes highlighted included pharmacy benefits, programs to support employees with specific conditions and expansions of well-being offerings.

In addition, the 11 industry groups would have been remiss if they hadn’t discussed how they are supporting employees throughout the pandemic. Their support ranges from helping working parents navigate school closures, to offering COVID-19 testing (and eventually the vaccine), to adjusting leave offerings now that the pandemic has been in play for months.

Below is a sample of the different approaches shared across the 11 industry calls.

Open Enrollment 2021 Update

Despite the demands placed on HR/Benefits staff during the pandemic, a remarkable number of companies are changing their open enrollment process or even adding new programs. While some were focused on how to reimagine the open enrollment experience (for example, no in-person town halls!), others are getting new programs or benefit changes off the ground.

#1Communicating During Open Enrollment

The “name of the game” for many employers on the calls was to pivot their content delivery to a virtual experience. For many, this was an opportunity to test virtual benefit fairs and health expos; others tried sending materials directly to employees’ homes.

Below are examples of how employers are learning about their employees’ financial needs:

Insurance Company

Three insurance companies are hosting virtual benefit fairs. One is doing so for the first time, after previously hosting in-person events, and is leveraging Skype meetings as a platform. Another is using Microsoft Teams since it provides a lot of technology options. A third employer is communicating over a series of webinars on Welltok’s platform, using 1-2 page documents for support.

Technology

A technology employer is doing something similar through a virtual expo planned by its partner, Corporate Health Educators. The expo is a collection of videos on health-related topics complemented by one-on-one sessions with their benefits administrator to ask questions.

Pharmacy

Even in advance of the pandemic, one employer in the pharmaceutical industry had eliminated on-site health fairs in favor of virtual office hours and chat options. Not only does this approach save money and resources on producing things like giveaways, it provides a more personalized experience to employees, since they can actively get their questions answered during the meetings.

Aerospace and Defense

One aerospace and defense employer sent two face masks with its open enrollment mailers.

Technology

A tech employer has spread out its benefits communications throughout the year by creating monthly digital newsletters (in conjunction with internal communication firm Davis and Company). These communications focus on what’s new, like Teladoc.

Transportation and Shipping

A transportation and shipping employer shared its phased approach in engaging employees on wellness platform ShareCare. In the first phase, employees will learn about their options and engage with the site. Employees will also be able to earn health account funding. The goal is to make benefit offerings as easy as possible so it’s one less thing for employees to worry about. The company will measure the platform’s success through utilization rates of the programs highlighted on the site.

#2Pharmacy Changes

While some employers may have delayed making changes to pharmacy coverage under its pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) or medical plan due to the pandemic, the conversations reflect that employers in some industries—health care, government and aerospace/defense in particular—have kept those plans in motion.

Government

One government/education/nonprofit employer focused on specialty drug costs has partnered with a new PBM, Navitus, that provides transparency surrounding administrative fees. The employer receives the rebate exactly how it is processed through the plan.

Health Care Services

A health care employer shared that in 2021, its main change is partnering with ImpaxRX, a strategy carve-out of specialty medications to help employees receive necessary treatment.

#3Addressing Musculoskeletal (MSK) Conditions

Employers continue pinpointing ways to help employees suffering from MSK conditions. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic may have exacerbated symptoms for some employees working at home, away from a proper ergonomic setup in an office. Three employers shared their new programming on MSK.

Insurance Company

One employer started covering virtual physical therapy at the beginning of the pandemic. Through

Another insurance employer is addressing MSK issues through ergonomics and prevention. For employees working remotely during the pandemic, those who complete an ergonomic assessment are eligible to request the equipment necessary for a well-supported working environment.

Transportation and Shipping

One transportation employer is implementing a mandatory second opinion programs for spinal surgery through Mayo Clinic. The employer will pay 100% of the costs of the surgery if the employee completes the second opinion. If they don’t get second opinion, the surgery will not be covered.

#4Supporting Employees with Cancer

A cancer diagnosis can upend an employee’s world, and treatment options can be overwhelming. Cancer drives a significant amount of costs for both the employer and employee, so some employers are exploring new ways to support employees living with cancer.

Pharmacy

A pharmacy/biotech/medical products employer entered into a partnership with Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to give its employees expedited access to cancer care through a program called MSK Direct. There is no cost to the employer.

Transportation and Shipping

One employer on the transportation and shipping call shared that it is implementing a new cancer support benefit called Access Hope. The program focuses on the top 20% of complex cancers and is affiliated with City of Hope in California.

The program has three components: 1) Cancer support line service in which nurses address questions. 2) Expert advisory review in which physicians consult one another to improve the patient experience. 3) Accountable precision oncology service that helps employees get access to care no matter where they are. Expert physicians “speak in the ear” of local doctors.

#5Infertility and Maternity Programs

Employers on the industry calls shared a myriad of ways to support employees looking to become parents in the impending (and somewhat distant) future. Efforts in this area had the common goals of providing additional benefits to employees who aren’t normally covered by the health plan and working to ensure that mom (and baby) receive the highest quality of care.

Technology

One consumer goods employer is addressing high-risk pregnancies through a high-touch support program. During the first telephone visit, a nurse will assess the potential for the pregnancy to be high risk and explain how the program works. For low-risk pregnancies, there are only two visits; high-risk pregnancies require more touchpoints to ensure that American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) guidelines are being followed. The goal is to reduce short gestational pregnancies and avoid neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) stays for the baby.

Similarly, high-risk pregnancies are also on the radar for another consumer goods employer. This employer is implementing Ovia in the first or second quarter of 2021. Previous maternity programs were with its former health plan; now that the company has moved its plan to a new carrier, it took a carve-out approach.

Aeospace and Defense

One aerospace and defense employer has a midyear open enrollment. Its biggest initiative this year was adding the infertility and maternity vendor Maven. The employer selected the program based on the variety of modules an employee can learn about – from NICU admissions, C-section rates and ER visits to postpartum depression and return to work. Maven will also administer its fertility benefit, which provides $35K to employees needing fertility services. Any costs above the $35K will be discounted when using the Maven network. Lastly, Maven also offers a “planning” module for employees considering starting a family.

#6Well-being Stays on the Radar Screen

Well-being had a remarkable year in 2020, with many employers expanding its offerings to address more areas of well-being, reducing the costs to access existing services and pivoting opportunities that were previously available on-site to a virtual format. Some employers on the calls shared that they are continuing that momentum into 2021.

Health Care Services

Three health care employers shared their approaches for retaining employees: offering a student loan benefit. Through the company Ed Assist, eligible employees receive a monthly payment towards their principal balance of a student loan (employees still need to pay their normal payment). Full-time employees receive $150/month, and part-time employees get $75 monthly. About 17,000 employees received the benefit.

Another health care employer saw similar demand for its student loan programs, upward of 20%. The monthly stipend ranged from $100 to $200/month. Analysis of the program debunked the assumption that younger employees would be the core participants; in fact, some employees in their 60s received support.

A third employer is partnering with SoFi to provide a $50/month subsidy.

Pharmacy

A pharma/biotech/medical product employer is adding an online mental health program to its well-being lineup. Learn to Live supports employees with depression, anxiety, stress and isolation through clinical assessments and personal coaching components. The company considered incentivizing participation and tying it to the well-being program but decided against it because that would require employees to disclose their participation.

COVID-19 Update

Back in May, the industry groups first came together to discuss how they are supporting employees through the pandemic – from leave and flexibility and well-being programs, to covering telehealth costs and screening protocols for return to workplace. Now that the pandemic has been in play for about 6 months in the U.S., the same industry groups came back together to connect on a different set of priorities – childcare, on-site services and leave.

#7Childcare and Caregiver Support for Employees

The pandemic-driven issue that was top of mind for employers and employees alike was the childcare crunch: With many schools running under a virtual or hybrid format, many employees are scrambling to find reliable childcare so they can stay productive at their jobs (whether working at home or reporting to a worksite). Below are some ways that employers are supporting employees.

Health Care Services

One employer in the government, education and nonprofit sector has a comprehensive approach to supporting working parents, which is all visually displayed in an infographic that guides employees to the resources that best meets their needs. For instance, some employees may need childcare right at the worksite, while others may be looking for sitters to come into the home.

Insurance Company

A company in the insurance industry shared its eight-part webinar series for parents facilitated by Peace at Home Parenting Solutions. Topics include: (1) Learning from Home: Make it a Successful Experience; (2) School in 2020: What are My Options and What’s Best for My Child?; (3) Opening Up and Back to School: Help Tweens and Teens Stay Safe; (4) Back to School with Joy and Optimism: Whatever It Looks Like (Ages 6 - 12); (5) Parents of Toddlers and Preschoolers: Frazzled About Choices?; (6) Back to School: Support Your Child with Special Needs; (7) Pandemic Pods: A Roadmap for Reducing Risk and Building Trust; and (8) Keeping Your Kids Healthy During COVID-19: From Pregnancy to College.

Retail

Given the demands of the retail industry, it’s no surprise that employers are focused on ways to support employees so they are able to report to work at stores that serve customers. One retailer reported offering backup childcare and access to Sitter City for longer-term childcare needs. This retailer is also planning to roll out Headspace to address resiliency and stress management among its staff.

A second employer found that employees were having a hard time navigating the childcare benefits that were available to them, so they created an online hub called Family Resources Center that organized programs by children’s ages.

Health Care Services

With health care employees needing childcare in order to serve patients at hospitals and medical offices, four different employers shared their approaches to support employees:

  • An endowment was created to provide financial support for employees needing childcare and eldercare. It pays $60/week for each child or elder. While only 120 employees have used it, the company will continue offering it for the foreseeable future.
  • Another employer also subsidizes childcare/eldercare, up to $15/hour. The approval process happens at the individual worksite and is managed internally. The employer reported good utilization.
  • Frontline workers were the focus of another health care employer; childcare support was initially offered. Now, flexibility and accommodations are the focus.
  • Another health care employer provides access to backup care but doesn’t subsidize it. The employer does provide on-site care at a limited number of locations.
Pharmacy

An employer in the pharma/biotech/medical devices industry provides access to an online tutoring platform, complete with live chat and videos. Through “Homework Connection,” employees can access 5 hours of free tutoring per month. Beyond that, employees can also get discounts on additional tutoring sessions. Backup care was also expanded, which covers adults as well. Additionally, the employer offers “College Coach” to assist families with college admissions, test preparation and financial planning.

#8On-site Services

The need for on-site services is dependent on whether employees are reporting to a worksite versus working from home, something that seems to correlate various industries. Employers explored ways they have configured vaccine distribution, COVID-19 testing, EAP services, pharmacy services, and clinics.

Technology

A technology employer organized drive-thru clinics as a substitute for traditional on-site flu shots. Employees, spouses and children under 9 were eligible. The clinics were in high demand, with 3 days in October and a day in November fully booked. Mondays were the best days, since virtual learning doesn’t take place on that day in this area of the country.

Insurance Company

One health care provider got creative in distributing vaccines: by creating “to go” kits to clinicians qualified to administer vaccine to bring back to their departments. That way, a nurse/clinician can give shots to everyone already working closely together, opposed to employees going to another area of the hospital for a shot and potentially cross contaminating their coworkers.

Retail

A retailer reported that its on-site pharmacy has stayed open and has been thriving. Employees feel more comfortable going there instead of to a pharmacy in the community. The retailer also hosted a drive-up flu shot clinic; employees were asked to stay in their car for 15 minutes afterward for liability reasons.

Manufacturing

A manufacturer reported its decision to keep EAP on-site. The company’s vendor, Care Partners, created social distancing room right at the plant, where employees can meet with an EAP counselor. This meets the needs of those who are having trouble finding a behavioral health counselor, especially in rural areas.

#9Leave and Time Away

It seems that every employer has taken a second look, and even made some concrete changes, to its leave programs. Given that employees are in unprecedented times, flexibility and paid time off are critical for those caring for children at home or unable to work a regular schedule.

Consumer Products

An employer in consumer products group shared its comprehensive leave program specially designed for the pandemic:

  • Pandemic pay/leave for 2 weeks.
  • Personal leave of absence for up to 90 days, while continuing benefits at active employee rates. This can be used by employees with high-risk conditions or childcare lapses.
  • PTO that can be temporarily borrowed up to the annual accrual before earning it.
  • PTO cash out up to 5 days.
  • PTO accrual up to 5 days over the maximum annual accrual.
  • Communications campaign to encourage PTO use, including a raffle for employees to post a picture of their “staycation” on internal social media.

#10COVID-19 Testing

To test on-site or not to test on-site: What is the answer? Some employers are looking to bring rapid and PCR testing directly to employees at the worksite as a way to provide a needed service to families but also help protect the health of those reporting to work. Four employers shared their approach to testing; all varied in approach and scope.

Financial Services

Two employers in the financial services industry shared their approaches to testing. The first employer works with One Medical on return-to-worksite for essential employees. At this point, employees are provided with testing resources in the doctor’s office and at home through mail-in kits. This employer is considering doing a rapid testing pilot of employees coming back on-site, but don’t feel comfortable with a test solution yet.

The second financial services employer is using PCR testing for cohorts returning to the office. By partnering with a local health care provider, employees are tested every 2 weeks; the test results are available within 24 hours. If an employee doesn’t get tested, his/her access badge is deactivated. The company has also provided test kits to the home through Let’s Get Checked.

Transportation and Shipping

Two transportation and shipping employers have focused their testing on COVID “hotspots.” For the first employer, Quest and Mayo brought antibody and PCR testing to select locations. Broadly, the percent positive was a little lower than the national average but generally followed the pattern of the country. Those who received a positive test result were provided support via a nurseline.

The other transportation employer hosted on-site PCR testing at specific hubs. Its focus was on identifying active infections where possible. The company isn’t getting as high a participation rate as anticipated.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Open Enrollment 2021 Update
  2. COVID-19 Update