Is your employee benefit plan doing the most for you and your employees?

By Janet M. Nahorney

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An employee benefit plan is one of the most important items a business can offer to its employees, and obviously there is no “one size fits all” formula for creating and managing them. Plans must make sense for both the employer and employee in equal measures for them to truly work. They need to be as fair to employees as they are cost-effective to employers.

Employee benefit plans should also evolve over time and meet the potentially changing needs of the workforce; what proved most worthwhile as a plan 10 years ago may need to have some alterations made today to ensure it provides maximum value to all involved. There are a number of trends that have been identified as vital to today’s employee benefit plans.

The first involves employee health and wellness programs, which are becoming increasingly popular offerings in employee benefit plans. It goes without saying that healthy employees are more motivated, more energetic and overall more productive. Wellness plans encourage employees to live a healthy lifestyle, and that results in fewer sick days and health care expenses that need to be absorbed by employers. What’s more, offering such programs as part of a plan can be positive for employer-employee relations and build a friendly and cooperative workplace environment. It is something all employers should be considering.

Another area is the health care savings account, particularly for employees who have higher-deductible health care plans. More and more businesses are opting for plans with higher deductibles and having the employees absorb these costs.

Health care savings accounts, which allow employees to contribute up to $3,350 annually for individual coverage or $6,750 for family coverage, are an increasingly reliable way for employees to manage these costs. Earnings and interest on these accounts are tax-exempt, and after age 65 funds can be withdrawn tax-free for nonmedical expenses that are subject to ordinary income tax.

Finally there is the trend toward automation in benefit plans — doing away with traditional paperwork and migrating toward online functionalities. Automating this process will reduce cost, burdensome filing and paper-shuffling; it streamlines the process and brings more efficiencies and fewer hassles to plan administrators. And for employees, this increased efficiency is resulting in faster filings of claims and, ultimately, quicker reimbursements.

These are only a few of the top trends in administering employee benefit plans in today’s businesses, but each can prove highly useful in cutting costs and keeping employees healthy.

Janet M. Nahorney is a certified public accountant and partner with BlumShapiro, the largest regional business advisory firm based in New England, with offices in Shelton and West Hartford in addition to Massachusetts and Rhode Island. She can be reached at jnahorney@blumshapiro.com or 860-561-6831.

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