Impact of rising benefit costs

By Mike Harrington, president, Synergy

A business encounters many costs, but the most volatile expenses are those surrounding employee benefits.

Last year, employers spent an average of $8,669 per employee, an increase of nearly $500 from the year before. Multiply that rising number by each staff member and the costs can significantly pile up. There are a number of ways the rising cost of benefits negatively impact your business, but there are also several methods for alleviating this major issue.

Hurts your bottom line

The initial implications of this trend are clear. The more your organization spends on employee benefits, the less profits it will make. One of the biggest culprits hurting your bottom line is the price of prescription medication. Already taking up 30 percent of an employer’s health care costs, prescriptions are set to rise 7.3 percent in 2017, with specialty meds rising 16.8 percent.

The bill employers have to foot for healthcare is rising overall, with 77 percent of organizations seeing increases, and nearly a quarter of those employers seeing an increase of 16 percent or more. These numbers provide hard evidence that profits will rapidly shrink if action is not taken.

However, any action must be approached carefully and strategically. One area where making a wrong decision can be especially devastating to a budget is in compliance. A single slip-up can cause lingering legal issues and attract hefty penalties and fines.

As healthcare reform continues to hang in the balance and confuse business leaders across the country, cutting corners to skimp on costs in this area is not a viable option. During these confusing times your business needs an expert versed in compliance, whether it’s a cost-effective outsourced partner or a higher-priced in-house talent.

Damages retention and recruiting

One increasingly-common way organizations are circumventing profit loss is by passing employee benefit costs to employees through higher deductibles, co-payments, and premiums. While this can look good on financial statements, it is resulting in decreased employee morale. Some workers may brush off increased healthcare costs, but many others will be motivated to look for a new job that offers more affordable benefits or a higher salary. After all, if costs go up once, employees will expect them to go up again.

Similarly, the rising cost of employee benefits is impacting the hiring and recruiting of businesses. Even if you’re able to attract an in-demand candidate into an interview and entice them into considering a formal job offer, it won’t take much to push them to a competitor. When you’re offering a similar salary and responsibilities as someone else, being able to tell a candidate that they will get great benefits at a low cost can be the deciding factor in securing their talent. Additionally, only 20 percent of employers continue to offer a retiree program. Candidates who see such a program in your job offer will take notice and view your organization as a career destination.

Ways to lessen the impact

Despite the gloom and doom surrounding the rising cost of benefits, there are a number of strategies that can lessen the negative effects.

  • Consumer-directed health plans such as HSAs are one option that allows employees to have more involvement. Such a plan provides tax incentives while also encouraging participants to consider the cost of healthcare services more deeply, meaning they may not go to the emergency room for minor health issues.
  • Utilizing virtual doctors and health hotlines can deliver an affordable alternative to employees going through costly office visits when they just have one or two questions. Not only does this save money, but it takes the anxiety out of a visit to the doctor and can help employees catch bigger illnesses before they fully develop.
  • Wellness programs are a popular option, and for good reason. Encouraging employee health with a trained coach/leader can promote healthy lifestyle choices that lessen the potential of preventable diseases and injuries. Rewards for certain milestones and regular checkups are typically included in such a program.
  • Audit your healthcare programs regularly. Whether due to confusion or ill intent, it’s often discovered that ineligible dependents are being covered when they should not be. Searching for costly inefficiencies such as this is necessary for those serious about accurate and legal benefit administration.

The rising cost of benefits

It can be difficult to take action and implement new strategies for combating the rising cost of benefits without experience, and especially when you have other pressing core business concerns. That’s why the greatest solution of all could be engaging with an expert PEO. The right outsourced HR partner can provide strategic direction and instantly save money by connecting your organization to a larger employee base providing better and cheaper benefits.

Mike Harrington is the president of The Synergy Companies. Joining the organization in 1995, Harrington has held several leadership roles within the company working to ensure its effective delivery of human resource and PEO services. Prior to joining Synergy, Mike spent five years with Safeguard Business Systems in direct sales and sales training and support. He holds a BS degree in marketing from Eastern Illinois University.

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