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3 Lessons about Employee Benefits Learned during the Pandemic

by Denise O’Malley, the Healthy Living Maestro at You Define WellnessDisclaimer: Ms. O’Malley refers to herself as a reformed insurance agent having spent decades in the insurance industry.  She is not currently licensed nor does she sell insurance products.  All comments contained in this article are based on her experience and the reader is cautioned to not act on any suggestions without the counsel of a licensed insurance agent with knowledge of the concepts contained herein.


When it feels like life is throwing mud balls at me, I always step back to consider what positive lessons I can learn from the experience.

The pandemic that started in 2020 has gifted us with three important messages about life planning when it comes to employee benefit programs.

  • Have a plan for well living.
  • Have a plan for sick living.
  • Have a plan for dying.

Let’s start with the latter lesson and most heartbreaking: Have a plan for DYING.  No one likes talking about this subject, but death is inevitable and – when it happens – it can be an avoidable financial burden on the family left behind.

EXPERIENCE: In 2020, we heard stories of trailers full of unclaimed bodies as families already devastated by unemployment found themselves unable to pay thousands for burials.  

LESSON LEARNED: If you are an employer, offering employer paid life insurance equal to at least 1 year of their income + $10,000 for burial expenses isn’t going to break your bank, and it might save your employee – or their family members – from undue financial hardship.

Let’s not forget the actual plan: having wishes detailed in legal documents such as a will and medical powers of attorney.  Estate planning is crucial and pre-paid legal programs are affordable voluntary employee benefits.

The middle lesson is one that employers offering benefits have already learned: Have a plan for SICK LIVING.  Medical insurance is most likely the #1 requested employee benefit program and the reason: most people cannot afford the high cost of traditional medical care.

EXPERIENCE: We have yet to see the financial impact on society of the 2020 COVID-19 hospitalizations.  According to the headline in a 11/5/2020 article in HealthCare Finance, the “average cost of hospital care for COVID-19 ranges from $51,000 to $78,000, based on age.

Let me remind you that insurance does not pay the full medical bill as deductibles and co-insurance come into play.  Assuming your group medical plan has a $5,000 deductible and a 90/10 coinsurance, and the bill is on the lower end at $51,000, your employee’s financial responsibility would still be $9,600.

LESSON LEARNED: The definition of insurance is the “transfer of a perceived financial risk”.  If you don’t see a financial risk OR you have the financial resources to absorb the risk, then don’t buy insurance.

Unexpected hospitalization is a true financial risk that can wipe away savings faster than almost anything else and a supplemental hospitalization gap policy is a low-cost way to absorb a financial hit.  Back in the day when I was an insurance agent, I often counseled my clients to run the numbers: high deductible plan + gap policy vs. low deductible plan.

Now for the last lesson and one most employers overlook: Have a plan for WELL LIVING.

EXPERIENCE: There is little rhyme or reason – but a great deal of speculation – as to why some household members contracted COVID-19 and others did not.  

LESSON LEARNED: One fact remains clear… the surest way to avoid the high cost of medical claims is to not have them in the first place.  We are NOT advocating avoidance of care when it is needed, but rather taking whatever measures we can to ensure we are living healthy lives.

We can achieve this by having a plan for well living.

The solution sounds so simple but…

Our experience is 61% of those we work with don’t know where to get started and are looking to their employer for support.

UPDATE: A friend of You Define Wellness reminded us not to forget Financial Wellness.  Yes, any plan for living well, living sick, or even dying should include financial wellness.  Truth is, although we mentioned a few considerations, there are simply too many to list!  We are contemplating turning these three lessons into a comprehensive study-guide/workshop during 2021; contact us if you have questions.

This is where we step in.  You Define Wellness is a network of hundreds of independent health & wellness experts with a myriad of training, certifications, and experience.  We understand how overwhelming it can be to LIVE WELL: where to begin and options available.  That’s why we’ve created an Individual WellBeing Assessment with one-on-one personal coaching and included this in our new employee benefit program, Pathways: a multi-dimensional Wellness @ Work option.

We offer complimentary consultations, contact us.