Employers Craft Health Benefits to Cushion Covid-19 Shock

In a year racked by the pandemic and economic turmoil, many companies are using the annual open-enrollment period for health insurance to provide employees with what some say they need: stability. After Covid-19 struck, Bryan Aycock, director of benefits at game developer Zynga Inc., quickly adjusted. The company waived copays […]

In a year racked by the pandemic and economic turmoil, many companies are using the annual open-enrollment period for health insurance to provide employees with what some say they need: stability.

After Covid-19 struck, Bryan Aycock, director of benefits at game developer Zynga Inc., quickly adjusted. The company waived copays for telemedicine appointments for several months and expanded a backup child and elder-care benefit. It fast-tracked a global mental-health support program slated for 2021 to launch in November, and began planning for a musculoskeletal support benefit to offset the ergonomic challenge of working from home.

By the time the company’s annual open-enrollment period arrived in October, Mr. Aycock had helped roll out a host of new benefits aimed at addressing life under Covid-19, including virtual meditation events. “Reducing anxiety and stress was very top of mind for me,” he said.

Despite rising costs, many employers are opting to leave health benefits unchanged to eliminate the stress of a carrier shift or premium increase, health-care consultants say. Others are working to meet needs the pandemic has spotlighted with such benefits as critical illness insurance, hospital indemnity and more robust telemedicine offerings, these people say. As of 2019, 158 million Americans, 49.6% of the population of the U.S., were receiving employer-sponsored health insurance, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“There’s a concerted effort on the employer part to make sure the benefit offerings are particularly supportive of individuals,” said Kate Brown, who leads Mercer LLC’s Center for Health Innovation, which advises companies on benefits technology.

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