Health and financial wellbeing are key to employee retention

FANews – 1st February 20201

Employee benefits are one of the best ways of attracting top talent, but keeping employees can be difficult, even in challenging economic times.

With medical expenses constantly on the increase and ongoing concerns around employee health due to the Covid-19 pandemic, group gap cover is an excellent benefit to add to the basket. Not only does it act as a differentiating factor for forward-thinking employers, it is also mutually beneficial in safeguarding employee health, productivity and financial wellbeing.

Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of having healthy employees, as well as why medical aid is so important. But as lockdown is lifted and more people enter the workplace, so the risk of contracting the virus increases, which has a knock-on impact for businesses. In addition, medical expense shortfalls are a growing reality, not only around the virus, but with medical treatments in general. These unanticipated out of pocket expenses can put financial strain on employees, and in turn on employers, an outcome which group gap cover can help to prevent.

“Covid-19 may be classified as a Prescribed Minimum Benefit (PMB), which means that treatment will be covered by medical aids, but there are still shortfalls involved. If a member has to go to casualty over a weekend or after hours, there will be additional fees involved, and if they chose to make use of a non-network designated service provider (DSP) then there will be co-payments,” says Tony Singleton, CEO at Turnberry.

“During the pandemic we have assisted our members with shortfalls, co-payments and penalties related to the virus as well as other medical conditions. We have also taken our assistance a step further, assisting members’ families through our critical illness benefit, which provides a R10,000 benefit pay out on the death of the policy-holder due to Covid-19. At a time where disposable income is stretched to the limit, this can be invaluable in easing financial strain,” he adds.

The pandemic has put everyone under financial strain, including businesses. Employers that used to offer comprehensive medical aid as an employee benefit may no longer be in a position to do so. However, downgraded medical scheme contributions could leave employees exposed. Group gap cover is a cost-effective option to increase cover and provide additional advantages such as casualty benefits, increased cancer cover and trauma counselling benefits, among others.

“The reality is that in our current situation, there is no single medical aid option that will cover 100% of the costs for hospitalisation or medical procedures. There will always be shortfalls and co-payments, which can run into tens of thousands of Rands. With the low increase in medical aid rates for 2021 we will no doubt see even greater out of pocket expenses,” says Stephen Desmet, Financial Advisor at Accolade Financial Planning.

“When employees need treatment and cannot afford a co-payment, they may defer, negatively impacting their health and thus their productivity. They may also ask their employer for a loan to cover shortfalls or co-payments, which creates an increased financial burden on the employer. Human Resources departments are often left trying to manage microlending facilities and understand medical claims, creating an administrative nightmare. A group gap cover policy can address all of these challenges,” he adds.

Group gap cover offers preferential rates and more lenient underwriting as well as reduced waiting periods, which means that it is more attractive and cheaper than individual rates. It can be tailored to compliment the medical aid options available to employees to ensure that it provides comprehensive cover. It can be offered as a voluntary or compulsory benefit.

“Aside from these benefits, having group gap cover in place can actually help to improve employee health, wellbeing and productivity. Gap cover reduces out of pocket expenses resulting from medical expense shortfalls, co-payments, sub-limits, and other bills, so that people can seek the help they need. It also provides additional benefits that can assist with the mental and financial strain living in the pandemic has caused. This results in reduced rates of absenteeism, shorter recovery periods and generally higher levels of happiness, health and productivity,” says Singleton.

“My advice to employers contemplating group gap cover is don’t delay. The liability around out of pocket medical expenses continues to grow, and gap cover provides excellent benefits and value for money. With the holiday season coming up, and the future uncertain thanks to Covid-19, the time to act is now,” Desmet concludes.