Cash plans can be a cost-effective way for employers to extend a wellbeing strategy to all staff. Sam Barrett assesses the benefits
Wellbeing is the buzzword in the corporate healthcare market, with everyone from medical insurers to group risk providers adding in benefits to support it. But while it’s possible to spend a fortune improving employee wellbeing, a healthcare cash plan can go a long way to achieving this for a relatively low premium.
Many of the cash plan providers have certainly recognised the potential in the field, introducing a host of wellbeing benefits over the last couple of years. For example, Westfield Health offers a wellbeing and alternative therapies option on its flexible Mosaic plan that allows employers to add between £75 and £200 of annual allowance for a range of benefits, including aromatherapy, Indian head massage, hypnotherapy and sports massage.
A similar package of treatments is also available on Health Shield’s plans through its health and wellbeing benefit. This gives up to £300 a year towards more than 20 different wellbeing treatments, including hot stone massage, hopi ear candles and nutritional tests.
“These are all treatments that can enhance an employee’s sense of wellbeing,” says Health Shield marketing manager Jennie Doyle. “They don’t need to be ill to claim and, even on the lowest level, there’s enough benefit – £80 a year – to be able to cover at least a couple of treatments.”
Simplyhealth took a slightly different approach with the introduction of its wellbeing benefit, myWellbeing, in January. This is an online portal that includes a GP surgery service, giving members access to a GP helpline and webcam, as well as a prescription service and symptom checker, an EAP service, a range of health information and assessment tools such as its Back Care app and online health risk assessment tool. The package also includes a variety of lifestyle benefits such as discounted gym membership and money off days out and other treats.
“We wanted to wrap together all the benefits that can help people in their everyday lives and enable them to be healthier and happier,” explains Simplyhealth sales and marketing director Raman Sankaran. “This could be anything from accessing a GP to enjoying a day out with the family or finding out how to get fit.”
But, while all of these benefits may have the wellbeing label, the cash plan providers argue that their support of employee health and happiness goes far beyond these specific benefits.
“Cash plans have always been a valuable wellbeing tool,” says Westfield Health sales and marketing director Paul Shires. “Whether an employee uses it to be able to afford to see the dentist, check their child’s symptoms at 3am through the GP helpline or get some professional advice about a legal matter, it can provide considerable reassurance and help to look after the whole family’s wellbeing.”
Advo Group corporate director Colin Boxall agrees. He believes that cash plans work on two levels, delivering targeted wellbeing through some of the health benefits but also creating a positive feeling among employees.
“Allowing immediate treatment for painful musculoskeletal problems or direct access to specialists and diagnostic tests can give an employee considerable peace of mind,” he explains. “But it can also be more subtle than that. Knowing your kids don’t have to wear the standard NHS glasses or that you can have the occasional sports massage contributes to an overall rise in an employee’s quality of life, fostering a closer tie to the employer.”
Unsurprisingly, where an employer pays for the plan, employees’ sense of wellbeing can be intensified. Sankaran says: “A company-paid cash plan sends a proactive message to employees that they’re valued by their employer. This can support their psychological wellbeing, as well as helping the employer to attract and retain key personnel.”
The ability of a cash plan to drive employee engagement has also been recognised by employers, with providers seeing a distinct shift in the reasons why an organisation invests in these products. Shires says: “Cash plans were resilient during the recession as the low-cost high-value model meant there were a viable alternative to offering a pay rise. But now the economy is picking up again, we’re seeing employers using them to support their recruitment and retention strategies.”
Many of the cash plans also include an online health risk assessment that can be used to shape a health and wellbeing strategy. As well as providing the employee with a snapshot of their health, and recommendations and advice to help them make improvements, employers can also receive an anonymous report giving feedback on the health of their workforce.
Shires says this information can be invaluable when designed a strategy. “The report will highlight any areas where there’s room for improvement and enable the employer to target its wellbeing programme to key areas of concern for employees,” he says. “Doing this helps to make the campaign more successful as employees will be more engaged.”
These reports also serve as a benchmarking tool, enabling an employer to see how any interventions have helped to reduce problems. This can be particularly useful for justifying expenditure on health and wellbeing initiatives, and for demonstrating an organisation’s commitment to its employees.
Cash plan pricing is keen too. As an example, on the lowest level of its company-paid Essentials plan, which costs from £1 a week, Health Shield provides a package of benefits, including £60 a year each for dental, optical and chiropody; £200 of hospital benefit, including consultations and MRI scans; £160 towards physiotherapy and other similar treatments; and £80 of health and wellbeing benefit.
This means that even if all the employee selects is the health and wellbeing benefit, it’s possible to claim back more than the annual premium. Chuck in a couple of trips to the dentist during the year, at a minimum of £18.80 a pop assuming NHS dental charges apply, and the employee has claimed back £117.60 on a plan that only cost their employer £52 – equivalent to a return of 226 per cent.
Bump the premium up to the top level at £5.60 a week, and the benefits increase significantly. As well as £210 of annual benefit each for dental, optical and chiropody, the hospital benefit doubles to £400 and the health and wellbeing benefit jumps to £230.
Assume the employee maxes out the health and wellbeing benefit, and still has two £18.80 dental appointments, this brings the total annual benefit claimed over the year to £267.60 – slightly less than the £291.20 the plan costs the employer. But, with hundreds of pounds of other benefits available to claim, including discounts on gym memberships and family days out, this shortfall of £23.60 can easily be swallowed up in claims.
But, while the maths stacks up in favour of a cash plan, Sankaran says it only works if the employer is prepared to put a bit of effort in. “A cash plan is only as good as the communications package,” he explains. “An employer needs to promote it effectively to ensure that employees understand how it works and get real value out of it. The increase in the wellbeing focus of cash plans will help employers find ways to communicate it.”
Using a cash plan to support a wellbeing strategy is something that Avanti Healthcare healthcare manager Tim Smithers has seen more and more in the workplace. “There is a general lack of awareness among employees about what a cash plan is and how to use it,” he explains. “By linking it to a wellbeing strategy you create a virtuous circle where the wellbeing message promotes the cash plan and vice versa.”
There’s plenty of help from the providers to support a marketing strategy. Although they’re more than happy to work with advisers and can provide everything from posters to newsletters to help promote their products, the cash plan providers’ roots in the direct market mean they are comfortable delivering presentations to employees about the benefits of their products. For example, Westfield Health has 30 members of staff responsible for visiting employers to promote the benefits of cash plans and drive member engagement.
As well as general promotion, many of the cash plan providers will also run sessions that are focused specifically on health and wellbeing. Some of the providers have also developed marketing literature directly relating to setting up wellbeing initiatives.
“There’s a real demand for benefits that support wellbeing,” adds Shires. “Employers have seen how it drives employee engagement and a cash plan can be a low cost to achieve significant benefits.”