Advisers have a crucial role in educating employers about protection cover and benefit options as Covid restrictions start to lift in the workplace and across society.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister addressed the nation and revealed while a final decision on lifting remaining Covid restrictions on 19 July will be delivered next week, the PM’s plan will mean businesses such as nightclubs will reopen, and the legal obligation on wearing a face covering would be removed.
Commenting in the wake of the PM’s speech, Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, told Health & Protection that the employee benefits industry needs to remind employers of the importance of their company-funded private healthcare options such as private medical insurance and health cash plans as tools to support employees during this period.
“Some employers will also want to remind employees of the other valuable protections that they have in place.
“For instance, group income protection cover is often not seen as a high-profile benefit despite its importance in protecting an employee’s income if on long-term sick leave, and right now the awareness of such a benefit might go a very long way in easing ease anxieties about long Covid infections.”
According to Steve Ellis, head of benefit consulting at Prosperis, the role advisers play is crucial as many employers may not be aware of the services provided by their insurers.
“For example, the Unum Help @ Hand offers remote physiotherapy which potentially can help with managing people who may have musculoskeletal issues following due to working from then kitchen table.
“A number of employees will have the effects of long Covid and using the risk insurers where a group income protection plan is in place can assist in setting up graduated return to work policies.
“The EAP provision can be considered in helping employees overcome the mental obstacles of a return to the workplace particularly if they are recovering from Covid.”
Dr Julie Denning, managing director at Working to Wellbeing, says that health insurance and benefits advisers are in the unique position to provide counsel on the range of value added products that are available in the marketplace for employers to best support their employees.
“For example, that GIP products provide vocational rehabilitation for long Covid, that partner providers can offer speedy access to GP services and support both employees and line managers with wellbeing advice and input.
“Many insurance providers have a wealth of options that need to be brought to the attention of their clients to enable them to foster a healthy working environment that keeps their employee well and to remain or return to work after an illness episode.”
While Stuart Scullion, consultant and the former CEO of the Association of Association of Medical Insurers and Intermediaries (AMII), says he thinks advisers will have “very little” influence over the decisions taken by employers after 19 July, it is important they are aware of the options and can support employers in their decision making where required.
“Wearing a mask is not just a safety measure for the individual, it is also a protection to their work colleagues. There are two other important considerations which are whether the individual has been double jabbed and their age.
“Clearly the Covid risk is significantly reduced for all those who have been double jabbed, at least in terms of the seriousness of any Covid infection impact. However, the Covid impact and risk of hospitalisation or worse, death, is increased for those aged 40 and above.
“All these are important considerations for employers and employees.”
Scullion’s successor at AMII, Dave Middleton told Health & Protection health and benefits advisers need to be discussing with clients how they plan for employees to return to the office in a safe manner and reminding them of the support that their medical insurance and other employee benefits offer – particularly with regard to mental health.
“It is our job to signpost them to the support that their benefit packages offer and to support those employees that may have had consultations and/or procedures postponed in the last 18 months due to Covid.
“Long term Covid is something that we are all still learning about and we all need to be mindful of this and follow medical guidelines in terms of how we provide advice and guidance.
Christine Husbands, managing director at RedArc Nurses, added: “Covid continues to be prevalent in society and while an increasing number of people have been vaccinated, many thousands of people are suffering with Covid and long Covid and potentially many more have yet to develop symptoms or be diagnosed.
“Employers should continue to prioritise support for employees relating to Covid and long Covid.”