Health care can be a substantial financial burden for union boards. When standard health care offerings have gaps in coverage, offering voluntary benefits for union workers is a practical way to meet members' needs without significantly increasing costs for the union. Voluntary benefits put members in greater control of their own spending while ensuring that they have the coverage they need.
Enhancing Member Health Plans
Voluntary benefits for union workers enhance current coverage in a way that fits each member's lifestyle. These benefits can be particularly attractive as they allow members access to insurance at a group rate that's typically lower than what they would pay on the individual market. In addition, the cost of voluntary benefits can often be automatically deducted from a member's pay, sometimes using pretax dollars.
Unions can use voluntary benefits to save on their own insurance expenses as well as to encourage members to take greater control of their well-being. Updating the union's offerings could also be a way of showcasing its value to members, as voluntary insurance has become a popular — and some say essential — benefits strategy.
The Best Voluntary Benefits for Members
Some of the most common voluntary benefits include vision, dental, disability, accident, critical illness, long-term care and life insurance coverage. (Note that, depending on location, some of these benefits may be required offerings by law.)
The best method for determining what your particular members value is to survey them directly. Consider developing an electronic questionnaire or conducting focus groups — whatever method best allows the board to study its member population and decide which benefits will appeal to specific groups. A union with a high volume of young members, for example, may find a greater need for accident insurance, whereas aging members may be more likely to appreciate critical illness coverage.
Communicating With Members About Benefits
Once the board has chosen its voluntary benefits, it should decide upon strategies for communicating those new offerings to members. This includes more than just explaining which benefits are available — it also means helping members determine which benefits are best suited to their needs. Customize the board's outreach strategy and provide actionable information, including the cost, what the benefit actually provides, how to enroll and how all of this differs from (and complements) the union's standard health plan. Make sure the information reaches members by including it in emails and newsletters, discussing it during meetings and hosting it on a section of the union website. For optimal voluntary benefit usage and understanding, engage members multiple times per year.
Adding voluntary benefit options to the union's regular health insurance plan can act as a savings mechanism for the union while ensuring that members have coverage specific to their situations. Responding effectively to members' needs is one of the major building blocks of a loyal member base for any union — and voluntary benefits are a straightforward way of doing so.