While the number of high-deductible health plans is going up, employers might not be taking advantage of the voluntary benefits available to them. This trend allows brokers two opportunities: to truly fill clients’ needs through benefit offerings and helping clients encourage employees to enroll.


In general, awareness about voluntary benefits is going up. “A recent survey from Willis Towers Watson reveals that 92 percent of study participants view voluntary benefits as an important part of their total rewards as compared to only 73 percent in 2015,” writes Sheryl Smolkin for Employee Benefit News. The survey found benefits like identity theft protection, critical illness coverage, and student loan repayment are growing in popularity.


But at the same time, many employers aren’t yet offering suitable options. “Potentially crucial voluntary benefits are lacking among large employers,” according to BLR.com, which cited research from Benefitfocus. “Critical illness, hospital indemnity and accident insurance are common ‘gap’ products that can give employees — particularly HDHP participants — added financial protection when they encounter unexpected medical expenses.”


And, because both employers and their employees clearly need voluntary benefits, the situation provides more opportunities than ever for brokers. Of course, they can help employers expand their offerings. But they can also encourage enrollment.


This especially important because Benefitfocus’ research shows few employees are taking advantage of voluntary coverage that could truly help them. “For 2016, only 14 percent of employees actually enrolled in at least one gap product, with HDHP participants comprising less than a third of gap product enrollees,” according to BLR.com “This is unfortunate since taking advantage of these products can help employees, especially Millennials, bridge the ‘coverage gap’ created by higher deductibles.”


Brokers can encourage better communication and enrollment. Brokers should especially work to give focused advice on what kinds of messages appeal to employees and how employers should time them, writes Joel Kranc for Employee Benefit Adviser. Using the momentum of active enrollment is one-way brokers can help their clients take advantage, he writes.


This can also be a way to encourage employees to use the tools their employers provide to learn more and enroll in voluntary benefits. Simulations about cost savings for various voluntary benefits can also help employees understand the value of what’s being offered. “Advisers can work with employers to better communicate the benefit of these products to increase engagement,” Kranc writes.