Interestingly, while change has rocked the world, the employee benefits insurance industry itself has remained fairly static. Products such as disability, accidental death & dismemberment (AD&D) and life insurance have been around for a long time, and have remained fairly plain vanilla. But inside that scenario, a new trend has slowly but surely been gaining traction.
To be blunt, "old-fashioned," plain vanilla coverages in the employee benefits insurance sector are no longer enough for many employers. Today, benefits segment-specific and customized programs for employer groups are on the rise, as they have begun to reflect the realities of the world at large--whether the risks are related to business travel, workforce demographics, increased global presence through expansion, or unique exposures.
According to Patrick Juarez, senior vice president, Specialty Benefits, at the Star Line Group (starlinegroup.com), a specialty underwriting management firm with offices in Falmouth, Mass., and Minneapolis, Minn., many specialty policies were put in place on specific employee groups from five to 10 years ago. As employers carefully review and renew these older policies, today they are finding coverage gaps, and often need to update policy benefits, limits or who is covered.
On the first level, employers now face new exposures, not older hidden ones, especially on the international level with executives traveling and ex-patriots working and living abroad.
"September 11, 2001 was a horrific tragedy, but it also was an event that pointed out risks we didn't really worry about before," he says. "The world is a more dangerous place, so employer groups are taking a harder look at those types of benefits, including kidnap and ransom and related coverages."
On another front, say with benefits such as disability coverage, many times a group plan will cover everyone from secretary to top executives with plan limits in place. But given today's economy, employers are taking a different path by moving to a baseline disability program that covers 80-90 percent of employees, but putting a second policy in place to cover key executives.
"That way, they lower limits for the overall plan, provide essential benefits to key employees and, achieve overall benefit savings," he says.
Juarez also cites the small, but critical example of how some hospital groups might have had business travel coverage in place for executives, but when they dug down into their policies, they also found they had no coverage for the doctors, nurses and EMTs who are onboard their emergency medical helicopters.
"By looking deeply into their coverage situations, they are able to fill those gaps," says Juarez, whose firm is now in its 10th year as a specialty underwriting manager, providing coverage via Nationwide and Lloyds of London. "You might call it turbo-charging your life and AD&D coverage.
"The world is a much different place than it was 10 years ago, five years ago or even in the last year," he adds. "It may seem on the surface that employers have only the same basic choices to manage risk in a changing world, but that is just not the case."
With those and other changes and challenges as context, there are several questions employers today need to ask themselves:
-- Are their benefit amounts outdated?
-- Are their executives or other highly compensated employees adequately covered?
-- Do they have travel exposure?
-- Do they have international exposures?
-- Do they have unique workforce demographics, such as large family populations?
-- Do they operate in an industry with unique hazards, for example HIV exposures (hospitals) or felonious assaults?
-- Do they have other exposures, such as war zone exposures, key person exposures, high limit coverage needs?
Most of all, Juarez says, employers facing these challenges should rethink their life insurance and AD&D benefits in the global marketplace, and take advantage of low-cost, customized ways to protect their employees. To get there will require an integrated approach to specific needs and industries.
"From the employer group level, we try to focus on what it is that they need to be concerned about," he says. "In some cases, the risk manager and/or the human resource executives are already doing that. The main thing is they are asking about their groups, realizing they have more exposures now than they did in the past."
For its part, Star Line Group believes in a consultative approach to helping employers determine what they need to ensure they are getting the maximum coverage value from their specialty needs.
"We suggest that employers find a provider who will sit down and listen," he says. "It's critical to determine their issues and goals, and marketplace challenges."
The next step is discussing those critical factors and making viable, cost-effective suggestions.
"It's almost like a specialty insurance provider needs to play devil's advocate," he says, "leaving no situation 'on the field,' as they say in sports. Once a specialty provider understands an employer and its needs, then it's time to tailor a customized risk solution."
Of course, it helps if the specialty vendor can also deliver experienced professionals offering a blend of insurance experience across the board--from underwriting managers, multi-national carriers, national and international brokerage houses and third party administrators. Other "table stakes" deliverables are claim payments, simplified administration, competitive pricing and top-level customer service.
Product-wise, Star Line provides four basic specialty coverage solutions for employers. The first is Accident Advantage, which offers insurance coverage and compatible services that create a financial safety net for employers or employees, providing:
-- Coverage for loss of life, severe injuries or disability sustained as a result of an accident.
-- 100% employer paid, 100% employee paid or a combination of employee/employer paid.
-- Coverage 24/7/365 on or off the job.
-- Coverage for employees traveling on behalf of the company, business only or 24-hour business and pleasure.
-- Principal sum amounts up to $5 million for any one person.
On the international front, Star Line Group offers International Advantage, providing:
-- War risk & terrorism coverage.
-- High-limit accident coverage.
-- International life coverage.
-- Kidnap, ransom, extortion and detention coverage, including the services of one of the leading international security-consulting firms in the world.
Next is Star Line's Executive Advantage Program, which offers risk solutions for board of directors, executives and other highly compensated employees, providing:
-- High Limit Disability coverage, with a monthly benefit up to 75% of income.
-- High Limit Lump Sum Disability coverage, with a benefit up to 10 times annual earnings.
-- Disability coverage, available for either accident or accident and sickness.
-- Disability coverage, either on a first dollar basis or excess of LTD maximums with limits easily available up to $30 million any one person.
-- Confidential Life coverage, provides coverage without a medical examination for financial loss suffered by the policyholder resulting from the non-performance of the insured contract due to death, dismemberment, disappearance or disgrace.
Finally, Star Line offers its Select Advantage program, created to handle unique solutions, including:
-- Medical tourism coverage, providing insurance protection in the event of an accidental death or disability while traveling to other countries and undergoing surgical procedures.
-- On-Premise Terrorism coverage, providing accident coverage in the event of a terrorist act including but not limited to, bomb scare, search, and/or explosion on the employer's premise
-- Non-Appearance and Event Cancellation coverage, providing insurance for an employer, promoter, conference organizer or manager against the non-appearance or unforeseen cancellation.
-- Common Carrier coverage, providing AD&D coverage either on a per trip or event basis for fare paying passengers on a land, water or air common carrier.
-- Occupational Accident coverage, providing AD&D, disability and medical coverage for independent contractors.
As part of all these solutions, Star Line offers added services, such as travel assistance, emergency transportation, identity theft protection, political evacuation, and political analysis (the services vary depending on the specific coverage program).
"Our programs are comprehensive, and focused on covering every potential situation or scenario," Juarez says. "I hope that employers looking to ensure that they have all the bases covered demand that their specialty provider does the same, because the world has changed and specialty coverages need to change with it to protect both employees and the bottom line."
For more information, contact Star Line Group at 877-876-3261, or visit starlinegroup.com.
(The above piece is part of our continuing Insights series designed to highlight key products and services to our readers. This paid-for Insights was written and edited by Risk & Insurance®
on behalf of our marketing partner. Additional Insights can be found on our Web site at www.riskandinsurance.com/.)
February 17, 2010
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