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Health plans play a critical role in the lives of employees and their families, since they can assist with healthcare needs, required absences from work and their general health and well-being.

Health plans offered by employers typically include reimbursement for the following items:

Many health plan providers offer different levels of their plans, which provide employers with flexibility in creating a plan that they feel offers value to their employees and stays within the budget that the company can spend on this coverage. These plans offer different levels of reimbursement on expenses and different lifetime maximums.

As with personal home and auto insurance, for which accepting a higher deductible on claims can reduce your premiums, health plan rates vary depending on reimbursement rates and lifetime maximums. The prescription drugs covered by the plan also affect pricing; plans offering reimbursement only on generic brands are cheaper than those that include name brands.

Premiums for health plans are sometimes paid 100 percent by the employer; however, with increasing premiums, it is far more common that premiums are shared between the employer and employees. The percentage split between you and your employees can be set based on budget and whether you want to use your health plan as something you will promote as a distinctive advantage for employees who work at your company in your recruitment materials and advertisements.

There are many health plan providers that cater to all sizes of companies, as well as many that have plans specifically designed for smaller companies (i.e., fewer than 50 employees).

Dental Benefits

Similar to health plans, dental plans cover expenses incurred for procedures provided by a licensed dentist. Typical plans cover 100 percent of preventative maintenance and 50 percent to 80 percent of major restorative procedures.

As with health care plans, there are many options available for employers to choose from. Plans vary as to the percentage reimbursement on services and the annual and/or lifetime maximums. Similar decisions need to be made about dental plans as with health plans: What is the coverage level to be offered and how much of the premiums will the company pay for its employees? It is common that dental programs follow a similar pattern as health plans, with respect to coverage, reimbursement levels and premium split.

This coverage is especially important to employees with children, employees who have not been covered in the past, those not already covered by their spouses and those whose spouses do not have coverage. New professionals applying for positions, such as new graduates, tend to view dental coverage as a requirement, since they most likely have never been without it.

Employee Assistance Programs

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are often offered by employers as part of their overall benefits program. EAPs provide a confidential, short-term counselling service for employees with personal problems that affect their work performance, usually offered via a third party. The purpose of EAPs is to improve employees' ability to deal with personal issues and/or problems that negatively impact their work performance, psychological health and overall well-being. Program counsellors usually are able to assist with:

There are a number of providers of quality EAP services across the country. EAP services are usually free for employees and their immediate family members, and are covered by the employer.

These programs have many benefits for both employers and employees. For employers, benefits can include lower health-benefit-plan costs, reduced turnover and absenteeism, and higher employee productivity and morale.

Employee loyalty is positively affected since employees value an organization's commitment to their overall health and well-being. Also, EAPs improve corporate images, as companies offering such programs are viewed as caring and progressive employers with superior employment benefits. For employees, benefits include cost-free counselling to guide them through difficult times and professional advice on subjects like work/life balance, health, stress and anxiety.