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Fire Districts: Top 3 Tips for your 2017 Benefits Program

February 3, 2017

The New Year is always a great time to evaluate what you’ve done in the past and plan for the future. So what should you consider in 2017?  Here are 3 benefits tips to keep in mind for the upcoming year:

  1. Know Your Health Insurance Options. The cost of health insurance is consuming a large share of your District’s budget, and your employee’s personal finances, so it’s important to know all of the options available to you.

Fully-Insured vs Level-Funded/Self-Insured: Fully understanding the benefits and risks associated with self-funded plans can bring savings, transparency and a higher level of customization to the benefits.  What does this mean? In short, Fire Districts in IL have traditionally offered “fully insured” health plans.  With fully insured plans, you are passing all of the claims risk on to the insurance carrier and the insurance carrier charges you a flat monthly premium.  A self-funded health plan places the responsibility of medical claims on the employer rather than the insurance carrier, but with this comes savings in administrative fees and greater flexibility in plan design. Risk is highly variable and can be mitigated with appropriately designed stop loss coverage.  The downside to traditional self-funding is the volatility in monthly cost which can be challenging with a fixed budget. Level-funded plans offer the benefits of self-funding with the added benefit of stable monthly costs.  It also presents an opportunity rarely found in fully insured plans….the ability to get money back at the end of the year in a good claims year!  If you have at least 25 members enrolled, it’s definitely an option to consider.

Available Markets:  Do you review all insurance vendor and carrier options each year?  As part of your annual due diligence, make sure you are discussing all possible packages with your Broker (AFFI marketplace for union Districts, HRA/HSA funding strategies, etc) and leveraging these options when finalizing your renewal.  Looking at self-insurance brings in many new options as well.  As carrier options continue to restrict, making sure non-traditional markets are explored becomes more important.


  1. Formalize Your Wellness Program: Effective wellness programs take some planning.  A well thought out program can both save you money and increase member satisfaction.

NFPA 1582:  Do you have a plan in place for annual NFPA 1582 physicals?  If you don’t, what’s stopping you?  Maybe this is the year to formalize that plan and consider the alternate options including the coordination of your annual physicals with your health insurance wellness benefits whenever possible.  The right partner can make this easy, cost effective and more convenient for your members.

FINANCIAL PLANNING: It’s no secret that one of the greatest sources of stress is financial concerns and employer-sponsored financial wellness tools have become a very popular resource to members and their families.   Fire Districts in particular have multiple customized resources available.  Talk with your insurance Broker and vendor for your 457/retirement plan to see what they offer.  One strategic goal for 2017 is to educate families on the importance of having a will and trust.  It may surprise you how many of your members do not have a will established.

RESOLVE TO HAVE AN EFFECTIVE EAP: Whether your EAP is a “value-add” through an insurance policy or a more robust formal program, make 2017 the year that you evaluate the effectiveness of your EAP.  Are your employees engaged and using this resource? Are they even aware of it?  For those of you paying for an EAP through a specialized vendor, are you taking advantage of the onsite training that’s available to you?  Another idea to consider is incorporating “mandatory EAP” into your disciplinary/performance improvement procedures.  Several Districts now have this in place and it has been very successful.

DISTRICT COMPETITIONS & WEARABLE FITNESS TRACKERS:  A recent trend among several Districts has been fitness competitions using wearable fitness trackers (such as FitBits).  These competitions are a fun way to promote fitness and member engagement in a healthier culture.  Talk with your members.  Perhaps 2017 is a good year to kick this off for the first time or to consider competing with a neighboring district if you already have a program in place.

  1. Keep an Eye on your Worksite Voluntary Plans: These employee-paid plans are very common at Fire Districts and usually include critical illness, accident, and short term disability and there are other plans gaining popularity.  As you review these options for 2017, consider the following.

HSA COMPATIBILITY: If your District has an HSA in place, have you verified that the voluntary benefits being offered to your members (and paid through payroll deductions) are “compatible” with HSAs?  Many of the critical illness and accident policies that have been in place for several years are NOT compatible with HSAs.  Be sure to review in 2017 to ensure that you and your members are in compliance with the government’s HSA regulations.

NEW PLAN TRENDS:  Non-traditional benefits and services are becoming commonplace.  Since there is no cost to your District to offer these plans, see if your vendor can add options such as identity theft protection, elder/long-term care, or pet insurance.

2017 will definitely prove to be an interesting year for healthcare.  Now is a great time to give further examination to your benefits to prepare for the changes, challenges and member needs in the coming year.

Kalli Ortega

Corkill Insurance Agency, Inc.