Employers urged to make sure healthcare benefits comply with age rules

Employers have been urged to prepare rigorous procedures for cataloguing and reviewing healthcare benefits before age discrimination regulations come into effect in October.

The fact that healthcare benefits are not explicitly exempted from the new law means that HR professionals need to start thinking creatively about extending healthcare benefits for employees beyond their normal retirement age, according to HR consultancy Watson Wyatt.

Although retirement – and therefore exclusion from health and risk benefit eligibility – can be objectively justified at 65, it is unrealistic to expect a two-tier health benefit system to develop which excludes older workers, it said.

Employers should carry out comprehensive audit of employees’ health benefits and ensure that processes are in place for employees to apply to work beyond the normal retirement age, said David Cross, head of healthcare and risk consulting at Watson Wyatt.

These should be introduced while at least considering the ‘fair and equitable’ extension of healthcare benefits, he said.

“Age discrimination legislation is an opportunity to design a healthcare support system for the future rather than a legislative burden,” said Cross. “HR departments need to be aware of the impact of the new legislation on employees’ healthcare benefits and the business at large.”

Employers need to “think dynamically” about a health support system targeted at employees over the age of 65 rather than assume that this part of the workforce can be ignored from a health benefit perspective, Cross said.

There is likely to be an increase in cost-sharing programmes, where the employer and employee share the cost of healthcare provision beyond the traditional retirement age, he predicted.

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