Signs are everywhere. Some people spy them in tea leaves, and others call them out from the backseat. But when you’re trying to figure out when it’s time to offer health benefits, the right signs can be hard to find.

Today, 73 percent of small businesses don’t provide health insurance, yet a notable 22 percent plan on doing so in the next year. When you’re in that limbo stage, it can be hard to know when it’s time to go all in. Thankfully, there are a few telltale signs that will help make your decision a no-brainer.

73% of smb employers do not offer

1. If you’re getting bigger

This is the first glaring hint that you need to get on the health insurance train. Once you round out your team to a certain number of full-time employees, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) actually makes the decision for you. Under the ACA, you need to provide employer-sponsored health coverage if you have 50 or more full-time equivalent (FTE) workers. Have 49 or fewer? Then the ACA doesn’t require you to cover your team.

That being said, even if smaller companies don’t have to supply benefits, many still choose to provide it. Our State of Health Benefits for Small Businesses report found that 65 percent of employers offering benefits have teams of five to 49 employees. All of these companies aren’t technically required to have company insurance, but they do so anyway because they feel like it’s the best path to take for their team.

Employee headcount matters

It’s also important to plan ahead if you anticipate any major team changes. Let’s say you’re preparing to grow your staff by a specific percentage. If you know that you’re going to exceed the 50-employee mark, you should consider getting all of your benefits information in line now so you’re not left scrambling in the last hour.

2. If you’re hiring

When you’re looking for that diamond-in-the-rough candidate, having a thorough benefits package can be exactly what you need to make them fall head over heels. A recent study from BambooHR found that 83 percent of people believed health insurance played a role in whether or not they took a job, and 66 percent said that it also influences how they feel about their daily work. So if a person is wavering between two companies, not having to deal with the fuss of finding coverage could be what compels them to go with you.

A group health plan also allows your team to save money because their premiums are paid before taxes are taken out. If they buy an individual plan from the Marketplace, they’ll have to pay more because it’s paid with post-tax dollars.

3. If you can afford it

At first, the price of health insurance can seem too steep for a small business to stomach. However, it’s actually more affordable than you may think.

There are an array of health plan costs out there. It’s like going out to dinner. You can either get something light, or you can splurge on a three-course meal. It all hinges on what your company needs are and what your budget is. There are also other factors that play into the cost. For example, if your employees contribute to their monthly premiums, that minimizes the amount you have to pay. Working with a broker can help alleviate the price anxiety because they’ll help you find a plan that fits squarely within your budget, and they’ll tell you in advance about what costs to expect. You never want to offer a benefit and then realize it’s something you can’t afford in the long run.

Furthermore, if your company has 24 or fewer employees, you may qualify for the small business health care tax credit by buying plans through your state’s Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP). Head over to the IRS website for more details.

4. If your team asks for it

One clear sign that it’s time to offer benefits is when your employees request it. Take a pulse of how people are feeling by sending out a simple survey. List out the benefits you’re thinking about offering, like health, life, disability, or others, and then instruct your team to rank the ones that mean the most to them. Typeform and Google Forms are two easy survey tools you can use. Of course, make sure you never ask about your team’s health care history or health status when talking to your team.

You can learn a lot about your employees by asking them a few simple questions. For instance, if your staff is younger, life insurance might not be as important to them as health insurance or other benefits. Collecting honest feedback from the team you’re investing in will make your decision easier and a lot more impactful.

If you find any of these four signs calling out to you, then benefits may be on your company’s horizon. And even if you’re not quite ready, you’ll still be able to recognize the signals for whenever that time arrives.

Lauren Humphrey Lauren is a health tech veteran and a licensed producer of accident, health, and life insurance. She previously lead benefits advising and operations at Gusto.
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