With the continual rise in health care costs, it’s imperative that you ask about benefits in detail before accepting any final offer. It’s really not enough to simply inquire if health benefits are part of the employment compensation package because there are so many factors that need to be evaluated in your quest to compare offers appropriately. I suggest you specifically ask the following two questions (at a minimum) at some point during the interview process which is most likely when you meet with the Human Resources representative or at time of offer. Health benefits alone could make a huge difference between one or more offers or even if you should leave your current situation.
When exactly do the benefits kick in?
Some companies start benefits right away, others start benefits on the first day of the following month while some wait 90 days or more. The key is to know exactly when they start so you can compare to any other offers. Also, if they do not start on day one, you’ll need some sort of bridge coverage until your new benefits start. However, If you just left another company, you might be covered for 30 days or be eligible for COBRA (or both) but don’t underestimate the very high cost of COBRA (a cost you need to get as well from the plan administrator).
Specifically how much will the health benefit premium cost me per month?
It’s very important to get a specific quote on cost and make sure you don’t get an estimate as it’s very easy for a company to give you a very specific premium. Also, do the benefits include vision and/or dental or are they a separate element of the overall monthly premium ? Don’t ever assume vision and/or dental are included. The key is to get clarification/specifics/facts.
Taking this concept one step further, it’s also important to drill down on all benefits offered beyond your base salary or hourly wage. For example, if they offer a 401K plan (or any other flavor of deferred savings), find out when you’re eligible to start participating, what are the details on matching (if any) and what is the vesting period. Also, if bonuses of any sort are offered, how are they calculated, when are they paid out and what has been the historical payout percentage of target over the last 2-3 years. If you are a sales professional compensated with any sort of commission plan, make sure you completely understand the plan and have it in writing. Finally, make sure you understand the vacation model and what holidays the company observes, PTO versus more traditional plans, etc. In the end, ask specifically for a benefits package or overview summary so you have the information in writing. It may also be available via the companies website but be sure to ask for something in writing before accepting an offer.
TAKE AWAY – Getting your arms around health insurance costs is key when evaluating the complete offer. Benefits today can often be a significant factor in terms of the overall compensation. The other elements mentioned above are important as well, but health insurance costs are an ongoing financial bite (e.g. every other week, twice a month, once a month, etc.) and they are not to be underestimated. I suggest you craft a checklist of questions so you don’t end up winging this. I’m often amazed at how many folks get an offer and accept that offer without ever asking about any of this. My goal is to make sure you are not one of them.