Can I trade benefits for cash?

Q. I am conducting a job search right now and am currently on my husband’s health benefits. Therefore, I will not be taking part in the health care benefits plan of any company who offers me a job. Should I use this as a bargaining tool for a higher salary? It seems to me that this will be saving the company a large sum of money by not accepting their health care coverage.

A. Looking at what you are willing to negotiate for, and what you want most out of an offer is a good starting strategy. You are also trying to prepare for the offer conversation in advance, and creating a list of your high priorities and lower priorities can prove valuable as you move into that stage of the job search.

You are right that health care benefits for employees is a significant cost to employers, and many companies are looking at double digit increases in their health care plans for the same or less benefit coverage. As a result companies are looking for ways to cut these costs, and the changes being made are significant.

Your assumption that “family benefits” will be offered as part of a new job offer may not be correct. Locally, we typically see employers paying some per cent of the cost of a single plan, or a family plan you choose, or a per cent of the total cost of the offered HMO plan. A change for us, that is currently more common in other parts of the country, is the employer paying a per cent of the benefits costs for the employee only, and the employee paying the upgrade cost to employee plus one (where these plans are offered) or for a family plan. We know changes will come with health care benefits – though we don’t currently know how these will impact employer or employee. We also know that the size of the company will have an impact on how benefits are handled.
So negotiating for an increase in compensation if you don’t take advantage of health benefits is always an option. Many companies choose not to negotiate in this way based on an assumption that not all employees will take advantage of benefits because their spouse or partner has a less expensive plan or better coverage. They also recognize that things change, and you may need to use the benefits if there is a change in your husbands’ employment situation causing him to lose benefits.
Some smaller employers may be more willing to make trade offs, as long as they keep you in the compensation band appropriate for your role. So get the offer first, and plan to maximize your compensation based on what you have to offer the company, in addition to what you can add by good negotiating.

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