Health insurer Anthem isn't raising the wage floor for employees like competitor Aetna did earlier this year, but it is trying to spice up its benefits package by providing free college education to employees.
Anthem's 55,000 full- and part-time employees can enroll in online courses at Southern New Hampshire University at no cost, the Indianapolis-based insurer said Tuesday. Eligible employees must work at least 20 hours a week and must have worked for Anthem for at least six months.
Tuition at SNHU costs $2,500 a year. The program offers two associate's degrees (one in business and one in nonclinical healthcare) and two bachelor's degrees (one in healthcare administration and another in communications). Other employers such as McDonald's and Penn Medicine have partnered with SNHU for the same perks.
Higher pay and benefits for employees in the healthcare sector has become a priority for some this year. Aetna said in January that it would institute a company minimum wage of $16 an hour, or about $33,000 a year for full-time workers. More recently, Ascension Health, the nation's largest Catholic health system, said it would set its wage floor at $11 an hour. Ascension CEO Anthony Tersigni called the increased wages “socially just.”
In January, Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish said his company had no intentions of matching Aetna's wage floor, but the announcement Tuesday suggests Anthem wanted to sweeten the pot for employees to stay around.
“We've continually focused on providing competitive wages,” Swedish said at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. “I can't speak to how (Aetna) calibrates their wage structure. But I feel very good about our wage compensation and benefit plan we offer to associates.”
Aetna said its higher wages would cost $25 million but would help reduce the $120 million in annual turnover expenses. Anthem did not provide estimates for how much the free college courses would cost or if the partnership would reduce employee turnover.