Employee Benefits Solutions for the Wine Industry

September 18, 2017

Employee Benefits

Healthcare costs are projected to continue growing at unsustainable rates in the coming years. Add to that the administrative complexities of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and competition to keep great employees, and wine industry employers feel the pinch as much as anyone else.

Let’s take a look at some of the data and changes in recent years, and also explore a coverage solution that strives for collaboration, compliance, cost control and efficiency.

The Wine Industry’s Insurance Coverage Problem

One of the most significant changes that came with the ACA was the elimination of large-group status or composite rating in favor of age-related coverage for individual employees and their dependents. Couple that with the plan design reductions and limitations on doctor choice, and wine industry employers and employees end up paying more for less.

Specifically, in 2015, employers with one to 50 employees and employers with 50 to 100 employees were both lumped into the small business category  (which had previously only included companies with 50 or fewer employees). Those with less than 50 employees had to comply with the new ACA requirements first, and those with over 50 employees got an extension to be compliant by early 2017.

For everyone, costs went up and benefits shifted significantly. According to some, the vast majority of wineries and wine-related companies expected their health care costs to increase as much as 10 percent over 2016. Others expected 67 percent of companies with between 50 and 100 employees to see heath care cost increases of at least 10 percent and as much as 50 percent.

As we head into 2018, health insurance premiums are forecast to increase an average of 20 percent. This is obviously unwelcome news to anyone trying to balance costs with the need to provide quality and affordable benefits to its employees. In reality, perceptions of costs are already off, and wine-related companies can have a hard time wrapping their arms around the details.

According to our own surveys, wine companies provide benefits that are as good as, or better than those offered by other industries in the area. Some of this is because many wine companies are family-owned, small and likely to want to take good care of employees, whom they know personally. Further, wine industry plan rates are generally rising similarly or slower than rates in other industries.

However, it can be difficult for these companies to navigate the ACA compliance pitfalls and mitigate rising costs on their own. The new ACA market segmentation means that larger wine-related companies will now be negotiating under the same terms as do smaller ones, and it’s making them reconsider how they structure their benefits.

Woodruff Sawyer’s Insurance Solution for the Wine Industry

At Woodruff Sawyer, we serve more wine-related clients than any other brokerage firm in the industry. Understanding the current health care challenges these clients face, we’ve developed a creative solution to address the problem.

The Wine Industry Employee Benefits Collective (WIEBC) is a collaboration between Woodruff Sawyer, wine-related business owners and executive staff, leading insurance companies and compliance and technology providers. The goal is to control costs, maintain benefit levels for employees and improve efficiency by providing companies with:

  • Large-group status and a chance to lock in guaranteed rates (the 2018 renewal has been released as 0 percent) and plan options until 2019
  • Leverage that comes with the power of a large purchasing collective that has access to preferred pricing (as much as 40 percent off market rates) with top health and welfare insurers
  • Industry benchmarking that provides the most robust and timely benefits, as well as compensation benchmarking specific to wine industry employers
  • Ongoing compliance support to ensure you’re informed and prepared to meet legislative and regulatory changes
  • Simplified administration such as online enrollment, ACA reporting, consolidated billing/eligibility and sophisticated decision support
  • Customized and multi-touch employee communications available in both English and Spanish to meet the diverse needs of a vibrant workforce
  • Robust wellness programs that connect people with best-in-class vendors and community resource

Our mission with the WIEBC program is to help our wine industry clients avoid complications resulting from changes in the market. We’ve already saved clients hundreds of thousands of dollars, and want to help you do the same.

Join us on September 27th for an informative webinar, “Employee Benefits and the Wine Industry: How to Control Costs and Offer Your Employees the Best.” We hope you’ll join us!




Changes in government policy are to be expected, and healthcare isn’t likely to get easier for anyone in the near future. With solutions from Woodruff Sawyer, you’ll be well prepared to support your wine-industry employees while also making the best decisions for your company.


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