Unveiling the Key Differences between Level Funded and Self Funded Plans

Discover the differences between level-funded and self-funded employee health insurance plans. Make informed choices for your workforce’s well-being.

Employee health insurance is a critical aspect of modern workforce management, providing essential medical coverage to employees. To effectively manage health insurance offerings, employers have two primary funding options: level-funded plans and self-funded plans. Both approaches offer unique benefits and considerations tailored to suit the organization’s financial capacity and risk tolerance.

Understanding the distinctions between these options is crucial for making informed decisions that benefit the company and its employees. Delving into the specifics of each option sheds light on how they function and what they bring to the table.

Level Funded Plans

Level-funded plans combine elements of traditional health insurance and self-funding. These plans are designed to balance predictable monthly costs and financial control. In a level-funded plan, the employer pays a fixed premium to the insurance carrier, which then handles claims processing and administration. After covering claims and expenses, any surplus from premiums is typically refunded to the employer.

Key Features and Benefits

  1. Monthly Premium Structure: Level-funded plans have a fixed monthly premium, allowing for more predictable budgeting than fully insured plans.
  2. Risk Mitigation: While the employer assumes a certain level of risk, the insurance carrier’s stop-loss protection caps excessive claim costs, reducing the financial impact of large medical expenses.
  3. Claims Experience and Financial Performance: The employer’s claims experience directly impacts future premium rates, promoting healthier workplace behaviors and potentially leading to lower costs.

Eligibility requirements and plan customization in level-funded plans can be tailored to the organization’s needs. This flexibility allows companies to design plans that cater to their workforce’s health needs while managing costs effectively. Customizable plan features include coverage levels, deductibles, and network options.

Self Funded Plans

Self-funded plans involve the employer taking on a larger share of risk by directly funding employees’ medical claims. This approach offers greater control over plan design and financial outcomes.

Key Features and Benefits

  1. Flexibility and Control: Employers have more control over plan design, which enables customization to align with the company’s specific health needs and preferences.
  2. Cost Savings Potential: Self-funded plans can lead to cost savings since the employer only pays for actual claims incurred, avoiding the profit margins included in traditional premiums.
  3. Access to Claims Data and Transparency: Employers gain insight into claims data, enabling them to identify health trends and implement strategies to improve employee wellness.

While self-funded plans provide flexibility, they also come with administrative responsibilities, including claims processing, legal compliance, and regulatory reporting. Companies may work with experienced insurance brokerage to handle these tasks efficiently.

Cost Comparison

Choosing between level-funded and self-funded plans involves assessing the initial costs. Level-funded plans generally have fixed premiums that provide budget predictability. In contrast, self-funded plans require setting up reserves to cover potential claims. These initial reserves, though variable, can be lower than traditional premiums. Employers must carefully weigh the upfront expenses against long-term benefits.

Long-Term Cost Considerations

  1. Stop-Loss Insurance and Risk Management: Self-funded plans can face unpredictable large claims. Investing in stop-loss insurance mitigates this risk by capping the maximum claim amount. Balancing the cost of stop-loss coverage with potential claim liabilities is crucial.
  2. Claims Volatility and Budget Predictability: Both funding options differ in claims volatility. Level-funded plans offer more consistent monthly premiums, while self-funded plans’ costs can vary. Understanding the organization’s financial stability and risk tolerance aids in selecting the most suitable approach.

Employee Experience and Benefits

Employee Perception and Satisfaction

Employees’ perception of health insurance impacts their overall job satisfaction. Level-funded plans often provide the perceived stability of traditional insurance, which can enhance employee satisfaction. Self-funded plans, when well-communicated, can showcase the company’s commitment to tailored benefits and better healthcare access.

Provider Networks and Plan Coverage

Network access directly influences employee experiences. Level-funded plans typically leverage established insurance carrier networks, offering various providers. Self-funded plans may allow for network customization, catering to specific geographic and healthcare preferences and enhancing the employee’s ability to choose preferred healthcare providers.

Wellness Programs and Preventive Care

Both funding options can incorporate wellness programs and preventive care initiatives. These offerings promote employee health, reduce future medical expenses, and boost productivity. Implementing effective wellness programs becomes a shared goal for employers and employees, regardless of the chosen funding method.

Legal and Regulatory Considerations

ERISA regulations apply to both level-funded and self-funded plans, ensuring protection for employee benefits. Employers must comply with ERISA’s reporting, disclosure, and fiduciary requirements. The scope of these obligations remains consistent, emphasizing the need for thorough plan administration.

State regulations further shape the landscape of employee health insurance. While ERISA establishes federal standards, states also have their mandates regarding coverage, network adequacy, and more. Employers must navigate these requirements to ensure compliance and provide comprehensive coverage.

Both funding options entail compliance challenges related to healthcare laws, such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Accurate reporting, adhering to mandates, and managing benefits administration demand diligence. Employers should stay informed about evolving regulations and partner with experts to navigate potential pitfalls.

Decision-Making Factors

Employer Size and Risk Tolerance

The employer’s size significantly influences the choice between level-funded and self-funded plans. Larger companies with stable financial resources and a larger employee pool may lean towards self-funded plans due to increased control and potential cost savings. Smaller employers might opt for level-funded plans, as they offer predictability and risk mitigation through stop-loss insurance. While self-funded plans carry risk, proper planning, and risk management make self-funding a reasonable option for organizations of various sizes.

Budget Constraints and Financial Goals

Budget considerations guide the funding decision. Level-funded plans have fixed premiums, simplifying financial planning. Self-funded plans, while offering potential savings, require careful budgeting for claim fluctuations. Aligning the chosen plan with long-term financial goals ensures that the selected funding method supports the company’s financial trajectory.

Pros and Cons Comparison

Level Funded Plans: Pros and Cons


  • Predictable Premiums: Fixed monthly premiums aid budgeting.
  • Risk Mitigation: Stop-loss protection minimizes financial risk.
  • Claims-Based Savings: Positive claims experience can lead to savings.


  • Limited Customization: Plan design flexibility might be somewhat restricted.
  • Premium Refunds: Unused premiums might not be as impactful as anticipated.

Self Funded Plans: Pros and Cons


  • Customization: Plans can be tailored to match specific workforce needs.
  • Cost Savings: Employers only pay for actual claims, potentially reducing expenses.
  • Transparency: Access to claims data enables data-driven decisions.


  • Financial Risk: High-cost claims can impact the budget significantly.
  • Administrative Burden: Self-funded plans require more administrative oversight.

Common Misconceptions

Myth: Level Funded Plans Are Always More Expensive

This misconception assumes that level-funded plans are inherently costly. While level-funded plans involve fixed premiums, they mitigate risk through stop-loss coverage. Depending on the claims experience, they can be cost-effective alternatives to traditional insurance.


Navigating the landscape of employee health insurance involves understanding the nuances of level-funded and self-funded plans. Level-funded plans offer predictable premiums and managed risk, while self-funded plans provide customization and potential cost savings.

The choice between the two depends on the company’s financial stability, risk appetite, and desire for plan control. By comprehending these options, employers can select the right health insurance strategy to promote employee well-being and financial success.

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