HR.com: Open Enrollment Made Easy With Broker 2.0: Offerings to Serve Employer Partners Better
Summer is over and open enrollment is around the corner. Most HR professionals would agree this is the busiest time of year. Fortunately, health care benefits brokers are at the ready to lend a helping hand. To meet peak seasonal demand and accommodate HR teams’ needs ‒ namely, improving employee understanding of their options and steering them toward the most appropriate plans ‒ innovative brokers are expanding and adding to their product and service offerings.
These new offerings enable brokers to serve their employer partners better by empowering them to operate less as contracted service providers and more as an extension of internal HR teams.
Where HR Could Use a Hand
It’s no secret that open enrollment is a stressful time for employers and employees alike. Mountains of administrative work and hours of process overwhelm HR departments, which bear the brunt of the open enrollment burden. Fortunately, HR pros have the help of health care benefits brokers to supplement the work they do during this especially busy time of year.
Pivoting away from typical sales person roles, today’s best brokers act like strategic benefits counselors to help employers overcome common open enrollment challenges. Here are a few examples how:
The Challenge: Cost Control
Most employers agree that cost control—for both the company and its employees—is a top priority when it comes to administering health care benefits. In 2018, employer expenses are anticipated to increase by 5.5 percent – up from the 4.6 percent increase in 2017. With these projections looming large in the minds of HR pros, finding a way to keep costs low and coverage for employees high is an ongoing challenge.
This makes open enrollment an especially important time for matching employees with their best benefits options. Unfortunately, educating employees about how to choose the most appropriate coverages for them (explaining the differences among plan options, how FSAs differ from HRAs and HSAs and whether buy-up coverage makes sense) leaves little time to help employees understand how to USE those coverages cost-effectively.
Eighty-three percent of brokers serving larger employer organizations (between 100 and 10,000 employees) say that their employer clients are highly reliant on them to help contain the cost of employee benefits plans. One way that today’s brokers can do this is through advocacy and transparency services – new and innovative approaches aimed at helping employees more effectively use their health care benefits. With advocacy, employees have access to benefits experts trained to answer policy-specific questions, locate in-network providers, identify billing errors and resolve claim issues that may arise.
Transparency services provide cost and quality information for a range of medical services and supplies—educating employees about the wide range of prices for the same services and enabling them to make the most cost-effective choice for their situation.
Empowered with the knowledge and resources to become savvier health care consumers, employees are better equipped to make smart choices about how, where and when to use their health coverage–delivering value back to employers in the form of happier, healthier and more satisfied employees.
The Challenge: Communications
Long before open enrollment, employers should be thinking about ways to reach employees. Simply offering a range of options doesn’t ensure that employees will choose the best one for their individual circumstances. Although most employees would say that health care coverage is a top priority when it comes to benefits, a study by Liazon found that only 52 percent of workers truly understand what their plan covers.
What’s worse, 86 percent said they spend less than two hours reviewing their benefits plan. With HR departments increasingly coming under scrutiny for rushed open enrollment periods, inadequate communications and too many plan changes to make sense of, effective communications are a priority in the period leading up to and during open enrollment.
To help HR departments optimize their open enrollment and all heath care benefits communications, brokers are adding employee engagement services to their list of employer organization offerings. Engagement is a high-touch benefits management strategy and one that works toward employees’ better understanding, using and appreciating their benefits packages.
Done most often through private, one-on-one conversations between employees and trained benefits educators, strategic engagement services help employees navigate complex health care policies and package options so that they can choose a plan that will give them the right coverage at the lowest cost (helping to resolve Challenge 1: Cost Control, as well).
Customized to meet the unique needs and workforce makeup of the employer, brokers tailor employee engagement services so that they enhance benefits awareness and participation, without creating any additional administrative work for HR.
The Challenge: Compliance
A volatile regulatory environment seems to explain why employers depend on their health care brokers for compliance and reporting services. Earlier this year, a Guardian study found that more than one in four employers say compliance is a top benefits-related concern, but less than one-third are prepared to address potential issues that could arise.
For already overburdened HR teams, keeping tabs on distribution deadlines for compliance materials such as Summary Plan Descriptions (SPDs), Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBCs) and other required notices—and finding the time to produce those same materials—can fall to the bottom of the “to do” list, leaving employers exposed to risk and even legal issues.
During open enrollment, more than two-thirds of brokers say that large employer organizations they serve rely on them for administrative support. This can range from helping to produce needed compliance materials to identifying and managing outside resources who can generate and distribute these critical documents.
Compliance materials vary dramatically in required content, distribution requirements (and prohibitions) and data collection. Acting like the HR department’s right hand, the best brokers assist employer clients identify partners who are expert in these areas, and who can take care of the “heavy lifting,” making maintaining compliance simple and straightforward, rather than stressful.
This open enrollment season, more HR departments can look forward to the new and innovative service offerings from their health care benefits brokers. While cost control, employee communications and compliance at times feel like insurmountable obstacles, brokers are meeting market demand and beginning to provide employee engagement, advocacy and transparency services and referral services to make this open enrollment season a breeze.
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(Bart Yancey is the co-founder and CEO of DirectPath.)