HR Daily Advisor: Meet Broker 2.0—From Benefits Sales Rep to Strategic Counsel
There are few certainties when it comes to today’s health insurance industry. More than ever, employers are seeking help when it comes to navigating a rapidly changing regulatory landscape and developing a benefits strategy that will be cost effective, compliant, and aligned with employee needs.
To accommodate today’s employers, innovative brokers have updated their job descriptions and expanded their product and service offerings—pivoting away from their reputation as pure benefits sales representatives and emerging as strategic benefits consultants.
Where Employers Need Guidance
When it comes to designing and administering healthcare benefits programs, employers have a few priorities locked. While debates continue in Congress as to which policies should stay and which should go, the importance of cost containment remains a constant for employers.
According to the National Business Group on Health, the sticker price of benefits plans is expected to increase by at least 5% by 2018, representing an average cost of $14,000 per employee. It’s no surprise then that 83% of brokers serving large organizations (between 100 and 10,000 employees) say that the employers they serve rely on them highly for help containing the cost of their benefits plans.
Today’s brokers find employers are also highly reliant on benefits communications materials and services. A recent study by private benefits exchange provider Liazon found that although 83% of employees care a lot about their health coverage, only 52% truly understand their benefits.
What’s worse, the overwhelming majority (86%) spend less than 2 hours reviewing their specific health benefits package. This often leads to mismatched benefits plan selection and a great deal of unnecessary spending for employers and employees alike. It’s like paying for a five-course dinner when you’re only a bit hungry and just require a snack from the vending machine.
Where employers seek the most help from brokers points to a unique opportunity in this market: the ability for brokers to function less as contracted service providers and more as an extension of an employer’s internal team.
The Rise of ‘Broker 2.0’
In addition to staying up-to-date on the evolution of healthcare policy and maintaining an in-depth understanding of employers’ needs, the most competitive brokers are those that are innovating and updating the products and services they offer. Almost two-thirds of health insurance brokers agree that offering new and innovative benefits services will be very important in the years ahead. The one most commonly known and valued by employers are employee engagement services.
Broker 2.0 is an expert in employee engagement—a high-touch benefits management strategy that enhances employees’ understanding and appreciation of their benefits packages. Often done through private, one-on-one conversations, brokers offering this service are able to educate employees about the different benefit plans available to them, ensuring employees are equipped with the knowledge required to select one that best meets their needs. Beyond eliminating unnecessary out-of-pocket expenses that employees may end up paying with an inappropriate plan, employee engagement minimizes the cost that employers incur as well.
Also in high demand from employers are advocacy and transparency services, which in essence make employees savvier healthcare consumers. Empowering individuals with knowledge and resources to use their health insurance effectively, advocacy and transparency services ensure that employees never pay more for health care than they need to.
Whether it be locating an in-network provider, answering questions about health savings accounts, or resolving an issue with a claim, advocacy and transparency services deliver a great deal of business value back to employers and, as a result, back to Broker 2.0, too.
A Next-Gen Healthcare Benefits Business Model
Although the future is uncertain, Broker 2.0 is here to stay. Entrusted to help navigate the ever-changing healthcare benefits system, brokers have an unprecedented opportunity to add real business value to the organizations they serve.
The most competitive and successful brokers have updated their offerings to include innovative services like employee engagement, advocacy, and transparency. With open enrollment 2018 on the horizon and policy continuing to take shape in Washington D.C., it is without a doubt that the most forward-thinking health benefits brokers are going to keep busy.
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(Bart Yancey is the cofounder and CEO of DirectPath.)