BenefitsPRO: How Brokers Can Foster Clients’ Benefits Success Year-Round
As consumers across the country select their 2020 benefits plans, brokers may be reflecting on the strategies they used to help employer clients create and communicate comprehensive benefits offerings. And while it’s important to set employers up for a successful open enrollment season, sophisticated brokers know the work does not stop here.
To effectively help employers increase the ROI of their benefits investments and improve employee benefits satisfaction, brokers must work with clients to develop and execute a year-round benefits communications plan – educating employees on how they can make more informed choices when it comes to not just choosing health plans, but using them wisely throughout the year.
Here are tips for delivering continuous value to employer clients post-open enrollment season:
Promoting cost-conscious health care choices throughout the year
To reduce health care spend for employers and employees alike, brokers can encourage clients to offer tools and resources that help employees compare costs for health care services and treatments. For example, brokers may advise clients to invest in transparency tools that offer comprehensive information about local service or prescription options and associated costs. Resources like cost comparison reports enable employees to understand that prices for treatments can vary greatly in price — even in the same network. With this information, consumers are able to make informed, cost-conscious decisions about where they receive care.
Brokers may also suggest that clients invest in patient advocates, who can help answer employee questions about their health care coverage and options in real-time throughout the year. For instance, advocates can provide employees with information about where to get care (and even schedule appointments), review bills for inaccuracies and help manage claims.
Creating a more formal communications strategy
If employers do decide to invest in transparency and advocacy services, brokers should help clients actively promote these offerings throughout the year. It’s critical to keep these services top of mind for employees; if employees know these resources exist, they’re more likely to use them, thereby increasing ROI of the employers’ investment in those services as well as their benefits program in general, while boosting employee satisfaction with their employer.
In a survey of more than 120 brokers, 81 percent of respondents said their employer clients highly depend on them for help with communications. Consistent communications across a variety of channels helps employer clients ensure that all employees, regardless of generation, work schedule or location, have the information they need to most effectively use their benefits.
While the content of the communications may vary from employer to employer, brokers should generally advise that employers share information and best practices to make smart choices under their selected health plan. For instance, brokers might steer employer clients to share information on why it’s important to shop for care, how to find lower prescription drug prices or how to use tax-advantaged reimbursement plans to their fullest potential.
In addition to helping shape the benefits content that’s communicated to employees, brokers can also work with employer clients to ensure those messages reach employees. An employee’s worksite and work schedule can tremendously impact when, how and where they receive benefits information. For instance, home mailers may be effective for employees with dependents, while employees on the road might find audio recordings of benefits best practices, or texts with tips, more helpful.
In addition to geography, brokers can also consider other employee demographics when developing benefits communication plans with clients. Though some generational generalizations prove to be true, brokers should remind clients that it’s more important to look at employees from the perspective of differing priorities (planning for retirement versus paying off student loans), different levels of health care and health insurance literacy and experience in choosing and using benefits.
Preparing for off-cycle enrollments
Increasingly, employers are offering off-cycle enrollment periods for voluntary benefits. A 2018 survey from Willis Towers Watson shows that employers are expanding their offerings of voluntary benefits and services to help employees meet their overall financial well-being and security. Nearly 70 percent of respondents believe that voluntary benefits will be a very or more important component of their employee value proposition in three to five years.
As traditional open enrollment season winds down, now is the time for brokers to work on off-cycle enrollment plans. They should ask clients which voluntary benefits they intend to offer and then create a communications strategy that educates employees on how off-cycle enrollment periods work, including the timeframe to enroll and whether or not it makes sense for them to invest in the voluntary benefits being offered.
Priming for open enrollment 2020
As early as January, brokers should sit down with employer clients to talk about how their 2019 open enrollment experiences went and if their goals were met. The discussion should touch on what went well, what didn’t and where process improvements can be made for 2020. While the conversations will vary based on the employers’ objectives, brokers and their clients may look at data such as the number of employees who met with benefits educators (if offered), percentage of employees who made a change to their coverage(s), enrollment in certain plans and employee satisfaction rates when surveyed on their open enrollment experience.
It’s also important to note which questions were asked most frequently by employees throughout the open enrollment season, as brokers can help employers better address these questions in year-round communications strategies and/or in planning for open enrollment 2020.
By understanding what can — and should — be done now, brokers can deliver greater value to clients and help them add value to their benefits strategies.
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(Bart Yancey is the President, Engagement at DirectPath)