The role of the insurance broker is continually evolving in response to rising health care costs and consumer needs and expectations. Employers are increasingly relying on brokers not only to execute transactions, but also to serve as strategic consultants, advising them on ways to attract and retain employees with best-in-class benefits. In reality, about 60% of medium and large companies believe they will become more dependent on their brokers and related advisors over the next five years as the benefits landscape becomes more complex.
The need for strategic health benefit advisors has never been greater as COVID-19 continues to drive fundamental changes in coverage needed, where care is obtained, and how benefit information is communicated. As demand for new solutions increases, new products hit the market, and employees struggle to fill gaps in their financial health and security safety nets, brokers have a critical role to play. to help employers understand the ever-changing benefits landscape and consumers understand their coverage and care options.
Understand new health care needs and options
According to DirectPath Benefits Broker Report 2021, 83% of brokers are responsible for helping clients contain healthcare costs. The same report revealed that 71% of brokers have clients who have difficulty satisfying employees with their benefit plans, likely because these employees do not understand the benefits available to them and/or or how to use them wisely. For example, while employees see bonuses, copayments, and disbursements rising, few understand how their actions affect those costs or what programs their employer offers to help employees plan for and mitigate them. Even before COVID-19 hit, employees felt vulnerable; now, in the midst of the great resignation, employers risk losing their talent to competitors if they don’t provide – and communicate effectively – benefits options that make employees feel protected at the same time medically and financially.
Employers, of course, must balance what employees want and need, what they have to offer to compete for top talent, and what they can afford. Once plans and programs are in place, employers need to protect their investment by educating employees on how to choose and use their plans. For self-insured employers, costs are largely determined by premiums, stop-loss coverage, coinsurance and out-of-network care – in short, as plan sponsors, employers pay when employees overspend. for cover they don’t really need. The challenge here is that few employers have the resources for personal conversations with each employee when selecting their plans or seeking care. Similarly, employees are not always comfortable having these conversations with their employers. This is where brokers come in.
For starters, brokers can help employers evaluate available benefits packages and products currently on the market or coming to market. To maximize the value employees derive from these resources, brokers can help their employer clients design and implement a communications strategy throughout the year (i.e. beyond the Open Enrollment) that educates employees on the basics of insurance and actively promotes available plans and programs. This ongoing education also sets the stage for employers to distribute timely tools and resources as the healthcare landscape changes (for example, employees will be better prepared to use resources designed to unpack impending transparency regulations ).
From there, brokers can advise employees on how to create the most appropriate packages for their unique needs. Of course, choosing the right cover is only half the battle; improper use of diets can also contribute to higher medical bills. About 55% of consumers are unaware that they can compare treatment costs before receiving care, and 57% only check if a provider is in-network when planning to visit a new provider or facility. To avoid such oversights, many brokers recommend transparency services to show employees how to “buy” care and help them understand how treatment costs can vary significantly even within the same geographic location and/or network. . Additionally, advocacy services can answer employee questions about their coverage on the spot, help them find timely and convenient care, and resolve questions about their claims and bills after the fact, alleviating a major source of stress for the employees.
Communicate benefits to drive engagement
In addition to helping employers identify and offer new benefits programs and services to educate and engage employees about their benefits, brokers need to help their clients effectively communicate that these resources are available and promote their use. Seventy percent of brokers surveyed in DirectPath’s 2021 Consumer Report said their customers rely heavily on them for communication support, but offering the resources isn’t enough. For example, only 37% of workers use employer resources to learn how to select and use their health plans, leaving the door open to misinformation and misunderstanding that can lead to high costs down the line. So how can brokers help employers do things more efficiently?
Getting employees to take action—to assess their current situation, review their current elections, sign up for their benefits, or read and understand how new regulations will affect them—requires communications that not only inform but change a perception or behavior. This requires a well-thought-out, documented plan outlining who needs to hear what information, when throughout the year, and what channels will be used to convey that information.
It’s always been crucial for employers to deliver benefits information in a variety of formats (making sure everyone gets the information they need in the way that makes the most sense to them increases the chances that they’ll use it ), but the pandemic has taken a non-negotiable omnichannel approach. With many workforces now remote or hybrid as a result of the pandemic, traditional means of employee engagement (e.g. office posters, on-site meetings, information packages left on desks) are much less effective . To engage workers in this new era, brokers should work with employers to integrate digital tools such as virtual benefits fairs, dedicated benefits sites, virtual 1:1 meetings or calls with health educators. benefits, plus texts, emails, and social media posts in their mix. of resources.
And while some employees may prefer to take the materials and learn at their own pace, opportunities to speak one-on-one with benefits experts are invaluable in motivating employees to take action. Many employees won’t be forced to rethink their benefits if they’re just looking at static resources (eg, an email or brochure), but a conversation with someone who can distill that information for them and suggest alternatives might do it.
The role of brokers has never been more critical in helping employers design benefits strategies that not only reduce costs, but also attract and retain top talent. Whether it’s preventing employees – and, by extension, their employers – from overspending on coverage and care, educating employees on benefits basics, or promoting educational and advocacy resources In an increasingly digital and fragmented work environment, brokers must leverage their expertise and resources to meet the ever-changing needs of their clients.
Kim Bucky is Vice President of Client Services at DirectPath.