HRA Blog

The Joys of Fall – Pumpkin Lattes and Benefits Plan Renewals

Written by Tiffany Aukema on .

Summer is over and fall has arrived, for many HR professionals it’s not all apple picking and pumpkin lattes, but managing the often painful process of their organization’s benefits plan renewal and open enrollment period.  The ever-changing landscape of healthcare often leads to many questions for organizations.  Is this the right plan for our employees?  Are we getting the maximum value for the company?  Are we in compliance?  Could we be doing better?   These are all legitimate questions and can make the process stressful, particularly for small employers.

Rather than looking inward, organizations should redirect these questions to their benefits broker.  Whether you are a large firm or one of less than 100 employees, you deserve top service from your broker.  Too many employers waste money on benefits that aren’t needed or don’t make sense for their employees.  Conversely, brokers often focus primarily on renewals and don’t take the time during the year to get to know their clients.  Employers should consider spending benefits  dollars differently and invest in a quality broker who will ensure the health and wellness plans they adopt meet their organization’s needs.

The good news is that there are many great brokers in the industry.  Rather than simply focusing on renewals, many brokers offer benefits customer service support throughout the year and make an effort to build relationships with their clients.  These brokers make an effort to help resolve claims issues and assist in navigating the complicated world of coverage levels, network services, and billing.  Many offer compliance related services and file annual reports, such as the 5500, and complete non-discrimination testing.

A good broker will take the time to understand your culture, industry, values, and goals. Their priority is to help define your benefits needs that will deliver the greatest value for your organization.

When selecting or evaluating a broker, the following basic administration questions should always be asked:

  1. How is your broker compensated?  Brokers are typically paid a commission from the insurance carrier or a flat fee from the organization for which they provide services.
  2. What is your overall strategy for keeping healthcare costs controlled? The broker may have relationships that will help in controlling price increases.
  3. Do you offer access to all insurance carriers? Some brokers only work with certain providers and may limit employer’s choices in plans.
  4. Do you annually market benefits? While employers don’t want to always be changing their benefits offerings, pricing out the plans annually can save employees money.

In addition, employers should also consider asking the following questions of their benefits provider to ensure they are investing in not only a service, but a strategic partner:

  1. Do you provide ongoing benefits’ support to employees beyond open enrollment? This is a great service for smaller employers or organizations with a lean HR department. Brokers can offer benefits support and/or act as the benefits department.
  2. Do you provide any proactive, customized communication strategies to employees that goes well beyond enrollment? Again, this service is helpful to organizations that are unable to provide pro-active support because of size and resources available.
  3. What type of technology resources do you utilize to manage benefits administration? Employees like having self-service access to their benefits. Many brokers offer and manage online portals that allow employees to research their own questions and make changes to their plans saving significant internal time and resources.
  4. Does our organization have access to one person who will understand and manage our plans? Having access to one person who understands the plans personalizes the benefits experience and minimizes the risk of receiving misinformation.
  5. Do you follow legislative updates, including healthcare reform, and pass along information? Keeping abreast of healthcare legislation is complicated. Brokers can ensure that employers are compliant in all benefits related areas, to include the filings of mandatory reports.
  6. Will you challenge your organization to think outside of the box to provide solutions that meet the needs of your workforce? A broker who understands their client’s business is able to best offer creative benefits solutions that offer the maximum value for the employees.
  7. Do you offer educational programs to your staff throughout the year? Employees are interested in more than basic healthcare coverage. Many are also looking for wellness, nutritional, and fitness ideas that promote healthy lifestyles.
  8. Are you familiar with our industry? Do you support other firms of our size? Brokers who are familiar with a particular industry are best equipped to ensure that employers stay competitive in their market.
  9. How many times per year are you willing to meet with our management team to assess our current plans? Regular meetings with the broker will help minimize surprises during the renewal period and will allow employers time to plan for change, if needed.

Organizations don’t have to settle for a broker who only manages transactional needs. HR should regularly evaluate their current broker’s services and consider whether they are providing all that is needed.

More importantly, it’s a beautiful time of the year, you should be enjoying the crispness of the air and preparing for the upcoming holidays, you shouldn’t feel stressed out about benefits planning.  Leave the benefits work to the experts by looking for a trusted advisor and strategic partner.