BY JESSICA WORD
With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting business operations across the globe, the health insurance industry is no exception. Almost immediately, a new accelerated digital era began to reshape business as we know it — and the impact on our industry has begun to change how brokers will conduct business from here on.
To start, as companies pivoted their operations to accommodate staff working from home, both executives and employees have come to master the art of video conferencing. The health insurance industry was in a unique position because of its role in the center of a pandemic. To increase accessibility, the industry had to leverage tech tools in a way that had never been done before.
For the first time in recent history, brokers left the paper forms of the past behind, moving instead to digital technology tools available at the click of a mouse.
In a pre-COVID-19 world, brokers preferred to meet with their employer clients in-person to discuss benefit design, costs and more. Once these meetings were concluded in advance of open enrollment, the pressure was on the benefits professional to pull together quotes, review them with the customer, choose a plan and begin filling out the paperwork as part of the process.
Not anymore. COVID-19 effectively shut the door on in-person consultation and with it, a reliance on the literal “paper trail.”
COVID-19 effectively shut the door on in-person consultation and with it, a reliance on the literal “paper trail.”
The good news is that now many of the processes that took days pre-pandemic are more streamlined, creating time savings for brokers and business owners alike. Plus, video conference tools such as WebEx, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime and Zoom allow brokers to meet with clients, guide them through open enrollment and answer questions while still being face-to-face. Smartphones allow brokers to maintain their relationships, expanding their value by being available for a video conference in a pinch.
Healthcare providers have hopped on the digital technology bandwagon, too. For example, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that virtual telehealth appointments experienced an uptick in the early pandemic period (January 2020 through March 2020). And, the use of this technology continued to increase throughout the year, allowing patients the option to receive quality care while also limiting exposure to COVID-19.
It’s become clear that the digital shift is here to stay. In fact, many events held in-person prior to COVID-19 have gone virtual. The shift to webinars and other video-based professional development summits allow brokers to create personal virtual connections, while also remaining engaged with the newest developments in the industry, including how to digitally improve the overall customer experience.
We believe the move to a new digital paradigm has just begun. Here are just a few of the examples of technology that will affect the health insurance space in 2021:
- App-based quoting engines: The days of paper quotes that can take days to generate are gone – with apps now being designed for small group quoting. Now, brokers can build and revise quotes at their fingertips. That means adjustments like adding a new hire can be done in real time, decreasing the need for a broker to go back to the drawing board to build a new quote. Instead, a quoting app allows users to customize options that represent the client’s brand, with custom-tailored rate and benefit details, and changes in contribution scenarios.And apps with integrated tools such as provider searches allow brokers to ensure that employers and employees alike can continue to see their preferred doctors or visit a hospital close to home in an emergency.
- Online business management tools: Managing a book of clients can be hard enough for even the most seasoned brokers. The good news is that the piles of paper that used to dominate a professional’s desk are now stored in online platforms.Instead of having to physically call someone to check the status of underwriting, these web-based and mobile app tools can provide real-time updates on case status and much more. Plus, these platforms can help brokers keep their clients (and groups) organized by building in quick group name searches, along with coverage information, policy numbers and even payment information. Even when life returns to some sense of “normal,” the ability to access a book of business on-the-go allows brokers to provide better customer service to existing and new clients.
- Smartphone-accessible health insurance cards: Another aspect of the digitization of the health insurance industry is the slow phasing out of physical health insurance cards. An increasing number of general agencies are now providing their brokers with the ability to equip employers and their workforce with a digital health insurance card. This helps to alleviate client “what if” worries, such as what happens if the card is lost in the mail, what if care is needed before the card arrives in the mail, what if the card is forgotten before an appointment and more.
Access to medical records via a smartphone is now becoming a must-have with consumers — it’s only natural that the health insurance industry is adapting as well. Plus, delivery of a card directly to a mobile device provides another value-add brokers can leverage with the clients.
A final thought on digital security. The move to the digital space must keep security top of mind. Security features should be built into these apps and tools in order to keep clients’ personal information confidential.
The move to the digital space must keep security top of mind. Security features should be built into these apps and tools in order to keep clients’ personal information confidential.
At the most basic level, two-factor authentication is one security feature offered on most platforms that everyone should be using. To ensure that information is kept secure, simply turn the two-factor authentication settings on and list a backup phone number or email to verify identify whenever a login attempt is made.
The successful rollout of vaccines will help businesses return to a pre-pandemic normal, but the implementation of digital tech tools is here to stay. In-person meetings with clients will undoubtedly be welcomed, but the improved efficiency and accessibility that comes from online and app-based technology will be the new industry standard. It’s important that brokers continue to educate (and use) digital tools to increase their productivity and provide quick, seamless delivery of information vital to employer and employees’ health.
JESSICA WORD is president of Word & Brown General Agency. Established in 1985 and headquartered in Orange, Calif., Word & Brown is one the state’s largest JESSICA WORD is president of Word & Brown General Agency. Established in 1985 and headquartered in Orange, Calif., Word & Brown is one the state’s largest