Brokers: here’s your game plan for renewal season in the COVID-19 era

By Jennifer Burnham-Grubbs

It’s undeniable that COVID-19 has upended a lot of norms in the benefits world. But one thing it hasn’t changed: the calendar.

Pandemic or no, summer is done, which means open-enrollment/renewal season! And if you’re a broker, you’re probably somewhat worried about how it’s going to shake out.

The coronavirus, of course, has changed how employers judge the value of their plans. It’s changed the way employees evaluate their benefits options, too. Which means it should change the way brokers approach their business.

But how? How can brokers strategize for enrollment, in the face of an unpredictable public health emergency?

This article will explore some options, by examining each of the three stakeholders in the process: employers, employees, and brokers.

Here’s what brokers should remember, in a renewal season dominated by COVID-19:

  1. The cautious employer

The situation 

The coronavirus has American business reeling.

Consumer spending is way, way down. Whole sectors have ground to a near halt. And even for those companies that are still making money, the macro-economic outlook seems bleak. Small wonder that most corporate leaders believe we’re in for a prolonged recession.

Add to this the ambiguities surrounding healthcare utilization. Millions of Americans deferred healthcare procedures during the early phases of the pandemic. Nobody can be certain when—or if—that utilization will return. Which makes it nearly impossible to predict healthcare expenditures for the coming year.

These factors, naturally, have employers feeling cautious. They’re assessing their benefits expenditures with a critical eye. If they were considering cutting spending before, you better believe they’re thinking hard about it now.

In fact, according to Mercer, a full two-thirds of employers are considering major changes to their benefits plans.

These changes are likely to reflect a more conservative approach than in years past. Employers will hesitate to offer up a significant proportion of their operating budgets if they can’t see a clear, measurable ROI.

They are, in other words, looking for value—ways to increase what they get from their benefits, without increasing their costs. Brokers should strive to deliver.

Take-aways for brokers: 

– A majority of employers are looking for a change to their benefits

– Their approach is likely to be conservative—averse to major spending increases

Look for ways to deliver value, without increasing spend

  1. Nervous employees

The situation

Stresses of the pandemic have taken their toll on the American workforce.

If the physical danger of contagion and the tedium of social distancing weren’t enough, many Americans are also living in a protracted state of suspense.

Furloughs, layoffs and unemployment claims dominate the headlines. Too many Americans are wondering if their job is next.

The last thing fretting employees need is to worry about their costs for COVID care. Yet, when it comes to paying for tests and treatment, most employees have far more questions than answers.

That’s a lot to deal with, right?

It’s against this backdrop of stress, suspense, and confusion that employees will be making their decisions about enrollment / renewal. Brokers would do well to remember that all of this strain and worry means there is a new premium on clarity and simplicity, when it comes to benefits plans.

Employees are looking for healthcare benefits that protect them, without unnecessary complications. Just as important, they’re looking for plans that communicate these benefits effectively.

Brokers can help on both fronts, by curating benefits and features that seamlessly protect employees, and by helping to design communication plans to reach them.

Take-aways for brokers:

– Employees are stressed and confused

– They want to feel protected by their benefits plans (and the feeling is likely shared by employers)

– Brokers should strive to offer benefits that protect, without frills or complications

  1. The beleaguered broker

 The situation

Last but not least, we should not forget about brokers ourselves. The pandemic has brought us to our own crossroads, and the professional future for many is far from certain.

Consider the simple realities of running a book in the pandemic. Working from home means that many of the broker’s tried-and-true tactics are unavailable. Social distancing is safe, but it leads to lost face-time, cancelled conferences and missed opportunities for connection.

(And that’s the best case scenario—things get much messier if there are kids in the picture!)

Brokers therefore have to develop the capacity to add value from afar. Tools like virtual prospecting and contactless enrollment have just moved from “ancillary” to “essential.”

Nor is that all; brokers will need to stay competitive. Just as essential will be the broker’s ability to curate novel, helpful solutions for clients.

However, brokers can ill-afford to squander energy on major benefits upheavals or administrative challenges. The last thing brokers want is to spend their precious hours resolving customer service issues.

So it’s not enough for solutions to be new and valuable—they must also be modular and seamless. They have to integrate freely into existing benefits packages, without causing any hang-ups.

Take-aways for brokers:

– Work from home leaves brokers well outside their comfort zones

– To stay competitive, they have to differentiate themselves

– But they can’t afford to waste any time

One solution: CoPatient

Finding solutions to satisfy the demands of any one of these stakeholders is a challenge. Brokers have to deliver for all three of them. That’s a tall order.

But there’s a solution that I believe adds value, without adding spend; that protects employees with clarity and simplicity; and that differentiates brokers, without sapping their time.

It’s CoPatient. CoPatient is a full-service billing advocacy solution that brings immense value to the table. Its dedicated platform, which can be modularly added to ANY benefits design, provides billing experts who scrutinize employees’ medical bills, then tirelessly advocate and negotiate for savings on their behalf—delivering an average of $500 saved per bill.

Since 80% of medical/dental/vision bills contain errors, this value service not only saves employees money; it frees employees, employers, and brokers from the hassle of managing billing disputes themselves.

Even better, CoPatient is simple to sell and simple to use. It’s a modular extension available on the Ease app marketplace, Employee Navigator, or through brokers directly. Employers can offer this valuable service as a benefit to their employees, at little or no cost. CoPatient is one thing that delivers tremendous value, especially now as employers and their employees do their best to navigate through the challenges of the COVID crisis – and that makes it a no-brainer addition for your clients’ benefits designs.

Not only does it keep employees more productive at work (since they won’t have to waste time resolving medical, dental or vision billing disputes on the clock); it keeps brokers free to focus on what we do best – growing and retaining our books in a challenging environment. Much better than getting drawn into a billing dispute, wouldn’t you agree?

The CoPatient benefit can be started any time, not just at renewal. Employers who sponsor this offering set themselves up to deliver much more value to their employees, at a tiny fraction of what they pay for the medical, dental and vision benefits themselves. Their employees will feel more protected and more appreciative of their benefits because they’ll actually pay out as they should whenever they use their plan.

Employers who are not ready to spend anything at all at this time can still make CoPatient available to employees as a highly affordable voluntary benefit, helping them get much more value from their existing benefits.

For brokers looking at renewal season in the time of COVID, it’s a win-win-wins on offer.

Your clients will thank you for bringing them this solution.


Jennifer Burnham-Grubbs co-founded Quantum Insurance Services in 2012 and now serves as its CFO. As a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Princeton University, Jennifer brought her work ethic and critical thinking skills to her first insurance job at a boutique brokerage firm in Beverly Hills. Her interest in people, facility with numbers and entrepreneurial spirit came together when she noticed that most insurance advisors see their work as sales, rather than consulting. To remedy this, she launched Quantum, a national commissions-agnostic insurance consulting firm. Recipient of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal Trusted Advisor Award and a top Quora writer since 2016, Jennifer continues to serve as a dynamic force within her field. Her firm regularly contributes to top financial publications such as Kiplinger and Forbes and is a valuable resource for accountants, financial advisors, business managers and clients across the country.