It’s a New Year – Keep Your Benefits House in Order
Communication doesn’t stop when AEP ends – it’s just the beginning!
By Tim Weber
2023 is here! As the new year begins, it’s a great time to get ready for the busy months ahead. For many of us that means finally getting to organize our burgeoning inbox, taking care of loose ends from last year and cleaning up that workspace. But most importantly, it’s a good time to take an objective look at how the annual enrollment period went this year. Did you anticipate your clients’ benefit plan needs this year? Are you — and they prepared to adapt next year? Are you supporting how well your clients’ employees use their benefits to stay well and get appropriate care with ongoing benefits communications?
As you think about each client’s unique voluntary benefit needs, consider this:
- More employers are making benefit decisions on a much tighter turnaround. Is there anything you can work on now that will help you respond proactively during the busy mid-year and end of year open enrollment seasons?
- Are you suggesting ways to make sure employees know how to best use the benefits they signed up for with communication campaigns? This can help contain costs by keeping people cared for before more dramatic issues develop.
- As inflation pushes costs higher and puts added pressure on employers, can you anticipate creative and less painful ways to adjust voluntary benefit budgets to help balance this out?
- And with an eye toward stretching employers’ and employees’ benefits dollars, do you have the resources to provide alternatives to existing benefits or new ways to meet employees’ needs?
Here are three ways to help you address those potential issues and be better prepared for what may lie ahead in the new year.
- Develop a communication plan — or ramp up the existing one.
It’s never too early to help your employers develop or refine an employee communication plan for mid-year and end-of-year open enrollment. I recommend taking time now to map out a communication plan that you can use to show the value of each benefit option to your decision makers. Highlight any important updates and changes for the coming year to show how each benefit selection might affect the employees. Also explore which mediums or channels resonate best with employees. Maybe it’s company intranet articles or webinars. Take the time to get a sense of employee communication needs now, so your message can be delivered effectively and with the most impact.
Find a few key differentiators that you can present to the employer to make it easier for them to better communicate that value to their employees. Contacting each benefit provider to evaluate or brainstorm the best ways to help them demonstrate how they stand out from others is a great place to start. Having the ability to communicate the advantages of comprehensive coverage to employers is a must.
Make sure employees are well informed about the choices they made, and how to use their benefits. Are they getting the most out of their wellness visit benefits, dental and vision care, employee assistance programs? Are they making sure to use benefits as the last quarter of the year approaches? Are employers gauging what use patterns reveal popularity and effectiveness in keeping workers healthy and in good mental shape? Showing care throughout the year goes a long way in building loyalty as well as helping workers avoid more costly conditions that could have been dealt with earlier.
- Create a plan for combating inflation.
Begin to think through how you can help employers address rising inflation and increased costs of core benefits, primarily medical coverage, that may affect the amount of money employers can spend on voluntary benefits. Even though inflation has cooled off a little, employees are still bearing the brunt of high prices, from gas to groceries, credit cards to new car purchases. You may have to work with your employers on exploring new plans to keep benefits cost-effective. It may also be useful to look at the participation rates of some voluntary benefits to see if there are ways to make the benefits less costly to each employer.
While carefully reviewing benefit selections to help combat inflation, consider suggesting that employers look for the ‘benefits within the benefit.’ For example, maybe a health insurance plan offers virtual tele-health options. Employees could use this service versus taking valuable time off from work, or more importantly, having to undergo a costly emergency room visit. Maybe a retirement savings plan offers an annual financial planning meeting or other online investment strategy tools that can help employees feel comfortable in an uncertain economic climate.
Keeping an eye on your employers’ press releases and public financial information may help you gauge how much inflation is impacting their industry. For those more impacted by inflation, having a proactive broker that helps create a plan to combat inflation is a big asset.
- Find ways to stretch benefit dollars.
This leads us into our final point. It’s the perfect time to start exploring options that will help stretch your employers’ and employees’ benefits dollars while still addressing their most-pressing issues. As I mentioned, it’s going to be important to understand how inflation is impacting your clients and their employees. There may be benefits that employers can offer to help employees cope with the stress of financial insecurity. A financial wellness package or courses on financial planning can be great options. Offering these tools to your employers can show them that you are attuned to employees’ changing needs.
Additionally, anticipating your clients’ needs and recommending creative and cost-effective solutions can go a long way to solidifying your relationship. Are there specific coverages, like pet insurance or caregiver support, that can make your clients a more attractive employer? Family planning related benefits are seeing growing demand. Are you able to provide coverages for things like adoption, IVF or other infertility treatments? For employers that pride themselves on being leaders in diversity equity and inclusion (DEI), benefit offerings, like family planning benefits or legal insurance, can help to meet the needs of people no matter where they are in life. Legal insurance is a versatile voluntary benefit to offer, as it can be used by anyone, regardless of their age, gender or marital status.
Another way to stretch your benefits dollars is to look at voluntary benefits that are complementary. For example, by pairing legal insurance with financial wellness packages, employers can help staff feel better equipped to handle whatever financial challenges they might be facing. As we noted earlier, employee communications around these complementary benefits can not only inform employees but showcase a more holistic approach to meeting their individual needs.
Even though I suspect economic challenges will continue, I’m optimistic that 2023 is going to be an exciting year. Taking the time in the first few months to get organized, anticipate what may lie ahead for your clients, and set the foundation for open communication throughout the year can lead to some great results. Maintaining that ‘new year discipline’ throughout 2023 will help solidify your role as a trusted advisor.
Tim Weber is a member of the ARAG executive team. He has extensive experience in the insurance industry and oversees ARAG’s core sales business – group sales, sales operations, client management, product development and client support services. Tim has strong leadership talents, a proven track record of delivering voluntary benefits growth and has worked as both a benefit provider and a broker.