Using Tech to Manage Benefits

The rise of smart devices has increased the amount of information available to employers and employees. It is affecting virtually all industries, including health care and employee benefits. Many business owners are throwing the traditional “one-size-fits-all” approach to employee benefits out the window and, instead, are moving to personalized benefits packages customized to each worker’s health care needs and wants.

On top of this, an increasing number of employees view ancillary benefits such as chiropractic, dental and vision care as essential to maintaining their health. Yet, efficiently managing benefits that vary from client to client (and employee to employee) can make it difficult for even the most experienced brokers to keep all of the details organized. The good news is that technology, coupled with great service, is a winning strategy for brokers.

Business owners and managers rely on a range of technology platforms and software solutions to keep their businesses running. For example, many small businesses use accounting software like QuickBooks for bookkeeping, Gusto or ADP for managing payroll and UltiPro for human resources activities. Apps such as Adobe Scan, Evernote and Slack help employers increase productivity, while helping employees organize their personal and professional lives.

For some brokers, there is a perception that technology is less important for groups with one to 25 employees. These firms are often owner-managed, with homegrown payroll, and they tend to rely heavily on health insurance carrier tools and resources, rather than broker technology.

In the mid-market segment, where the employer may have 25 to 50 workers, there is often a greater need for technology. The company is more likely to have an HR manager and use a third party for payroll services. They are less reliant on carriers and tend to expect more services and value-add benefits from their broker.

For groups of 50 to 100 employees, technology is a necessity. These organizations typically have a human resources department, third-party payroll, and rely more heavily on a broker, consultant, and other outsourcing partners for insurance and related services. 

Of course, typecasting is not always reliable, especially when it comes to businesses and today’s changing health insurance marketplace. There are small firms engaged in tech and related fields that expect technology to be a part of their insurance research, analysis, enrollment, and ongoing benefits management program. There may be larger firms that are still owner-managed and less reliant on tech and third parties to facilitate insurance, payroll, and HR. What is important is that brokers get to know clients and adapt to their specific needs.

There are several ways technology can help brokers and client companies manage traditional and ancillary benefits:

  • An Emphasis on Decision-Making: Six years ago, the Pew Internet & American Life Project found nearly eight in 10 internet users went online to a search engine when seeking health-related information. The Software Advice survey found 82% of respondents consulted review websites to view or post ratings and comments for health care providers. A recent update to that survey found the number increasing to 94%. Decision-making tools, which range from traditional and ancillary plan comparisons, web-based doctor and hospital directories and cost estimators, allow brokers to better service small group clients with varying numbers of employees.
  • Speedy Access to Information: Consumers are increasing relying on their phones to manage all aspects of their lives. They have come to expect a certain level of speed when it comes to accessing personal health information like activity level, calorie consumption and daily exercise tracking. For consumers, smartphones and apps are a big component in the health care experience, even as it relates to their insurance and benefits management.

Still, the majority of insurance and employee benefits specialists continue to use desktop and laptop computers to manage their small group clients’ programs. Some brokers are making the move to tablets and smartphones, but the adoption remains slow except among younger brokers, who may be more comfortable with the technology. Carriers, general agencies and administrators are implementing more mobile-friendly tools to assist brokers in managing their business.

While we await development of additional apps to help benefits professionals with their small group health, chiropractic, vision and dental plans, it is in brokers’ best interest to keep an eye on new and emerging technologies to demonstrate their continued value as professional advisers to employers.

  • Condense and Simplify Choices: The service industry norm more than a decade ago focused on one-on-one interactions in brick and mortar stores. Now, most people prefer the convenience of online shopping. The same is true for health insurance, at least for employers and employees in the early stage of identifying their options. One useful tool brokers can share with clients allows them to better match their health care needs with the right plan based on frequency of doctor visits, anticipated out-of-pocket costs, physician preferences (and whether they will be in-network) and overall quality of plan based on health plan member feedback.

However, technology alone is not enough. It is a non-starter without a human partner. It only works if there is a broker who can explain and provide strategic counsel to the group and its members. Otherwise, what is missing is personalized service from what many consider a sterile online environment. Several years ago, an IBM-commissioned poll of 1,000 U.S. consumers found an overwhelming preference for personalized service and human interaction from insurance providers.

That preference for simplicity, personalization and service is even stronger today. As the National Business Group on Health notes, employers continue to explore solutions that can deliver a centralized approach to decisions on health care for employees. Brokers who adopt helpful technology, such as online enrollment, prioritize the experience for employers and employees and deliver strong service are in a great position to grow their business and achieve greater success.

Just as consumers consult Yelp for business reviews, use TripAdvisor to plan an upcoming vacation and make restaurant reservations using OpenTable, they will seek online resources to guide their decision-making process for health care. Brokers able to stay on top of new technologies, introduce them to their groups and use them to better manage traditional and ancillary employee benefits will remain in the driver’s seat for years to come.



Ron Goldstein, CLU, is president and CEO of CHOICE Administrators®, which provides health insurance options and provider access to small businesses and their employees. He also created and currently manages America’s longest-standing, state-approved exchange, CaliforniaChoice.
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