What’s in Store for Small Group Annual Survey: Three industry experts their share perspective BY THORA MADDEN
How has small group been impacted by the pandemic and/or increased access to ACA subsidies?
Aimee Castillo, Director of Sales, Amwins Connect Insurance Services, LLC:
I don’t know that increased access to subsidies has made any impact, but I can say with absolute certainty that the pandemic has. More and more employees are acutely aware
of the importance of access to care and that has definitely changed the landscape of how employers perceive benefits. Having a benefits package that provides employees with reasonably priced access to care has always been a factor in recruitment and retention of employees, but now it is almost a necessity that is valued pretty close to traditional compensation. I talk to brokers and group administrators all the time who are dealing with situations where they are losing employees to competitors, or they can’t hire quality candidates because they don’t have a strong enough benefits package. Because of this, I am starting to see employers making larger contributions towards their employee premiums, and in some cases, even making contributions towards dependent premiums. I’ve also noticed that benefits packages are being crafted to include plan offerings that will provide their employees with more choices about what benefits they enroll in.
With that said, the changes are not limited to the consumer. Because of the way utilization of benefits have changed, the carriers are adapting their plan designs to accommodate for a
shift in how their claims reserves are being accessed. In an effort to keep their monthly premiums stable, I have noticed that many carriers have opted to adjust the cost sharing provisions in their plans (Co-Payments, Co-Insurance, Deductibles, inc.) and how those are applied to coverage. This can be good news for employees when it comes to their fixed monthly premiums, but if they aren’t enrolled in the right plan, it can be costly when they seek services.
Now more than ever, having a knowledgeable and trusted benefits advisor is crucial.
Steve Crane, Sr. Sales Consultant, Dickerson Insurance Services – An Alera Group Company:
We thought we would definitely see shrink due to ACA subsidies and it would cause groups to cancel their small group coverage, but neither happened. As far as the pandemic, again, we thought we would see groups fall off the map but it did not happen. Right now, we are seeing virgin groups — groups that would never have offered benefits before — wanting to offer benefits. Because there is a labor shortage, they are finding it hard to attract and retain talent without offering decent benefits.
Marc McGinnis, Sr. Vice President, Sales & Strategic Client Management, Word & Brown General Agency:
The pandemic has created a heightened awareness of, and need for, quality health care for citizens across the country. As reported by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 49.6% of Americans receive health insurance through an employer. Those Americans looked to their employers for health coverage, and utilized it during the ongoing pandemic. The global health challenge has reinforced the true value of employee benefits for workers: having quality employer-sponsored coverage available, and in place for many, is vital for employees and dependents.
The pandemic prompted many to understand the true necessity of health insurance. Federal legislators and the Internal Revenue Service responded by extending relief to citizens during the ongoing pandemic, allowing many to upgrade their health plans (or downgrade them to save money) — or allowing others to enroll in coverage midyear, outside of Open Enrollment.
The pandemic encouraged citizens to have discussions about health
care, and motivated many to consider enrollment options through all available access points — via employers, the individual market, Medicaid, Medicare, and COBRA continuation options — as the nation dealt with the effects of the global pandemic.
What are the keys to being a successful broker to small groups right now?
Aimee Castillo, Amwins:
The key to being a successful broker is being present and accessible to your clients via all sources of technology, ie: phone, email and zoom, if in-person meetings are not permitted. We hear this from brokers who were awarded broker of record (BOR) because the employer’s current incumbent broker was never available or didn’t understand the new landscape of technology. Brokers who are constantly educating themselves on new products or services that are emerging are also very successful, because it gives their clients or prospect clients a piece of mind that they know.
Steve Crane, Dickerson:
Pandemic or no pandemic, the tools to be successful have not changed. In depth product knowledge is critical (so the broker can better strategize a client’s needs and/or beat out another broker’s proposal). Offering superior customer service, continually prospecting for new business and staying ahead of technology tools are equally important. What we have seen is that some brokers “took a break” during the pandemic and other brokers hustle. Those that hustled captured some of the business from those that took a break. A pandemic
is no reason to take a break. You may need to “reinvent” yourself by using technology tools such as Ease and Zoom for online enrollment and presentation. More groups are enrolling online than ever before and most open enrollment meetings are taking place over Zoom.
Marc McGinnis, Word & Brown:
Brokers need to continue finding creative ways to serve their clients using technology tools and online platforms. The new HR administrators have arrived — and they are expecting digital efficiencies and platforms that allow them to communicate to employees more dynamically. In addition, brokers need to continue to find a balance of leveraging online tools to better service their customers — while not losing the personal servicing touch that so many small groups still require in the current market.
What does the future look like for small group health?
Aimee Castillo, Amwins:
At this point, the disruption to the system has been in place long enough to where certain elements of it will be permanent and it is pretty safe to say that we are never going back to the way things were before. Employees will continue to become more educated about what they need and what they don’t and will continue to look for more cost effective ways to access their medical providers. Employers will face increased pressure to offer affordable benefits packages to both their current workers and their prospective candidates. For the past 18 months, rates have been relatively stable, and because of this, people have become acutely more aware of the elements that go into selecting a medical plan beyond just the monthly premium. It’s created a much more sophisticated buyer who is aware of things like deductibles, co-insurance, and out-of-pocket maximums. The lowest monthly premium is not always going to be the deciding factor going forward as people will look more towards the overall value of the plan as a whole. So the conversations surrounding which way to go will continue to become much more technical and detailed.
Steve Crane, Dickerson:
Maybe it took a pandemic, but employers realize the importance of offering health insurance like never before. And the same with employees. We are incredibly optimistic about small group, we are seeing lots of requests for quotes and ultimately groups that would never have thought about offering coverage before are doing so.
Marc McGinnis, Word & Brown:
A recent Forbes article survey found that 55% of small business owners say the cost of providing health insurance to their employees is the biggest challenge they face. With health care costs increasing, employers are looking for creative ways to save money on employee benefits. This could mean reduced contributions or lower cost plans accompanied by account-based plans like HSAs and HRAs. The same article goes on to suggest that 66% of small businesses in our country currently are not offering a group health plan at all. The most successful brokers are finding alternative methods to help employers save — while also introducing new benefit strategies to employers who historically have not offered small group health insurance to employees.