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How Can Brokers Survive Healthcare Reform?

Adam Bruckman

A broker standing in the rain, holding an envelope and an umbrella.

10 Critical issues Employers Should Address With their Brokers

Health care reform has America’s employers scrambling to ensure they will be in compliance, scratching their heads about certain provisions and secretly wondering if their company is prepared for what comes next.  Is your broker taking an active role in this process?  Even more important, how do you determine if his or her firm is equipped to help you navigate this uncharted territory?  This new era demands sophisticated expertise and technology from employee benefit advisers.  These 10 critical questions – and your broker’s responses – can help make sure the right captain is at the helm to guide your company into the future.

1. What assistance should brokers provide their clients in response to health care reform?

Today’s innovative brokers are at the top of their game, serving as guides to help employers navigate through health care reform.  This legislation has made a complex industry even more complicated. Savvy businesses are turning to brokers who have invested in personnel and communications platforms that deliver the right information on a timely basis to their customers. Webinars, e-mail advisories, newsletters, handbooks, Q&As and updated timelines about the topic are now mandatory resources that employers should receive.

2. Compliance assistance has become an enormous challenge for companies.  What kind of support is available?

Compliance assistance is essential and has become one of several important services employers should expect.  Keeping up with regulatory requirements is a challenge, particularly for small businesses.  Leading brokers are committed to regularly alerting clients about all regulatory/compliance matters to keep them informed and help manage organizational risk and exposure. Annual compliance reviews (e.g., HIPAA, ERISA, COBRA, HCR, etc.) should now be routine, as well as assistance with IRS paperwork and filings, including Form 5500 preparation.  The goal is to eliminate confusion related to compliance (and any potential deficiencies) with upfront education and counsel about copious state and federal issues.

3. What are the three most important questions employers should ask their brokers NOW?

Ask about strategies and offerings to address long-term health insurance affordability issues.  There are many options to consider including self-funding, consumer-driven plans and voluntary products.  The best brokers spend time getting to know their clients and help design a strategy with customized plans to address an employer’s needs and budget over a period of several years.

Inquire how the firm stays abreast of continually changing regulations related to health care reform – and what tools and resources are available to clients.  Push to understand all the services offered and how the broker differentiates their services from other advisers in the market.

Explore how they help educate customers’ employees about wellness and preventive care – so that these individuals can become better health care consumers. Access to online information and resources, health risk assessment tools, a customer advocate center and communication materials are excellent indicators that you are receiving maximum value.

4.  What do you predict will be the greatest challenges for employers and when will they occur?  What solutions and resources can guide them through these obstacles?

Employers are challenged to find a long-term strategy that provides affordable health insurance for their employees.  Brokers must identify ways to address this crisis and help clients bend the cost-curve on employee benefits.  Data analytics, consumer-focused approaches, integrated benefits (voluntary products), defined contribution expertise, transparency tools and a high-performing technology platform are among the tools and offerings that brokers will need to properly address this issue. Without a strong adviser providing creative and innovative solutions, businesses will continue struggling to provide affordable employer-sponsored benefit options.

5. What do you predict will be the greatest challenges for employees, and when will they occur?  What solutions and resources can guide them through these obstacles?

Today’s economy presents monumental challenges for the American workforce.  At the same time, health insurance policies have become increasingly difficult to understand.  Employees — not just their employers — need more from a broker: more expertise, more guidance and more tools.  Firms that have invested in technology, resources and training for their customers’ employees set themselves apart from the pack.  Leading consultants not only design comprehensive plans, but offer a communication platform to help roll out and advise individuals about their benefits options.  More frequently, through voluntary products and defined contributions plans, employees will make their own decisions about what insurance to purchase for themselves and their families.  Top brokers will provide services and information about these options to each worker through technology, educational tools and enrollment capabilities.  Advisers clearly need to address these issues and are already devising solutions that go well beyond the employer.

6. What innovative approaches are brokers taking to ensure their clients are well informed about reform updates?

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was passed on March 23, 2010.  With more than a thousand pages of rules, regulations and effective dates, businesses are faced with the daunting task of digesting the act’s complexities.  Leading consultants in the employee benefits industry are committed to helping their customers comply with these mandates, as well as other regulatory and legislative requirements.  The industry’s best brokers are well-equipped to serve as trusted advisers.  They provide their clients with a wide array of health care reform communication tools, including frequent advisories, webinars, seminars, newsletters, handbooks, tax credit assessments and calculators – and comprehensive online resources.

7.   Escalating costs remain a challenge and many predict health care reform will not resolve this issue.  What are your thoughts on the matter, and what approaches do you recommend to help control costs?

Escalating insurance costs remain a reality.  No one can accurately predict the future, but it is likely that health premiums will continue to rise unless major changes are made by all stakeholders in our health care system – insurers, providers, employers and employees.  Wellness, lifestyle management and employee engagement are crucial to bringing rising costs under control.  Innovative brokers are rolling out tools to help clients and policy holders embrace these concepts, and many are utilizing advanced technology and analytic tools to help employers and their employees with key decisions about plan options.  The right decision-support tools can more effectively evaluate plan alternatives and establish a long-term strategy.  Better information equates to improved decision-making, less internal analysis and optimal plan results, which maximizes value for everyone involved.  The right technical tools can quantify the value differences among plan features, enabling employers to make solid, cost-saving business decisions based on clear, actionable information.

8. How can I determine if a broker is capable of guiding my company through this transformation?

First and foremost, make sure your broker truly understands your business, your culture and your financial situation.  Ask around.  Get references.  Ensure the firm has the capability to communicate well, plan ahead and effectively implement and follow through.  Ask about their technology platform.  In addition, you want a representative who makes employee benefits simple – and minimizes surprises.  Top-notch advisers are skilled at helping employers and employees do more with less.  The right mix of benefits at the workplace has a direct impact on employee health, satisfaction and financial security.  Seek a client service model that enhances closer relationships between you and your employees.  It’s also important to keep in mind that health care reform will require more from your adviser, so determine whether their firm has the resources, capital and expertise to thrive during these changing times and can meet your new and evolving needs.

9. Health care reform is still evolving.  What’s the latest news from Capitol Hill?

Health care reform is definitely a moving target.  Courts across the nation are challenging it, politicians are battling over it, and insurers are trying to influence the interpretation and implementation of several provisions.  Some recent amendments deal with changes to certain aspects of health care reform, but not much seems to be happening right now as the focus on Capitol Hill is soundly on our country’s debt and deficit.

10. There are still threats of repealing health care reform.  What do you predict will happen, and how will it impact employers?

No one can predict the ultimate outcome.  Instead of taking a “wait-and-see” approach, employers should prepare, remain educated and stay abreast of the ever-changing health care reform landscape.  A great broker will help any business do just that.

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