The Role of the Broker in the New Benefits Landscape

Following is an excerpt from the book, "Employee Benefits and the New Health Care Landscape: How Private Exchanges are Bringing Choice and Consumerism to America's Workforce", by Alan Cohen, in which Alan shares insights from Rob Harkins on the changing role of brokers in the new healthcare landscape. EHBC attendees can receive 35% off the book's list price when they order at using the code: HCLANDEHBC.

Rob Harkins is leading an EHBC session on Oct. 4 with Melissa Halverson, Benefits and HR Manager at WAXIE Sanitary Supply called, "O Ye Employer of Little Faith: Why Your Employees Are Smarter Than You Think (When it Comes to Benefits Selection)".The most forward-thinking brokers recognize they have a major role in the emerging benefits economy, provided they are willing to change.

"Yesterday's role was focused on placing business with carriers, finding the best pricing and plan designs, helping employers figure out how to minimize cost," Rob Harkins said. It was all about how to set up contribution strategies to support client concerns around cost, as inflation was a given. Today, price inflation is still a focus, but there are other concerns as well- most notably, how to engage employees as their population changes.

"Brokers need to understand that as the workforce changes, their role needs to change, too," according to Harkins. "Millennials created challenges for delivering benefits, as they are the most digitally-savvy employees and are now the largest percentage of the workforce. This demographic expects sophisticated, digital access to their benefits, as well as the ability to choose them based on their unique needs.

Give them anything less and they won't hesitate to move on to your competition. Providing a modern benefits platform that aligns with what they are seeing in just about every other aspect of their lives is crucial to attracting and retaining them."Varying plan designs and types of offerings become even more important based on these demographic realities. Harkins added, "Choice is the very framework of private exchanges, and we have this tool that already recognizes that benefits are no longer a one size fits all model. Individual desires need to be reflected in individual considerations and private exchanges are the vehicle for delivering this to clients who are trying to address the realities of today's employee marketplace."

Brokers now have to pitch employers on the benefits of the exchanges to their employees as individuals, Harkins said.Among these benefits are the ability to provide:

  • Better health outcomes because employees are using the appropriate services for their needs,
  • Tools to help guide employees based on their individual needs, and
  • Cost transparency of services. For example, price transparency tools such as the Healthcare Bluebook allow employees to compare the costs of MRI and other services at different providers. This is very congruent with the way people are shopping online today.

The broker's role continues to evolve to meet these changing circumstances. According to Harkins, "The broker can't set up a pre-packaged model for private exchanges and walk away. The broker must navigate employer concerns using technology as a tool - just as employees use technology today."

Another opportunity comes in the cross-selling opportunities for those brokers who come from a Property & Casualty background. "We see the two coming together in the mid-market; we are constantly thinking about how to engage that side of our business to see the value in private exchanges."

Insurance is a very slow moving industry, he conceded. "We need to move away from an industry that has been driven by 'broker-consultant' to one where there is energy created around the private exchange concept. We need to move into the recognition that we're talking about a better way of doing benefits as an industry.

The reality is that technology has changed around us and the industry has to catch up.We shouldn't compete on plan design, but on capabilities and service - this is generally true around any new industry. We need to embrace the future, not get stuck in the past."There's a large portion of the insurance industry that's saying technology isn't here; not only is it here, but it's a better way of doing things and we need to move forward."