This past year, I was lucky enough to talk to hundreds of benefits consultants about the latest trends in benefits communication. Here are five suggestions on how to deliver even more value to your clients next year, based on those conversations.
#1. Think of decision support as the engine that drives your whole strategy
Most of your clients have two things in common: they spend an enormous amount of money on health care AND they struggle to get their employees to choose the right plan for them, and then use that plan wisely.
A relatively small investment in world-class benefits decision support can have a huge impact in the choices that employees actually make. And smarter, wallet-friendlier employee choices can ensure that your clients’ huge benefits investments pay off.
As one of our broker pals recently put it, “Great decision support is like insurance for your plan design.”
#2. Go big on digital communication technology
The era of lengthy printed benefits guides and endless Q4 benefits meetings is mercifully coming to an end. Don’t cling to the past. Embrace the future.
Digital benefits communication tools make life easier for HR teams. They cut down on the need for travel, they reduce the time spent repeatedly answering common questions, and they save money on printing and postage for benefits guides that employees rarely use.
On top of that, great digital communication tools can get employees engaged with their retirement and tax-savings accounts—and when they save more, the company owes less in payroll taxes.
#3. Rebrand open enrollment as an annual financial check-up
Open enrollment has a bad reputation. To many employees, it’s just an obligatory, stressful, box-checking exercise to be done as quickly as possible… with the least amount of effort. In fact, last year, 93% of employees simply defaulted to what they chose the year before.
A lot of those employees are now locked into expensive medical plans, which cost them and their companies more money than they should be paying. Other employees have neglected to enroll in an HSA, FSA, or 401(k), which costs them and their companies more money in taxes than should be paying.
Can you spot the trend? (Hint: it’s money.)
Help your clients create open enrollment messaging that’s focused on the bottom-line benefit of each medical plan and tax-advantaged account, using specific dollar amounts when possible. You might explain that the average employee saves $19.65 in taxes for every $100 they put in a pre-tax account for healthcare costs (like an HSA or FSA). Or you might emphasize that ignoring the 401(k) match is like turning down thousands of dollars in free money every year.
Medical plans and pre-tax benefits can seem abstract. Making open enrollment about the money helps employees understand their benefits and make smart choices.
#4. Keep promoting telemedicine and urgent care (even if it’s frustrating)
To keep down costs and provide more convenient care, many of your clients are offering telemedicine tools and raising awareness of urgent care centers. This is smart and helpful. Telemedicine tools are free to employees, and more convenient then an in-person office visit (especially when you’re feeling sick). For an urgent-but-non-life-threatening issue, an urgent care visit can provide the same treatment as an ER, but with a shorter wait, and at one-fifth of the cost.
The problem is that employees don’t use these options. Only 2% of Americans report they have used their telemedicine benefits. And 25% of emergency room visits could have been handled by an urgent care center for a fraction of the cost.
This can make you feel like giving up. Don’t. Remember, employees were hesitant to use HDHPs at first, too. You’ve got to keep trying. Tell your clients to make short, positive employee testimonials about their telemedicine experiences. Break down the huge cost difference between urgent care centers and emergency rooms for something non-emergency, like a broken toe—and point out the difference in wait time, too.
It’ll take some effort, but it’ll be worth it—to both the employees and your clients’ CFOs.
#5. Ask your vendors to help cover benefits technology costs
Insurance carriers are often willing to offer technology, communication or marketing credits to brokers (payable in a lump sum or monthly installments) to help cover the cost of new benefits communications technology.
The savviest benefits consultants ask every single carrier they work with to pitch in—medical carriers, dental carriers, critical illness carriers… you name it. After all, it’s in their best interest to support benefits communication that will educate employees about their products—and possibly boost enrollment in those products.
This article was originally published in BenefitsPro magazine in December 2019.