How BenEx Helps Your Business be the Hero 

BenEx wants to help our clients reach their goals and we strive to make your business the hero of the story.  Every business out there is somewhere along the plot of a story.   Some are at the beginning of the story with high hopes and visions of taking on the world.  Some are in the middle, they have it figured out but still want to keep pushing to the finish.  Some are at the end, they’ve done everything they set out to do and there isn’t much they haven’t experienced along the journey.


The point of my comparison is that everybody likes to root for the hero and fight against the villain.  In business the hero is your company, your job, or even you.  We all push hard and want to do a great job for many reasons, one of those often times is so we can be the hero of our story.

The villain in our stories can be a number of things.  Time, competition, the market, and stress can be like Darth Vader trying to find Luke Skywalker and bring him to the dark side.  Like Skywalker, we are constantly looking for ways to overcome these obstacles to help grow our business.  Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose.  The important thing is that we keep moving forward and learn from our losses.  Nobody wants to watch a movie that ends the first time the hero fails.  We all want to keep watching until the hero overcomes the villain and saves the day.

BenEx works tirelessly to be give our clients the tools to save the day.  We give them a light saber to fight Darth Vader.  We give them training to help Rocky defeat Apollo Creed.  Most importantly we give our clients peace of mind to know that they aren’t fighting these villains alone, we’re right beside them every step of the way.

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In the midst of healthcare uncertainty, employers must view benefits broadly

  • A new study by Colonial Life recommends that employers not be distracted by the healthcare debate in Washington and offer a variety of benefits programs now, including voluntary ones.
  • According to the “Big-Picture Benefits” study, employers can create benefits plans that are more cost-effective and competitive by offering an array of benefits workers want from which they can choose what they need.
  • Healthcare is a monumental cost for employers and employees. According to Gallup, it’s Americans’ number-one concern — and employers clearly play a role in ensuring both options and affordability.
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In the face of uncertainty, employers are advised to stay on the steady course. Even with a new administration that looks eager to pare back regulations, very few promises are set in stone, and employers are safer complying with what they already know exists.

With healthcare costs continuing to increase year-over-year for both employers and employees, more companies are turning to flexible options to try and make up the difference. Offering voluntary benefits has historically had good results, and the move is viewed particularly favorably by younger employees that are entering a variety of life stages.

But even the most well-meaning healthcare program will flail if employees aren’t also educated on the increasing financial burden placed upon their shoulders. Employers have attempted to deflect healthcare costs by pushing some of the costs onto employees via high-deductible health plans, but such plans require that employees have a broader knowledge of their own healthcare spend. When workers are already highly concerned about their healthcare costs, HDHPs could simply add fuel to their anxious fire.

Benefits education programs will be a must, as will financial wellness programs, to balance the increased responsibility on workers.

Technology further influencing benefits management

HR technology is not only helping professionals manage benefits and make their jobs easier, it’s also helping them gain C-suite influence.

According to the inaugural Paychex Pulse of HR Survey, more than two-thirds of HR leaders at small and mid-sized companies say they have grown beyond serving a traditional administrative function to taking on a more strategic role within their respective organizations. And technology is helping to drive that shift.

A growing number of HR leaders (41%) are meeting with their CEO or CFO — or both — on a weekly basis, according to the survey, while close to one-third have access to top management when they need it.

Three-quarters of respondents said that HR technology has enabled them to become more strategic and efficient on the job. In addition, 60% of respondents considered their HR technology to be very effective for payroll, retirement and benefits administration, and time and attendance tracking, indicating they feel that technology is allowing them to maximize their effectiveness when it comes to the administration of critical business functions.

Further, a vast majority of respondents (95%) find their technologies to be either somewhat or very effective for the full range of HR tasks, including onboarding, recruitment, performance management, and other administrative functions.

“Technology is a powerful tool in our everyday lives and especially for HR leaders, with the right solution offering countless opportunities for increased accuracy and efficiency,” says Martin Mucci, president and CEO of Paychex, a payroll, HR, retirement and insurance services provider.

But despite the high levels of satisfaction, the survey suggests that leaders recognize that digital transformation in HR is not quite complete.

As HR technology exponentially evolves, HR leaders are working to keep pace: 48% said they’ve changed their technology solutions in the past one to three years, according to Paychex. And, as in other areas where state-of-the-art technology is a moving target, adopting point solutions versus a single platform may be creating new challenges.

Further enhancing the influence of HR leaders is their ability to make data-driven recommendations and decisions, the study notes.

A large majority of respondents (86%) said analytics help them to be more informed and objective, but nearly half are unsure if they’re leveraging the correct data to meet business goals.

With the vast array of data now available, new analytics tools are becoming a key tool for HR leaders. These range from straightforward reports of current data to AI-driven predictive modeling and recommendation engines.

Eighty-six percent of HR leaders said analytics help them be more informed and objective — but nearly half aren’t sure if they’re leveraging the correct data. Further, those who are using analytics are doing so mainly to target HR communications more effectively.

“Technology, combined with knowledgeable service professionals, can empower today’s HR professionals to make objective, data-driven workforce recommendations to the C-suite that will ultimately help achieve the organization’s overall business goals,” Mucci says.

Published
  • June 20 2017, 9:53pm EDT

Employers boosting benefits packages to attract top talent

Nearly one-third of employers expanded their benefit packages in the last 12 months in an effort to attract and retain top talent, according to the Society of Human Resource Management’s 2017 Employee Benefits Survey.

Increases in health (22%) and wellness (24%) offerings, as well as providing healthcare benefits to employees’ spouses and domestic partners, were major strategies from organizations in helping to remain competitive.

In 2014, 71% of companies offered opposite-sex spouses healthcare coverage, while only 46% offered it to same-sex spouses. That gap closed to just 10 percentage points in 2017, according to the report.

[Image credit: Bloomberg]

[Image credit: Bloomberg]

Ninety-five percent of employees now offer healthcare coverage to opposite-sex spouses, while 85% offer it to same-sex spouses. Although to control healthcare costs, 19% of employers have restrictions or a surcharge for coverage for opposite-sex spouses, and 16% have restrictions for coverage for same-sex spouses, SHRM says.

But some political uncertainty is causing challenges to employers as it relates to employer-sponsored health benefits, says Chatrane Birbal, SHRM’s senior advisor in government relations.

One tax that is currently on the table is the ACA excise tax , she says, and the House-passed American Health Care Act proposes to delay this tax to 2026 and there are proposals to fully repeal the tax.

“While the excise tax is not scheduled to take effect until 2020, HR professionals and employers are already restructuring their health care benefit offerings to avoid the tax,” Birbal notes. “As 2020 approaches, more employers will closely scrutinize their health benefit offerings and will make the necessary changes to avoid the excise tax.”

If the 40% excise tax is not repealed, many employers may be forced to cut benefits, alter wellness and chronic care prevention programs, and reduce innovative new benefit offerings, she warns. “Further, employees will be negatively impacted by higher copays and deductibles and could even cause some to decline employer-provided health care,” she adds, noting SHRM supports full repeal of the excise tax.

“Recruiting difficulty has continued to increase over the last five years, and competition for talent is high,” added Shonna Waters, vice president of research for SHRM. “Most companies are now using benefits as a strategic tool for recruiting and retaining talent in this competitive environment.”

Alongside the focus on healthcare, employers also are taking a deep dive into wellness programs, with about three in every five employers offering general wellness programs, according to the report.

Nearly one-quarter (24%) reported increased wellness benefits offerings in the past year, with the most common wellness benefit being providing wellness resources and information (71%). According to the study, 62% gave wellness tips or information at least quarterly in the form of a newsletter, e-mail, column, tweets, etc.
Addressing costs

While many organizations have been extending healthcare coverage to employees’ families, two-thirds of those surveyed said they were very concerned about controlling healthcare costs while another 31% were somewhat concerned.

From 2016 to 2017, healthcare costs increased for 79% of organizations, with an 11% increase, on average, according to SHRM.

One strategy that some organizations are using to mitigate healthcare costs is to implement restrictions on coverage for spouses and domestic partners. One of the more common cost-curbing strategies employers used was adding a surcharge or denying coverage if the employee’s spouse was offered coverage by another employer.

Other cost-saving measures included providing only secondary coverage, charging higher premiums or cost-sharing amounts, and not allowing employees to use pretax earnings to pay for spousal premiums, the report notes.

Health savings accounts are another tactic. More than one-half (55%) of organizations offered HSAs in 2017, according to SHRM’s report, and more than one-third (36%) provided an employer contribution to the HSA, also showing an upward trend. Meanwhile, flexible spending accounts have seen a slight dip over the past years, according to the study. In 2013, 72% of organizations were offering an FSA and that number has tapered off to 65% this year.

Because benefit programs are so important, but costly, to remaining competitive in the talent war, SHRM says it’s imperative for employers to leverage their benefit packages to the fullest extent possible. It offers these tips to employers to help get the most bang for the buck.

1. Conduct employee surveys and analyze organizational data to learn what benefits are most valued, if there are differences among employees and what employees want that your organization is not providing.
2. Benchmark your organization’s benefits against others in your industry. Look for gaps where your organization either lags or leads your competitors.
3. Align benefits with organizational strategy, values and culture to help foster employee commitment, sense of purpose and engagement.
4. Implement strategies to help manage the cost of benefits.
5. Review your benefits communication strategy to make sure benefits are understood and used by employees. For benefits with low uptake or use, consider revising the communication strategy and providing more frequent communication about the benefits.

The risk and rewards of ‘Uberizing’ benefits

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The role of technology is growing exponentially in employee benefits, with an array of new platforms eager to partner with advisers every year. For brokers and consultants, this brings a mandatory need to be consistently knowledgeable of the ever-changing technology surrounding benefits communication.

At Sun Life Financial’s recent summit, experts discussed tech trends as well as at what point technology could become a problem, rather than a solution.

Jeff Yaniga, chief revenue officer at Maestro Health, said technology begins with big data, and that data needs to be “people friendly. All that data that exists in claims can inform decisions,” Yaniga said. For example, Uber’s data inform other industries of the most popular locations and common traffic patterns used, he added.

Relating Uber’s experience to making use of such seemingly extraneous data such as utilizing claims data in the employee benefit landscape, Yaniga said, “If you are looking to make an informed decision, if you know all of the information about your utilization over the last 10 years — and that can inform what you’re doing in the next 12 months — you now have a different experience all together.”

By identifying what benefits employees have enrolled with in previous years, Yaniga said the experience of benefits can be altered by investing less in the programs being underutilized and increase investment in the more popular benefits.

“Data is only people friendly when it is actionable,” Yaniga said. “The value of collecting all of this data over time and putting it in a format that is people friendly that can be actioned, it’s the next generation of benefits.”

Even so, in carrying on the Uber comparison, Scott Millson, principal at MillsonJames, an HR technology and administration consulting firm, said there is a big difference between a ride sharing app and the benefits industry. “You’ve got an industry in ride sharing, moving people from point A to point B, which is relatively straightforward, and in comparison you have healthcare, not so straight forward,” Millson said.

Millson compared the dynamics of healthcare to an aircraft carrier that is so large it is unable to make quick course corrections. “In a ride sharing industry, things are able to turn on a dime and you can have something develop overnight that didn’t exist before,” Millson said. “It’s a little bit harder to have something in our industry that will come on the scene and take that aircraft carrier and start whipping it around… We will begin to see disruption in innovation, but it will be a little bit slower than some of the consumer-type apps being produced.”

Jeff Goldberg, SVP of research and consulting at insurance technology consulting and research firm Novarica, said advancement in the benefits industry will not come from one portion of technology such as AI or big data, but rather the intermingling of multiple forms of technology.

“We are at an intersection of these new technologies where the Internet of Things has this ability to gather all types of new data that we didn’t have access to before. Big data is actually the technology that allows us to consume that data and manipulate and visualize it,” Goldberg said. “Then you look at AI being the third pillar, allowing us to gain new insight from that data in ways that we really couldn’t use it before.”

The rate at which technology advances within the benefits market depends on how easily people can comprehend benefits, both from the provider side and the consumer. With only 14% of employees understanding the concepts of a deductible, a copay, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximums, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon University, Millson said it is unlikely benefits will see trendy cutting-edge tech anytime soon with such low comprehension.

“The ability to bring in something new and flashy is absolutely critical to engage the user, but we got to address the root cause which is [that] people struggle with their benefits [comprehension],” Millson said.

Evaluating the effectiveness of technology
With such advanced technology hitting the market such as AI and machine learning programs used by companies like Benefitfocus – via their Informatics products – brokers need to have an understanding of how these technologies work and whether or not they are beneficial to their clients.

Millson said if a broker is unsure of the effectiveness of a certain type of tech on the market, they must seek out those who do have the knowledge to make an informed decision — even if that means hiring a HR tech consultant.

“Brokers, by and large, are exceptional at understanding the industry, understanding the legislation and understanding what the client needs. Technology is something new [to their knowledge base],” Millson said. “They need to stay focused, to keep their eye on the ball of what they are gifted at and what they have done historically, but leverage the expertise of people [who] can come to the table.”

Goldberg said brokers need to be aware of who is actually paying for the new technology being used in the workplace. “Is it the employer paying for access to new technology that’s going to help their employees? Is it the broker or is it the carrier who is providing technologies that the broker will white label and take advantage of to provide to their clients?” Goldberg said.

Goldberg adds that it is mostly likely the vendor that will bare most of the burden for the cost of technology in most scenarios. However, larger brokerage may invest in advanced tech for their clients, which would put them in the position of covering the cost.

“[Carriers] will normally say, ‘Work with us, we’ll manage this data and give you feedback,’ or some will say, ‘We’re going to build tools that the broker can use to work with [the employer] on the data,’” Goldberg said. “In the end, what the broker is bringing to the table is not really the technology, but the relationship management — and that’s more important.”

Yaniga, Millson and Goldberg agreed that although not all brokers utilize the most advanced technology on the market, they encourage everyone to examine what is available and decide what is relevant to their clients.

“Don’t just assume people just want lowest price,” Goldberg says. “Sometimes there is a rush to embrace new technologies in a way that does not always make people happier.”

Goldberg refers to tech that is taking the place of the human experience, such as automated recordings taking the place of call centers, thereby costing people jobs and putting clients at the risk of not being satisfied by the replacement technology. “Sure, there is a risk, and some companies will do it well. The companies that don’t either rush to embrace technology or use technology as a way to cut costs without thinking about how it impacts the clients,” Goldberg said.

Published
  • June 13 2017, 3:17pm EDT

Employee Benefit Adviser

The ins and outs of ‘secret pricing’

Secret pricing, this terms sounds like a line from the popular movies “Wall Street” or “The Boiler Room” but it is a common practice in the area of our lives that we expect honesty and ethical business practices most….Our health care providers, doctors and hospital systems.

As much as $3.2 billion a year in medical care is ‘secretly priced’, which means providers do their best to keep these prices unpublished or unknown.  One of the main reasons this has become common practice is that insured patients don’t always pay attention to the cost of a procedure because their insurance company is paying the largest chunk of the charges.

With the rise in popularity of high deductible health plans, usually paired with a health savings account, patients need to start approaching their health care as a consumer rather than a patient.  In a time when technology helps consumers make decisions on which refrigerator to purchase the American public needs to rely on technology to help make the best decisions for health care.

Speaking with the Vice President of BenEx, Susan McGinnis, she compares the patient mindset and relationship between doctor and patient as “herding cattle”.  This is a subject that Susan is very passionate about, “When a doctor refers the patient to get a MRI done at a certain place, the patient just goes where their doctor tells them.”  She goes on to say, “Get on the phone and shop around.  There can be big differences in charges from one facility to the next.”

That’s where companies like Medefy are working to establish transparency in the healthcare market.  In a presentation with the founders, Matt Scovil and Nathan Gilchrist, they showed a difference of almost $800 between two different facilities for the same test.

The best way for the public to start fighting this secret pricing is to be informed and aware.  Ask your doctor how much a procedure is going to cost.  It’s a simple question but you will be surprised at how uncomfortable they can get when they don’t know the answer or don’t want you to know the answer.

Don’t be a patient with a victim mentality, be a consumer that does their homework to get the best and most reasonably priced care available.

 

High-deductible health plans promote increased wellness program participation

Employer-provided healthcare continues to be the most common access to health insurance in the U.S., and as employers continue to look for ways to cut costs, consumer-driven high-deductible health plans continue to grow with the added benefit of increased employee engagement in healthcare choices.

Fourteen percent of the U.S. population was enrolled in a CDHP and 14% was enrolled in an HDHP, a slight increase for both from the previous year, according to the 2016 EBRI/Greenwald & Associates Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey.

And the number of workers who were in a CDHPs or HDHPs was more likely than those in a traditional plan to exhibit cost-conscious behaviors, according to a recent report from the non-partisan Employee Benefit Research Institute.

“This survey found that high deductibles are associated with new behaviors [that are] often encouraged by employers and insurers,” says Paul Fronstin, director of EBRI’s Health Research and Education Program and co-author of the report.

The theory behind CDHPs and HDHPs is that the cost-sharing structure is a tool that will be more likely to engage individuals in their health care, compared with people enrolled in more traditional coverage, the study suggests.

[Image credit: Bloomberg]

[Image credit: Bloomberg]

And with the employees taking a bigger interest in their healthcare planning, employers are noticing their wellness programs taking a bigger role.

The study focused on three types of wellness programs: a health-risk assessment, a health-promotion program to address a specific health issue, and a biometric screening.

“CDHP enrollees and HDHP enrollees were more likely than traditional-plan enrollees to report that they tried to find cost information. They are also more likely to participate in wellness programs.” Adds Fronstin.

Specifically, 45% of CDHP enrollees reported that their employer offered a health risk assessment, compared with 34% of traditional-plan enrollees and 30% of HDHP enrollees. When asked about the availability of health-promotion programs, 53% of CDHP enrollees, 32% of HDHP enrollees and 41% of traditional-plan enrollees reported that their employer offered such a program.

Additionally, when asked about biometric-screening programs, 45% of CDHP enrollees reported that their employer offered such a program, compared with 36% among traditional-plan enrollees and 33% among HDHP enrollees.

CDHP and HDHP enrollees were also more likely than traditional-plan enrollees to report that their employer offered a cash incentive or reward for participating in a biometric screening program. Seventy percent of CDHP and 67% of HDHP enrollees reported a cash incentive or reward for a biometric screening, compared with 51% among traditional-plan enrollees.

While these numbers represent self-reported awareness of available health and wellness programs and cannot be cross-referenced with objective data from employers and insurers, it is significant that, across the board, CDHP enrollees are aware and participate at higher rates in wellness programs, the author notes.

Another trend the study found was the increased interest in health savings accounts.

Among individuals enrolled in CDHPs, 56% opened an HSA, 19% were in an HRA, and 25% were enrolled in an HSA-eligible health plan but had not opened an HSA.

It’s more common for employers to contribute to HSAs than in the past, and the dollar amount is also increasing, EBRI says. Seventy-eight percent of CDHP enrollees reported that their employer contributed to the account in 2016, up from 67% in 2014.

Additionally, 20% of CDHP enrollees reported an employer contribution of at least $2,000 in 2016, up from 10% in 2014.

Published
  • June 01 2017, 10:51pm EDT

3 common small business health insurance misconceptions

Running a small business is challenging enough without the confusion health insurance can cause. Too often the resulting angst is driven by common misconceptions that experienced advisers can help dispel.

Without a doubt, health insurance continues to be one of the most important and valued benefits that employers can offer to their workers. After salary, it is consistently the top factor for attracting and retaining talent whether a company has two employees or 2,000.

Bloomberg/file photo

That said, navigating the employer-sponsored benefit landscape can be especially daunting for small businesses. Cost and compliance considerations alone can seem impenetrable.

But these perceptions are frequently rooted in fallacy rather than fact, and brokers can help shed a light on this important topic.

Misconceptions
For example, here are three frequent misperceptions amongst small businesses:

1) It’s too expensive. While there are certainly costs involved with offering health insurance, providing coverage options does not mean a company has to break the proverbial bank. As with any operational expense, the first order of business is to establish a budget.

Brokers can then work with their clients using tools such as defined contribution, where a business provides each employee with a fixed dollar amount they then choose how to spend. As a result, workers can select from a set of health plan choices and pay the difference not covered by the employer’s contribution. So, if they want to spend more for a more benefits-rich plan, they can.

In turn, a company is able to lock-in their costs. This provides budget controls that can be planned and managed monthly and annually.

2) It won’t meet everyone’s needs. Small businesses can find and offer health plan solutions that meet the diverse needs of their workforce, and brokers can help point the way.

Well-designed healthcare exchanges, for instance, can be a great option for offering a wide selection of health insurance plans that ensure choice and access to care for employees who most likely need very different coverage. A 22-year-old just starting her first job will likely want a different plan that a 59-year-old sales manager with a spouse, three children and plans to retire in the near future. One may want a PPO while someone else wants an HMO. Still another may want an HSA-compatible plan.

The beauty here is that a good exchange can offer multiple health insurance plans within a single package. So, regardless of which options employees select, businesses get one monthly itemized bill and can manage overall benefit offerings through a single website and online portal, all with the support and guidance from their broker.

3) It’s too complicated. The industry might be complex, but offering health insurance does not have to be overly difficult for a small business because there are resources and experts available to shoulder the details.

For example, there are many products and platforms that simplify administration by consolidating information and processes into easy-to-use automated systems. In fact, many carriers and providers have already moved to implement some form of online enrollment. This helps streamline processing and speeds up underwriting. But it also provides one point of entry from where employers and employees can then move on to review and compare options, choose and enroll in a plan and manage their benefits throughout the year.

Brokers can leverage these new technologies and online capabilities as well. This enables them to serve as a small business’ single point of contact and go-to expert for solving problems or addressing needs. These can range from vetting and recommending coverage options to guiding workers through benefit claims processes to assisting with regulatory mandates, and much more.

While healthcare can be mystifying, small businesses need not fall prey to misinformation and myths. Brokers can guide them to options that can be affordable, offer a variety of choices and are easy to manage. The solutions are out there.

Ron Goldstein

Ron Goldstein

Goldstein, CLU, serves as president and CEO of CHOICE Administrators, which provides health insurance options and provider access to small businesses and their employees.