Over the past few years, brokers have increasingly taken on the role of strategic advisors for their employer clients. Brokers who understand the evolution of health care policy, the need for creative benefits strategy and plan design, and employee engagement best practices are able to provide more innovative products and services for clients.
This year we can expect demand to increase for brokers to take on that role. In his BenefitsPRO article, Gil Murdock takes a look at the dynamics that will shape broker strategies in the year ahead.
1. Brokers will support employers in their efforts to challenge the status quo
Typically, employers select benefits plans from insurers and providers and pass the options along to employees. In 2019, we can expect employers to continue to challenge the status quo. Employers may be looking to negotiate contracts directly with providers and carriers to get better plans for employees. To support employer efforts, we could see brokers help employer clients identify opportunities and negotiate deals to ensure adequate coverage at a reasonable price.
2. Adapting to changing federal regulations
Just before the end of 2018, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was ruled unconstitutional, a decision that the health care industry has been waiting for since September. Though consumers, employers and insurers are waiting to see what will happen next, brokers should remind their clients that, for the time being, the ACA is still the law of the land. Moving forward, brokers should ensure that they are keeping tabs on any developments so that employer clients are best able to develop intelligent, cost-effective benefits strategies in the coming years.
3. Rise in data-driven insights
According to the Healthcare Executive Group’s top 10 list of critical opportunities, challenges and issues, employers said that leveraging data would be a top challenge in 2019 to drive individual, provider and payer decisions. Brokers can use this information to identify low-cost providers and services to better tailor plan designs to present to their clients. In addition, these data-driven insights can help brokers work with their employer clients to better target participant communications materials and programs.
4. Growing emphasis on behavioral health
The World Health Organization reports that depression is the leading cause of poor health and disability across the globe. As issues with physical health, such as chronic diseases, seriously affect mental health and reduce a patient’s ability to partake in treatment and recovery, employers are focusing their attention on implementing education and outreach strategies. Brokers should understand what types of education and outreach strategies their clients are looking to implement to ensure the offerings and services they are suggesting are in line with employees’ needs.
5. Innovative cost-sharing methods
Employers seem to be realizing that they have hit the limit of what the market will bear in terms of “up front” cost-shifting to employees (e.g., higher premiums, deductibles and copays) or high deductible plans as the only option. Brokers should expect to work with employers to create innovative strategies that contain and reduce costs, such as limiting out-of-network coverage (unless there is a true emergency), offering more narrow-network options or supporting direct-to-provider negotiations.
6. Balancing a multi-generational workforce
With four generations working alongside one another, brokers and employers must take a step back to ensure employees are getting the coverage that they need and expect. The industry is seeing an increased demand for “customizable” benefits as millennials and Gen Z employees become the majority of the workforce. Health care benefits are not one size fits all, and to address this demand, the industry will likely see the role of brokers increase as they identify plan design alternatives and bring more voluntary benefits options to the table.
7. Personalized benefits communications
As benefits become more personalized, so will the way employers communicate them to employees. Every generation — and every individual — has preferences as to how, when and why they receive information, as well as differing health care priorities. HR teams and their partners must learn to leverage these preferences and priorities to get their messages across, while still achieving corporate goals. Content may become more gender-, age-, condition- and utilization-focused. As more tech-savvy generations make up a greater percentage of the workforce and older generations continue to adapt to technological advances, companies will more widely adopt interactive communications materials.
8. More informed health care consumers
This year will see more and more focus on health care transparency, with the CMS proposed rule requiring hospitals to post their standard pricing online taking effect and the ban on pharmaceutical company gag orders becoming more widespread in practice. As more consumers realize the variability in health care pricing, they will begin to seek price and quality reviews, similar to how they shop for cars, TVs and cell phones. Brokers will be expected to help employers supply more transparency for cost comparison, but employers will be the ones to teach employees how to shop smarter for health care treatments, procedures and services.