A founder’s take on benefits technology: 5 important aspects to highlight

Originally published in BenefitsPro April 19, 2021

In 2012, with Obamacare getting underway and public exchanges on the horizon, brokers across the country thought the sky was falling and they’d see their books of business erode through this new publicly subsidized way of delivering insurance.

I had a different perspective: I saw this as a new opportunity to leverage technology not only protect that business but to grow it.

Private exchange” was the buzzword on the top of many minds during this time. If the government could provide multiple insurance options on a federal public exchange platform, health insurance brokers could provide multiple insurance options on a private exchange platform. I wasn’t the only person thinking this and there were a few large technology firms that were ahead of me. Rather than re-creating the wheel, my vision was to partner with these firms and act as a distribution channel.

Private exchanges went flat and today almost no one is looking for one. I chose to adapt and pivoted to delivering benefits technology.

Since then, I’ve evaluated so many different solutions on the market and sat through countless demos. I’ve learned a lot about what employers want and, more importantly, what they need when it comes to benefits technology platforms. I’d like to highlight some of those aspects so you can help lead your clients and prospects to success with their technology pursuits.

1. Bringing ben admin into 2021

At the most basic level, benefits technology platforms allow employers to eliminate paper by managing the open enrollment process online. But strategic HR professionals are looking to their benefits technology to go beyond OE and simplify BenAdmin throughout the entire employee lifecycle while keeping them connected to their workforce.

In 2020, the pandemic fundamentally changed the way we work. As many employers struggled to adapt to remote work, the need for a modernized, technology-based approach to HR became more prevalent than ever. Faced with the challenge of keeping vital benefits information in front of remote employees, HR professionals needed to be confident they were continuing to get the right messages across to the right people at the right time.

Let’s get one thing straight: technology does not remove the human element from HR – it enhances it. Technology enables HR to reclaim time back in their day and prioritize the human experience. The more that employers can streamline and automate with technology, the more HR can become free from the administrative burden and empowered to focus on what matters most: their people.

And that’s what a good benefits technology platform does. It engages and connects employees to each other and the company.

With mobile-responsive technology, along with text messaging and email capabilities, HR can consistently communicate with their workforce, while giving employees control over how they consume that information (whether it’s using a smartphone, laptop, tablet, or other devices). Employee self-service makes information readily available & accessible across the entire employee population, providing employees with an easy, intuitive enrollment experience and a go-to hub where they can access everything HR-related in one place, 24 hours a day.

The best BenAdmin solutions on the market today provide HR with the tools to effortlessly keep employees and their families in the know at all times. No matter how much distance stands between employers and their employees, it doesn’t have to stand in the way of keeping them connected.

2. Promoting health care literacy & consumerism

Employers spend a lot of time and money on benefits to attract and retain employees, but that effort is often lost when employees don’t understand the value behind what’s being offered to them. Many employees end up leaving the open enrollment process confused or overwhelmed, simply selecting a plan that takes the least amount out of their paychecks.

Oftentimes the lowest-cost plans are not the best fit for the employee. In these cases, employees become frustrated when they go to use their insurance and are faced with unexpected co-pays, deductibles, and other out-of-pocket expenses. This is where a great BenAdmin tool can shine.

Decision support tools come in a variety of flavors, from something as simple as a few questions asked to show how plans stack up against each other, all the way to deep analytical tools that can estimate out-of-pocket expenses. Supporting materials, such as glossaries, side-by-side plan comparisons, and educational videos, can define unfamiliar terms and clarify insurance jargon.

The additional help provided by these tools during the enrollment process narrows down choice and also educates and encourages employees to pick the insurance plans best suited for their needs.

Today it’s more imperative than ever that employees understand their health plan coverage. It’s equally as critical that they are equipped with the resources to select the plan offerings that will suit them the most. When benefits technology is properly executed, it aids in promoting consumerism and employee choice while also providing guidance and education through decision support tools and resources.

3. Making data-driven decisions

One of the most fascinating things about technology is the data we can collect and how we can use that data to work smarter and more efficiently. It’s amazing how many companies using a benefits technology platform aren’t utilizing the data they are collecting – or even worse, have a system in place that can’t help them leverage the data they are collecting.

Systems should make life easier. Data should make life easier, and having easy access to that data is key. Dashboards, reporting, benchmarking, and analytics all provide a wealth of information and with the right benefits technology platform, it’s all available with just the click of a button.

With all of this data being housed in the platform – HR needs to be making use of it. How many employees have yet to complete their enrollment? How much money is our organization spending on premiums each month? What percentage of employees migrated to a new plan this year?

Taking it a step further, employers should be taking full advantage of the dynamic features available within their benefits technology platform to drive desired outcomes.

Much of the time, we tend to make things overly complex when the best answer is actually the simplest answer. Employee surveys are an extremely underutilized feature within benefits platforms despite the fact that they can yield such insightful results. How satisfied are employees with the benefits offered? Are there other benefits they would like to see offered? Do they understand their benefits? Employers can collect an abundance of knowledge to drive the future of their benefits programs: all they have to do is ask and then act.

4. Reducing compliance risk

Platforms that are truly built for benefits can make a world of difference for managing benefits compliance – whether it’s something as simple as collecting an electronic signature, acknowledgment of a Wrap document, or something as complex as ACA tracking and reporting or COBRA administration.

Let’s take ACA for example. All of the data needed for reporting (medical plan options, offer of coverage, plan cost, coverage dates, etc.) already lives within the benefits platform. And tools to track FTE offer of coverage, employees trending toward gaining/losing eligibility, plan affordability, and more are available for HR to keep their organization in compliance at all times throughout the year.

The cost of investing in a benefits technology solution that can manage ACA tracking and reporting pales in comparison to the penalties imposed by the IRS for failing to file accurately and timely.

5. Cultivating a synchronized HR ecosystem

Employers shouldn’t have to settle when it comes to technology. And they don’t. They can have the best of benefits. The best of payroll. The best of onboarding, performance management, and so on. There are systems out there that can deliver all of these things “in one” – but while some of these all-in-one systems might be the best in one area, none of them can deliver the best experience in all of these areas.

Employers with the most effective HR strategies deploy separate best-of-breed platforms in each of these areas, and rely on connectivity (whether it’s EDI, API, or SSO) to cultivate a synchronized, harmonious HR ecosystem.

A solid benefits technology platform creates a centralized, web-based system of record that systematically tracks and manages ongoing employee benefit changes while transmitting data via carrier connections and other integrations, eliminating duplicate data entry, and mitigating time-consuming administrative tasks. It becomes the source of truth for benefits information and transmits the necessary data where needed to other platforms within the HR ecosystem.

I don’t care if it’s carrier, payroll, COBRA, CHDP, or some other system of record – integration with other systems is crucial to an effective HR technology strategy. If a platform cannot communicate with the other necessary technology systems, someone will be stuck doing manual work. Whether it’s sending or receiving data, it’s important to make sure employers choose technology that has the ability to integrate and pass data to where they need it to be.

Where we go from here

The changes that employers have been forced to adapt to amid the pandemic are more than temporary adjustments: the world of work is forever transformed. HR and benefits professionals that expect to thrive must continue to evolve with it.

Benefits technology has shifted from a “nice to have” to a “must-have”. Benefits professionals can help guide employers by understanding the exponential value generated through the utilization of benefits technology platforms and the powerful tools within.

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