Today’s economic realities—combined with elements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that are about to come on line—have brokers of all sizes and stripes scrambling for answers. Most remain understandably pessimistic, viewing the looming changes as nothing short of an existential threat.
In fact, it wasn’t that long ago in this magazine that this is what passed for optimism: “Health care exchanges could completely replace me,” said a benefits broker from Georgia, “but then again, they may not!”
The fee-based model
While none of us can predict how and to what degree the PPACA and the MLR rules will change traditional broker business models, we’re confident the prevailing commission model will no longer be viable.
Moreover, while the “exchanges” and the promised transparency will supposedly enable employees to make independent and informed comparisons and decisions, we can be assured that in a very short time, people will find out that comparing prices and benefits plans on a web site is not like buying a plane ticket on Orbitz or a large screen TV at Best Buy. The process is complicated, time-consuming, and frustrating—employees and their employers will come to realize the value in the services that brokers provide.
• Electronic benefits communications. Many brokers and vendors are offering a communications component to add “value” to their offerings. It’s estimated that companies spend up to $3 per-employee-per-month on printed benefits-related communications. And while some organizations are experimenting with social media to introduce interactivity, build community, and drive proactive utilization, these tools are rarely integrated into an overarching communications framework.
In actuality, traditional health and wellness communications are ineffective at reaching and engaging employee populations primarily because the information is static (one-way) and uninvolving. The upside is that this void represents an opportunity for brokers to offer electronic communications as a fee-based program (i.e., PEPM) for employer groups that requires minimal broker investment (resources, money) or ongoing maintenance. Imagine an engaging, attractive, easy-to-read email (one that embeds “actionable” links), and a dynamic, integrated Twitter page that sustains communications through the week, exposing employees to broker, vendor, or company-sponsored tools, programs and resources. This approach provides consistent, year-round benefits-related communications, deepening engagement and creating a more proactive health-conscious user community. Moreover, embedding links within each article can route readers to relevant resources, driving education, proactive behavior, and utilization of programs and services. In short, electronic communications can effectively be delivered at a lower PEPM without adding administrative burden to brokers or employer groups.