Autumn. That time of year when thoughts turn sullen at the end of summer, hopeful (or stressed) at the approaching holidays and frantic at the start of another enrollment season.
For us at Benefits Selling, it's also that time of year when our readers tell us who they love. Or love working with. Or at least don't hate working with.
As longtime readers will no doubt notice, Aflac and Colonial Life have been locked in a fierce, but friendly, battle for Readers’ Choice supremacy since day one. It's been the Cold War of employee benefits. This year is no different, with the two carrier titans running away with nearly half of this year's awards.
And who am I to take down the Berlin Wall?
Which carrier is best prepared for PPACA?
By a two-to-one margin this year, Colonial Life wins this crown again. In fact, the numbers are almost identical to last year's. Colonial Life is in a strong position as we head into deeper PPACA waters.
After prying Anthem from the runner-up spot last year, Aflac gets comfortable in the No. 2 spot. Readers love this carrier's broker service, their progressive approach to technology and their easy enrollment options.
Which third–party administrator offers the most comprehensive service?
Juggernaut AmeriFlex wins again. (Maybe we should stop writing about this until somebody else does. Now, that would be news.) This third-party administrator remains the gold standard of third-party administration.
Which means, of course, that TASC (or, more formally, Total Administrative Services Corp.) takes the No. 2 spot again. But they’re hardly a bridesmaid, building a strong, and apparently faithful, alternative broker segment. Think of them as the Samsung to AmeriFlex's Apple. Or maybe it's the other way around? Either way, both TPAs remain light years ahead of anyone in the business.
Which carrier is best prepared for a defined contribution future?
Again, by a two-to-one margin, Colonial Life emerges as a carrier committed to not just consumer-driven health care, but an entirely new (although some might say old) way of funding health care.
To no one's surprise, Aflac sits at No. 2 here, as well. These two carriers clearly lead the way when it comes to innovation in the health care (and voluntary) space.
A postscript: This category featured the greatest number of lesser-known players than any other category in this year's awards. It also stirred up the most confusion with more than a few ballots asking what “defined contribution” meant in this context. Interesting…
Which enrollment company could you NOT live without?
Brian Patten and Associates
Last year, Brian Patten and Associates sat nestled in the runner-up slot. This year, they kept their eyes on the prize and have taken the crown. But not only has the Pittsburgh-based enrollment taken over here, but they’ve shot so far ahead that Univers—their longtime rival—couldn't even muster runner-up honors because….
Aflac and Colonial Life
The two carrier giants—despite (ahem) not being enrollment companies at all—earn a shared second-place by virtue of sheer broker enthusiasm. They garnered such an amount of votes, and so far ahead of their nearest competition, that we had no choice but to acknowledge their efforts. Maybe they represent a world where we won't even need enrollment companies someday. And maybe Brian Patten shouldn't get too comfortable.
Which carrier offers the best vision coverage?
What Ameriflex is to the third-party administrator space, VSP is to vision. This carrier not only dominates this niche, they practically define it. And it's to their credit that they’re not simply a vendor shelling rarely used products. And they’re certainly not content to rest on their laurels—this is a company many expect to make a big splash in the burgeoning wellness space. Stay tuned…
Ameritas wrested the runner-up vision spot from Aflac this year. With apologies to the duck, it's refreshing to see brokers are willing to embrace other options and different partners. Who says we’re mired in the status quo? (For the record, it was pretty damn close.)
Which technology vendor makes your life the easiest?
In years past, this would be another Aflac-Colonial Life slugfest, reinforcing the conviction that these two heavyweights lead the way when it comes to technology. That being said, this year we wanted to spread the love—and the ink—by limiting this question to specific tech companies, whether they’re admin solutions, enrollers, or any other kind of software vendor. There were no clear runaways, although the two honorees technically nabbed the most votes, each making their Readers’ Choice debut.
This Dallas-area software provider took top honors, so it looks like they’re in a good position for future growth.
Sacramento-based BenefitsConnect has been buzzing around for a few years now. And this honor suggests Troy Underwood's groundbreaking tech outfit is about to go big. Keep an eye on this company.
What can I tell you that you don't already know about the Cupertino, California, tech titan? (Except for maybe just how cool the 6 is?) Or that maybe I’m not the only one who expects Apple to do with health care—specifically on the consumer-driven side—what it did to the music business? Or the cell phone market? Talk about disruption.
Which carrier offers the best dental coverage?
What do you expect? It's in the company's title. It's Delta Dental, not Delta Disability. And, as always, brokers love Delta for its especially exhaustive research and customer service.
Another top carrier takes runner-up honors in the dental category this year. Guardian, who's been strangely absent from the lineup over the last couple of years, returns with a vengeance to take the runner-up spot in the dental category.
Honorable mention honors here go to Ameritas, which has been clinging fiercely to the No. 3 spot for a little while now.
Which carrier is the easiest to work with?
Aflac, again. But this is no surprise. This carrier has been reaching out to brokers for a few years now as part of a sustained, long-term initiative to bridge a gap that seemed almost unsurmountable as early as a decade ago. Ranging far beyond lip service, Aflac has undergone nothing short of a culture shift, and moving into the top spot this year shows that it's sticking.
Anthem's lone appearance this year might have something to do with a more aggressive market strategy this year, including both their exchange activity and their innovative approach to telemedicine, which shows this carrier is thinking about the long game.