The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was voted into law over seven years ago, but the shakeup it caused in the health care industry still hasn’t quite settled. And where it has, it’s settled in some unexpected ways.
One is the shift in the benefits broker’s role from salesperson to consultant, as health plans became a necessity rather than a consideration.
Related: Brokers' roles evolving, expanding
If you’ve been considering consulting, or have recently made the switch, here’s what you should know about the future of the job, and what you can do to be competitive in this growing space.
Facing the future of health care
When health care became a requirement for certain businesses under the ACA, consulting was a natural pivot for brokers. The sales pitch for health care coverage was near obsolete and the Supreme Court’s ruling on the medical loss ratio killed commissions. Fielding client questions on the ACA looked a lot more lucrative … until “repeal and replace” echoed around Washington, that is. The push to do away with the ACA continues despite several failed attempts. If that has you worried, know that the likelihood of returning to the old system is almost zero.
Republican lawmakers are dedicated to ensuring every American at least has access to health care, meaning they’ll need a way to document who has been made an offer of health benefits. Reporting and legal requirements will most likely still be complex, and the transition period will certainly be confusing.
All of this complexity and confusion opens up the perfect environment for consulting. Employers will continue to ask questions of their benefits brokers, and brokers with a consulting license will have a considerable edge in answering and advising their clients.
Love it or hate it, the ACA marked an irreversible turn in the health care system, and it’s likely to only get more confusing from here. Consulting has been, and will continue to be, a valuable niche for brokers with the appropriate license and tools.
Two tools every broker needs
To be a successful consultant, you have to set yourself apart on two fronts: knowledge and technology.
The greatest tool is an encyclopedic knowledge of the ACA, its many potential replacements, and related reporting efforts. Clients will be coming to you with an array of questions about health care changes, and if you can’t provide them with answers, they’ll look for someone who can.
Separate yourself from the pack by not only knowing the ins and outs of the laws and their implications, but by being able to translate them so that businesses truly understand what it all means for them. If you want to further increase your value to your clients, expanding your knowledge base from just health care to other benefits, such as 401(k) contributions, or other tricky compliance issues, such as EEO-1 reporting, can help you stand out even more.
For health care and many of these other requirements, employers typically lack the necessary data and don’t know how best to organize it. Besides this, the constant push to repeal the ACA and other regulations means employers remain confused about what data they should be reporting for this filing season and whether the rules have changed.
This is where the second tool comes in: technology. ACA data in particular requires a lot of calculations and code-matching that’s tedious and nearly impossible to do by hand, so a technology solution that integrates with payroll is a near necessity.
You can also deliver better overall advice using technology that accurately predicts and forecasts benefits spending for the next few years, taking into account the current laws, taxes, and penalties. Technology helps you skip the human error of manual calculations and save yourself hours in the process, making your consulting operation much more efficient.
Becoming a trusted resource
As health care continues down its current path — or charts a new one, if a reform bill ends up passing — consulting will continue to be the natural choice for brokers looking to assist their clients. Employers will always need help with their benefits and compliance issues, from the ACA, to retirement benefits, to EEO-1 reporting, and beyond. To best do any of this, the right technology and knowledge are essential to solidifying your place as a go-to resource.