Which carrier offers the best group health coverage?

Anthem/Blue Cross Blue Shield – winner

What Starbucks is to coffee, Anthem/BCBS is to group health care. So that might go a long way toward explaining the ubiquitous carrier’s regulatory troubles. The only attention they seem to get from the mainstream press – or anywhere in California – is sensational headlines about outrageous rate increases or dramatic stories of denied claims.

But brokers don’t believe the hype. For the third year in a row, Anthem/BCBS runs away with this category, setting the carrier standard for group health. Whether it’s by default or through a genuine effort at superior service, Anthem still emerges as the clear market leader.

UnitedHealthcare – honorable mention

For another unsurprising result, UnitedHealthcare is still viewed as a leading provider of overall group health care. And this year, they’ve got the numbers to back ’em up. Though health care use climbed at a slower rate than usual this year in part due to a slumping economy reining in utilizations, United’s most recent quarter earnings rose a whopping 13 percent. The group’s enrollment hike of 5 percent compared to last year’s second quarter contributed to an 8 percent jump in revenue from UnitedHealthCare.

Which carrier offers the best consumer-driven health care products?

Colonial Life – winner

Get used to seeing this carrier. Kicking off their unprecedented best of show performance this year, Colonial Life picks up the consumer-driven carrier title with ease. And they’re not content to sit on it. They’re constantly tweaking their voluntary product portfolio to meet the ever-changing demands of an evolving marketplace – even as employers increasingly shift more benefits costs and decisions onto employees themselves.

More specifically, this year the company stepped up with a new group hospital confinement indemnity product this year. It took off with employers looking to cut costs. By redesigning their benefits package with a higher deductible major medical plan, employers could offer also employees a plan that helps protect them from the higher out-of-pocket costs in their major medical plan.

But most importantly, Colonial is a company that doesn’t simply push products, they offer solutions.

Anthem/Blue Cross Blue Shield – honorable mention

While some carriers are finally jumping on the CDHC bandwagon, some carriers like Anthem have been on the ride for quite some time. They’ve got what brokers call a “first-class” health and wellness program, offering a wealth of health education and even special offers to consumers regarding some of the battles they’ve chosen to pick. In regards to obesity, the carrier continues its campaign against childhood obesity and even offers discounts to weight loss programs to its consumers. Though Anthem is still a frontrunner in the category, they’re one notch down from the top spot they occupied last year.

Which carrier offers the best vision coverage?

VSP – winner

What Michael Jordan is to basketball, VSP is to vision benefits.

For yet another year, VSP dominates this niche, offering what brokers see clearly as the best vision carrier in the business. It doesn’t hurt that it boasts the nation’s largest network by number of doctors and geography and has a strong online presence, as well. What’s more, VSP has been vocal about proposed Congressional cuts to vision and dental plans. They were part of a coalition of dental and vision organizations that called on Congress earlier this year to substantially modify the proposed excise tax on health benefits—a provision the groups say would compel employers to eliminate or reduce coverage in order to dodge the tax.

Now there’s some dedication.

Aflac – honorable mention

Emerging from a field of responses more diverse than ever before, Aflac secured the runner-up nod in the vision benefits category this year. While there’s might not be the first name that springs to mind when considering vision in particular, the folks at Aflac know a little something about the voluntary market – and their strong showing in the critical vision category shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

“According to the Vision Council of America, vision problems are the second most prevalent health problem in the United States,” Aflac’s Senior Vice President, Broker Sales Ron Agypt explains. “Our voluntary vision insurance policy helps defray the costs of vision exams and materials, and is the first vision plan to provide benefits for eye diseases, eye surgeries, and lump sums for blindness. We actively work with brokers to understand their vision policy needs, and clearly explain new developments and trends that our policies can effectively address.”

Which carrier offers the best dental coverage?

Delta Dental – winner

Bet you couldn’t guess this one. Delta Dental is on par with VSP as far as name recognition in the industry—and everyone knows it. Through the carrier’s 39 independent member companies, Delta covers more Americans than any other dental provider. That’s a lot of root canals.

 

MetLife – honorable mention

The dental category – vision’s younger twin in the benefits business – featured a diverse bunch of nominations, probably more than any other category on this year’s ballot. In fact, after trolling through previous years’ submissions, a lot of new names kept popping up like Halloween cavities.

And while Delta’s managed to keep its stranglehold on this category, Metlife’s ascension into the Honorable Mention slot might come as a surprise to some.

Which company sits at the forefront of developing new products and client solution strategies?

Colonial Life – winner

With a gang of new problems threatening health plans, it’s no wonder successful carriers aren’t sitting still with their strategies. Colonial Life is one carrier who knows this. Its cost-containment solutions— including a new group hospital confinement indemnity product this year— gives employers a solution for softening the blow to employees caused by increasing out-of-pocket expenses in their major medical plan.

“Employees need more help to understand their benefits choices so they can make good decisions,” one broker explained. “Brokers and employers rely on Colonial Life’s benefit counselors to meet one-to-one with employees, educate employees on their benefits and help them determine how they can best protect their financial safety nets.”

Ameriflex – honorable mention

Between health care reform and increased competition, staying on top is harder than ever. So the company that’s responsible for the flex card technology that’s helped make flexible spending accounts so popular isn’t content to just sit back and relax.

“We make it a priority to listen to our clients, to solicit their feedback and address their concerns, and ultimately, to devise technology innovations and product enhancements to improve their overall experience,” one company official said.

“We believe this is what differentiates us from many of our competitors – we’re willing to be flexible and creative in order to provide our clients with the best possible solution to meet their particular needs.”

Which enrollment company offers the best service?

Colonial Life – winner

Colonial Life’s one-to-one benefits communication and enrollment capabilities are driving greater participation and satisfaction for employers and employees.

Surveys of employees who participate in the company’s one-to-one benefits communication sessions consistently garner satisfaction marks in the 97 percent to 98 percent range.

Aflac – honorable mention

Let’s face it—employees hate enrollment, or at least see it as an annual, if expensive, annoyance. So, successful carriers are going to have to make it easy and user-friendly for everyone involved. Maybe Aflac’s “WINGSPAN enrollment solutions,” which provides a variety of enrollment options such as one-on-one laptop, web self-service and call center enrollment, has helped secure them the runner-up spot. Or perhaps it has something to do with the company getting a new voice for its mascot, replacing the controversially insensitive Gilbert Gottfried.

“Streamlining enrollment processes is an important part of a carrier’s role, and Aflac continues to do this with great success,” explains Ron Agypt. “We are proud to offer one of the industry’s widest array of enrollment options to help meet the unique needs of any client. We are committed to demonstrating to brokers the multiple advantages of our efficient and seamless, end-to-end enrollment services.”

Which carrier is best at working with brokers?

Colonial Life – winner

With strong broker partnerships, Colonial Life has a large team of professionals who can help brokers deliver the best voluntary benefits solutions to their clients.

The company’s new BrokerRevenue.com website shows brokers how voluntary benefits can add to their agency’s bottom line and help their clients address benefit program needs.

Aflac – honorable mention

Brokers need some attention, too. And Aflac’s attending to them with their needs-based approach to benefits solutions designed to meet the varying demands of brokers and their clients.

“Key initiatives, such as a newly-created department of coordinators dedicated to broker needs and the addition of expansive group offerings have helped us improve and expand our connections with the broker community,” says Ron Agypt, senior vice president, broker sales. “While we are very proud to be viewed as a preferred carrier, we intend to continue working hard to educate brokers about the products we offer and the mutual benefits of Aflac partnerships.”

What company does the best job of embracing new technologies?

Colonial Life – winner

Colonial Life came out with research about Gen Y, revealing they require different benefits strategies.

“These workers give employers low marks for the effectiveness of their benefits communication, and Gen Y women in particular are much more likely to say the communication they receive about their benefits is not at all informative, including cost, what’s covered and what they need.”

One big effort appreciated by Gen Yers—not surprisingly—is appropriate technology. And looks like Colonial has got that down. 

Colonial Life’s in-house laptop enrollment technology is enhanced every year with new features – both online and offline – to better serve its customers and meet their changing needs. Day-by-day reporting on enrollments in progress – even broken down by department – helps employers make adjustments on the fly to ensure the best possible enrollment participation.

On top of all that, the company launched new websites this year to help employees explore their benefits needs and choices and to show brokers the revenue potential of voluntary benefits.

Ameriflex – honorable mention

Our industry has always been a little slower to adapt to change – technologically speaking – but perhaps no one defies that trend better than third-party administrator Ameriflex. This is a company that’s looked beyond the industry and adopted a “concept of simplicity” when developing technology and offering best-in-class client solutions.

“As an organization, AmeriFlex is constantly evolving. Our goal is to anticipate the changing demands of this industry and stay ahead of the curve when it comes to delivering technology solutions that will facilitate the health care payments process for employers and participants,” a company official explained.