“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the nexttwo years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next10. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction.” Bill Gates, fromhis book, “The Road Ahead.”

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This quote got me thinking about changes in the voluntary marketplace we canexpect in the next 10 years.

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First, let's reflect on the changes in the voluntary market overthe past 10 years.

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Ten years ago, enrollment was commonly conducted via some formof in-person meeting between employees and enrollers. Paper formswere common, and computer-based enrollment was usually done on alaptop provided by an insurer or enrollment company. Today, we'veseen growth in online enrollment conducted on a self-service basisby employees on their own computer, or one provided by theiremployer. These online enrollments are supported by in-personmeetings, call centers, webinars, online decision-assist tools, andother communications support packages.

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There is a relationship between the changes in enrollmentprocesses and the trend toward group products and more group-typeguaranteed issue enrollment. Online enrollment works best when theprocess is streamlined. Despite these improvements, we've seenaverage participation rates diminish.

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There also has been gradual movement toward a “voluntary benefit portfolio”approach. Employers have broadened their voluntary package; yetanother result of moving toward online enrollment. In an enrollmentmeeting, there is limited time to present each product. Onlinesystems can make a broader array of products available, allowing anincreased range of benefit choices to today's diverse group ofemployees. It is not unusual for employees to be able to purchaseany of several insured plans.

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What about the next 10 years, then? My guess is there will be asplit in the way employers offer insurance benefit options. Today'smarket is based on benefits that are easily purchased during alimited open or annual open enrollment period.

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Two forces may drive significant change here. One is the conceptthat customers want to purchase services their way, on their timeschedule. Products that support this enrollment approach willrequire different pricing, underwriting, and administrativesupport.

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The second force is increased interest in wellness incentives builtaround wearable technology. Group products can be offered 24/7/365and can provide incentive payoffs, but only if there is a differentlevel of underwriting than we see today. States may also decide toregulate the way discounts can be offered and administered.

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Finally, the enrollment media (which has already transitionedonline) will likely be some form of artificial intelligenceinterface. We'll know which benefits a person is eligible topurchase, their basic data and the product business rules. Theenrollment process will record and transmit purchase elections tothe insurance carrier and arrange bank account transfer of premiumsas they are due from the employee's account.

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Imagining the future is always a wide open game. Let me knowyour thoughts on this via email.

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