Return to strategy

“Since 2012 and the passage of the ACA, much of the employee benefits industry has been preoccupied with complaining, confusion and compliance. These three ‘Cs’ have contributed little to improving the employee benefit landscape for employers, employees, or their consultant partners. For 2017 we should resolve to have more substantive conversations about benefits strategy.

These conversations should start with analyzing the current plan’s performance with real data that can be meaningfully applied to legitimate benchmarks. This analysis must be thoughtfully designed to help decision makers decide to pursue initiatives that will make a real difference in the health of their plan and the happiness of their employees. And finally, these initiatives must be integrated into a comprehensive benefit delivery plan that creates measurable outcomes in the areas of efficient administration and effective engagement.

Eric Helman, chief strategy officer, Hodges-Mace

Retirement advice

“As we enter into 2017, employers and employees will face new challenges in the retirement industry as the former will be forced to navigate changes necessary to their 401(k) offering brought on by the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule, and as the latter continues to struggle with a shortfall in retirement savings. My New Year’s resolution is to continue to ensure that employers and employees alike know what their options are when it comes to 401(k) plans, and that by leveraging technology, companies can offer unconflicted advice and help employees better prepare for retirement.”

Cynthia Loh, general manager, Betterment for Business

Simplify, simplify

Looking ahead to 2017, it is important that we as an industry shift our central focus back to the individual employee or consumer. Despite efforts to the contrary, surveys continue to show that benefits are increasingly complicated and confusing for consumers. We should consider ways to simplify access and make benefits more understandable, including providing employees with tools and resources to become better healthcare consumers.

Prioritizing the expansion of value-based benefit plans is a key part of this to drive people to quality, cost-effective care, as well as developing innovative ways to engage employees and encourage a culture of wellness and overall well-being. These efforts benefit clients as well as their employees and can help us hone in on true ROI and VOI.

However, 2017 should also be the year we re-emphasize personal support. Existing and emerging technology continues to offer our industry so many advantages, but it can’t replace the value of ‘people’ when helping clients’ employees navigate the complexities of healthcare.”

Abbie Leibowitz, M.D., F.A.A.P., chief medical officer, founder and president emeritus, Health Advocate

A benefits renaissance

“2016 was certainly a year of opportunities and challenges, but as we enter 2017 I have some industry resolutions I would like to share. We are in an insurance renaissance of sorts; this industry will continue to experience new growth and activity for many years to come. I will personally continue being a student of the industry, and work to increase my thought leadership and knowledge. I pledge to continue to push our industry to new heights.

2017 is going to bring many new opportunities (i.e. potential changes to ACA) to educate consumers and business owners. The opportunity to make informed decisions about health care has never been better, and available tools and resources for the industry are only going to improve. Alternative funding mechanisms (self-funding, captives), transparency tools, big data and the ability to bring consulting services should be top of mind for every industry professional.

Brokers and consultants should push themselves to keep improving. Getting out of our comfort zones will be paramount to growth, development and prosperity. Getting involved in industry groups and being more active should also be top of mind. Sit on a committee, mentor new agents, further develop in a best practice group, whether it be NAHU, Assurex, BAN, UBA, Prosential or somewhere else.”

Chad Schneider, chief sales officer, Code SixFour

Educational efforts

“Sy Syms, founder of retail chain Syms Corporation, famously said that ‘an educated consumer is our best customer.’ This adage applies beyond the retail world and is particularly pertinent to our current health care system, which increasingly requires individuals to act as consumers.

As the health care landscape continues to change with the political, regulatory and economic tides, it’s more important than ever that individuals get smart about what they’re buying — from the basics of how insurance works and how to use it wisely, to how to be a true consumer (how to tell quality, how to comparison shop and how to determine the ‘best fit’). Employers need to do their part by developing a benefits communications strategy encompassing year-round communications, broad and tailored messaging and targeted support while meeting compliance requirements.”

Kim Buckey, vice president of client services, DirectPath

Wellness barriers

“In 2017, I hope employer staff responsible for employee benefit plans will take a more holistic view of employee total well-being when assessing stakeholder needs, building the business case for leaders’ support, designing strategy and applying investments, and communicating and promoting available and new programs and resources. In addition to top-down evaluations as summarized in colorful dashboards, risk assessment scores, and the like, ideally employers will also solicit employee feedback and input. This bottom-up effort should seek to surface the barriers to employee understanding, motivation and capability in improving their well-being — whether their physical, financial, emotional or social health — so that solutions can ‘meet employees where they are’ and in turn, better drive desired behaviors and outcomes.”

Ruth Hunt, principal, Xerox HR Services