Over the past few years, brokershave increasingly taken on the role of strategic advisors for theiremployer clients. Brokers who understand the evolution of healthcare policy, the need for creative benefits strategy and plandesign, and employee engagement best practices are able to providemore innovative products and services for clients.

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As we enter 2019, demand will increase for brokers to take onthis role of strategic advisors. Here's a look at the dynamics thatwill shape broker strategies in the year ahead.

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1. Brokers will support employers in their efforts tochallenge the status quo

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Typically, employers select benefits plans from insurers andproviders and pass the options along to employees. But 2018provided a host of examples of breaking from this traditional mold.We saw this with the Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorganventure and GM's “direct to employer” contract with the Henry Ford Hospital system toprovide care for employees.

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Also read: 5predictions for consumer-driven health care in2019

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In 2019, we can expect employers to continue to challenge thestatus quo. Employers may be looking to negotiate contractsdirectly with providers and carriers to get better plans foremployees. To support employer efforts, we could see brokers helpemployer clients identify opportunities and negotiate deals toensure adequate coverage at a reasonable price.

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2. Adapting to changing federal regulations

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With two weeks to go until the new year, federal judge ReedO'Connor ruled the Affordable Care Act (ACA)unconstitutional, a decision that the health care industry has beenwaiting for since September. Though consumers, employers andinsurers are waiting to see what will happen next, brokers shouldremind their clients that, for the time being, the ACA is still thelaw of the land. Moving forward, brokers should ensure that theyare keeping tabs on any developments so that employer clients arebest able to develop intelligent, cost-effective benefitsstrategies in the coming years.

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3. Rise in data-driven insights

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According to the Healthcare Executive Group's top 10 list ofcritical opportunities, challenges and issues, employers said thatleveraging data would be a top challenge in 2019 to driveindividual, provider and payer decisions. Brokers can use thisinformation to identify low-cost providers and services to bettertailor plan designs to present to their clients. In addition, thesedata-driven insights can help brokers work with their employerclients to better target participant communications materials andprograms.

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4. Growing emphasis on behavioral health

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The World Health Organization reports that depression is the leading cause ofpoor health and disability across the globe. As issues withphysical health, such as chronic diseases, seriously affect mentalhealth and reduce a patient's ability to partake in treatment andrecovery, employers are focusing their attention on implementingeducation and outreach strategies. Brokers should understand whattypes of education and outreach strategies their clients arelooking to implement to ensure the offerings and services they aresuggesting are in line with employees' needs.

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5. Innovative cost-sharing methods

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Employers seem to be realizing that they have hit the limit ofwhat the market will bear in terms of “up front” cost-shifting toemployees (e.g., higher premiums, deductibles and copays) or highdeductible plans as the only option. Brokers should expect to workwith employers to create innovative strategies that contain andreduce costs, such as limiting out-of-network coverage (unlessthere is a true emergency), offering more narrow-network options orsupporting direct-to-provider negotiations.

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6. Balancing a multi-generational workforce

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With four generations working alongside one another, brokers andemployers must take a step back to ensure employees are getting thecoverage that they need and expect. The industry is seeing anincreased demand for “customizable” benefits as millennials and GenZ employees become the majority of the workforce. Health carebenefits are not one size fits all, and to address this demand, theindustry will likely see the role of brokers increase as theyidentify plan design alternatives and bring more voluntary benefitsoptions to the table. 

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7. Personalized benefits communications

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As benefits become more personalized, so will the way employerscommunicate them to employees. Every generation — and everyindividual — has preferences as to how, when and why they receiveinformation, as well as differing health care priorities. HR teamsand their partners must learn to leverage these preferences andpriorities to get their messages across, while still achievingcorporate goals. Content may become more gender-, age-, condition-and utilization-focused. As more tech-savvy generations make up agreater percentage of the workforce and older generations continueto adapt to technological advances, companies will more widelyadopt interactive communications materials.

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8. More informed health care consumers

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Next year will see more and more focus on health caretransparency, with the CMS proposed rule requiring hospitals topost their standard pricing online taking effect and the ban onpharmaceutical company gag orders becoming more widespread inpractice. As more consumers realize the variability in health carepricing, they will begin to seek price and quality reviews, similarto how they shop for cars, TVs and cell phones. Brokers will beexpected to help employers supply more transparency for costcomparison, but employers will be the ones to teach employees howto shop smarter for health care treatments, procedures andservices.

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Related: 6trends that will impact health care next year

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As consumers, employers and politicians continue to discusshealth care issues on a national level, brokers and organizationswill work together to determine how those issues are met. Thehealth care market is complex, but brokers and employers can helpeducate employees on all options available to ensure they havesufficient coverage without paying too much.

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Gil Murdock is SVP of National Accounts atDirectPath.

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