The role of the benefit broker has changed since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, but has it diminished?

No, it hasn’t, says Ray Marra, senior vice president of group products at The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, which released its third annual workplace benefits study Tuesday.

Employers are turning to brokers to help with everything from navigating the ACA to exploring technology capabilities to administering group plans, the study found. “With broker involvement, employers are more likely to consolidate carriers, outsource benefits administration and expand their use of benefits technology.”

Seventy-two percent of companies with group insurance look to a broker or consultant to help aspects such as selecting a plan, recommending carriers and monitoring the servicing of the plan. “Those employers tend to offer a broader and richer array of benefits for their employees,” according to the study. Brokers help employers understand their options and aid in designing well-rounded programs, Marra adds.

Brokers also help when it comes to technology, an area employers are lacking. Less than half of all employers surveyed (45%) say their benefits information systems and processes are highly integrated. “Brokers are helping employers evaluate options for increasing their use of technology either through a TPA or carrier,” the study says.

More education needed

Six in 10 employers say they need help managing the ACA. Most are already utilizing brokers — nearly 80% of employers trust their broker is knowledgeable about the health care law, the study found. “Brokers are well-positioned to help educate their clients and assist them in preparing for the new policies and potential challenges.”

For 25% of employers, their broker leads presentations about company benefits. However, more education is required, particularly about the ACA’s impact on employee benefits. “U.S. workers rate health care reform and health insurance changes among the top subjects they want to learn more about from their employers,” the study says.

Employees have a greater awareness about benefits due to the amount of media coverage surrounding the ACA, Marra says. That can lead to increased engagement and/or employees valuing their coverage more, he says.

The perceived value of employee benefits increases when employers distribute total compensation statements. Nearly 75% of workers say “seeing information about the monetary worth of their benefits caused them to place greater value on those benefits,” the study says. Employees were also more likely to rate their company’s communication as “effective,” were more confident in their plan selections and had greater overall job satisfaction. “That’s a good takeaway for employers and for brokers,” Marra says.

Employers report similar results, however, just 33% of those surveyed provide total compensation statements, according to the study, which was conducted in the fall of 2014 by Greenwald & Associates and consisted of two online surveys — one among 1,001 employers and another among 1,706 full-time employees ages 22 and older.

“There are opportunities for employers to continue to work on their communication to their employees,” Marra says, such as providing benefits statements or more education. In the past, employees were handed a huge book containing all the information about their benefits, he says. “You had one choice to make, yes or no.” Employee benefits have evolved a lot, but the education piece is lagging a bit, Marra says.  

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