If you're looking to build your revenue sources and help your clients introduce or expand their health benefits, voluntary benefit discount programs might be the perfect fit.

Working alongside and supplementing traditional insurance plans, discount programs provide consumers with health care, dental, vision, prescription and a growing list of wellness benefits at reduced network pricing.

Peter Kopp, president and chief executive of Solera Insurance and Financial Services in Denver, Colo., offers discount programs referred to as HealthStar. Thousands of people are enrolled in Solera's discount plans, says Kopp, and he feels confident that the numbers will continue to grow, because there is a wide variety of different products available to fit every consumer's needs.

Just like Sam's Club and Costco, discount programs offer consumers access to greater benefits than shoppers would find in non-membership type stores, says Kopp. And, like these retail stores, these programs offer the equivalent of "cash-and-carry" convenience.


No waiting

One of the main advantages of discount plans is that they provide immediate benefits by significantly eliminating the waiting period for consumers. Traditional insurance plan participants often have a waiting period until they can use their benefits.

Kopp, whose general agency specializes in ancillary benefits nationwide, encounters employees time after time who wait until they have a toothache to see a dentist, and by then it is too late for affordable care.

"The [benefits] start right away; there are no limitations, and they give the discount," he says.

"Another great feature of discount plans is that they break down a lot of the barriers that insurance plans typically have," he adds. "For example, a traditional plans might state that you can only use this discount up until a certain amount or you can only have two cleanings a year at the dentist. Discount plans do not have those types of limitations; you can use it however much you want, whatever the age, no waiting periods to get access to the benefits." Kopp's company started offering discount programs five years ago.

"We purposely went after the plans because they matched the buying habits of consumers better than individual insurance," he says. "The discount plan is really a great solution for an immediate benefit."

Laura Mecham, product director for Cigna's Healthy Rewards program, says that clients like the fact there is no additional charge to add the program.

"It's literally a value-add that is wrapped around our clients' medical, behavioral or dental plans. Clients can add Healthy Rewards when they sign up for traditional plans," which is convenient, she says.


Wide array of offerings

The Healthy Rewards program offers many member discounts: Weight management and nutrition, fitness, dental, vitamins and wellness products along with vision and hearing care, a Healthyroads Tobacco Cessation program. HealthStar offers two dental plans, a vision plan, as well as a prescription plan.

The consumer-focused program is available to anyone enrolled in any traditional insurance plan: behavioral health, dental, disability, medical, vision and pharmacy. Even those individuals who have benefits through Cigna and traditional benefits through another carrier are still eligible for Healthy Rewards, Mecham says.

She maintains that the deep discounts that are available to individuals can encourage them to try health or wellness services they may have not have otherwise. Mecham herself has looked into alternative-medicene discounts which provide acupuncture, chiropractor visits or massage services, as well as mind and body plans.

While the sign-up process for the program is easy, Mecham says that Cigna continues to improve the two access points: telephone services and by logging onto the website where customers can surf around and find different stores on their own time.


Up-front payments

Although not all discount programs are free, they are less expensive than traditional insurance plans per month.

"The correlation between a discounted health plan and an insurance health plan is pretty dramatic," says Kopp. "It's less, though, on dental and vision. We sell a discount health plan for $8.95 a month and another for $14.95 a month; it's just a different magnitude.

"Price is the biggest differentiator between a regular insurance plan or a discount program regardless of whether it is dental or vision," he adds. "Also, there are fewer restrictions with a discount plan."

However, there is a drawback. Unlike insurance plans, discount programs require patients to pay the entire discounted charge out-of-pocket and then be reimbursed, which can be financially burdensome.


Adding to the portfolios

Kopp believes that agents should add discount programs to their portfolio to increase their revenue stream.

"As an enhanced benefit, it also helps to offer better staying power for the group if you have a multiple-leveled account. It makes it harder for competitors to come in and take that business," he says. "There are a lot of great ways to use discount plans. It's not always either insurance or a discount plan, you can feather in some discount products or benefits that are not insurance in nature that complement a typical health insurance plan very well."

Mecham agrees that Healthy Rewards helps Cigna's clients to open the dialogue to their employees around general health and wellness because it offers such a wide array of opportunities for them.


Each client is unique

Kopp adds that brokers have to be smart when it comes to what fits the needs of a specific client.

For some plan participants, traditional insurance plans may meet that person and their family's needs but for others, a supplementary benefit works out better for their wallet.

Each customer has different needs, and with the rising costs of health care, listening is crucial.


Personal accountability

"Health and wellness are important, and the more we can engage employees to get involved, the better it is for not only them, but for our clients and for the health care system," Mecham concludes.

The wide array of discount programs helps individuals to take personal accountability for their health.

"It puts into their hands all sorts of different opportunities for them to stay fit, get fit or respond to different needs that they have at points in their life," she says.


Member discounts constitute broad new array

On the growing list of options, Cigna's Healthy Rewards program offers discounts with no additional charge to add the program to existing medical, behavioral, dental, life, accident or disability plans. Yet, since the program is separate from plan benefits, co-payments and co-insurance do not apply. The discounts become an addition to plan benefits and members pay the entire discounted charge.

Weight Management and Nutrition

* Healthyroads Weight Management Program

* Registered Dietitian Network

* Jenny Craig

* Weight Watchers

* NutriSystem

* Weight management scales


* Fitness Club and Equipment Discounts

* Just Walk 10,000 Steps-a-Day

Vision and Hearing Care

* Exams, Eyewear and Contacts

* Lasik Vision Correction

* Hearing Exams and Aids

Tobacco Cessation

* Healthyroads Tobacco Cessation Program

* Tobacco Solutions

* Quitnet

Alternative Medicine

* Acupuncture

* Chiropractor

* Massagee


* Healthyroads Mind/Body Program

* Yoga Journal (subscriptions, DVDs, yoga conference discounts)

* SpaFinder

Dental Care

* Anti-cavity Products

Vitamins, Health and Wellness Products

* Drugstore.com

* ChooseHealthy (discounts on natural supplements)

Healthy Lifestyle Products

* Mayo Clinic Books

* Magazine Subscriptions

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