With 2014 around the corner, brokers need to be thinking about how to keep employers interested in providing benefits coverage, and also about how potential innovations and competitors might impact them in the future, according to an industry panel this week.

“Our concern as an industry is if the 160 million [employer-sponsored people] lose coverage — the whole system may implode a lot sooner than we may think,” said George Duczak, speaking Tuesday at SourceMedia’s Workplace Benefits Transitions conference in Chicago. Duczak, president of The American Worker Plans, and others outlined next steps for brokers to be wary of with the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges in repair mode. 

The first thing to keep employers providing benefits coverage is to give them what they want, Duczak said. “Tell me what I need to do, keep me out of trouble and don’t invite me to another health reform workshop or seminar,” he said, speaking from an employer’s perspective. He noted that they also want cost-effective solutions, not quick and expensive reactions to problems from their brokers.

The future president of Chicago’s chapter of the National Association of Health Underwriters also said there are a few types of brokers who are going to come out on top in the next year or so and “survive,” as the session title implied: large brokers with tremendous resources that provide values such as private exchanges, benefits counseling, legal guidance, value-based accounting and actuarial support, and those entrepreneurial brokers with “financial assets and acumen to create an online future focused on mobile communication and enrollment service.”

Lindsay Resnick, CMO of KBM Group: Health Services/Wunderman, provided such technology tips for the independent, smaller broker interested in looking ahead. “Mobile is crucial in the next year,” he said, noting that 41% of people have gotten rid of a land-line phone and that percentage will skyrocket to 75% in the next three years. He also told brokers to think ahead, for example, while Google Glass is coming out next year, the benefits industry is still strategizing online versus paper enrollment. In order to stand out, he said, brokers need to move faster with their technology plans.

An audience member who identified herself as a carrier said that employers seem to be the only group — not brokers, not employees — that hasn’t embraced technology developments. The panel consensus between Duczak and Resnick was that brokers need to be prepared because employers are going to come around to it, and possibly soon.

Walter Podgurski, conference co-chair and publisher of SourceMedia’s Insurance Broadcasting News, noted in the panel discussion that competitors like ADP need to be on an informed broker’s radar. Resnick listed major hospitals creating their own insurance networks as a major competitor, as well as ACOs and CO-OPs.

EBA’s coverage of Workplace Benefits Transitions continues this week. Follow us on Twitter @EBAMagazine or via #WBT13.

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