Moving the meter on benefits utilization

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Kevin Andrews is the president and chief technology officer for Hodges-Mace, an Atlanta-based provider of employee benefits enrollment and communications software. He recently discussed the latest trends in HR tech with Employee Benefit Adviser. What follows is an edited version of that conversation.

Employee Benefit Adviser: Are you seeing an increase in HR technology spending? What’s behind that?

Kevin Andrews: There’s a technology expansion going on all around HR. The first push was around automation. What we’re seeing now is the realization that benefits have gotten a lot more complex, and there’s a push now to [better] administer these wellness plans, high-deductible plans — all these various levers that employers are trying to pull to contain the costs of healthcare.

So I think we’re seeing a second wave of HR technology. People are saying, ‘You know what? We got rid of the paper, but now we need a more advanced system to handle the complexities of what we’re trying to do with our benefits.’

EBA: Which technologies have the potential to be most disruptive in the HR space?

Andrews: A lot of the push is around helping people choose from among the benefits they’re being offered and then helping them make better use of them. So you’re going to see more advanced decision-support tools that use analytics and artificial intelligence.

But the biggest disruption is going to be around mobile communications.

There’s a real-estate battle going on over the employee’s phone. Everybody’s got an app. But how do you get your app onto somebody’s phone? What gets an employee to adopt the apps that are in line with the strategy that the employer’s trying to roll out? That’s going to be the next battleground. You’ve got to have an aggregation point so that your employees can have easy access to your benefits, so that your message can be consistent and your vendors can switch out. And the best place to do that is not really a website — it’s going to be a mobile app of some sort.

EBA: Why are employers so keen on driving greater benefits utilization? How does Hodges-Mace’s Smart Ben solution set help them do that?

Andrews: According to a recent MetLife survey, only 7% of employees understand the meaning of terms like co-pay and deductible. So 93% of the population is trying to choose a medical plan, when they don’t even understand the true costs of that plan. One result is that employees’ perceptions of their benefits are really low; another is that they don’t know how to get the most value from their plan.

Those are the challenges we try to help solve. With analytics, for example, an employer can see when its workforce’s ER visits are trending above the national or regional average. Using claims data, the employer can pinpoint the types of visits that are taking place that aren’t true emergencies and then push relevant information out to specific employees on their mobiles. These messages can explain how trips to the ER are more expensive and cost the employee more money, and educate the employee about less costly alternatives like urgent care and telemedicine. In this way, the employer can start to move the meter on benefit utilization and the employee’s appreciation of those benefits.

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