As employers face growing tracking and reporting requirements under the Affordable Care Act, the demand for technology that can keep up is growing stronger as well. In the process, the lines between traditional human resource information systems and benefit administration platforms are becoming blurred. However, it is important to maintain a distinction between the two in the interest of ensuring things run smoothly and effectively, said Charlie Peluso, CEO of Workplace Solutions.

Addressing attendees at Employee Benefit Adviser’s Workplace Benefits Mania Thursday, Peluso outlined what to expect from each type of platform.

HRIS should cover: Job history; pay history; HR metrics; payroll; benefits; training; recruiting; compliance solutions; overall onboarding and performance management, he said.

Ben admin platforms, Peluso continued, should include: Benefits enrollment (both core and voluntary); new hire onboarding — but for benefits specifically; electronic data integration (EDI) file feeds, such as an HRIS/payroll interface, carrier feeds, COBRA vendor file, employee updates and billing reports; life events, such as dependent verification support, approval of benefit elections and enabling of benefit changes; education and communication of benefits; marketing materials, videos, decision-support tools, email notifications; recordkeeping, such as benefit and eligibility history.

Although employers are increasingly asking for items like work history to be included in ben admin platforms, due to the ACA, Peluso said those items are better served on HRIS systems, adding that compliance “bogs down” ben admin.

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Why bother investing in a proper ben admin system? Because of the positive “impact that a good ben admin system can have on your engagement with your customer,” said Lyle Griffin, president and co-founder of Selerix Systems, at the session. Having the right ben admin system can not only improve participation in voluntary benefits, he added, but also lead to year-round benefits engagement. With that in mind, the system should be accessible 24/7, he said, not only to employers and their employees, but also to carriers and other vendors.

Led by the ACA as a “catalyst,” the latest trends in benefit administration, Griffin said, include:  

  • Emergence of public and private exchanges
  • Cadillac tax/ACA compliance
  • Self-funded medical plans
  • Security concerns —“the more people become engaged in this space the more attention it’s going to attract.”
  • Accessibility of ben admin; tablets have become very popular
  • Popularity of voluntary benefits
  • Single sign-on integration —“the lines between these systems start to become blurred,” he said.
  • Decision support
  • Self-serve, which as “has been very strong [and is] going to accelerate.”

“We can debate all day long about how effective it is,” he said of self-service, “but the thing is, customers expect it.” It’s the result of being “infected with the ‘Google’ virus.”
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There are many things to consider when choosing a system, added Beau Boudreaux, president, Workplace Solutions. It starts with looking at how an employer’s current benefits management process is managed. Are they still using paper? How does data get to the carriers? Then, what would the requirements be on an employer’s already over-burdened HR staff; will it administering the system take away from their job duties?

Before purchasing a new system, an employer should outline the objectives that system should accomplish, Boudreaux said. For example:

  • Level of compatibility with existing systems
  • How it will be paid for (pay as you go? Annual fee?)
  • How will it enhance productivity of key players managing the system, such as HR and IT staff
  • Types of benefits being offered — while worksite products are key, he said, some systems don’t do as well with certain carriers or plan designs.
  • How easy is it to use, can everyone navigate the system easily and freely?

Additionally, investigate what type of ongoing support is available and whether or not there are any hidden fees and costs, he said. “You’re really looking past year one,” Boudreaux said. “You’re looking for year one, year two, year three” and beyond.

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