The convergence of technology and human touch provides a meaningful opportunity to revolutionize benefits enrollment and employee engagement, note several industry experts. They also envision a greater strategic role for brokers and advisers who can drill deeper into more relevant details with their employer clients.

“There’s enormous pressure on companies and HR functions to try to create a more personal experience,” says Brian Kropp, an HR practice leader at CEB, which is now part of Gartner. That’s what employees expect based on how they’re consuming products and services on Amazon.com and elsewhere, while delivering the right combination of attributes within the employment value proposition helps leverage recruitment and retention of top talent, he says.

Bloomberg/file photo

But it’s an uphill battle for most businesses. The challenge is that few employees are willing to provide personal information to their employer, cautions Kropp, who describes it as a huge dilemma that can undermine ROI.

Technology now allows employees to navigate their way through complex healthcare matters 24/7 on multiple communication platforms with highly personalized, one-on-one interactions, observes Sanjiv Anand, CEO of bswift, which provides cloud-based technology and services for employee benefits.

A healthcare consumerism movement that has gained considerable traction in recent years “is driving the need for technical innovation, personalization and consumer shopping tools that didn’t really exist before,” explains Jeff Oldham, VP of consumer strategy at Benefitfocus, which also provides a cloud-based benefits management platform.

Following decades of largely static evaluations of insurance products, he sees growing opportunities for traditional brokers. “I’m finding that the more consultative consultants are now connecting the dots around not only mobile tools, but also other implications and consequences of a CDHP plan,” reports Oldham.

His company, whose platform includes 833 large employers and 53 of the nation’s largest insurance carriers, recently outlined a 10-year plan to accelerate what it calls the “digital transformation” of employer-sponsored healthcare. The approach promises a more personalized experience that leads to more appropriate choices. Among the tools it suggests to heighten employee satisfaction: comprehensive reporting and analytics; capabilities to engage employees during open enrollment; and software-enabled services to streamline administration.

The thinking is to give multiple stakeholders access to “a richer combination of plan utilization data than they previously had,” Oldham says. That includes allowing employees an ability to review their own claims data and even physician practice patterns when evaluating plan choices at open enrollment. This will enable them to better anticipate utilization and out-of-pocket costs.

Benefitfocus also envisions growing efficiencies on the administrative side as part of its strategic vision. For example, a dependent eligibility and verification audit powered by a simple smartphone app can streamline the arduous process of having to produce significant paperwork.

“They can literally take a picture of a birth or marriage certificate, and have it automatically uploaded and populated into their health record,” Oldham explains.

While digital transformation can help drive enrollment, Anand sees much greater potential for healthier outcomes and medical cost savings after employees select a plan when engagement matters most. The objective is to ensure that all available programs are being effectively utilized.

Going mobile
Mobile apps can help fill prescriptions and schedule doctor appointments, as well as actively monitor blood pressure or glucose levels, says Anand. An exclusive partnership between Apple and Aetna, which acquired benefits tech pioneer bswift in 2014, has helped elevate these capabilities.

Anand’s company has developed a highly intuitive approach that allows employees to shop, buy and enroll in their health plan. A “recommendation engine” filters out irrelevant options and focuses on the best possible choices by leveraging each individual’s personal situation. With the help of a digital wizard named “Ask Emma,” employees are asked some basic questions to determine the coverage that’s right for them and identify the lowest out-of-pocket costs. Also factored into the mix are healthcare consumption patterns and claims information.

The technology covers about 14,000 employers with 6 million members across employers with only a handful of employees to large organizations with more than 100,000 employees.

Technology is made available to smaller firms through roughly 70 channel partners that include brokers, payroll providers, associations and some insurance carriers. Despite being owned by Aetna, bswift is carrier-agnostic and can customize its tools to fit each customer’s coverage needs.

When seeking to connect employers with the right technology vendors, Anand says brokers and advisers need to evaluate a service provider’s experience and results pertaining to helping employees make more informed healthcare decisions. Other criteria include their track record on reducing overall healthcare costs and improving satisfaction.

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