Surveys. Polls. Studies. Industry Reports. More than any other industry, health care is overflowing with information about trends, views and needs of interest to employers. From technology to benefits to health reform, we have all kinds of data to, in theory, help us with our strategic business planning. In many ways, though, this glut of information is too much, even overwhelming at times, leading to the dreaded but sometimes all too real paralysis by analysis. So what are we to glean from all these surveys, and how do we apply it to a practice?

One approach is to carve out a niche where a practice can be successful by focusing on a specific application. Some examples where brokers are succeeding in this way include total compensation statements, cost transparency tools, wellness and online enrollment. These solutions, however, do not fully leverage the information available to us. Maybe, if we look deeper, we can find a common theme weaving through the tapestry of surveys and studies that gives us a clearer view of what employers expect in the coming years. This, I think, is found in the new math of employee benefits where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

 

Technology as a cost saver

In Prudential's Sixth Annual Survey of Employee Benefits: Today & Beyond, two-thirds of employers still see plan design as the primary benefits cost-management method. Maybe it is because that's the most common approach or type of proposal they see. What is perhaps more interesting from the Prudential survey is that more than half of employers say they will be expanding their use of technology to help control the cost of employee benefits programs.

The implication here is that employers fundamentally know that technology can help them control benefits costs. HR has experienced the positive impact of technology in other areas such as talent acquisition, leave management or time and attendance. Most HR technology is integrated. The problem with benefits technology is that it is not integrated - too many standalone applications, not enough "seamless" solutions.

To illustrate, let's consider a scenario where employee communication, online enrollment and wellness applications are knitted together to create a year-round program. First, the employee communication tool is used to present the wellness program as an integral part of the complete employee benefits package. Employees can see that, in addition to their standard benefits, participation in the wellness program and achievement of specified results can bring them premium reductions or an increase in their employer's defined contribution.

Next, when employees utilize the online enrollment system they also "enroll" in their wellness program. They can see both their payroll deductions and the potential decrease in those deductions from successful participation in the wellness program. Then, as they go through the various steps of the wellness program they can see the results reflected in their paycheck or their health savings account. These credits or rewards are automatically fed into the eligibility system, which in turn, updates the payroll system or HSA account.

Finally, the employer can provide feedback to all employees on group participation and group results. And individuals can get a next generation total compensation statement that shows the value all of their benefits.

Lamb is VP and group head of the EbixBenergy business unit at insurance software company Ebix Health. Reach him at john.lamb@ebix.com.

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