4 strategies for managing employer health and benefits renewals

The benefits renewal period is a notoriously busy time. Brokers are working round the clock to support their small groups by reviewing current benefit packages and making changes for the year ahead.

With the Affordable Care Act pushing many small group renewals to fourth quarter, brokers must deal with new rates, plans and regulations – like those affecting association health plans – as well as the majority of their clients renewing at the same time. Those who have a systemized approach set themselves up for success.

For better or for worse, continued technological innovation, specifically automation, has increased access to information such as premiums, provider directories and general plan information.

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A blood pressure monitor stands in the diagnostic imaging area at the Hong Kong Integrated Oncology Centre in Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. Equipped with biopsy facilities, body scanners, and quiet 'VIP' chemotherapy rooms, the Hong Kong Integrated Oncology Centre is the first of a string of such facilities that TE Asia Healthcare Partners, a portfolio company funded by TPG Capital, is planning in Asia. Photographer: Xaume Olleros/Bloomberg

Automation replaced some specific tasks as well, including filling out and submitting enrollment and renewal forms. Still, brokers and the valuable counsel they provide employers, cannot be replaced. Benefits professionals have the knowledge and expertise to help their clients choose a plan that’s within their budgetary requirements while addressing unique employee health and physician needs. This can be particularly valuable during the complex, fast-moving renewal period.

Here are 4 tips for managing employer health and benefits renewals:

1. Evaluate existing plan designs: Employee health needs can change over the course of a year, due to health events such as pregnancy or illness. The same is true for financial changes. A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found employer-sponsored health insurance premiums for families rose five percent this year, with a spotlight on annual deductible costs. Brokers should evaluate their current clients’ benefit plans to ensure they still meet the business owners’ health care and financial needs. If the plans do not, it’s time to explore other designs such as Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs).
2. Create a timeline (and stick to it): Companies tend to hunker down in the fourth quarter. Urgent deliverables tied to overall profits are prioritized, while internal initiatives, such as health insurance renewals, are pushed to the back burner. Establishing a simple timeline helps benefits professionals initiate renewal conversations without compromising business owners’ end-of-year goals. A clear timeline helps ensure benefits are in place by Jan. 1.
3. Identify new and unique benefits: The national unemployment rate remains at a record low not seen since 1969, indicating an increasingly tight labor market. Company owners nationwide are vying with competitors for top talent, who demand competitive salaries and health benefits. It’s in the broker’s (and their clients’) best interest to identify the specific benefits today’s workforce demands, and to package them with unique value-adds. For example, perks programs that allow employees to receive discounts (to entertainment, attractions and retailers) can set an employer apart from the competition.
4. Get your paperwork in order: Carriers are updating materials to reflect new underwriting guidelines, new plans, special Q4 promotions, and new portfolio options for 2019. Preferred carrier partners, or a general agent, can help brokers secure the updated guidelines they need. Also, brokers should make sure to stay informed on items that could affect clients as they look to enroll or renew; these include valid waivers, waiting period options, and new hire rating guidelines.

Establishing a process helps brokers effectively navigate renewals and guide employers accordingly. The result is enhanced value to the small group marketplace, increasing the potential for your future growth and continuing business success.

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