The fourth quarter is one of the busiest and most chaotic times for brokers. It is also the “make-or-break” period for protecting and building their respective books of business for the coming year.

It is wise for agents to move quickly during this busy season to help clients get a head start on health plan renewals, annual budgeting and more. Here are four tips for brokers to keep in mind:

1) Identify network disruptions. The time is now to proactively talk with clients about any network disruptions or problems they may have with their coverage. For instance, it is well-established that people want to see their own doctors, specialists, pharmacies and hospitals. But when they unexpectedly cannot — or when access requires expensive out-of-network and out-of-pocket costs — substantial upset will occur. The result can be a significant business threat for brokers. It is best, then, to identify any network “pain points” before the busy season is in full swing. This provides brokers with the needed time to work with clients to resolve any issues while also helping to assure that they are avoided and averted in the future.

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2) Understand plan disrupters and alternatives. This may seem obvious, but it is a vital point worth driving home. Whether a plan is bronze, platinum or somewhere in between, there are often adjustments made from one year to the next. Agents need to be intimately familiar with any changes, whether significant or minor, that might disrupt a client’s existing coverage. This can include network modifications, premiums, copays and so forth. So, clearly understand any variations and be prepared to discuss alternative options based on a business owner’s needs and expectations.

3) Address client budgets. Remember to talk with employers about any budgetary changes to their business. Depending on the discussion, this can be the optimal time to kick-start a conversation about alternative defined-contribution options. For instance, perhaps there are opportunities to raise the fixed-dollar amount for employees and/or to explore value-added benefits such as dental, vision, life insurance and other ancillary offerings. On the flip side, you can consider basing your client’s contribution on a different plan option that may provide costs savings if they’re looking to try and reduce their healthcare expenditure. Either way, addressing budgets early on helps brokers ensure they are tailoring plans that best meet client needs.

4) Move off a Dec. 1 renewal period: Moving off of this date may help provide clients with a better open enrollment and underwriting experience. Many renewals get stacked up right before this deadline, putting more pressure on agent customer service. At the same time, it can be easy to get bogged down and rushed with multiple clients requiring quoting, enrollment, plan administration and more to meet looming deadlines. Beginning the renewal process earlier in the quarter provides brokers and their clients with plenty of time to work together to address and select the right plan offerings. Additionally, it may make sense to also explore a larger array of options and pricing advantageous to brokers and clients alike.

While the end of 2017 is ahead, the beginning to a successful 2018 is right now for brokers, agents and benefits professionals. Those who anticipate client needs early-on and take pre-emptive efforts now will be better positioned to lock-in and expand business for the coming year.

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Ron Goldstein

Ron Goldstein

Goldstein, CLU, is president and CEO of CHOICE Administrators, which provides health and ancillary insurance options and provider access to small businesses and their employees.