Brokers must beware the pit falls of benchmarking

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Not long ago I was on a trip where we were dropped off in the middle of open water to go snorkeling. When I agreed to this activity I thought we would be in three or four feet of water max. Never did I envision being so vulnerable and exposed. To say that I was terrified is an understatement. The mantra that kept going through my mind was to stick close to those in the water with me and that I’d be safer. The thought of many of us being the victims of a shark attack felt better than just one of us being lunch.

As humans we feel a strong desire to be part of the pack. We compare ourselves to others to determine our own worth. We see someone with a better car and think they are more successful than us. We see someone who is heavier and think “maybe I’m not in as bad of shape as I think I am.” We rationalize irrational ideas and notions.

BAs a benefits consultant, seven out of 10 prospects will ask me how their plan compares to other employers of the same industry. Sometimes I feel that sharing a benchmark survey will be misleading. Why? Because there are a lot of employers with subpar benefit plans right now. If I’m telling an employer that they are keeping up with the trend, they think that’s a good thing. It’s not. It means they’ve increased deductibles, cost-shared more expenses on their employees, and increased premium contributions for the employees’ families just like other companies.

Benchmark surveys measure basic elements of a plan design, like co-pays, co-insurance, and deductibles.

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It’s difficult to tell a company, “comparatively speaking, you are on pace with everyone else.” And then in the next breath tell them why they should want to be doing better than everyone else. The best measure of success for a health plan is perceived value. Are employees getting the best quality of care at the lowest cost? What are their outcomes? There is no benchmark survey that will show this statistic. It will not be able to show waived co-pays for employees who make smart fiscal decisions that save themselves and their companies money. It doesn’t show an employer offering incentives to employees with free diapers and wipes for a new baby’s first year.

I struggle with the idea of benchmarking because it’s not a true indication of their employees’ overall happiness with the plan. The unfortunate truth is although the grand majority of employers would agree with this, most aren’t willing to veer from the pack and do something different that could potentially be better.

The thing that I didn’t appreciate when I was dropped off at a 30-foot deep reef initially was that I would have an opportunity to see more fish. There was a greater alleged risk, but the reward was far greater. Employers need to start thinking of themselves as separate from the pack and only then they can have a different experience. One that may be vastly different than a similar-sized company with similar demographics, but one that is far better.

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Adviser strategies Benefit management Benefit strategies Benefit communication Benefit plan design