How data analytics is changing employee benefit strategies
In the realm of employee benefits, surveys, focus groups and anecdotes about specific employee encounters with the benefits program typically drive the discussions about how that program should evolve in the future. Unlike the situation at Outback, it is difficult to “observe” how people actually consume benefits and tailor a program that is attractive to them.
Fortunately, recent developments in data analytics have unlocked the potential of using consumer behavior insights to drive employee benefits strategy.
Leading practitioners are beginning to leverage these developments to change the annual renewal process. The technologies that support data aggregation, normalization and reporting have been aggressively developed to support the provider and payer communities. Only now have these advancements been made available to employers and their advisers.
The most successful practitioners point to the value of standardized claims reporting based upon credible data. By combining current claims data with industry benchmarks and predictive analytics, employers gain insight into the ongoing performance of their benefit plans. They “see” for themselves what industry professionals have been telling them for years. Plan performance is based upon claims, both in terms of the number of units of healthcare consumed and the price of those units. In recent surveys, benefit professionals report the difficulty they have in convincing CFOs and CEOs to make the necessary changes to benefit programs. Standardized reporting from a credible analytics platform can greatly enhance the ability for benefit professionals to communicate their agenda.
But standardized reporting is not the panacea. Benefits are complex. And the relationship between risk and consumption of healthcare add to the complexity. Even in the best reporting environments where executives are well informed about the performance of their plans and how the key metrics compare to industry norms, they are often perplexed about what to do with the information. Advancements in the realm of “actionable analytics” are beginning to address this problem as well.
While artificial intelligence or AI is all the rage, the underlying concept of having a computer suggest a course of action based upon data is not a new idea. The new application to employee benefits is the ability to provide “suggestions” in the context of standardized financial reporting. The number of ideas to bend the cost curve are numerous. The challenge is matching these ideas with the appropriate populations, convincing decision makers to invest and engaging the appropriate cohorts of employees to take specific actions necessary to realize the return on investment for these initiatives.
New systems are now available to close the gaps on this execution continuum. The foundation for these new systems is a robust analytics platform. But actionable analytics build upon this foundation by evaluating the employer’s data to discern whether a specific cost-saving initiative might generate savings worthy of the investment. These new systems present the output of that analysis in an easy to understand graphical format for benefit consultants and HR professionals to effectively communicate the potential of cost savings initiatives to decision makers.
Targeted engagement maximizes compliance and ROI
Getting executives to commit to intentional actions to affect the rising costs of benefits solves one half of the problem. The second half of the problem is one of focus. Rather than attempting to engage all employees with generalized messaging, these new systems use analytics to focus their engagement on a specific cohort of individuals in order to drive the greatest impact. This focus allows for a concentration of resources on the targeted populations, resulting in increased compliance and larger return on investment. The best implementations are integrated with benefits administration platforms and can incorporate multiple initiatives simultaneously. Point solutions, from an engagement perspective, have been proven to result in single-digit compliance. The power of an integrated engagement solution allows for initiatives that, because they are both focused and automated, can be executed simultaneously.
Advancements in technology have created a new era in which the democratization of big data allows for non-technical professionals to access detailed information and convert that information into intelligence. According to a recent survey, more than 65% of employers confess they are not strategic when it comes to benefits cost management. In spite of the many cost savings ideas available, more than 40% say they are not engaging in any new initiatives in the upcoming year. While the future of healthcare reform is in doubt, the potential for actionable analytics to significantly change the trajectory of the employer’s benefits costs is certain.