Open enrollment season is upon us. The employee benefits landscape has been given considerable attention since the launch of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance requirement went into effect. Employers, employees, insurance carriers, and benefits consultants have all evolved their approach to employee benefits, plan options, costs, enrollment and management.

Despite the introduction of the public exchange marketplace, the private exchange continues to thrive as most employees continue to elect in their employers’ subsidized benefits options, as well as purchase additional voluntary insurance products.

Employers understand that employee benefits are one of the most important factors in attracting and retaining valuable workers. A recent Employee Benefit Research Institute survey reports that more than 36% of U.S. workers say the benefits package an employer offers is extremely important in their decision to accept or reject a job, and 41% say it is very important.

Given the ubiquity of technology scaffolding most organizations’ operational and communication infrastructure, it is no doubt that technology has revolutionized the employee benefits industry and is now the only way for employers to offer a wide variety of employee benefit plans and options at affordable rates.

Marrying the private exchange and employee benefits administration technology promises many cooperative advantages that would not be possible otherwise. Not only does specialized benefits technology automate many benefits administrative processes and HR tasks, but it also provides HR some unique, dedicated functionalities and communicative abilities.

Employee “choose your own adventure” benefits plans
Within the private exchange, employers are able to offer multiple benefits plans, multiple levels of coverage, and contract with multiple carriers. This enables employees to “shop” and select which benefits plans and lines of coverage are right for them.

The technology edge Benefits administration technology provides an easy-to-use, online enrollment interface allowing employees to enroll online and see only the benefits plans they are eligible for. The step-by-step enrollment process includes employee verifications and confirmations along the way so employees understand what benefits they are selecting that will inevitably impact their financial and medical future.

The personal touch Online enrollment and integrated benefits administration platforms extends the HR potential and productivity, solidifying their role and significance in the company. HR are able to manage employee eligibility and effective dates and verify employee documentation to accept or reject benefits. Like must purposeful technology today, HR is able to increase their productivity and performance. Even more importantly, HR now has time to provide employees more personal engagement.

Integration of carriers and third parties
Employers save on costs by being able to contract with multiple, various carriers in order to get the best rate. What’s more, private exchanges enable employers to offer specific worksite benefits, such as wellness programs, which focus on promoting employees’ health and wellness, not just their medical care in their time of need.

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The technology edge One of the greatest challenges of HR is to constantly be in communication with carriers and updating their payroll system to reflect new hires’ benefits start dates, terminated employees’ benefits end dates, and employee benefits and premium changes. Employee benefits technology enables accurate carrier and payroll electronic data interchange feeds that automatically transfer updated employee benefit data in order for each vendor’s system to be up-to-date and accurate. EDI eliminates the need for HR administration to manually maintain enrollment information in the carriers’ and payroll systems. This is an almost impossible feat for HR that manage a large employee population.

The personal touch HR know their employees best, which is why private exchanges make it possible for them to select various benefits options and packages that are of most value to their unique employee population. Administering and managing comprehensive benefits packages through a robust benefits administration system affords HR an even greater advantage. Not only are HR able to verify EOI and dependent documentation and attach to employees’ historical records so they can obtain their benefits faster, but they are also able to run customized reports in order to maintain a keen eye on their entire employee population. HR can be automatically notified of employees who have not enrolled during open enrollment and send them a personalized notification. Plus, with more time available, HR are able to offer more face-to-face communication with employees to help them understand and select their benefits.

Communication and education
While every private exchange varies in capability and certainly in what is offered as far as carriers and insurance products, private exchanges provide employees more direct communication and educational materials than what public exchanges offer, helping employees make more informed, knowledgeable decisions about their benefits.

The technology edge Private exchanges offer carrier-specific messages and forms; however, when administered through a robust benefits administration system, online enrollment websites showcase personalized messages from employers, plus a host of carrier-specific links, downloadable forms and contact information. As employees enroll online, they are presented with plan comparisons and can even access decision support tools that collect employee-specific data in order to help them understand their benefit options. Given the critical nature of employee benefits, enhancing an employee’s enrollment experience with education and direction along the way is a chief advantage of benefits administration technology.

The Personal Touch The communications module housed within an integrated benefits administration system is the most innovative, customizable, multi-faceted communications engine available in any business application today. HR are able to send bulk emails to all employees or individual emails, schedule follow-up actions for internal workflows, as well as always access an employee’s complete transactional history. One of the most frequent questions HR receives from employees is, “What are my benefits?” With an easy-to-read benefits confirmation statement accessible via their employee benefits website, employees will always remained apprised of what insurance plans they have. Additionally, in conjunction with employee benefits technology, some technology vendors even support their benefits administration system with a call center feature, which enables employees to speak to benefits experts, receive one-on-one attention, and perform telephonic enrollment.

The employee benefits industry will continue to change and the government will continue to surprise HR with new challenges and administrative duties. However, offering comprehensive employee benefits will remain a standard for any competitive business in the market. Coupled with innovative benefits administration technology, private exchanges will be the insurance market of choice for employers to offer differential plan designs, easy online enrollment, administrative management and provide personal-touch communications and education. As the employee benefits landscape remains uncertain, employers will be certain to offer superior value in employee benefits through benefits administration technology.

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Jessica Lynn Campbell

Jessica Lynn Campbell

Campbell is marketing executive and content writer for Web Benefits Design, a leading national employee benefits technology firm.