Slideshow 7 trends that shook benefits in 2015

Published
  • December 14 2015, 5:17am EST
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Although approaching the process from different ends of the spectrum, brokers, employers and end consumers faced increased expectations for their respective roles in employee benefit plans this year. This, coupled with evolutions in technology, 401(k) and voluntary product design, made 2015 anything but static.

1) Changing titles

During 2015 and especially in the fourth quarter, brokers shifted away from being benefit consultants to being compliance consultants, says Jeff Fallick, managing principal of Digital Benefit Advisors, Northern California in Los Altos. “With the ACA reporting deadline looming, there was a major push to ensure our clients had the appropriate solutions in place for their tracking and reporting needs,” he says. “With the fines becoming quite severe in 2017, it is incumbent upon us to accurately vet the best of breed vendors for our clients. And, there are plenty of options available.”

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2) Voluntary customization

Non-traditional voluntary benefits experienced continued customization this past year, says Elizabeth Halkos, chief revenue officer at Purchasing Power in Atlanta. “I think for the next few years that we will see this as a continuing trend, whether it be giving the employees more options or simply just customizing content about benefits to help them understand it,” she says.

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3) Betting on the consumer

The big bet in U.S. markets was on the consumer in 2015. “Government is relying on consumers to make educated choices about insurance, and ultimately their healthcare decisions and overall wellness,” says Mike Simonds, president and CEO of Unum US. “The Affordable Care Act is here to stay and the fundamental underpinning is mandating coverage amongst consumers while removing the obstacles [of] funding, exchanges and contractual reform.”

The shift to healthcare consumerism is well underway, adds Steve Auerbach, CEO of Alegeus. “Trends continue to point to more out-of-pocket responsibility for consumers, and accelerated adoption of consumer-directed healthcare product, such as high deductible plans, HSAs, FSAs and HRAs,” he says.

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4) Repealing the ACA

Members of Congress continued efforts to attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2015, despite a June 2015 Supreme Court ruling that upheld subsides for more than 6 million people. In July, the House voted to repeal the ACA, but the Senate voted the measure down. Then, on Dec. 3, the Senate voted 52-47 to repeal the core of the ACA, following a similar bill in the House. However, President Barack Obama has said he would veto the measure and Democrats in Congress have votes to block an override. Since the law’s passage, House Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal or delay the law.

(With reporting from Bloomberg)
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5) Changing regulations

“This year, the agent and broker industry was mistreated and excluded by the alphabet of the federal government,” says B. Ronnell Nolan, CEO of agent lobbying group Health Agents for America in Baton Rouge, La. “If that was not enough, most insurance carriers have decided, agents and brokers are not worthy of a fair compensation for their hard work. Consumers are being denied access to an expert!”

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6) Survival mode

In 2015, brokers were in a “trend of survival [as] their world got rocked pretty hard with Zenefits,” says Rob Butler, CEO of Maestro Health in Chicago. “It wasn't so much that they disliked Zenefits, but they had the same reaction that taxicabs had to Uber.”

For brokers, 2015 was about survival and how they could recreate and reinvent to be relevant in a post-ACA world, Butler, who founded Payflex before selling it to Aetna in 2011, says.

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7) Automating 401(k)s

2015 was about giving small businesses access to 401(k)s by automating them and making it easier to have one. Robo-advisers use computer-generated model, or algorithms, to get workers into better investments and say they can do it more cheaply then managed account services offered by traditional record-keepers. Companies in the space include Financial Guard, Betterment for Business (launching January 2016), Bloom and Captain401.

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