A Publication of WTVP

Sometimes a potential client can leave you shaking your head. On the surface, this one particular business owner was seemingly generous with his employees.

“I pay 100 percent of their premiums,” he emphatically pounded on the table. However, his problem was that his employees were actually unhappy with their benefit package; it wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do—employees were not being retained. This local manufacturer, who employed nearly 50 people, was losing his employees as fast he could train them, and he couldn’t figure out why.

Upon further investigation and after speaking with a few workers in the shop, the problem was quickly ascertained. No one—management or the broker—was talking to the employees. While there were a few other concerns (no wellness, ancillary benefits or HSA plans), the biggest issue was that communication regarding the benefit package was nonexistent. Even more difficult was that one employee had a claim issue and was denigrating the present carrier to anyone who would listen—and no one was there, or no methodology was in place, to counter these erroneous claims.

The Critical Component
Communication is the critical component in any employee benefits program. It is fundamental that if an employer is going to spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on employee benefits for the purpose of attracting and retaining employees, they ought to be telling their employees how great those benefits are.

And while the health insurance industry is among the slowest to adapt to technology and innovation, there are a litany of media options available to both the employer and the employee that will impart the value of all programs and engender an atmosphere that makes employees feel needed and valued.

Almost all major carriers are now using the Internet to communicate at a higher level than ever before. Besides finding a PPO doctor or hospital, employees can register with their carriers online for a multitude of benefits. Insureds can track their claims, view benefits, print ID cards and refill mail-order prescriptions. There are also many online videos, ranging from the basic, such as dealing with the common cold, to the more complex, like diabetes management.

The wellness revolution is also sweeping through the carriers, which can be a low-cost solution for those companies who wish to dip their toe into the wellness pool. Members can conduct health risk assessments, design weight loss plans and exercise regimens, or even talk to a health coach for encouragement and getting through weight loss plateaus.

Carriers are even rewarding members who actively attain specified goals like smoking cessation, weight loss or sticking with an exercise program, and are giving members significant items of value, such as iPods, movie tickets or hotel stays.

Whatever the outcome, employers now have a new weapon in their arsenal to help counter those large rate increases. A healthier, more engaged group of employees means fewer medical claims, which in turn means lower annual rate increases from the carrier.

Going Paperless
Going paperless has been a trend for years, and the health insurance industry is certainly catching up with a bang.

This year, the State of Illinois finally approved a universal application that must be used by all underwriting departments of any carrier operating within the state. While the final resulting application was something one would expect from a highly-regulated governmental agency—a whopping 14 pages long—employees now spend less time filling out individual carrier applications and more time working.

Even more impressive are online health insurance applications. Employees log on to a secure website with military-grade encryption and complete all demographic and health information from the comfort of their own homes, where they are more likely to have their children’s Social Security numbers and prescription information at hand. The employee signs the application electronically, and with a click of a button, the entire group’s application is shared with every carrier of the employer’s choosing.

The advantages of this medium go even further. The employer gains a database of all their employees’ applications, so the following year, it’s even easier to submit to various carriers. All the employees must do is log on, update any information and send it in again.

Communication from the carrier, regulatory agencies and employer can be conveyed in any number of ways, but the most effective and speediest methods make use of current technology. For a low-cost investment, email news blasts are most effective. Articles, changes in benefits and regulatory updates can all be mailed directly from the broker.

Some employers set up employee-only websites that allow for the broker to post links, forms and benefits. While this process is much more involved and the employer has a greater investment in both time and money, the end result is rather impressive, and the employee feels as if the employer has a vested interest in their well-being. This is a feeling that can be reciprocated with increased productivity at work.

And the most exciting elements of these new media and instantaneous information lie ahead. How we will communicate in the future is changing dramatically. The company that succeeds will be the one that stays attuned to developments and finds ways to integrate new media into its business and everything associated with that—including employee benefits.

In the end, this particular prospective client wasn’t willing to do that. He obstinately refused to engage in communication and “selling” his plan to his employees or using technology to educate new employees. “They should know they have a good deal!” he again pounded on the desk.

It just leaves you shaking your head. iBi