Mentioning health care reform to a broker is a lot like poking a sleeping bear – you’re likely to get some irritated growls. It’s no wonder, really. Slogging through thousands of pages of rules and regulations is tedious, and worrying about income losses as some accounts switch from traditional major medical plans to health care exchanges adds insult to injury.
Brokers can’t avoid studying up on health care reform, because clients are counting on them for guidance as major changes to the health care system go into effect. But when it comes to sales and finances, brokers should look on the bright side. As the great American lyricist Johnny Mercer advised during the dark days of World War II, it’s time to “accentuate the positive” and “eliminate the negative.”
While pessimistic brokers are worrying about what will or what will not happen as health care reform is implemented, their more optimistic cohorts are parlaying the changing environment into new opportunities and reconfirming their value to potential and current clients. It’s important to remember that while benefits experts find new regulations tedious and confusing, employers seem even more befuddled – as are workers who seek to understand what steps they should take to protect their families’ financial security in the post-health care reform environment.
The 2013 Aflac Open Enrollment Survey revealed that 69 percent of employers haven’t communicated about reform-driven changes to their benefits packages with employees. Unfortunately, some don’t understand reform well enough to develop coherent messages – just 9 percent of companies describe themselves as very prepared to implement the required changes to their businesses.
Other businesses may be dragging their feet to avoid being the bearers of bad news: 37 percent of companies say they’re likely to offer fewer benefits options or discontinue them altogether as a result of reform, and 40 percent are likely to let workers buy coverage through marketplaces or exchanges.
Employers who suspect their workforces won’t be pleased are correct. According to the Open Enrollment Survey:
60 percent of workers agree or strongly agree with the statement, “I expect my employer to continue to offer comprehensive benefit options.”
55 percent said they are at least somewhat likely to look for other jobs if their companies stop offering comprehensive benefits options, which would include sending the employees to the marketplaces or exchanges to buy health insurance.
71 percent of companies believe employees’ health care costs will rise as the result of reform, but half of workers (51 percent) say $25 is the maximum monthly increase their budgets will tolerate.
It’s time for brokers to step into the ring. The “take your corners” disconnect between employee expectation and employer action, combined with the start of open enrollment season, presents brokers with opportunities to referee. They can start by clueing in clients on the importance of strong benefits packages and how dangerous depleted health insurance rosters can be.
A 2012 Right Management survey revealed that 86 percent of employees plan to look for new jobs this year. And it won’t take much persuading to lure them from their current workplaces: 59 percent of employees surveyed as part of the 2013 Aflac WorkForces Report said they would take a job with slightly lower pay if it came with more robust benefits options.
Companies also should note that not only rank and file employees are developing exit strategies. Their best and brightest workers are polishing their resumes, too. According to a 2013 Career Builder survey, 32 percent of employers lost their top performers to other organizations, and 39 percent of companies fear the trend will continue.
Given that superior benefits are so enticing to job-seekers, companies that want to retain their workers and bring in top new talent must use open enrollment to position their benefits packages in the most attractive ways. That makes it an opportune time for brokers to strengthen relationships with existing accounts and sign new ones by proving themselves as indispensable resources for enrollment tips and information, including guidance about reform.
Communication is Key
According to the 2013 Aflac study, employees are relying on their companies to educate them about their benefits needs in the wake of health care reform. However, just 13 percent of employers believe educating workers about reform is important to their organizations.
Brokers should remind clients about the importance of developing strong, year-round communications plans that ensure workers receive clear, consistent and concise information about health insurance coverage and options. Smart brokers will go a step further by recommending appropriate content and proposing timetables that go beyond the traditional recruiting, onboarding and open enrollment periods to coincide with promotions or salary increases, marriage, the birth of a child, work anniversaries and age milestones.
Aflac’s Open Enrollment Survey showed the importance of ongoing communications, with 74 percent of workers saying they understand what is covered by their health insurance policies either sometimes, rarely or never. What’s more, nine out of 10 (90 percent) admit to choosing the same benefits options every year, although 54 percent believe they waste up to $750 annually due to open enrollment mistakes. The most common mistakes cited were putting too little or too much into flexible spending accounts, choosing benefits options they don’t need or the wrong coverage amounts, and passing on voluntary options.
Employees are looking for robust benefits options that can help ensure their families are protected from the financial setbacks caused by illness or injury, while employers continue to trim their health insurance portfolios for budgetary reasons. Brokers, meanwhile, are looking for ways to replace lost income as accounts move to simpler plan administration, out of the benefits arena, or consider health care exchanges.
Voluntary insurance represents the opportunity to put in place a win-win-win scenario. Employers can add voluntary insurance policies such as disability, accident and hospital insurance to their portfolios with no direct effect on their companies’ bottom lines. Employees can select the voluntary options that meet their individual needs and circumstances. And brokers can offset income losses stemming from health care reform with earnings from the sale of voluntary products.
Accentuate the Positive
The bottom line is that brokers have little reason to focus on the negatives brought about by reform, because they can be neutralized by positives. With open enrollment just around the corner, now is the time for benefits advisors to step up by aiding employers and workers who are at a loss when it comes to insurance and enrollment.
Instead of growling about reform, brokers and benefits advisors should take the lead during open enrollment by helping accounts shore up their benefits offerings, providing guidance on employee communications timelines and content, leading town-hall meetings to discuss benefits changes and answer related questions, and conducting educational webinars for workers. After all, positive activity generates positive results.