If you’re a business owner, you’ve had at least one healthcare broker reach out to sell you all types of insurance. I’ve learned over the years that a great healthcare broker is invaluable to your business. The second thing I’ve learned is finding the right broker for your business is like dating. There are many fish in the sea, and they all want to be your business’s significant other.
While different, Affordable Care Act requirements and tax incentives depend on your employee count, but providing healthcare to your employees isn’t required. However, it is something most employees expect, and you can leverage your benefits as a tool for the attraction and retention of top candidates.
In this post, I want to share some tips and tricks as you shop for your first or next healthcare broker.
So, what is a healthcare broker anyway?
Brokers are licensed by the state, know the ins and outs of the healthcare industry, and can act as a liaison between the insurance company (organizations like Blue Cross Blue Shield, UnitedHealthcare, Principal, Lincoln, etc.) and the employer. Annually, brokers negotiate rates to ensure employers are getting the best deal possible. They assist with compliance (think Form 5500, PCOR tax fees, annual employee notices, enrollment and qualifying life rules, etc.). And the outstanding ones act as consultants to partner with you for short- and long-term healthcare strategy that best suits your employees – not just selling you all the benefit offerings to make another dollar.
What are the most important things to consider when shopping for a healthcare broker? So glad you asked! I’ve picked up the following tips from my personal “broker dating” history.
1. The People
I see the entire brokerage team as an extension of my day-to-day HR benefit functions. If they are my trusted resource, I want to know I can meet them for morning coffee or happy hour, and the conversation will be easy. Someone you can have a drink with – trusted and personable. Other factors to consider are personality types that mesh well with leadership, understanding your company culture, response time expectations, and overall comfort working with the team. During the dating process, exposure to all potential team members should be a part of the process. Trevor Beaver, VP of Benefits at USI Insurance Company, weighed in from a benefit consultant perspective. He said, “Our people are our most valuable asset, and in any service-based business, they are the oxygen of the business. Without great people, we are not able to provide a great client experience. USI continues to grow organically by recruiting best-in-class talent. Just our local region alone has former executives from major insurers likes United Healthcare, BCBSNC, and Cigna. What better way to advise our clients in navigating the insurance landscape than by a team of resources that used to sit on the other side of the table?”
Questions to ask yourself during the shopping process:
- How do you feel when you’re with the brokerage team (not just the sales rep)?
- Could you have coffee or lunch with them and enjoy yourself?
- Do you feel like they understand your business and healthcare objectives?
- What is their typical response time to an email or phone call?
We have endless resources to automate processes and make day-to-day tasks more efficient in today’s world. A good brokerage understands the latest and most remarkable technologies and how to customize them to your business. I believe, no matter your employee count, all enrollments should be digitized for a better employee experience and secure PHI (protected health information) handling. Beyond the administration technology, the brokerage should understand compliance, finance, HR, the other typical HR technology platforms, pharmacy, wellness, etc. Healthcare is more than who is enrolled in what benefit. It’s understanding how each of the components above work together for your long-term overall benefit strategy.
Questions to ask the broker:
- What is your process for assisting us during the new hire enrollment and annual open enrollment process?
- What technology might work best for our organization to make managing benefits more efficient?
- How involved are you in the technology implementation process and ongoing management?
3. Ongoing Support & Administration Assistance
Even if you have a dedicated, in-house HR benefit specialist, partnering with a broker who understands the mundane, daily benefit tasks will provide great value for your team. If you don’t have a specialist in-house, finding a broker who can manage the daily healthcare tasks is vital! As a small- to medium-sized business owner, the last thing you want to deal with is a new employee enrollment issue. A broker who will call the insurance company on your team’s behalf to resolve an issue can be a game changer. You also want to look for a broker who can nerd out on the ever-changing world of healthcare regulations and compliance. A main part of their job is to be the compliance safeguard for your plan. Trent Pierce, Founder of Carolina Benefits & Planning, strives to be an extension of a company’s HR departments, “Employers should value the reputation of their healthcare broker. They should be looking for a broker who works for them and proves it in the service they provide. Your broker should also work alongside you to implement practices and procedures to improve communication and security. Essentially, they are an unbiased agency who strives to truly find the right employee benefits package for your company and its budget.”
Questions to ask the broker:
- What is the extent of involvement from your team if our employees have questions or issues about their benefits?
- How involved do you expect me and my HR team (if applicable) to be in the day-to-day healthcare administration?
- How often will you complete an enrollment audit for each of my benefits to ensure there aren’t any errors?
- How will you keep our plan up to date with healthcare compliance and regulations?
Cost is a factor in EVERY decision you make as a business owner, but I encourage you not to make it the ONLY factor in this scenario. You get what you pay for. If the first three points aren’t prioritized, then you could set yourself up for failure. If a broker isn’t transparent about the commissions and payment structure options, you know it’s time to move on to the next fish in the sea.
Questions to ask the broker:
- Can you share examples of how you saved your clients money within the last year?
- How do you structure your fees?
- How do you handle mistakes you might make that could cost me money while managing my plan?
At Montani Consulting, we don’t believe one single healthcare consultant is a perfect fit for everyone. Only two of the many healthcare partners we’ve vetted were featured in this blog. Brokers typically specialize in different employee counts and administration levels. They have varying industry experience and philosophies to approaching benefits. One thing to remember is most brokers are shopping from the same pool of carriers and can provide you with similar renewal rates each year, but finding a true partner who can meet your business’s needs is what makes a difference in your long-term growth strategy. Reach out to us today to help you through the shopping process. We’d love to play matchmaker to find the best broker for you while also setting up internal processes to manage your benefits.