Working with a Benefits Broker
- Employee Benefits
6 min. Read
Last Updated: 10/12/2022
Table of Contents
Having a strong partnership with a licensed benefits broker can be good for your company and your employees. Brokers can leverage their relationships with carriers to help you maximize coverage options and find solutions you may not be able to find on your own. In many cases, they hold the keys to simplifying online enrollment as well as access to real-time program reporting. What’s more, they are available to help you stay compliant with state and federal requirements regarding benefits programs and offerings.
What is a Benefits Broker?
A benefits broker is a professional who provides benefits advice, products and services, and guidance to employers and employees. Employers will use brokers to help them narrow down offerings by providing input and expertise on the matter. Some brokers may work for a health insurance carrier rand may encourage you to choose plans from that carrier. Others may not be tied to a carrier but specialize in one type of benefit. Others may have a larger base of benefit options for employers to consider.
Why Do You Need a Benefits Broker?
As independent professionals, brokers are the bridge between your organization and the vast healthcare industry. Ideally, your broker will work with you to evaluate major insurance carriers, structure a plan, communicate on your behalf, and explain the many nuances to your employees.
Brokers can also play a critical role when it comes to helping your employees become well-informed healthcare consumers. If you want this result, then you want a broker who can readily provide:
- Information and guidance when choosing insurance, including health, life, disability, dental, vision, and more. Remember that not every broker offers the full range of insurance options.
- Compliance information in regard to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and any other relevant regulations that could impact benefits.
- Advice on how to minimize total costs, including how to reduce total premiums.
- Assistance with employee communications related to open enrollment and understanding their benefits options.
- Help resolving benefits issues, acting as a go-between for the employer and carrier to help resolve any problems with claims.
- Analysis of your existing benefits and claims, including advice on future plan changes and areas for potential cost savings.
- Advice on changes to benefit packages based on employee demographics, previous utilization rates, and pricing models.
- Direct assistance to employees who have benefits, coverage, or claims questions.
- Education for employees with learning tools and resources to help them make the best-informed decisions during open enrollment about their healthcare options.
Choosing a Benefits Broker
Many organizations pick their benefits broker based on their experience working with other organizations that are similar to theirs. They might look at factors such as:
- The size of organizations a broker supports
- Different industries these businesses are in
- The lifestyle needs and choices of other employee populations, compared with their own
While these considerations are valuable, they only scratch the surface when it comes to selecting a broker. Ideally, your broker also has the ability to form a deep professional understanding of your goals, and what you want to achieve on account of your benefit plans.
And since goals vary quite a bit, you want your broker to be an adept listener who can pivot services toward finding solutions that make a difference.
What Does a Strong Employer/Broker Relationship Look Like?
HR must juggle multiple responsibilities every day. That includes benefits administration, which can make it difficult to be proactive about benefits. A strong employer/broker relationship, along with effective benefits administration, can be the key to getting more out of your benefits.
A strong broker relationship can bring much-needed support to your employees, your organization, and your own workload. However, optimizing benefits with the help of a broker is about much more than just shopping for coverage from different carriers.
For starters, it involves working with a broker who takes a well-rounded approach to how you strategize, budget, and design your benefits plan. Therefore, if your broker only helps you shop for plans and is largely unavailable the rest of the year, you might not be reaping the full benefits of your partnership.
Tips to Evaluate Your Broker
The following tips can help you examine the strength of your current broker relationship and set the stage for finding a new broker. It’s a good idea to conduct the broker selection process as far in advance of your plan renewal date as possible.
Identify the Skills You Need in Your Broker
Employers don’t select brokers very often. Therefore, it’s easy to stay on top of the latest skills, tools, and capabilities that modern benefits brokers possess. However, in today’s healthcare reality, ignorance about brokers is not an option. Your broker should be laser-focused on meeting your business’s and employees’ needs.
Also consider the fact that your broker might be responsible for helping you manage a budget that makes up nearly 30% of your total compensation costs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You should feel the utmost confidence in their capabilities when choosing and evaluating your broker.
Be Open to Shopping Around
Changing relationships can be difficult. However, if your current broker is unable to bring you the results you need, shopping around may be the way to go.
When it’s time to compare, it can be difficult to measure how brokers differ. In fact, it’s not always easy to see a difference that will drive you to change brokers. To compare brokers, first look beyond premiums. After all, you may need your broker to be heavily involved in enhancing the employee experience.
Ask for Direct Referrals from People and Organizations You Trust
Be sure to check licenses and professional registrations. You may even search disciplinary records via the insurance commissioner’s consumer hotline in your state.
Talk to colleagues in other organizations about their benefits broker as well. Whose professional reputation rises to the top?
Ask About Network Reach
Find out about your potential broker’s area of focus. Some brokers focus on specific products that may or may not meet your needs. Consider the breadth of the networks they have access to. When you do, make sure these align with the needs and expectations of your employees.
Pay Attention to Other Ways Your Broker Can Help Support Employees
The way you handle benefits communication can affect employee morale, and spur enthusiasm for your benefits program. Your broker can play a major role in helping you execute your benefits communications strategy.
As your broker helps you sort through different plans, they can include employees in the process. This type of back-and-forth can involve open, ongoing communication, interviews with employees, surveys, group meetings, and more.
Your broker can also play a role when it’s time to communicate benefits changes. As an industry professional, they can help reassure employees, and even empower them as time gets closer to open enrollment.
When more employees engage in your benefits program, it can help generate a positive return on a very large investment. Your broker can be a big help when it comes to creating confidence in your benefits program.
Get a Broker That Supports Your Business and Employees at Every Step
Don’t settle for a broker relationship that falls short of expectations, especially when it comes to managing costs, simplifying communications, and maximizing the benefits experience.
Know that true levels of services and professionalism will always vary from one insurance professional to another. However, as you consider your broker relationship, the general rule of thumb is to make sure you and your people are getting the support you need on every level — including costs, support, enrollment, communication, and benefits workflow.
When it’s time to hire a new broker, how well you prepare and understand what you’re looking for can make all the difference. Having the right benefits tools, such as benefits administration software, can also help you and your organization stay ahead.