May 30, 2014

5 traits to look for in a health insurance advisor

As business owners deal with the frustrations of navigating the ever-changing landscape brought on by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and general business insurance needs, they must still look to offer their employees a proper benefits package that supports employee morale and retention, brings administrative efficiency, and enhances the company’s bottom line.

We've found that the following criteria for choosing the best health insurance advisor will help most business owners turn a complex, daunting need into an asset that contributes to a company’s well-being.

1. Tenure

Make sure the advisor (also referred to as a broker or consultant) has been in business for a reasonably long time. This assures you that he or she has witnessed the changes in the industry and can relate the changes to your business.

2. Vision

It’s one thing to predict health care plan design and cost changes for next year, but you want to work with someone who can look beyond that, too -- three years is a fair measurement to ask. At the same time, don’t trust advisors who claim to have a five-year vision -- it’s too far out. We've found that businesses need some flexibility in order to make incremental adjustments and having options is paramount.

3. Market commitment

Seek an advisor who has a commitment and deep-domain knowledge of your industry. Different size companies -- and especially, different business verticals -- matter greatly. Ask them to articulate their market focus and what they know about your industry. If it takes more than 30 seconds to hear a proper response, there is probably no commitment to your segment. Segments are often described as small (fewer than 50 employees), mid-sized (50 to 2,500), and large (2,500 plus). If you have 200 employees you want to work with someone with 200 employees as their focus.

4. Communication

You want an advisor who can easily communicate complex issues in the simplest terms. The message to you, and especially the rest of your senior management staff, should be offered as “non-insurance talk.” This is important because the messages that will be delivered to your staff could sometimes carry bad news, so they need to be delivered fairly, openly, and honestly. Great care should be shown in any communication to you and your staff.

5. Independence

A quality advisor will have positive, strong relationships with insurance carriers. Question when the broker seems cozy with just a few. Carriers go in and out of markets constantly, and you want to know where the recommended carrier is in this cycle. Ask about extra compensation or bonuses from carriers, too -- insurers often want a commitment of volume from an advisor. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, you have the right and benefit of knowing about it.

In the end, I encourage you to take a smart, strategic, and thoughtful approach to your benefits strategy. Seek an advisor and a package that meets your employees’ needs, as well as your organization’s financial goals. I hope that this criteria offers you a great starting point.

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