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February 11, 2016

5 traits to look for in a health insurance advisor: Revisited under the ACA

Back in 2014, I authored a blog post titled, “5 traits to look for in a health insurance advisor.” At that time, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was pretty well established and most employers with reasonably sound health benefit plans were meeting the necessary requirements. The general rule of thumb was that if an employer bought coverage through a major health carrier, they could usually be confident that coverage would meet the requirements.

Oh, how so much has changed in just a couple of years.

It is one thing for the ACA to mandate the amount of coverage that must be offered and to dictate how much an employer can charge its employees for the coverage, but it is an entirely different issue when it comes to reporting the required information to the Federal Government. Now, as a result of Shared Responsibility, health insurance advisors need to adapt to the evolving client concerns they’re likely to encounter.

But we are finding there are other pressing issues that employers are facing that are a higher priority than the ACA. Attracting and retaining high caliber talent has risen to the top of many employers’ agendas. One survey found that as many as one-third of employees do not expect to be in their same job, with the same company, in 12 months. Given the expense of hiring and training, it is no wonder why employers are so focused on this.

With these issues as background, I offer my revised list of traits to look for in a health insurance advisor:

1. Tenure: Find an advisor who 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 to your business. At the same time, you’ll want a firm that employs an age-diverse group of consultants. There’s no better way to understand what it takes to retain top talent than to have the input of different age demographics. Pay attention to millennials’ thinking and perspectives.

2. Vision: Find someone who can see the bigger picture while maintaining a realistic scope of vision. They should make room for flexibility in the long term, while realizing the issues that are of import now. For instance, since we realize the value of employee retention, your advisor should help determine what is important to a diverse workforce: Is it work space, salary, perks, time off? Having a vision for what motivates various segments of your workforce should be paramount. The advisor should be able to translate the diverse characteristics of your workforce into worthwhile benefit choices. Above all, your advisor should recommend the best ways to have employee voices heard.

3. Market commitment: Seek an advisor who has a commitment and deep-domain knowledge of your industry and business size; if you have 200 employees, you want to work with someone adept with mid-sized employers. Ask your advisor how they keep up with all the changes, both in laws, regulations and demographics, so you can be confident their advice is sound, timely and relevant to your market position. If growth is in your future be sure your advisor is scalable and can serve you as you grow.

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.” Messages need to be delivered fairly, openly and honestly. Great care should be shown in any communication to you and your staff, regardless of individuals’ levels and ages, job titles and incomes. Recognizing the value of communication goes a long way toward your goal of minimal turnover. Since emotions can run high at renewal time. Be sure your advisor has a grasp of emotional intelligence.

5. Independence: A quality advisor will have positive, strong relationships with insurance carriers. However, since carriers go in and out of markets constantly, you’ll want to know where the recommended carriers are 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 to know about it, and how it benefits you.

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, helps you navigate the labyrinth that is the ACA, and helps you get a real sense of how much your advisor knows about what really attracts and retains top talent. Make sure your advisor has the acumen to see shifts and advise accordingly. If you get even the slightest feeling of being underserved, there is an advisor tuned into your needs just waiting for you to invite them in to see you.


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