March 14, 2018

How employers are driving change in benefits

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." While we are inclined to view this quote as a comment on international relations, wars, or conflicts, the adage from George Santayana holds great meaning for those of us in the employee benefits consulting business today. Those of us with tenure in the industry can easily point to this saying and understand the importance of remembering distracting events and disruptions that took us away from our real mission as benefit professionals: to design, communicate, and deliver high quality health, welfare, and retirement benefits that meet the needs of as many employees as possible.

The disruptors are many and varied. Who remembers the advent of Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs)? Their sheer power to mandate employers must offer plans under the auspices of the Federal Government’s HMO Act of 1973 disrupted health care, leaving an impact on employers and traditional health insurance companies alike. Their effect can still be felt today, as plan designs have now remained fundamentally the same for the past 30 years.

Fast forward to 2010 and the introduction of the Affordable Care Act. For the last eight years, we have been living with a myriad of regulatory issues that continue to change, become rescinded, or are simply ignored. Once again, health care was disrupted, impacting both employers and health insurance companies. History has a strange way of repeating itself.

Finally, in 2018, it feels like something else has changed. However, this time, the change did not come from government or consultants, but from employers. Employers are longing to talk about what they want to offer to their employees. Companies are directing their attention to plan designs, contribution strategies, and employee health initiatives.

This fundamental shift shows that employers are seeing benefits for what they are: offerings that show the firm cares for its employees and their families, provided to protect employees from financial loss and to attract and retain top talent to the business. To say benefit professionals should embrace this return to fundamentals is an understatement; we should shout this from the highest hills. The fact that employers are focusing on how to offer benefit programs to help and protect employees should make us stop to think about how our work affects thousands of people.

There’s an air of positivity in conversations with clients about the change that’s occurring. Caring employers and benefit professionals alike are realizing that they have the power to help provide for the financial health of families with a new baby, cancer patients who need not fret over high cost treatments, and struggling middle-aged employees trying to control blood pressure, cholesterol, or diabetes.

The best change comes when benefits providers and employers make a willing change, rather than having one forced on them by government. Benefits providers and employers should continue to self-reflect and remember the importance of what we provide every so often so we stick to this idea. We might look back in a few years and call this “the good old days.”  Next time disruption tries to repeat its cycle, we will all need to remember these days, and the positivity our work can bring.

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