For many employers, evaluating and recommending what benefits to offer employees is an overwhelming, if not onerous, task. At such times, many companies turn to employee benefits brokers and agents to help them make sense of the ever-changing world of employee health benefits. But how can you be sure you’re hiring the right resource?
1. Broker or agent?
Brokers sell for multiple companies and offer many options. They’re typically paid on commission by insurance companies or may charge a flat fee, such as one based on the number of employees and months covered. Agents work for one insurance carrier, can offer lower costs, and make plan changes more easily.
2. What is the compensation model?
Commission? Flat fee? Paid by the carrier? Ask for an example of the broker or agent’s compensation model.
3. How solid is their reputation?
Does the broker have solid bona fides? Ask for referrals from companies similar to yours in size and scope. Check references, licenses, and registrations. Check an agents or broker’s disciplinary record by calling your state’s insurance commissioner’s consumer hotline (in Washington: 1-800-562-6900).
4. How solid is their knowledge of benefit design options?
Is the broker knowledgeable about the types of products you need? What about having a comprehensive understanding of all plan designs? Can he or she answer questions about federal and state regulations—on how health care regulations will affect your choices?
Does the broker specialize or handle a broad portfolio of products? Does he or she offer what you want? Is there a good variety of plans to choose from? Ask for examples in those areas in which you’re interested. If you have a small HR staff, you may want to work with a broker that’s familiar with carriers for all lines of coverage: health, wellness, dental, life, disability, long-term care, retirement and voluntary benefits.
Will the broker evaluate the costs and plan designs of several insurance carriers? Evaluate health-related risks and offer suggestions how to reduce your company’s claims and premiums? Don’t just look for the lowest premiums. Consider network breadth to make sure your employees have access to in- or out-of-network providers, and whether the carriers have good relationships with physicians.
Find out if you’d have a dedicated account manager. Your contact should be familiar with your company so you don’t have to keep retelling your story repeatedly. What kind of administrative help does the broker provide? How often do they check in? What are his or her preferred communication methods?
Does the broker have a good understanding of your industry and your particular needs? Did he or she ask relevant questions about benefit preferences and likes/dislikes about the current benefits plan? Did the broker inquire about company culture? Address your concerns and summarize your overall requests appropriately? Do you feel comfortable and confident with this person?
The Kaiser Permanente benefits broker relationship
In our service area, brokers are an integral part of the health plan selection process—96 percent of Kaiser Permanente’s (formerly Group Health) large group business comes through producers (what the Office of the Insurance Commissioner calls brokers). Here’s why we value the producer relationship.
Many insurance carriers treat brokers as a necessary means to an end. Kaiser Permanente views its producers as trusted partners, working together to help control health care costs for employers while providing access to high-quality care for employees.
Producers add value to a company’s HR department by guiding employers to health plans that fit a company’s needs. Producers also add value to Kaiser Permanente by serving as an extension of the organization’s sales force.
A conduit for better products
Producers let us know what’s important to clients in terms of plan designs. Producers and carriers work hand in hand to develop—even customize—the best possible plan to meet a company’s cost and coverage criteria.
Kaiser Permanente is happy to recommend producers to companies that need or ask for a broker. Call our sales team at: (800) 542-6312. We’ve always supported and believed strongly in the contributions producers make in the purchasing decisions of our mutual clients. Even when the Affordable Care Act was first seen as diminishing the role of producers, we clearly saw that they were essential to the future of health care under the ACA and key to its success.