The Loop

Can Your Technology Platform Accommodate Your Benefit Package?

Filed under: Benefits

Employer benefits are constantly changing. Today, large employers offer an average of 15 to 20 different benefit options, including a wide spectrum of voluntary benefits. Furthermore, workers are now required to take on more financial responsibility for their retirement plans and healthcare insurance. This means navigating a myriad of 401(k) fund options, high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), health savings/reimbursement accounts, disability and critical illness insurance, ID theft protection, wellness options and even pet insurance.

As part of the benefits administration process, compliance criteria and mandatory disclosures must be updated at local, state and federal levels. Even when an employer outsources benefits management, it is necessary to track various components of each benefit to ensure they are properly managed and delivered.

With increased numbers and additional complexity in today's benefit packages come new demands for technology and related administrative processes. Employers require a robust and flexible benefits platform to administer each new product offering and customize dashboards to keep workers informed. It must all be conveyed simply and concisely, so participants can access benefit information quickly without infringing on their productivity.

Technology Requirements
In today's business environment, benefits presentation, data collection, and monitoring are best handled via technology. However, technology changes just as fast – if not faster than – benefit options. What's the best way to keep track? Consider conducting an annual technology audit to ensure your systems are integrating and handling the myriad of details associated with benefits management.

While a tech audit can help determine basic operational functionality, bear in mind that it has several objectives worth considering. For example:

• Evaluate current systems for their ability to track and disclose information to participants

• Assess opportunities for enhanced automation to free-up staff and resources for other tasks

• Incorporate anticipated compliance changes and projected business growth and development

Among third party administrators, technology can be a differentiator in determining which vendor offers benefits processes and administration that help meets these three goals. There is a wide range of applications that help automate electronic benefit enrollment, data collection, document signature authorization and storage as well as delivery and confirmation of required disclosures.

Other perks of new technology are cloud and/or Virtual Private Network (VPN) access, which enable a small business owner or management staff to log on to a benefits management system remotely. In many cases, benefits compliance can be managed via laptop, tablet or smartphone anywhere there is Internet access.

When evaluating a digital platform for either internal management or external outsourcing, consider the ability to adapt and scale for new offerings, incorporate new vendors, automate workflows for administrators, and offer decision-support tools to help participants optimize benefits. Other considerations include:

  • Capacity to handle high-volume transactions during peak time periods – particularly during open enrollment
  • Ability to accommodate the requirements of a myriad of insurance carriers
  • Substantial oversight for data exchange across a variety of benefit types to ensure that data transfer is accurate
  • Self-service portals to enable workers to check benefit status, update personal information or use other features without having to contact human resources
  • Intuitive interfaces for fast, easy consumer use
  • Comparison grids, questionnaires or other tools that make it easier to workers to decide which options best meet their needs
  • Glossary of terminology
  • Multi-media informational videos
  • Smartphone apps that help engage and personalize the benefits experience
  • Analytics reports that combine benefits enrollment and claims data to help HR make informed benefits decisions
  • Automated communication options to educate employees about ways to achieve greater savings or improved care with their plans

Ancillary Benefits
As decision makers expand the universe of benefits to include new voluntary options, it is important to integrate them with traditional offerings seamlessly as a unified package. The ever-growing list of new benefit options may include:

• Dental insurance
• Vision insurance
• Life insurance
• Short or long-term disability insurance
• Accident insurance
• Travel insurance
• Tuition assistance
• Student loan repayment programs
• Critical illness
• Cancer insurance
• Hospital indemnity
• Long term care insurance
• Legal counseling
• Financial counseling
• Identity theft insurance
• Pet insurance
• Employee assistance programs

Another top priority is to ensure cybersecurity is ironclad. It must be state-of-the-art and continually updated, seeing how health and retirement plan data have become two of the biggest targets for ransomware attacks. Benefits administrators cannot simply delegate this function, but instead must work closely with information technology staff to ensure both systems and providers adhere to security protocols, especially when transferring sensitive benefits data.

While the costs of offering healthcare benefits continue to escalate, many employers are adding voluntary options to establish more value to workers without additional costs. External vendors and/or technology platforms may offer modeling tools to show decision makers how adjustments to their cost-sharing structures can potentially change participant utilization behaviors. For example, changes to plan deductible amounts could shift a percentage of employees into a lower or higher-cost plan.

As a final consideration, remember that the cost to regularly audit and periodically upgrade a business' technology platform – as well as to make ongoing updates to safeguard privacy and security – should be budgeted as part of the overhead cost for benefits a

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