Marketplace map: 8 tips for comparison shopping voluntary benefits

As an employer, you naturally have a vested interest in offering your employees the best possible benefits at the best possible prices.

Because employees are calling more of the shots in this scarce labor market, they’re demanding bigger and better benefits packages from employers. That means you must maintain attractive offerings that meet or beat those of your competition — even as you strive to control the expenses of high-ticket items like healthcare insurance.

One solution has been the specialized insurance that can supplement basic healthcare policies when your workers face contingencies. In a typical scenario, employers offer up multiple reasonably priced varieties that workers can pay for or decline, depending on their circumstances. In fact, a recent survey shows they’re important enough that 62% of U.S. employees younger than 50 would avoid working for a company that doesn’t offer them.

As an employer, it’s obviously in your best interest to comparison shop for the best values when searching for such voluntary benefits. And that search may involve considerable time, energy and brainpower on the part of your HR team.

The best way to bypass all that hard work is to consult with an objective consultant who can work on your behalf to find the most attractive deals. A company that specializes in pairing the right companies with the right benefits can evaluate your workforce, then find the right marketplace solutions for fitting your specific needs.

“As vendor choices grow, benefits technology evolves and healthcare legislation remains in flux, it's more important than ever that benefits leaders know their stuff when selecting benefits administration partners,” notes Dave Zielinski on SHRM.org.

That said, if you prefer to conduct your own research, here are some suggestions for getting started.

  • Before searching the marketplace, look at your budget, business and HR objectives, collective bargaining agreements and legal stipulations to gain a clear understanding of the maximum benefits you can provide.
  • Try to zero in on which benefits are of most interest to your employees, perhaps via survey. That way you won’t waste time researching products no one wants anyway.
  • Consult with business associates and others in your industry to learn about providers that have worked well for them, then start a list of companies to contact for quotes and/or consultations. You may want to preview potential providers online, vet them with the Better Business Bureau and read their reviews.
  • When vetting potential providers, make sure they’re able to explain their offers, present relevant data, answer your questions and compare apples to apples in ways you can understand. Lack of transparency could be a red flag.
  • Be wary of cost structures that seem inordinately low. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” advises David Meier in Entrepreneur. “Ask for references from other companies that have bought from the plan. How quick was the insurer in paying claims? How long has the reference dealt with the insurer? If it's less than a few months, that's not a good sign.”
  • Call the provider’s underwriter of record to ensure it is, in fact, affiliated. You might also contact its state insurance department to check out its “A.M. Best” rating, ensuring it’s able to pay claims.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask each provider’s agent or administrator about his commission, advance or administrative cost structure. “Overly generous commissions can be a tip-off; some scam operations pay agents up to 500% commission,” Meier warns.
  • Be ready to explain to employees what they’ll be getting for their money, or arrange for your provider(s) to give a presentation. Many people don’t fully understand the difference between various kinds of insurance, so it’s imperative for them to have access to a knowledgeable authority who can answer their questions.

Have questions or need assistance with voluntary benefit options, contact Ochs at 651-665-3789 or ochs@ochsinc.com.

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