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Any tips for finding a good health benefits broker?

by on
in Human Resources,The HR Specialist Forum

We’re getting ready to review our health coverage for next year, and I am dreading calling up the broker we have worked with for the last several years. Our rates keep going up and up, and frankly I'm not sure whether the broker does anything to help us besides get all the quotes and paperwork together. It occurs to me that we might want a new broker in addition to a new insurance carrier. What characteristics should I look for in a benefits broker? Any tips for finding a good one?—Marissa, OK


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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

John June 22, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Thanks for the detailed comments folks. All are indeed welcome to reply — including people who represent brokers. Let’s just agree to keep it spam-free, OK?

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Patricia June 22, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Well, I love our Broker, Averill Anderson, LLC. They are located in Wisconsin, but do have numerous accounts throughout the country. 1-800-388-0964

Your feelings are very similar to how I felt about our last broker. It was suggested that we give Averill Anderson a chance to bid and I was very pleased with the whole process.

If I had to pick the number one quality is that the process is interactive and you as the employer feel that you were able to choose that best fit for your employees and company.

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Kathryn June 22, 2010 at 3:44 pm

A good broker should reach out to the client through out the year, as well as at renewal so that there aren’t (hopefully) any major shocks when the renewal is received. The broker should request a fresh census each year and then do a market study to make sure you are getting the best plan for your money. Once the broker does a market study they should put together a proposal that lays out quotes comparing what you have to your other options and shows the changes between plans as well as the change in rates. They should talk to you about new legislation, HSAs/FSAs/HRAs and other cost saving measures, and help make sure the plans you have are what is best for your company. At the firm I work at, we also help with enrollment, eligibility, and claims issues that come up and answer benefit questions for the employees of our clients. A good broker should be available to do meetings with your employees to explain any plan changes and answer their questions and be available to the HR director when questions or concerns arise.

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Becky Leffell June 22, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Your broker should be offering more than just to bid your group out at renewal. Make sure the broker is licensed with numerous companies, not just the one he/she brings in at renewal. Your broker may be staying with that particular company because they are getting not only commission but are getting bonus money because they have so much business with that one company.
Your brokers first concern is what is best for you the Client.
Your broker should also be offering other services. I work for an independent brokerage firm in Salem, Virginia doing HR Consulting for our clients. My services are free to clients of my company. We also handle all service, claims and billing issues for our clients. If the client is over 20 employees we pay for COBRA administration for them through a third party. These are just a few of the things that we offer clients of our company. We feel that we are getting monthly commissions from the client and we owe them more than just a yearly renewal.
We try to keep in constant contact with our clients and we want them to know that we are there for them, not just at renewal but all year long.
This is what your broker should be doing for you.

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Julie June 22, 2010 at 3:21 pm

A good broker should be doing the following for you:
* helping you obtain quotes at renewal time
* pushing back on your provider to lower renewal rates (may or may not be successful)
* establish a service timeline with you which should include at least 4 face-to-face visits a year to ensure that you are not having problems with the carrier
* take charge of issues you and/or your employees are having with the carrier to ensure they get resolved if you are not able to easily take care of it through direct channels
* finding out what your employee needs are and how the plan is being used (either through distilling information provided by your carrier or through employee surveys) – then, most importantly, providing you with innovative solutions to maximize your benefits while minimizing cost
* performing financial analysis of the above information for your decision making process
* provide documentation and plan summaries for you to use with your employees and either arranging or doing employee meetings for your plan renewal if your carrier does not do for you
* either meeting with or supporting hr in meeting with new hires to explain benefits and get enrollment rolling
* provide an online resource for helping keep up-to-date on legislative issues, including online forums for hr folks
* provide an online resource for employee communications and education, such as payroll stuffers and 1 page posters

If you are not getting AT LEAST all of the above, you don’t have a broker that is providing you all that they can, and you should go shopping. If you have a quality broker that is bringing all of this to the table. If you are getting all this, and your rates are going up…then join the club. There is a limit to what the broker can do.

When we changed brokers a number of years ago, one of the big benefits was that they helped us survey and analyze our employee plan usage. We found that we could go with a high deductible health plan/HRA arrangement and be money ahead covering pretty much the full deductible in-house because of the way the employees were using the plan.

The above list includes the services we receive from this broker (Hylant Group)…at least all those that I can think of off the top of my head. I know that there are more. Our agent even comes into the plant every other month and just makes a walk-through. The employees know who she is now, and her visits often elicit information of issues that are going on that people don’t think to bring up with HR, increasing our employee satisfaction with the plan.

I hope this helps.

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Donna June 22, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Contact non-competitive companies in your area for referrals. Ask them if they have been happy with the service they are provided.

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