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6 questions you should ask anyone who wants to sell you a benefits plan

Some offers are too good to be true. Look no further than the promise of an instant loan, automated robocalls which inform you about a “free” cruise, or the person who swears they can offer natural gas at a cheaper price if you provide a copy of your latest bill.

The calls from aggressive benefits providers are no different. They may promise to slash premiums without learning anything about your company’s profile or business needs, but the costs inevitably skyrocket at renewal time. At best, the savings from the first year evaporate. At worst, your employees find themselves unprotected in a time of need.

The best brokers -- who I think are better described as consultants -- help to build the benefits plans which are sustainable and respond to your evolving needs.

Consider these six questions you should ask anyone who promises a better deal on benefits:
  1. Can you offer examples of ways that you control costs? – While premiums tend to be set by insurance companies, experienced benefits providers can build other relationships that will help to control ongoing fees. Those who establish deals with specific pharmacies, for example, can help to lower the costs that your employees pay for prescription drugs.

  2. How does my plan compare to those offered by competing employers? – The price of a benefits plan is not pulled out of thin air. It is based on past experience involving different factors such as demographics, occupations and industries. This means that benefits consultants should also have access to the benchmarks that you can use when comparing your plans to those offered by similar companies. The numbers that emerge can be expressed as a cost per employee or percentage of payroll, offering you valuable insight for recruiting and retention programs alike.

    The facts and figures can also be used to identify emerging threats before they translate into higher benefits premiums. Looking at the age of your employees, for example, an experienced consultant should even be able to anticipate many of the drugs that will be ordered under your prescription drug plan, as well as how they might influence overall premiums.

  3. Can you offer an example of a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty? – Benefits plans are designed to care for employees in need, such as an injury, sickness, or death in the family. Yes, the facts and figures are important, but a human story can offer true insight into the level of care you can expect during these emotional times.

    The extra support may go further than you expect. On one occasion, I even remember helping a client track down supplies of goat milk to be used in a newly acquired manufacturing business. How many call centres would do that?

  4. Who will actually answer my questions? – Your level of service will differ when comparing support from a one-person operation, a mid-sized benefits provider, and massive companies known as “alpha houses”. A benefits provider that is too small might lack the support teams to address challenging questions, while a massive alpha house might shift every query to impersonal call centres.

    A single point of contact can give you the opportunity to build a level of trust, which will be particularly important when addressing sensitive questions such as how to replace an employee who in on Long Term Disability, or the options that are available if a supposedly-injured employee has been seen repairing a roof instead of coming into work.

  5. How are you updating your skills? – Every benefits consultant is expected to earn Continuing Education credits to remain informed about changes in the industry. Those who collect far more credits than required will be in a better position to address the most unusual challenges you face.

  6. How often will we meet? – Every benefits broker will emerge when it is time to renew a policy, but those who supply helpful information at other times of the year will be in a better position to identify emerging challenges or take the actions that can make a difference in future premiums.

    The consultants who meet with your employees, meanwhile, can answer individual questions about the plan, encourage the healthy habits which help to control premiums, and even support your retention programs by promoting the value of the benefits in your workplace.

Top Tips:

  •  Ask brokers to compare your plan to those offered by similar employers in your industry. The information can be a powerful recruiting and retention tool.
  • Find a single point of contact who can answer your benefits-related calls. An ongoing relationship will be important when tackling sensitive issues.
  • Look for benefits brokers who are committed to continuing education. They will be better equipped to tackle future challenges.

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