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Affordable Care Act

ACA Forcing Changes for Brokers

Employers are seeking more consultations and advice in response to confusion over health care reform.
By: | September 10, 2014 • 3 min read
Brokers as consultants

Brokers are increasingly being asked to act as consultants in addition to negotiating price and insurance policy packages.

The Affordable Care Act has increased that trend.

Kelly Hagan, director of operations, employee benefits at Assured Neace Lukens in Louisville, Ky., said her firm’s clients are increasingly asking for more consultative services, especially after the passage of health care reform.

Before the ACA passed, employers cared more about price negotiations, she said, but now the brokerage hears more requests related to guidance and advice about ACA compliance, as well as compliance with other regulatory acts such as the Employment Retirement Income Security Act.

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Hagan said that clients shouldn’t have to ask for certain services; consultation should be a part of a broker’s service package.

To meet that demand, Assured Neace Lukens has two wellness managers on staff to help clients develop customized wellness programs, and has hired a corporate compliance officer to provide guidance to clients.

In addition to one-on-one conversations with clients on priorities, coverages and services, the firm sends out quarterly newsletters and email alerts on compliance issues and presents monthly webinars on topics, such as how to track variable hour employees to determine whether they should be offered health care coverage under the ACA.

The broker “transaction” is becoming less important in terms of the way clients actually see the value provided by their agent or broker. — Tom Fitzgerald, CEO, Aon Risk Solutions’ U.S. retail operations

Tom Fitzgerald, CEO of Aon Risk Solutions’ U.S. retail operations in Chicago, said that the broker “transaction” is becoming less important in terms of the way clients actually see the value provided by their agent or broker.

As such, brokers need to help clients “understand what is possible” — from benefit plan construction, to engaging communications with employees, to risk financing alternatives such as self-funding or using private exchanges for employee health care.

“We engage our clients through our account executives or account managers, but we have over 500 products and services, so it gets pretty complicated and can be difficult for them to always have a clear understanding of everything we have to offer,” Fitzgerald said.

“It then becomes the responsibility of leadership to educate, inform and train our client-facing colleagues,” he said.

Denise Ashford, vice president at Sweet & Baker Insurance Brokers in San Francisco, said a recent survey of select clients that asked for their top priorities, “really brought to light the disconnect between what I thought they wanted, and what they said they needed, and now with this knowledge I can better service them.”

Sweet & Baker caters mainly to midsized companies, as well as Silicon Valley tech startups, and most have thinly staffed human resource departments that need the broker’s consulting services.

These days, clients routinely ask Ashford and others on her team to interpret the ACA’s regulations, such as changes in the probationary period for employee eligibility for health care insurance.

Many smaller brokerages don’t have enough revenue to provide a lot of the additional services that larger firms can, as the additional services come out of commissions paid by carriers, she said, noting that her firm provides a number of additional services to clients “for little to no cost.”

Laymon Group Benefit Consulting LLC in Wilmington, N.C., a small agency with five employees, is able to compete with some of its larger competitors by outsourcing some services to vendors that specialize in different fields, said CEO Chad Laymon.

“This allows us to bring a multitude of different services to the table under one umbrella,” Laymon said. “At the same time, on the service end, we are steering a much smaller boat. This allows us to be more flexible with our client’s needs.”

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Laymon has had to increase its value-added services due to “tremendous changes” within the industry because of health care reform, he said.

“Most small brokerage firms were started years ago, and today, the principal is getting older and doesn’t want to involve themselves with all of the changes going on, and even if they do, the technology curve can be a steep hill to climb,” Laymon said.

“As a result, many brokers are selling their book of business to the larger consulting firms. Times have changed. Smaller brokers must adjust to show their strength or they will be left behind.”

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. She can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.
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Employee Benefits

Benefiting the Bottom Line

Consultants and P&C brokers seek market share and revenue gains via private exchanges.
By: | June 2, 2014 • 4 min read
03252014PrivateExchanges

Employee benefits consultants and property/casualty brokers could see substantial gains as they move to take advantage of private exchanges for health care and other employee benefits.

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Jim Blaney, chief executive officer, Willis human capital practice, said that offering clients private exchanges provides consultants and brokers with “a huge opportunity. … However, it’s all about gaining market share and converting new revenues.”

Roughly 30 million workers are expected to enroll in health care plans via private exchanges by 2017, “but costs and inertia could slow the adoption rate,” according Morgan Stanley research analysts.

“We think there are substantial market share opportunities for P&C brokers but large economic benefits will take years to materialize as they have to invest heavily to gain share,” the analysts wrote in a March 13 report, Private Exchanges: Friend or Foe.

For example, Aon Hewitt — which was “one of the first movers and the most vocal in private exchange efforts” — has invested roughly $100 million in its initiatives “which have not yet broken even,” according to the analysts. The firm has enrolled more than 600,000 members on its multicarrier, fully insured active employees exchange.

Aon executives were not available for an interview.

At Morgan Stanley’s Private Exchange Conference earlier this year, Aon said that it can overcome the cost gap and deliver up to 2 percent total savings for self-insured clients converting to Aon exchange.

A report by Moody’s offered a more positive viewpoint, concluding that the creation of private health exchanges “are credit positive for leading benefit consultants and brokers.”

“We believe the most successful exchanges will be those that minimize growth (or generate savings) in overall health care costs, rather than simply shifting costs from employers to employees,” according to a March 3 report.

Keys to success, it said, include building strong insurance carrier networks, guiding employees to select appropriate insurance coverage, promoting employee wellness, streamlining plan administration and ensuring compliance with regulations.

Blaney, at Willis, said that discussing its insurance exchange with clients and prospects is “a way to open doors,” as most employers are interested to learn more about both private and public exchange models.

“This gives us an opportunity to meet with potential new clients, build rapport and provide thought leadership and consulting. We are seeing an increase in new clients independent of whether they choose to use the private exchange,” he said.

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Last year, Willis partnered with Liazon to offer clients The Willis Advantage, a private label of that company’s platform. Liazon, which was bought last year by Towers Watson, operates a multicarrier exchange with both self-insured and fully insured products.

“The Willis Advantage,” Blaney said, “is designed to be a consultative approach to help mid-market and upper mid-market clients consider the opportunity of advancing consumerism and possibly, a defined-contribution approach.

“We think our differentiation lies in our integrated health management capability aimed at addressing medical utilization trends,” he said.

The exchange includes built-in features such as incentive-based wellness options, health coaching, and disease-management programs, to help employees and employers drive down health care costs and increase productivity.

Over the past two quarters, interest in the private exchange has “spiked,” with 600 employers — both existing clients and prospects — considering adoption, he said. Two clients are currently on the platform, and another five are “in the queue.”

“The adoption rates for the mid-market seems to be evolving slower than adoption rates for the larger market, but in the next five years, I believe we are going to see a sizable migration toward defined-contribution funding approaches as employers seek to cap benefits costs and push more responsibility and accountability to employees,” Blaney said.

Mercer, the subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Cos. launched its Mercer Marketplace in 2013. It currently works with 67 employers to provide medical and other benefits to 282,000 employees, retirees and family members.

The company recently expanded its service to offer access to individual medical plans via GetInsured, a California-based company whose technology platform powers state government exchanges.

Liazon, whose platform is used by more than 400 brokers — including Arthur J. Gallagher, Lockton and Brown & Brown — said larger brokers private label its platform, and can build in their own value-added support features, such as back-office capabilities, call centers, and employee assistance programs, said Managing Director Ashok Subramanian.

“This really enables brokers to leverage proven technology to wrap around their strategies, with a speed to market,” Subramanian said.

Smaller brokers use Liazon’s independent channel, Bright Choices, to save on costs, he said. Overall, Liazon has seen “an enormous uptick in usage over the past year, up 300 percent in 2013, from 2012.

There is tremendous tailwind in the market for solutions like this among employers,” he said. “This happens to coincide with the opening of the public exchanges, but it’s not really related to that.”

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Employers can also take advantage of private exchanges for retirees and older workers, such as Towers Watson’s OneExchange for Medicare-eligible individuals, said Bryce Williams, the consultancy’s managing director, Exchange Solutions.

“The Medicare market is so technical and highly regulated, that it’s less costly for them just to refer retirees to our exchange,” Williams said.

Currently, adoption rates are less than 5 percent, but Williams expects that in five to 10 years, adoption rates will rise to 50 percent, for employers who give their employees access to health care.

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. She can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.
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Sponsored: Helmsman Management Services

Six Best Practices For Effective WC Management

An ever-changing healthcare landscape keeps workers comp managers on their toes.
By: | October 15, 2014 • 5 min read

It’s no secret that the professionals responsible for managing workers compensation programs need to be constantly vigilant.

Rising health care costs, complex state regulation, opioid-based prescription drug use and other scary trends tend to keep workers comp managers awake at night.

“Risk managers can never be comfortable because it’s the nature of the beast,” said Debbie Michel, president of Helmsman Management Services LLC, a third-party claims administrator (and a subsidiary of Liberty Mutual Insurance). “To manage comp requires a laser-like, constant focus on following best practices across the continuum.”

Michel pointed to two notable industry trends — rises in loss severity and overall medical spending — that will combine to drive comp costs higher. For example, loss severity is predicted to increase in 2014-2015, mainly due to those rising medical costs.

Debbie discusses the top workers’ comp challenge facing buyers and brokers.

The nation’s annual medical spending, for its part, is expected to grow 6.1 percent in 2014 and 6.2 percent on average from 2015 through 2022, according to the Federal Government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. This increase is expected to be driven partially by increased medical services demand among the nation’s aging population – many of whom are baby boomers who have remained in the workplace longer.

Other emerging trends also can have a potential negative impact on comp costs. For example, the recent classification of obesity as a disease (and the corresponding rise of obesity in the U.S.) may increase both workers comp claim frequency and severity.

SponsoredContent_LM“The true goal here is to think about injured employees. Everyone needs to focus on helping them get well, back to work and functioning at their best. At the same time, following a best practices approach can reduce overall comp costs, and help risk managers get a much better night’s sleep.”
– Debbie Michel, President, Helmsman Management Services LLC (a subsidiary of Liberty Mutual)

“These are just some factors affecting the workers compensation loss dollar,” she added. “Risk managers, working with their TPAs and carriers, must focus on constant improvement. The good news is there are proven best practices to make it happen.”

Michel outlined some of those best practices risk managers can take to ensure they get the most value from their workers comp spending and help their employees receive the best possible medical outcomes:

Pre-Loss

1. Workplace Partnering

Risk managers should look to partner with workplace wellness/health programs. While typically managed by different departments, there is an obvious need for risk management and health and wellness programs to be aligned in understanding workforce demographics, health patterns and other claim red flags. These are the factors that often drive claims or impede recovery.

“A workforce might have a higher percentage of smokers or diabetics than the norm, something you can learn from health and wellness programs. Comp managers can collaborate with health and wellness programs to help mitigate the potential impact,” Michel said, adding that there needs to be a direct line between the workers compensation goals and overall employee health and wellness goals.

Debbie discusses the second biggest challenge facing buyers and brokers.

2. Financing Alternatives

Risk managers must constantly re-evaluate how they finance workers compensation insurance programs. For example, there could be an opportunity to reduce costs by moving to higher retention or deductible levels, or creating a captive. Taking on a larger financial, more direct stake in a workers comp program can drive positive changes in safety and related areas.

“We saw this trend grow in 2012-2013 during comp rate increases,” Michel said. “When you have something to lose, you naturally are more focused on safety and other pre-loss issues.”

3. TPA Training, Tenure and Resources

Businesses need to look for a tailored relationship with their TPA or carrier, where they work together to identify and build positive, strategic workers compensation programs. Also, they must exercise due diligence when choosing a TPA by taking a hard look at its training, experience and tools, which ultimately drive program performance.

For instance, Michel said, does the TPA hold regular monthly or quarterly meetings with clients and brokers to gauge progress or address issues? Or, does the TPA help create specific initiatives in a quest to take the workers compensation program to a higher level?

Post-Loss

4. Analytics to Drive Positive Outcomes, Lower Loss Costs

Michel explained that best practices for an effective comp claims management process involve taking advantage of today’s powerful analytics tools, especially sophisticated predictive modeling. When woven into an overall claims management strategy, analytics can pinpoint where to focus resources on a high-cost claim, or they can capture the best data to be used for future safety and accident prevention efforts.

“Big data and advanced analytics drive a better understanding of the claims process to bring down the total cost of risk,” Michel added.

5. Provider Network Reach, Collaboration

Risk managers must pay close attention to provider networks and specifically work with outcome-based networks – in those states that allow employers to direct the care of injured workers. Such providers understand workers compensation and how to achieve optimal outcomes.

Risk managers should also understand if and how the TPA interacts with treating physicians. For example, Helmsman offers a peer-to-peer process with its 10 regional medical directors (one in each claims office). While the medical directors work closely with claims case professionals, they also interact directly, “peer-to-peer,” with treatment providers to create effective care paths or considerations.

“We have seen a lot of value here for our clients,” Michel said. “It’s a true differentiator.”

6. Strategic Outlook

Most of all, Michel said, it’s important for risk managers, brokers and TPAs to think strategically – from pre-loss and prevention to a claims process that delivers the best possible outcome for injured workers.

Debbie explains the value of working with Helmsman Management Services.

Helmsman, which provides claims management, managed care and risk control solutions for businesses with 50 employees or more, offers clients what it calls the Account Management Stewardship Program. The program coordinates the “right” resources within an organization and brings together all critical players – risk manager, safety and claims professionals, broker, account manager, etc. The program also frequently utilizes subject matter experts (pharma, networks, nurses, etc.) to help increase knowledge levels for risk and safety managers.

“The true goal here is to think about injured employees,” Michel said. “Everyone needs to focus on helping them get well, back to work and functioning at their best.

“At the same time, following a best practices approach can reduce overall comp costs, and help risk managers get a much better night’s sleep,” she said.

To learn more about how a third-party administrator like Helmsman Management Services LLC (a subsidiary of Liberty Mutual) can help manage your workers compensation costs, contact your broker.

Email Debbie Michel

Visit Helmsman’s website

@HelmsmanTPA Twitter

Additional Insights 

Debbie discusses how Helmsman drives outcomes for risk managers.

Debbie explains how to manage medical outcomes.

Debbie discusses considerations when selecting a TPA.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Helmsman Management Services. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.


Helmsman Management Services (HMS) helps better control the total cost of risk by delivering superior outcomes for workers compensation, general liability and commercial auto claims. The third party claims administrator – a wholly owned subsidiary of Liberty Mutual Insurance – delivers better outcomes by blending the strength and innovation of a major carrier with the flexibility of an independent TPA.
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