We are moving into unchartered territory with Health Care Reform. Are benefits brokers still relevant?
Absolutely – now more than ever. The broker is the one strategic partner positioned to bring the various pieces of health care reform into focus for business owners. The Health Care Reform law affects tax and accounting, human resources and, of course, employee benefits. Benefits brokers are the business partners with a thumb on the pulse of the law, the insurance companies’ response, and the product changes made in response to Health Care Reform.
How is AmCareBenefits different from other benefits broker firms?
What sets us apart are the focused solutions we bring … solutions driven by our education and experience. I have more than 30 years of insurance and human resources experience, all on a national level. I also hold three professional designations: CIC, RHU, and Certified Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act Professional, and my staff hold advanced degrees in several disciplines. We are a team of detailed problem solvers and are committed to finding solutions that meet each client’s needs. Our clients will tell you that the service they receive is second to none.
What surprises you most about employers’ (and employees’) understanding of their benefits? What’s the most persistent area of confusion?
Many employees do not understand (or try to understand) their benefit plans until they need to use them. So, we give employees the tools to answer their questions and the resources to reach us at any time. Most business owners and their comptrollers/human resources professionals have a pretty good handle on their benefits; however, the advent of health care reform is really stretching them. It is more important than ever that they have a knowledgeable broker-partner, as the cost of mistakes has never been greater.
What’s the single most important
thing to know right now about
Health Care Reform?
It is real and we all need to be prepared – there is no time to waste. One of the most difficult issues we have had to work through concerns government regulators and insurance companies that are not prepared for the roll out of each of the Health Care Reform effective dates. The most important thing is to stay on top of the latest developments, and you need a top-notch, current broker to do that.
What are you doing to get the word out about Health Care Reform?
We have been meeting with our partners and clients to educate them about the implications of the law. Since the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate, and with the shared responsibility (employer mandate) around the corner, the frequency of panel discussions and seminars is greatly increasing. We expect to conduct a dozen or so seminars and panel discussions before 2014. Just recently we participated in a panel of a national association of business owners. We are doing everything possible to clarify Health Care Reform and dispel the misinformation surrounding it.
How do you advise small and mid-sized businesses to approach employee benefits so they can keep employees happy and save money?
Every business is different, and needs are unique, so our approach is to first get to know the business, its goals, and the culture. Since our primary focus is developing a plan with the future in mind, a cookie-cutter approach won’t work. We are experts in the use of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs), and we emphasize how strategies that include partially employer-funded deductibles can benefit employees and help businesses stretch their dollars.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing local benefits brokers? Have they changed the way you approach your business at AmCareBenefits?
Staying on top of Health Care Reform continues to be the biggest challenge. Since 2010, about 40 percent of our productive time has shifted to Health Care Reform seminars, study and certification. At the same time, most of the insurance companies cut our revenues by about 20 percent. So, brokers are challenged with an enormous amount of study, a loss of revenue, and a much greater need to communicate effectively with their clients.
What advantages or disadvantages do Maryland business owners have when it comes to offering comprehensive benefits plans to their employees?
Maryland is ahead of most other states due to its TPA (Third Party Administrator) infrastructure and due to Maryland Small Group Reform. The TPA environment is literally what Health Care Reform envisioned as an “Exchange,” except that it is privately developed and funded. Since much of the infrastructure is already in place, Maryland has a definite advantage over other states in handling the changes presented by Health Care Reform. Many other states have virtually no structure for statewide plans.