Although artificial intelligence has transformed the retail and entertainment habits of consumers, AI has yet to enter the employee benefit landscape in a meaningful way. But that time is coming, says Richard Silberstein, president of benefit consultancy and brokerage SIG, an Alera Group Company.

Not only will employees use apps to access their benefits in greater numbers, he says that open enrollment will also be conducted using AI services such as Ask Alexa, the application portion of Amazon’s Alexa offering. Silberstein spoke with Employee Benefit News about what role AI will play in open enrollments and how it will change how employees find out about their medical coverage. What follows is an edited version of that conversation.

Employee Benefit News: Will employers and benefit advisers use artificial intelligence apps like Amazon’s Ask Alexa for open enrollments? Are we near to this becoming a reality?

Richard Silberstein: We have open enrollment portals now and there are sort of ‘Ask Alexa’ things that are trying to get people to be more self-sufficient and educated as to what they can do and how to get information as easy as possible. A company like [benefits technology provider] HealthJoy is looking into how to use an app or chat with a live person to get people the information they need from a benefit education standpoint, for example.

Bloomberg

We just finished our annual offsite meeting with their team where we break into different groups of people and we talk about what's working, what's not working and what should we be thinking about. AI is three years from [becoming a widespread benefits reality] now.

EBN: How will AI help during open enrollment?

Silberstein: People are going to get information on how they can make open enrollment easier. How do we help people understand what is a deductible, how to fill out a form, when do you go to a primary care doctor? There was a whole discussion day about how do you take all these questions people have and how they're used to getting information when and how they want it. We can now put that on our website either as a blog or a one-page flyer or a YouTube video.

Also see:8 virtual health predictions for 2018.”

People are going to be able to call or say, “Hi Alexa, [and give their details like, my name is] Richard Silverstein, my social security number is XYZ [and ask], what amount of my deductible have I met? What's my maximum out-of-pocket payment?” It's not going to be as far off as we think.

EBN: How far?

Silberstein: I recently attended a conference for the Maryland Association of CPAs that also works with CPAs around the country. I sat next to the guy from IBM who works on the Watson supercomputer team. The AICPA is working with Watson to put the tax codes in and do audits in four minutes, instead of two months.

I believe that with the amount of money that is being invested in HR technology from private equity, there will be technology coming out with artificial intelligence sooner than we think it is.

EBN: Why doesn’t it exist now? Is healthcare too complex? Are they still working out the bugs?

Silberstein: When artificial intelligence came out, it was beta tested on tasks that were easier to do. Healthcare is complex, and there’s a longer implementation time for these solutions because it's more regulated. I heard UnitedHealthcare spends [more than] $2 billion a year on technology and has investments in 200 technology startups. When they go well, they buy it.

Look at what's going on in Silicon Valley and all the disruption that is happening. Amazon is getting into the pharmacy business and CVS is buying Aetna, so there's this ‘Amazon effect’ going on in healthcare that happened in retail. It's going to be where you search ‘sore throat’ and the next thing you know, ‘Here's the cure for that and would you like your drone to deliver it to you?’ When you go to a CVS to get a prescription for diabetes medication, your phone could ding to say, ‘Did you know there's a cookbook in Aisle Two?’

EBN: Are the days of the in-person employee benefits seminar in the conference room over? Could this replace a human being actually presenting what an HSA is and the difference between an HMO and a PPO?

Silberstein: It depends on who your audience is. One of the ladies at our offsite meeting said that she has a lot of blue-collar clients and she talked about how all of her employee meetings and webinars are recorded and when there are new employees, once a month the HR person brings everybody in the conference room and they listen to the recorded session to make sure they hear it.

I think clients want the personal touch. They want to have an app, and 24/7 access to information and then they want to have it where if somebody has a claim, their question gets a response quickly. The firm's that have able to deliver on that will excel in this.

The IBM Watson team member says artificial intelligence is going to disrupt people’s industries and I feel like nobody in our industry is talking about that. It's coming.

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