Employers see greater control of healthcare decisions with benefits marketplace

Employees who choose their healthcare and other benefits from an online marketplace have a greater sense of control over their healthcare decisions, according to the 2017 Employer Survey Report conducted by Willis Towers Watson.

Of the 202 employers surveyed in the annual Willis survey, 97% of employers said they were satisfied with their experience using a private marketplace and 98% of employers who used a market place the following year were satisfied with their overall experience. The private exchange vendor also found that 89% of respondents said that moving to the marketplace option “positively impacted their company culture.”

Surprisingly for Willis, survey respondents did not mention savings as a factor when using a marketplace. According to Rob Harkins, practice leader, private exchanges of Willis, cost was one of the top drivers for survey respondents in past queries. “When we look at the value to the employer, the number one [answer] is that it gives them the ability to administer more products with [much fewer] resources,” he says.

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A blood pressure monitor stands in the diagnostic imaging area at the Hong Kong Integrated Oncology Centre in Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. Equipped with biopsy facilities, body scanners, and quiet 'VIP' chemotherapy rooms, the Hong Kong Integrated Oncology Centre is the first of a string of such facilities that TE Asia Healthcare Partners, a portfolio company funded by TPG Capital, is planning in Asia. Photographer: Xaume Olleros/Bloomberg

Employees seem to be favoring marketplaces, as well. Ninety-six percent of employees found the expanded product offerings to be important. “Ninety-eight percent employees would rather choose their benefits than have their employer choose for them so that speaks to the value of choice,” adds Harkins.

The Willis survey found that 75% of employees reported they’re more likely to stay with their employer because of their benefit program. While the survey found that only 16% of employees were originally excited about using a marketplace to choose their benefits, 79% reported that they were glad that their employers made the switch after using one. Only 5% said they wouldn't want their employer to offer a benefits marketplace in the future.

The experience with marketplaces appears to be empowering for employees, as well. An estimated 85% of employees reported that they are “more aware” of the cost of medical care compared to their pre-exchange experience. The survey also found that 83% of employees better understand what their health insurance and other benefits offer after using a marketplace.

Using technology to choose benefits from an online marketplace doesn’t appear to be a hindrance for older workers. “There’s certainly more of a technology aversion the older we get. With millennials and even younger workers, they're digital natives and there's an expectation in that particular population that you're going to be using the most sophisticated technology available,” he says.

“The reality is that regardless of age group, everybody shops online. Everybody utilizes technology today differently than they did 10 years ago but it is helping improve the experience,” says Harkins.

Market exchanges offer more than a portal via a Web browser, says Harkins. Often, an online marketplace will offer a decision support tool that navigates an employee through the benefit selection system. “It also integrates things like the insurance carrier and payroll systems so that it allows for a data to be transferred more effectively for the employer,” says Harkins. He adds that this acts as a virtual benefit administrator to some extent.

“It allows for the administration of benefits in a much more effective way so they can actually engage with more carriers, products and services and do it with [fewer] resources. It's an enhanced administrative experience while increasing more products and services in the process,” he says.

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