Technology is the key to innovation for both brokers and employers. Coupled with the “busy nature” of the Affordable Care Act’s compliance requirements, all parties are demanding technology-based solutions, a panel of experts said Thursday at Employee Benefit Adviser’s Dig|Benefits conference in Austin, Texas.

Today’s “intense” regulatory environment is setting the stage for innovation in benefits as “competitive pressures due to high costs are creating an appetite for alternatives, even in the traditionally immune small-business sector,” said David Reid, founder and CEO of EaseCentral.

Although individual small businesses may not have many employees, the sector itself is a large market, with close to 98% of all employers in the United States totaling more than 60 million employees, according to Reid.

These small businesses are looking for innovative, tech-based solutions, Reid explained. Further, as more millennials enter the workforce, they are eager for more information and want more choice with their employer-provided benefits. “Technology provides the ability to do that,” Reid said. “[Technology] can take difficult or complex processes to roll out to a group and make it simple.”

Everyone is busy and benefits are complicated, Reid said. “With [technology,] you can show each employee what their [insurance] options are and what their cost is.”

For a small broker who wants to be nimble and compete with the big firms, “technology combined with innovative approaches allows the smallest broker within the small business sector to take an approach only large [brokers] could [previously] take,” Reid added.

Making the leap

One example of a newer tech solution is One Medical Group, a provider of primary care physician services.

Employees will say they don’t believe they can call their primary care physician when something goes wrong, but One Medical aims to be “hyper-accessible,” through technology, said Sandeep Acharya, VP of growth at the San Francisco-based company.

Finding healthcare is about patients making better choices, he explained. “We want patients to make thousands and millions of better choices – but on their own, patients don’t know how to make those choices and the result is disastrous,” he said.

To date, employers and brokers have rolled out programs, such as high deductible health plans, which are not achieving the goals they set out to achieve. “They make the patient accountable for navigating care but [patients] don’t know the difference between a urgent condition and not,” Acharya said.

One Medical aims to make great care accessible, which can “change the equation,” he said. “More prevention plus better quality and experience of care, equals lower cost.” Employers who partner with One Medical have had a 7% total cost of care reduction, according to a survey by insurer Anthem.

It is a similar story at Oscar, a health insurer in New York, New Jersey and Texas, which uses technology to better engage employees. “We believe we can do better as an industry,” by engaging employees and simplifying benefits, which are a complex topic full of jargon, said Vijay Kedar, general manager, Texas, for Oscar Health Insurance.

“At its core, the role of health insurance is more than building a network and connecting members,” he said. “It is aligning members and providers through a backbone of technology.”

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