With the advent of the Affordable Care Act, strategic planning for benefit plans has taken on a new level of importance. Yet very few employers have a strategic plan in place for benefits, said Bill Hembree, CEO, Health Research Institute during this week’s Benefits Forum & Expo in Boca Raton, Fla.

“If you’re a plan adviser, you have 90% of your clients who you could assist in this particular activity,” said Hembree. “It’s a wonderful market opportunity.” For employers, meanwhile, “if you haven’t done this you have plenty of company, but the bottom line is strategic planning saves money. … in this era of keeping employee benefit plans affordable we need a method by which we can keep costs down.”

“Strategic planning is a thoughtful process where we come up with a written statement about where the employer is trying to go with their employee benefit plans,” he said, and outlined a six-step process to creating a strategic plan for benefit plans.

1. Build a stakeholder’s coalition. “If you’re an employer with unionized employees, employers often think the union will stand in the way of cost control,” said Hembree. “If you approach strategic planning with them, they will be on board.” Hembree recommends a stakeholder’s coalition of six to 10 business leaders. “You don’t want them to be ‘yes’ people,” he said.

2. Mine and understand the data, educate the coalition, and develop a list of possible actions. “Work with your carrier, plan administrator and educate the coalition about what the data says,” said Hembree. “The data can let us know what’s driving medical care costs. That way, we can fix the stuff that’s broken and not focus on what’s not broken.”

3. Develop a statement of vison, goals (short-, medium- and long-term), mission, and guiding principles. “A mission describes the overall vision of the health care plan,” Hembree said. “There’s no right or wrong, just what’s right for your particular organization.”

4. Choose cost control actions within the guiding principles that meet the vision, mission and goals.

5. Thouroughly plan the implementation, communicate, and implement. If benefits are changing, you “must answer ‘why?’ for employees,” he said.

6. Measure and report, adjust the plan and add new initiatives as needed.

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