In today’s rapidly evolving benefits landscape, employers need to stay one step ahead when it comes to administering and communicating employee benefits. The fact is that even the most proficient HR teams may not have the time or expertise to administer a benefit program the right way. So, as benefits administration automation continues to advance, employers are looking over the fences to see what new technology they can adopt next.

EBN’s new survey of benefits decision-makers reveals that 41% of respondents plan to increase their spending on technology next year, with 45% having already increased their spending from 2013 to 2014. Many of these respondents are tasked with not only directing and planning the day-to-day operations of group benefits programs, but also providing superior communications and education to employees.

Also see: Tech survey: What do benefit managers want?

As the job grows in complexity, advances in benefits administration technology help ease HR’s pain. The most effective of these platforms include decision-modeling calculators driven by real data to enable a rich, personalized experience for employees. Best practices dictate that users have the ability to test various benefit enrollment choices to see first-hand how different options affect their paychecks and coverage.

Any technology you adopt should always engage and educate employees throughout their entire benefit experience; you don’t want technology for technology’s sake. A platform delivering education and communications through animated storyboards is very effective in guiding users to make informed decisions. The educational component can also strengthen the perceived value of a benefits program. Targeted communications help employees understand and better appreciate their total compensation package.

More sophisticated systems that use artificial intelligence (or Avatars) are easier to customize than videos and can even be used in combination with payroll data. Some platforms take it a step further by offering paycheck modeling, which gives employees the ability to determine the impact of specific benefit elections on their pay checks. A decision support tool helps users estimate how they would use benefits and then offers suggestions for plans that will meet their needs.

Also see: Tech survey: Employers hungry for improved enrollment, communications tools

Other key elements to look for include:

  • A rules-based enrollment and eligibility engine, where employees see only the plans they have access to and the benefits they are eligible for.
  • Electronic data feeds to carriers and third-party vendors, which should ease billing reconciliation, deliver a true depiction of plan costs, and eliminate manual entry of enrollment data into carrier portals.
  • Employee benefits compliance notifications, such as COBRA and HIPAA. The best platforms will include a portal to house important compliance content (plan documents, summary plan descriptions, summary of benefits and coverage, etc.).

Typically employees have a tough time navigating all the plan options and understanding the implications of their selections. Confusion can lead to choices that may not be in the participant’s best interest, and consequently, neither the employer nor the employee receives the best value from the program.
The learning process should happen well before an employee sits down to select a plan option. By leveraging technology to further the education process, you can reinforce benefits consumerism both before and at the point of enrollment. Also, if spouses are involved in the benefits decision-making process, they can log in to receive important messages, leading to a better understanding of your programs and enrollment options. 

The systems that deliver the most value to employees provide direct access to benefit advocates for personal support. Employee advocates can step in to answer questions and assist plan users with pressing or complicated benefit issues.

Communication is paramount to a successful benefits program, and employees are always interested in their health and financial peace of mind. Technology can be used to reinforce your messages at critical points and assist employees in making better decisions. For employers, it can also help reduce unnecessary costs by driving greater efficiencies and guiding smarter participant decisions. Employers will benefit from the support provided by an automated enrollment and eligibility system, and their employees will, too.

Andrew Brickman is director of benefits administration with Corporate Synergies, an employee benefits brokerage firm. An expert in group employee benefits administration and outsourcing strategies, he identifies opportunities to continuously improve the firm's service offerings.

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