Melanie Hallenbeck July 20, 2020 10 min read

Benefits Administration Outsourcing Trends in the Era of COVID-19

Professional benefits administration trends

Since concerns of coronavirus began circulating in the United States this February, it's safe to say many of us were not prepared for what was to come. Nearly three-fourths of office workers are now working remotely, company layoffs have reached historic highs, and life as we know it has drastically changed.

Now, with third quarter underway, and fourth quarter annual enrollment right around the corner, it’s important to take time to reflect on the current state of the professional benefits administration industry for two reasons:

  1. 1) So you are fully prepared for what’s ahead in the remainder of the year, and
  2. 2) So you can begin to plan appropriately for 2021.

Below is a brief overview of several 2020 trends our team of benefits experts have been keeping their eyes on.

Help needed in creating effective benefits communication strategies

As our clients plan for perhaps one of the most non-traditional Open Enrollment periods we've ever seen, many have been reaching out for strategic insight and help developing an effective benefits enrollment communication strategy.

While the advice we provide varies from client to client, here are the top four areas we typically solve for first:

  1. Customized: Will participants feel like the message is meant specifically for them?
  2. Targeted: Have we separated messaging by employee persona or benefit class so participants are only consuming information relevant to their situation?
  3. Timely: What pieces of information do participants need to know *right now* in order to help them make effective decisions?
  4. Employee Preference: How do individual participants like to receive important information—especially if working remotely? Email, text, paper? Combination of the three?

Superior service is no longer a 'nice-to-have,' but a 'need-to-have'

Unprecedented times have created many uncertainties in both our work and personal lives, but receiving superior service from your benefits administration provider should not be one of them.

At benefitexpress, we’ve been deep in the trenches helping our clients navigate uncharted waters and doing everything we can to demonstrate our role as a valued partner, no matter how difficult or time-sensitive the request.

Our system flexibility and service-first mentality has allowed us to solve problems quickly (often within 24 hours) and effectively to meet the rapidly evolving needs of our clients. Throughout the pandemic, our goal has remained the same as it always is—to be benefits wise and relationship driven.

Below is just one of many examples that demonstrates how we’ve risen to the challenge for our clients and their employees in the wake of COVID-19.

COVID-19 solutioning

  • industry-luluClient needed benefitexpress to create a new leave type called "Force Majeure Leave" to allow client to pay for employee benefits during furlough
  • To meet this demand, benefitexpress created a special hours and earnings file and new rate structure
  • New process meets all ACA compliance and IRS regulations
  • Great example of client, broker and benefits administration outsourcing team coming together to create and deliver a solution in record time, ultimately ensuring participants have the best access to health care options during COVID-19

Reliance on partners who can provide value-added solutions to help employers be efficient and effective

Over the last several months, benefitexpress has been continuously monitoring business and employee impacts as a result of COVID-19. Early on, we heard from many of our broker and advisor partners that their clients were urgently being asked to "do more with less."

While it may be too early to accurately predict how COVID-19 will affect future annual enrollments and benefits offerings, it’s safe to say that employers will continue to seek out products and services that help alleviate administrative burden, reduce cost and provide significant value to their employees.

A few examples of value-added solutions rising in popularity include:

  • Lifestyle benefits marketplaces

    Employees want more choices and ways to save money. Employers want administrative ease and low-cost options. A lifestyle benefits marketplace aims to meet both these needs.

    Focused exclusively on lifestyle benefits a marketplace allows employees to create a personalized benefits package tailored to their individual needs, at any time during the year. Valuable lifestyle offerings include: employee loan programs for short term loans or student loan repayment, employee purchase programs, legal assistance, pet insurance, identity theft, home and auto insurance and a large array of employee discounts.

  • Mobile apps

    A benefits-focused mobile app provides employers with a way to reach employees where they are, with the benefits information they need, when they need it. Never has this been more critical than in today's remote work environment. 

    A mobile app makes benefits information more accessible, improves plan comprehension and offers employees the freedom to access their benefits any time, any place. More importantly, it positions your organization as technologically advanced and committed to employee engagement leading to happier more productive employees in the long run.

  • COBRA alternatives

    Given the unfortunate number of layoffs during this time, many employers are looking for ways to reduce the burden of COBRA claims costs. Look for a benefits administration provider who uses external vendors (like GOHealth) to provide former employees who are eligible for COBRA an avenue to explore health care options through the federal and state marketplaces and relevant subsidies.

Escalated evaluations for online enrollment and benefits administration partners

Delivering more with significantly less is a tough ask—especially in chaotic times.

That’s why it’s critical to have a benefits administration partner that can help you reset and re-align your strategies for optimal success.

Over the last several months, we've seen an uptick in RFP and RFI submissions from enterprise-level companies looking to evaluate their current online enrollment technology and benefits administration partners.

If you are experiencing:

  • High turnover within account teams,
  • Lack of benefits knowledge from system representatives,
  • Rocky implementations leading to on-going service deficiencies,
  • Inability to resolve large-scale problems,
  • System inflexibility,

It is time to explore a new benefits administration partnership this year.

We expect 2021 to be a busy evaluation year, so start having these conversations with your internal teams now, and let us know where we can help. We pride ourselves delivering industry-leading service so we can help our clients execute their health and wellness strategies with ease—no matter how unpredictable the future may be.