How COVID-19 Has Shifted The Role Of The Broker

By Kim Buckey, VP of Client Services, DirectPath

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected industries across the globe, but most perhaps none so directly as health care. While the most obvious changes have occurred in how and where care is delivered, less obvious changes like the closure of some private practices and hospitals and postponed preventive care and elective procedures have meant these shifts impact anyone connected to the health care industry—not just patients but providers, insurers, plan sponsors and brokers.

To help understand this shift, DirectPath commissioned a survey of more than 100 health insurance brokers on what services they are currentlyoffering, which services deliver the most business value,and how their models are likely to evolve to help themcompete in the coming year. Not surprisingly, the pandemic shifted employer focus on ongoing benefits communications and price transparency services as companies seek to get and keep a handle on fluctuating costs.

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How Brokers are Helping

Seventy-one percent of respondents said they have clients struggling with employee satisfaction and perceived value of benefit plans. In response, brokers have been tasked with bringing education, tools, technology and new partners to the table to address employee concerns.

A key component of employee satisfaction is how well they understand what’s available to them, how the coverage they have works, and how to use them while managing their out-of-pocket costs. Shopping for care is a critical component of being a savvy health care consumer, but navigating the healthcare industry to find the best price is far from simple. This is especially true for the 67% of respondents to a recent survey on health care literacy who reported that they did not realize they could compare treatment and service costs before receiving care. To help their clients educate employees and contain costs, 83% of brokers that responded to DirectPath’s recent survey report said that they are currently providing some sort of health care transparency and clinical advocacy services to help employers contain costs. Another 23% of respondents say they will be adding new advocacy and transparency-focused services to meet this growing demand.

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These services are critical to keeping costs low, both for the employee and employer. In 2020, patients that leveragedadvocacy services and shopped for care saved thousands on procedures like joint replacements ($21,716), arthroscopic procedures ($11,090) and colonoscopies ($2,195).

With the pandemic shutting down much of daily life and hospitals pushed to the brink working to provide care to COVID-positive patients, more than 4 in 10 Americans reported delaying or avoiding care because of COVID-related concerns. As the world moves into the inoculation phase of the pandemic and more patients look to reschedule postponed appointments and treatments, it’s more critical than ever that they are shopping for care to ensure they are receiving the best possible price for the care they need.

Creative Thinking

The COVID-19 pandemic showed just how much employers relied upon brokers to provide services beyond traditional benefits offerings. While demand for traditional services is still high – with brokers reporting their clients rely on them for compliance and reporting needs (40%), employee education (24%), technology innovations (12%) and managing pharmaceutical costs (12%)—respondents noted increased demand for health care transparency and clinical advocacy (83%, up from 74% last year)and benefits communications (95%, up from 90%). While demand for personalized benefits education and enrollment support remained strong at 79%, this marked a decline from last year (85%)—likely reflecting a change in emphasis from choosing to using benefits coverage.

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In response, brokers are thinking outside the box—suggesting a range of voluntary benefits (often with tweaks—such as infectious disease riders—and/or with off-cycle enrollments), virtual education support through benefits hubs and identifying new vendor partners for their clients. Not surprisingly, 79% of brokers report that they are focusing on delivering superior customer service to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

While many brokers reported that their biggest challenge in 2020 was the global pandemic, the disruption provided them with the opportunity to expand their offerings and showcase their strategic value to clients. During the months ahead, as employers and employees work to navigate the “new normal,” brokers should continue to provide creative, personalized support to their clients– or risk losing the business to another firm that will. By continually providing customers with new information, resources and tools, brokers can help create a new generation of informed health care consumers, ultimately driving lower costs for employers and employees alike.

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