10 Things Your Employee Benefits Platform Should Do For You

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By Nancy Sansom, Chief Marketing Officer, PlanSource

Marty McFly traveled forward in time to October 21, 2015 in Back to the Future Part II and encountered a world with flying cars, hoverboards and self-lacing shoes. And while the real world doesn’t quite look like McFly’s 2015, we have made some remarkable technological breakthroughs, especially in the world of HR and benefits. We use technology to simplify administrative work, manage benefits programs and keep track of regulations and requirements for health care coverage in the wake of the Affordable Care Act. Online platforms allow employees to shop, compare and enroll in a benefits package that fits their needs – but not all platforms are created equal. There are a few key features a benefits platform must have in order to be successful in today’s shifting technological landscape.

1. Fill out IRS forms and fill them outright.
Under the Affordable Care Act, employers with at least 50 full-time workers must turn in a 1095-C form to the IRS for each employee. These forms are complex, with dozens of codes to choose from; they provide the IRS with details about the type of coverage offered to the employee.  Whether or not those employees use the coverage is irrelevant – if they’re eligible, they must be offered coverage, and the IRS wants to know everything about each one. If they discover an employer has not been following regulations, the penalties can get expensive– $250 per return, with a $3 million maximum penalty per year. A good benefits platform uses your company data to fill out these forms for you and send them to the IRS electronically (make sure they are certified to do so!), saving you from time-consuming paperwork and expensive penalties.

2. Communicate clearly and use multiple methods of communication.
Communication is key to benefits administration – employees need to know exactly how and what they’re getting when they enroll. And not everyone wants to be communicated to in the same way. Younger people are more likely to communicate using newer technologies such as texting and email, according to a November 2014 Gallup poll. Most people have smartphones, and for some, it’s their primary tool for Internet access. It’s important to be able to reach your employees 24/7, whether it’s a company-wide announcement or a more personalized notification about an employee’s coverage. With this type of smartphone-dependent culture, it’s necessary to have a mobile app that can reliably host this communication. Chances are, through emails, text messages, and phone notifications you’ll reach your employees one way or another and create a more effective and engaged enrollment experience.

3. Educate employees about the complexities of benefits.
With the increased adoption of defined contribution benefits models, many employees have more control over their benefits choices. However, the world of benefits is incredibly complex, so employees may need help making well-informed decisions. A benefits software program must inform employees about different types of coverage, especially in bigger companies with more complex benefits choices. People learn in different ways and have different educational backgrounds. The best way to present information to someone can differ based on their preference for visual, auditory or hands-on learning. Your benefits platform should provide the ability to educate employees in a variety of ways, with video, text and audio content.

4. Offer decision support to help employees make the best choices for their families.
An integral part of a benefits platform is to help people find the right plan. Decision support tools are important to help employees make the best-informed judgments about their health care in order to make the system effective for everyone involved. A good benefits platform provides tools to shorten the data entry process and recommends different plans based on information previously entered. For example, if an employee signs up for a high deductible health plan it can be very useful if the benefits software then knows to offer the employee a health care savings plan. In this way, the system guides employees through the benefits process, making a personalized plan recommendation, and getting them to the coverage that is best for them.

5. Make it easy to consolidate and reconcile billing.
When there are multiple benefits providers and carriers providing different products for employees, billing can become a challenge. Allowing employees the freedom to choose their benefits package will increase employee satisfaction but can create more administrative work for the employer, especially for ancillary coverage where self-billing is used. A benefits platform should provide tools for self-billing and allow the employer to consolidate and reconcile bills from multiple parties, so they know exactly how much to take out of each individual employee’s paycheck and can easily keep track of expenses.

6. Streamline open enrollment.
Open enrollment is where the rubber meets the road for benefits platforms. Fielding employee questions, maintaining ACA compliance and assisting with the massive amount of administrative work are important functions that can be facilitated by technology. Automation allows employers to spend less time on administrative tasks that can be performed through a benefits management platform. And, as stated above, your platform can help with communication, education around benefits choices and guide employees to the plan that is right for them. Embracing technology can give you the open enrollment of your dreams.

7. Increase employee participation in voluntary benefits.
Voluntary benefits like dental, vision, disability and life insurance are not always included in the package subsidized by an employer but are still very important. A self-service platform increases employee engagement in their benefits selection, therefore increasing employee participation in voluntary benefits enrollment. According to Metlife’s 12th annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study, only 36 percent of employers said they were very satisfied with employee participation in their voluntary benefits programs. Over half of the employees in Metlife’s study said they needed more help in understanding how their benefits work. Given that benefits choices will vary depending on a person’s stage in life and medical requirements, a benefits platform should be able to personalize content and offer educational tools like videos to increase participation and overall engagement in the benefits process.

8. Offer customer support anytime, anywhere.
Twenty-four-hour accessibility is a feature that has come to be expected in any service or product in the 21st century, and benefits management software is no different. A 2009 study by Gornick, Presser, & Batzdorf found that one in five U.S. employees works outside the 9-5 work week. Customer service teams are needed to provide support for consumers who have questions or need advice at any time of day, whether it be 5 am after their Friday night shift or Sunday afternoon when they have a spare moment to enroll in benefits. It’s important to have the capability for different types of customer support to cater to different communication preferences; text, chat and phone support must be available at any time of day.

9. Let you customize the benefits experience based on your company data.
The platform you use should be configurable both on the inside and outside, so you can change the workforce structure and include as much branding as you want. The types of workers, locations, geography and the organizational structure of your company are all factors that play a role in the way you would want to structure a benefits marketplace. In terms of the “outside” appearance of the platform, you may want to include your own color scheme, images, wording and videos.

10. Play nicely with other systems.
Ideally, one program would provide all the necessary components for HR, benefits, and payroll, but this is not usually the case. Instead, it’s necessary to implement a system that can play nicely with other systems so the employer can pick and choose which HR, ben admin and payroll software system works best for them. With a friendly platform, their data can be imported and utilized, and the different systems can talk to each other and work together to create the best experience for everyone involved.

We’ve come a long way since 1989– we’ve harnessed amazing technology that makes the benefits enrollment process much less of a headache, and more of a helpful tool for employees to increase engagement and satisfaction with their compensation package. Maybe flying cars are just around the corner.

This article first appeared in Benefits Magazine. Reproduced with permission from Benefits Magazine, Volume 53 Number 3, pages 40-43, March 2016, published by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (www.ifebp.org), Brookfield, Wisconsin. All rights reserved.

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