The Broker is Dead! Long Live the Broker!!


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Its that time of the year again!

2015 Individual & SHOP Open Enrollment is here. The Federally Facilitated Marketplace and State Marketplaces are live and kicking starting November 15th, 2014. Several private exchanges as well as carrier sites are live offering their plans.

With so much of self-service being fed up to consumers, where does that leave brokers and agents?

Since 2014 Open Enrollment, in fact, even while the ACA was still brewing, there has been a fear of oblivion for brokers, the community that has been the backbone of health insurance distribution over the last several decades.

One reason for that was comparison with banking and travel industries, of how they have been automated over the last two decades connecting consumers, directly to supply and thus, in a world of self-service, diminishing the role of intermediaries. The perception is that intermediaries in these industries are gone.

Now, that kind of consumerization has come to healthcare. The premonition has been that a similar disenchantment of intermediaries will happen here. Brokers, who have helped millions find the best plan to cover their specific health insurance needs, are expected to be gone in future years.

Health Insurance is a complex business. It takes years for the experts in the field to grasp it completely, let alone, everyday common people! Common people look to understand health plans when they buy it or perhaps, when they use it. Brokers and Agents have been guiding consumers, be it individuals, employers or employees, through the maze of insurance carriers, plans, HMOs, PPOs and HDHPs, co-pays, co-insurances, deductibles and much more before leaving their clients, content with the purchase of a plan that meets their needs and their budget. In order to do that, brokers and agents have to be able to make sense of it all, act as experts, interpret and communicate accurately to the consumers.

Is it possible to achieve that level of acumen and impart it to consumers in a self-service environment? Perhaps, incrementally and over a period of time with much simplification introduced in the process. However, it would still be difficult based on the varying needs of the consumer based on their roles, be it the employer, employee or individual.

Brokers are a necessity to the system. In fact, the role of brokers and agents has evolved to the next level in the post ACA world. Brokers move from being sales agents to true benefits advisors and consultants. In travel, banking and finance industries too, advisors continue to play a crucial part.

Brokers as advisors, is the new norm. And, the use of technology to make it easier to shop and enroll in health plans with guided support during the whole experience puts more powerful and better tools in the hands of these advisors to do a much more effective job.

Besides, it opens up a whole new world of opportunity for brokers to take on, at the click of a button. Brokers selling only health plans are now able to work with, sell and advise on an entire array of benefits products. They are able to reach and retain a larger volume of customers and ensure they provide proactive and world-class service to them than they had ever previously done. This translates to effective advisors, more business and most important of all, happier customers.

Talking about clients, there are people who still believe that if they buy insurance through a broker, they pay extra! Whether you go to a self-service exchange or to a broker and take their assistance in getting onto a health plan, you pay the same. It’s the health plans that reimburse brokers for the business they bring in. You may find it difficult to believe that there are millions out there who do not know this and that is precisely the reason, the role of a broker has in no way diminished in the benefits arena, not just the health plan space. In fact, it has gotten a new boost in the post ACA era.

On the other end of the spectrum are consumers that are so overwhelmed by the health plan jargon and the laws surrounding it, that they would like expert help in spite of all the resources that they can tap into to self educate. For them, it just makes sense to reach out and call a broker, or better yet, connect with them online!

Here’s to your happy open enrollment experience, this season!

Image Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Is Your Work-Life Flexibility Debatable?


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A few days ago, Yahoo! took the decision to summon all of its associates in-house, to work from one of their offices. It scrapped the remote work option citing that the most creative of ideas birthed from water-cooler conversations or rather, face to face interactions at work. Now, that’s their vision of extracting productivity and unique to their situation as a company. And here, we have the world debating the pros and cons of remote workforces!

Those of you who read recent articles about this step that Yahoo! took might have found it very clear that it is pertinent to their particular situation. When you have associates that are not accountable, don’t even VPN in regularly, what do you do? No wonder that with such a dispassionate workforce, the management had to get to the stick rule when the carrot of free lunches and free gadgets didn’t work. If you know that your kids are slacking and not doing their homework as they should, what do you do? You ensure there is a set time to complete the homework and sit with the kids until they learn to acknowledge the practice.

One company’s situation doesn’t categorize working from home as a boon or a bane. Remote work, when not abused is an absolute boon as it helps uphold associates’ work-life flexibility. This flexibility in turn, ensures reduced stress levels for the associates who work in their own environs and in fact, also helps improve productivity for engaged employees. Is remote working suitable for all employees? Not really since one needs to be a self-starter and have an immense sense of accountability and responsibility to be successful in a remote situation. Again, a change in scene also helps when the employees want to get into an office once in a while for that personal interaction they might crave for in an office setting.

In today’s environment where work extends beyond its stipulated time and associates seek the flexibility to work through their regimen and have to shuffle between life and work, it is a great tool that helps keep that balance, yet ensures that the time spent on work is of a quality nature and associates are fulfilled while delivering their best work.

Case in point, one company’s situation and a corresponding decision to bring back the workforce in-house doesn’t mar the practice altogether as there are other examples out there who have leveraged the remote workforce model to save millions in infrastructure & logistics costs and continue to do so year over year while benefiting from a self-reliant, self-motivated & highly productive workforce. Some simple and immediate benefits include not having to depend on local talent and able to tap into the best of talent across the country and internationally as well, no relocation expenses, lower training costs by deploying on-line training, etc. Managing a remote workforce comes with its own challenges but the benefits outweigh the challenges. Of course, again; not all jobs are suited for this model. But, where possible, leveraging the practice is beneficial and trends show that this is on the growth path among U.S. organizations.

In fact, I know of a management consulting firm that was started using a remote model and till date continues without an office where the workforce is entirely distributed. The organization has a mailing address for a head office, some space to store secure and sensitive documents, conferences and client meetings are either virtual or at rented out conference rooms at one of the several business centers. The company concentrates on its core capabilities while all the functions of running the company such as payroll & legal are outsourced. Not saying that this is viable for every organization out there, but there are companies doing this and being highly successful with the model. Look up Brand Velocity to learn more.