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Apr 18, 2017

I just returned from the 2017 BenefitsPRO Broker Expo in Indianapolis. In light of the recent health care reformdebacle, I expected to get the pulse of the fast-changing employee benefits business and the brokers that are on the front lines working with customers. I was NOT disappointed.  

Following are my top 10 takeaways from the conference…. 

1. Focus on your customer

I got to see the Broker of the Year panel. Congratulations to Susan Combs! A few of her thoughts:

Advice: “If I wouldn’t want you as a friend on Facebook, I don’t want you as a client.”

Biggest Challenge: The media and all the bad news out there. All the “house on fires” that people are posting on social media. Managing client panic attacks.

Dealing with change: Be an educator for your clients.

Here’s a thought that all 5 finalists agreed with: Customers don’t care what you know - they want to know that you care.

2. The Iron Triangle is the challenge

The first keynote speaker was healthcare expert, Aaron Carroll, Director of the Center for Health Policy at Indiana University School of Medicine. He shared the concept of Healthcare as an Iron Triangle with three components: Cost, Quality and Access. It’s possible to have 1 or 2 components at the same time, but not all 3. He noted, “If anyone promises they can improve all three, they are either lying, a politician or both.” 

3. Access to care in the U.S. is not good 

Almost half of all Americans are unable to get a same day appointment when sick. The U.S. is second to last when compared to other countries who are members of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) - just above Canada. It would be wise for brokers to offer solutions to their employer customers to address this problem.  

4. Look out for more reporting requirements

5500 reporting is about to get much more complex. 900 pages of proposed changes were approved in 2016, should be finalized in 2017, and go live in 2019. All groups with 2+ employees will be subject to the reporting requirement versus the current 100+. It appears that all compensation for all groups will be transparent when these changes go into effect. 

Solutions to Common Employer Benefits Challenges

5. Resisting change is biological, not emotional 

Britt Andreatta, an internationally recognized thought leader in leadership and learning, suggests that we are all biologically hard-wired to resist change. “The brain is wired to do 3 things: survive, belong and become.” It’s a good reminder to our industry that it takes time for employees to adapt to changes. As the advisor, brokers need to understand this and lead employers and employees through the changes. Eventually, the brain will adapt. 

6. Healthcare costs are going up 

This one isn’t much of a surprise. 91% of employees are experiencing an increase in healthcare costs. 25% of employees have no savings to absorb the increase. 51% of employers are experiencing an increase in costs. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight. Strategic brokers are implementing solutions that truly help their group and employee clients. 

7. Healthcare consumerism meets digital

Did you know that the average American unlocks their smart phone 150 times a day? It’s safe to say that consumers are comfortable with smart technologies. Employee surveys show that 62% would use cost estimation tools, and 71% would manage their healthcare by using mobile tools when given the opportunity. Mobile health is the third fastest growing app category - there are now 165,000 health care apps available and 50% of consumers have at least 1 health app on their phones. Be sure you’re partnering with suppliers who offer services and technology that helps your clients navigate the complexity of healthcare.

8. Employees don’t understand basic healthcare terminology 

Carnegie Mellon conducted a study which found that only 14% of American consumers understand deductibles, copays, coinsurance and out of pockets. While industry insiders know hundreds of insurance terms, we must remember that our audience doesn’t. It’s easy to gloss over these words during client discussions or open enrollment meetings because we’re so familiar. It’s a complicated industry and system - this is a good reminder that we need to simplify simplify simplify constantly. 

9. Prescription costs are skyrocketing with no end in sight

Reid Rasmussen, freshbenies CEO and Co-founder, noted that RX will be 40% of healthcare costs by 2025.  That’s up from 20% today. I think we all know that carriers and employers won’t be able to foot that bill, so what will happen? Drugs will start to fall off formularies at an even faster rate than we’re seeing today. Be on the lookout for savings solutions that help.  

10. Employees want to understand their benefits better

The “Rule of 7” says that an audience needs to hear a message at least 7 times before it “clicks” in their mind. Therefore, a benefit communication strategy is paramount. 90% of employees say they want to better understand their benefits and 44% want it to be simple. Yet, 25% of employees would rather clean their toilet than learn about benefits! What's the bottom line? (Sorry, I had to...) Employees want to know about their benefits and how to use them, they just don't want it to be painful. An active approach is best and a year round strategy should be implemented. 

All in all, it was a great conference with some outstanding speakers and presenters. I’m already looking forward to 2018!

Now, it’s your turn! Were you at BenefitsPRO Broker Expo this year? What did you learn? What life lessons or ideas have you gleaned at conferences in the past? Comment below or email me at


For the last 15 years Dan has partnered with independent insurance brokers in the Employee Benefits Industry. He has now joined forces with Reid and Heidi Rasmussen at freshbenies. 

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