Benefits brokers take on new role under changing health care regulations

Benefits brokers used to have a well-defined job: Sell health care benefits to companies for a commission and occasionally answer employer questions about these services.

However, as health care evolved with the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and health care packages became far more standardized, the role of brokers began to shift. If you’re a broker, you’ve likely witnessed first-hand the shift from a salesperson finding the best package for a client, to an advisor helping customers stay on top of the changing marketplace.

As health care reform continues, it’s increasingly difficult for employers to keep up and know what they must do to comply, yielding new opportunities for benefits brokers to increase value and expand revenue. Here’s how you can get the most out of ACA changes moving forward.

Burgeoning ACA expertise

When the ACA’s employer mandate rolled out in 2016, employers weren’t fully aware of how much was going to change, what they had to provide, and what their responsibilities were. You may have been inundated with questions from employers about the ACA, even more so than questions about their insurance and benefits plans.

Of course, selling benefits to employers didn’t stop completely. However, making sure employers’ new benefits packages complied with the ACA and helping them navigate the regulation probably became, perhaps surprisingly, your two top priorities.

In the transition from salespeople to consultants, in-depth knowledge of the ACA became the best way to hold on to business, and standing out as a go-to resource became the best way to get ahead of the competition.

Continuing the trend despite potential “repeal and replace”

Of course, the uncertainty in health care hasn’t made the switch to consultant an easy one.

With the unexpected election of Donald Trump and repeated efforts on Capitol Hill to repeal the ACA, change and uncertainty continue to be major themes of health care, which may leave you questioning what will happen to the role of brokers.

In some cases, the uncertainty is an opportunity to cement your place as an advisor by focusing on answering questions in the ever-changing health care space, rather than just on sales. After all, the nuances of the ACA—and whatever comes next—has become an additional revenue source for brokers acting solely as consultants. This role transition can augment income for brokers who may have lost commission as a result of health care reform. 

After several failed votes in the Senate, the likelihood of the ACA sticking around is higher than ever, leaving little question as to whether an advisory role is a good fit for brokers. What continues to change is the scope of information you should be familiar with, and the tools for handling your new role.

Your two best tools as an ACA advisor

The two most valuable assets for every broker are knowledge and technology.

Besides the ACA itself, keeping up on the different bills proposed by Congress, policies enacted by the Department of Health and Human Services, and even the various solutions that can aid in compliance can help you gain an edge over competing brokers in this uncertain time. The more knowledgeable you are, the more of a trusted advisor you will be to your customers.

Beyond keeping up-to-date on changing health care regulations, familiarizing yourself with payroll technology and intelligent solutions designed to handle compliance can increase the value you bring to employers, and open up larger revenue streams.

Technology that handles the trickiest parts of the ACA, such as hourly data tracking, application of certain code values, and the filing process, can be immensely helpful tools for brokers to offer their clients. In other cases, being helpful to your clients means finding technology that can show clients how various changes impact them and prepare them to respond to a government audit.

Those who work at big benefits firms may have the luxury of in-house technologies that can help them predict the impact of adding, cutting, or lessening the amount contributed toward any employee benefit. For those without this in-house advantage, looking for other technology-based options is a must if you want to stay ahead of the competition.

Consider benefits-based toolkits, such as SyncStream’s Benefits Analysis Toolkit, that can accurately predict the impact of different benefit offerings on a company, incorporating the changing laws, taxes, and penalties that come with them. For brokers looking to expand their consultant role even further, technology can assist with other, lesser known compliance issues (such as EEO-1 reports) and other benefits (such as retirement funds or other insurance types). These technologies can eliminate human error, improve broker/employer communication, save time, and generate a visually appealing report that employers can check their benefits against, all of which make you a more valued resource to your clients.

Keeping ahead of the curve

Health care may still be changing, but it’s likely that benefits brokers’ new niche—offering help, advice, updates, strategies, and technology to customers—is here to stay. Over the next couple of years, your help and expertise will be invaluable to clients navigating whatever requirements the ACA settles on.

As a benefits broker, make sure you’re on the front lines of health care knowledge—both in what the law entails, and how best to tackle the tricky business that is compliance—as well as the front lines of technology. Only by combining the two can you bring your full value as a newly-minted advisor to the table.