In this era of unprecedented bureaucratic complexity, having a skilled benefits broker on your side can make all the difference. Unfortunately, few employers have someone on staff who can effectively walk through the entire labyrinth of employee benefits and stay fully abreast of the ever-changing rules and regulations governing health care coverage. By enlisting the support of an individual who specializes in this field, you can save time and money in the long run.

When you have a good working relationship with your benefits broker, he or she can:

Guide You Through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Patient Protection

As the ACA and related legislation continues to evolve, a benefits broker can serve as an invaluable guide, helping you with compliance with both state and federal regulatory requirements.

Help You Sift Through an Array of Different Health Plans

Brokers usually have access to a variety of different insurance carriers, which means that they can compare and contrast the value of different plans and devise the most cost-effective solution for your business. In this way, brokers can help you avoid the more costly one-size-fits-all approach to health care coverage.

Offer Specialized Guidance About Benefits Programs

Brokers often have specific knowledge of certain aspects of insurance coverage, ranging from long-term care to vision, dental and disability coverage. The in-depth information brokers can provide may be useful to employers who are looking to "mix and match" different types of benefits.

Educate Employees During the Enrollment Process

Some brokers' services extend beyond selecting the right type of coverage. These individuals take an active role in helping employees sift through a vast amount of information during the all-important enrollment period. Sometimes they even provide assistance in composing the benefits section of a company's employee handbook.

If this type of assistance could be valuable to your small business, you should ask the following questions when choosing a benefits broker:

"Who do you work for?"

It's important to know whether the broker you have in mind is independent or affiliated with a specific provider. Obviously, a company-specific broker will guide you toward the provider he or she represents (and possibly offer more competitive pricing), while an independent broker can handle an array of options. Small business owners must decide whether it's more important for them to find a broker who can offer lower costs or more options.

"What types of fees do you require?"

Generally speaking, employers don't pay anything to a broker for his or her assistance; health plan carriers pay broker commissions directly. But the brokers you interview should be able and willing to answer this question and point out any additional fees that go beyond the premium.

"What types of services will you provide?"

You should request a written description of the broker's services (and any additional fees that might be incurred). Ask yourself: Is the broker focused solely on selling a particular plan, or will he or she be available to help during open enrollment and the plan's eventual rollout?

"What type of assistance can we expect post-rollout?"

Some brokers complete the initial transaction and then disappear, while others commit to maintaining an employer relationship after the plan has already been rolled out, even to the point of offering services similar to those of a dedicated account manager. Whatever the case, it's important for you to know exactly who to contact when you or your employees have questions about topics such as premiums, deductibles and dependent coverage.

"Are you up-to-date with regulations, including ACA changes?"

These days, any broker who can't demonstrate a working knowledge of changes to the Affordable Care Act should probably be taken off your list of candidates.

There are businesses out there who "go it alone" when it comes to selecting and implementing health insurance plans for their employees. But when you consider the value that a dedicated, collaborative broker can bring to your business, it's worth exploring your options before coming to a final decision.

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Tags: Employee Well-Being Benefits