EBLF Health+Benefits

Reimagining How To Sell and Service Clients

The war for talent, leveraging technology, and a new transparency regime.
By Katie King Posted on July 30, 2021

Leader’s Edge sat down with current chair Pete Gruenberg, EVP of OneDigital, and vice chair Rod Cruickshank, CEO of The Partners Group, to get their take on what keeps employers up at night and the biggest opportunities brokers have to leverage data transparency practices.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing employee benefits brokers and consultants right now?

Cruickshank: Our employers’ inability to meet and address go-forward strategies versus juggling current events of COVID-19. COVID claims were suppressed due to the delivery system shuttering elective procedures and many others fearing clinical environments during the peak of pandemics. The result? Low claims volume and self-funded employers enjoying low loss ratios. This caused a pent-up care demand that is on the horizon and will stress the delivery system, already understaffed and in the red.

Also, the proliferation of technology offers to employers. Thousands of new insurtech and brokertech offers, which leave brokers with limited ability to test drive, thus bombarding brokers and clients with shiny new opportunities.

Gruenberg: The first is data and claims transparency, specifically better access to client and provider as well as pharmacy benefit management (PBM) data to improve cost management and patient care outcomes. In addition, leveraging our own respective firms’ unstructured data to enhance organic growth—I’d frame this as more of an opportunity! The second is broker compensation transparency rules. These new regulations have most Council member firms leaning in to determine how best to comply with prospective annual client compensation disclosure requirements starting in 2022. The third is the war for talent: finding/retaining talent in a post COVID-19 environment.

What is one business/professional opportunity you have now as a result of the pandemic?

Gruenberg: The pandemic has certainly created many challenges, but one bright light is how we’ve all been forced to reimagine how we sell and service our clients. Whether it’s designing health plans that are more responsive to telehealth services or more permanently embracing virtual settings for internal meetings with our teams and external meetings with our clients–the end result is we need to be prepared to challenge the status quo.

Cruickshank: Recruit new talent: The insurance brokerage business grew during COVID-19; many firms expanded and kept one hundred percent employment. I believe that type of industry performance gives us a story to tell about the resiliency and relevance of our business to a new generation of people seeking careers.

Some business leaders believe that the cost of health benefits will become unsustainable over the next 5-10 years. What kind of changes might that mean for employer-sponsored insurance?

Cruickshank: I’ve been in the insurance business for over 35 years—this has been a concern for the past 20 years. With that said, certainly we can do a better job as a system, but it’s slow in coming.

With expansion of Medicaid and growth in Medicare, government-funded business is over half of the marketplace. The cost shift is real for employer-sponsored insurance (ESI), but as long as rates follow the consumer price index (CPI), business will largely be okay. I’ve always considered the cost shift as a tax on successful businesses. The current political environment would seemingly support and welcome the private business sector to continue to pay more to support government plans.

The current political environment also will not allow for significant change in healthcare, and that may extend for the foreseeable future (two to six years) so I predict a steady diet of incremental state legislation instead of sweeping federal rule. More support of public options in states, reference-based pricing for government plans, and business as usual for ESI.

Gruenberg: There’s no doubt that we need to continue implementing innovative and bold cost-saving solutions for our clients, but as an industry, I firmly agree with Rod that we can collectively make a difference. Since ESI is still the most efficient model for delivering open-market health coverage to 160 million Americans, we need to be increasingly aligned in our advocacy efforts, at both the federal and state level.

We can double-down our efforts to have politicians understand how a public/private partnership is a better way to address cost and coverage issues versus more sweeping government intervention that could ultimately pave the way toward a single payer system.

EBLF is 20 years old. How is this year’s meeting different from years past?

Gruenberg: After being forced to cancel last year’s EBLF conference, I would best describe our 20-year anniversary as a celebratory event. For most of us, this will be our first conference or large gathering in about 18 months. For me, that makes this one of the most highly anticipated and exciting EBLFs ever!

Cruickshank: The “who” that are members has changed the most. With close to 5,000 independent firms selling to private equity or publicly traded firms over the past six years, the landscape is very different. The big got bigger, and private equity will have a lasting impact on the business, for better or worse.

After 20 years, EBLF has established itself as the premier gathering place of the nation’s very best agencies.

Katie King Vice President, Health Policy & Strategy, The Council Read More

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