Benefits renewal season is officially upon us. And this year, it may get complicated. With several concerning trends piling up, many employers may be in for an unpredictable (and potentially expensive) negotiation process.
The best thing you can do to safeguard your renewal strategy? Start preparing now — with your broker as your closest ally.
Navigating renewals can sometimes feel like putting a puzzle together in the dark. But that's why you have a broker. As the expert on healthcare renewals, your broker should act as your support system, defender, and guide through every step.
To help you kickstart the process, our resident renewals guru, Marcus Osborne, SVP of Walmart Health (and Nava advisor), shares four key questions that you should be asking your broker now.
1. Can you present a strategy and timeline for building a set of alternatives to my existing vendors ahead of our renewal?
Renewal season is your chance to try something new in your healthcare plan. But if you're considering bringing on a new vendor, don't go into it blindly. Your broker should take the lead in strategizing and proposing alternatives.
"If you think there's an opportunity on your plan to be creative... to create value for your plan, I would say you've got to push your broker," Marcus emphasized. "Say, 'You've got to give me the strategy and the timeline that shows me how these sort of alternatives would play out.'"
2. What cost-saving strategies can we deploy this renewal with minimal disruption to our employees?
After last year, many employers are looking to cut costs for the health of their business. At the same time, recruiting and retaining talented employees is becoming more challenging by the day. In April 2021 alone, 4 million people left their jobs in search of something better. Clearly this is not the time to make any stressful changes to your benefits offering.
Cutting costs without creating complications for your employees — it's a tricky balance to achieve, so look to your broker for guidance.
For example, implementing a prior authorization policy may be an effective path to cost savings, but if you do take that route, do so thoughtfully. By requiring patients to get approval before receiving certain services, prior authorization can cut back on the amount of unnecessary care rendered — but it also runs the risk of causing frustration for employees. "A lot of employers have said, 'I'm backing away from it, because I don't want to make my employees mad,'" Marcus said.
"But what I'll tell you is that there have been a number of groups we've seen who have now come up with creative solutions that are actually quite of huge value to do the kind of prior auth type thing in a different way."
3. What digital health solutions specific to my employee population should I consider?
The good news? With all the digital health solutions on the market, there's sure to be an option to address your specific needs.
The bad news? Sorting through the sheer volume of options is half the battle. And the first step is having a deep, nuanced understanding of your employee population.
And if Walmart — the largest buyer of healthcare in the US — is finding this challenging, we can only imagine what it's like for a sole HR person. "I am overwhelmed by the amount of digital health solutions that are out there today," Marcus shared. "So in an environment where I don't have a clear understanding and deep insights on my employees, and their health, and their needs — I wouldn't go into the digital health realm."
But by working with your broker to arm yourself with that knowledge, you can build a plan to meet your employees' unique healthcare needs.
"If you know, for example, that the bulk of your spending is in maternity, that allows you to be very focused and deliberate around what digital health solutions are proven to be the most effective for helping women during pregnancy... And those are things that your broker should know."
Want more help finding the best digital health vendors for your employees' needs? Check out the Nava Benefits Search Engine to explore 600+ vendors across 28 benefits categories, read reviews from real HR leaders, and get a quote for free.
4. What alternative higher-performing network options are available to me?
With a high performance network, your enrolled employees can visit a select group of doctors that are cheaper in price but deliver clinical outcomes that can be just as good (or even better) than the alternative. However, not all networks will give you the best value for your money — and in many cases, you get what you pay for.
"Because of what I see coming, it's hard for me to imagine how cost is going to be managed effectively without doing something around the network," Marcus explained. "And I'm leery of the old school, limited network play, because limited network play is purely based on cost."
Rather than focusing solely on the price tag, Marcus urges employers to turn their attention to the whole picture. "Let's think about higher performing networks that are based on quality, appropriateness — those kind of things. How can I avail myself of them?"
Above all, your broker should be your trusted partner and guide.
No one's expecting you to be a benefits renewal mastermind. That's what your broker is for. And as Marcus put it so aptly, "Frankly, any good group, any good partner should be able to step in and help you on those things."
Watch the full video from our fireside chat with Marcus:
Have more questions Marcus didn't answer? Our team is here to help.