The most successful benefits plans always incorporate three foundational
steps: customization, integration and measurement.
By Sally Pace and Christi Coleman
Open enrollment is right around the corner. As companies compete to attract and
retain talent in a bounce-back economy, many are looking to strong benefits plans
to set themselves apart. Yet just as employers are working to differentiate themselves
in a sea of hiring notices, benefits vendors are working to make their solutions stand
out to employers. So many competing interests can make the process of selecting
and finalizing a solution overwhelming: What do employees actually want, and what
vendors will actually deliver it?
The answers to these questions will be different for each employer, but the process to
reach them is surprisingly consistent. As we’ve worked with employers and
consultants to evaluate vendors and build health care solutions, we’ve observed that
the most successful benefits plans always incorporate three foundational steps:
customization, integration and measurement.
Here’s how you can incorporate this process into your 2022 benefits strategy to move
beyond a traditional benefit plan and make a true impact.
Step 1: Customize
The benefits industry is uber-traditional in many ways — most TPAs still require
members to fax in their documentation! But there is also a lot of innovation
happening in smaller, more nimble companies, making it more feasible than ever to
say “no” to an off-the-shelf plan.
Going fully custom requires context. Working on your own or with a benefits
consultant, perform an in-depth analysis of your population. Human resources and
benefits professionals already have a strong understanding of their company culture
and the pain points of their employees. Document and formalize that knowledge with
up-to-date surveys and analysis reports while digging deeper into benefits-related
statistics like your highest health care cost drivers (working with a consultant or third-
party vendor is the best way to get a snapshot of your population health data).
Once you have a strong understanding of your population’s needs, you can identify
opportunities for impact. For example, an older employee base with a high rate
of chronic disease will benefit from a stronger primary care solution, while a younger
population that works remotely may be clamoring for a virtual behavioral
health program. Keep in mind that a well-designed strategy will be built around
solutions that promote employee well-being, which will ultimately drive down your
cost. Working with an advisor or a source comparison site, you can narrow down
vendors in each category by the services and features that matter most to you.
Step 2: Integrate
Cherry-picking your offerings can give you a strong, tailored solution — as long as all
the solutions work in harmony with one another. To avoid overlap, unnecessary cost
and disjointed delivery, you’ll need to focus your broader strategy on the integration
of services. The easiest place to start is by reducing your number of vendor partners.
While you don’t want prepackaged, one-size-fits-all solutions, you do want to find
partners that prioritize appropriate in-house integration — so filter your search by
vendors that provide at least two of your top opportunities.
Also be sure to avoid duplication of services by understanding each vendor’s full
scope of services, starting with the program that will be your most significant
investment. You may be getting more than you bargained for, in a good way. For
example, employers usually select an advanced primary care solution because they
need on-site health care, but more robust offerings also include behavioral health,
second opinions, care coordination and virtual care. A vendor sourcing platform with
vetted comparison tools can be useful here instead of simply relying on the
messaging available on the vendor’s website. Understanding a vendor’s full capacity
before adding new programs can save you thousands of dollars, reduce your
management burden and streamline the employee experience.
If you’ve done your due diligence to whittle down the options and select vendors with
services that don’t overlap, chances are they will be more than happy to work
together. Consult the reviews on your vendor sourcing platform to glean information
on best practices and successful partnership arrangements, and set up introductions
and regular vendor integration meetings to facilitate strong working relationships,
data sharing and outreach opportunities. We’ve seen over and over again how the
success of each program — and by default, the overall benefits strategy — is
amplified with the shared resources and brainpower of a cooperating team of
Step 3: Measure
Use the power of data to foster vendor accountability and refine the program
approach. Perhaps the most important piece of advice we could give a benefits
professional is to define your success measures upfront. Collaborate with
organizational leadership to determine what concrete results constitute a successful
program and justify continued investment or expansion. Common metrics include
cost savings/ROI, clinical outcomes and member satisfaction.
Ask for referrals and read unbiased reviews about similar metrics presented to the
vendors you select to evaluate the feasibility of your expectations and ensure
transparency of your partner’s capabilities. Then share your final metrics with your
vendors to work collaboratively to achieve agreed-upon goals. Many vendors will even
place a percentage of fees at risk around the mutual program goals outlined in the
Schedule quarterly check-ins with each vendor to evaluate program results and areas
for improvement. Don’t wait until the end of the year or contract term to refine the
approach; continuously improve through honest communication and collaboration.
Continue to monitor vendor sites for any emerging new solutions and listen to
feedback from other employers as your company culture changes and the benefits
industry continues to innovate.
The process of selecting your benefits plan can be daunting. But with a focus on your
people’s needs, a collaborative approach and clearly defined goals, you are well on
your way to your best benefits year yet.