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Benefits brokers: key conversations to have with clients

Take the lead on important conversations with your clients. Here's what employers have top of mind as we navigate the pandemic together!


By Haleigh Tebben and Marianne Holt

At Collective Health, we’re in a fortunate position. We get to spend a lot of time talking to innovative employers and incredibly thoughtful consultants from across the nation. As you can imagine, the last few weeks have been filled with these conversations. We want to take a moment to share what we’re hearing. Specifically, we want to help our consulting partners understand the themes and discussions that feel very important right now.

This current phase of COVID-19 will eventually end, but it will forever impact how we think about our benefits strategies. This is a time for consultants to be more proactive than ever in taking the lead. So what conversations should you be having with your clients right now?

#1 We may be stating the obvious, but your clients need a COVID-19 benefits strategy

The reality is that the impact of COVID-19 on benefit costs is hard to predict. Health insurance renewals this year will likely be more difficult to manage than previous years. As consultants, you should be proactively helping your clients plan for unexpected fluctuations and arm them with the strategies that will enable them to pivot quickly at renewal time, no matter which way the wind blows.

Here are key topics to address:

  • Bring together claims, clinical, and member engagement data to summarize the impact that COVID-19 is having on members and the broader health benefits program. Consider crafting an executive summary for company leadership. They’re listening right now.
  • What does your client need to immediately start doing, or stop doing, as a result of COVID-19?
  • Discuss plan design and benefits offering changes that address emerging needs.

#2 Your clients need to have a Return to Work strategy so that when the time comes, employees can safely get back to the workplace

As communities start to slowly get back to “normal”, benefits leaders will be expected to have a process that allows employees to return to the workforce. In doing so, it will be their responsibility to ensure the safety and health of all their employees. Consultants will inevitably be leaned on to understand what resources are available to support companies in the appropriate return to work strategy. Your conversation needs to start now so that everyone is prepared when that day does come.

Here are key topics to address:

  • Determine which testing protocols should be used to ensure a safe return to the workplace.
  • Talk through what technology infrastructure will be required to know and track if employees have followed those clinical protocols before they return to work.
  • Discuss what will be required to effectively balance workplace safety and employee privacy concerns.

#3 COVID-19 should not mean that you lose out on a year of strategic planning

It’s no secret that benefits leaders are, and must, be focused on specific COVID-19 work. One potential repercussion is that broader benefits strategy discussions are put on hold. However, this shouldn’t be the case. Consultants, you can play a key role in helping the strategic planning continue on behalf of your clients. This is the time for you to take the lead in driving the strategy so that when benefits leaders can come up for air, most of the heavy lifting has been done.

Here are key topics to address:

  • Recommend an update to their 3-year roadmap, based on what you know about the company and what is happening in the market.
  • Brainstorm how to pull in the larger leadership team to get their buy-in and support of the multi-year strategy, especially at a time where health benefits have increased visibility.
  • If fully-insured, discuss if the threat of COVID-19 driven large annual renewals means that this is the year to go self-funded.

#4 Technology capabilities are more important than ever when assessing benefits solutions

These volatile times have made it clear that technology-based benefits solutions are more important than they have ever been. The result is that benefits leaders should be pushing for more innovative benefits programs and platforms. To help, bring forth benefits solutions now–ones that are not only tech-enabled but that are also flexible and nimble–so that benefits leaders have the right benefits partners onboard to help them navigate through whatever the world throws at them.

Here are key topics to address:

  • Do a quick audit of current partners and how they’ve responded to COVID-19—who showed the most agility? Which customer support teams were the most proactive? Did any service levels drop?
  • Suggest 2-3 areas where better technology can improve plan administration and/or member experience and offer to connect clients to other benefits leaders who have implemented similar solutions recently.
  • Share opportunities to introduce virtual care, including primary care and behavioral health, into your benefits offering.

#5 Don’t forgo assessing new benefits partners because you’re short on time. Think RFQ not RFP.

Even if benefits leaders want to make a change in their benefits partner(s), they are going to have limited time to do so. As a result, going through a full market review may feel daunting. Consultants can encourage continued program exploration, but recommend that clients conduct an RFQ (Request for a Quote) versus a full RFP (Request for a Proposal). This will allow benefits leaders to still conduct a market review and vendor evaluation, but in a nimbler way.

Here are key topics to address:

  • Create a shortlist of high priority vendors and programs to evaluate this year.
  • Craft a plan to efficiently vet and select those vendors, looking to move from RFPs to RFQs where possible.
  • Put together vendor profiles and/or information packets that will make it easier for your clients to make an informed decision, without requiring time and resource-intensive proposal processes.

Now more than ever, employers are looking to you, their consultants, to help navigate change and define the path forward. At Collective Health, we’re constantly inspired by the employer/consultant partnerships that we see all around us.

At a time like this, may we all feel like we’re surrounded by the right partners. Few things are more important than that.

Want to learn more about what it’s like to partner with Collective Heath? We’d love to talk with you.

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