Ease Survey Reveals Pandemic Had Significant Impact on Employee Benefits

66% of businesses shifted benefits strategies; more than half changed health insurance brokers during pandemic

Ease, a leading HR and benefits software solution for small businesses, insurance brokers, and insurance carriers, today released the findings from its 2021 Guide to Better Serving Employers, outlining the pandemic’s impact on how business leaders have altered employee insurance benefits and priorities for 2021. The report, which surveyed 644 HR and executive leaders at companies between 1 – 500 employees that offer health insurance benefits to their employees, found that 66% of businesses reported a shift in their benefits strategy as a result of the pandemic. For both businesses and employees, the pandemic has highlighted the need to be more proactive about making good health care choices.

“Tracking how sentiments around health benefits are changing is critical to understanding the needs of policyholders”

Of the businesses surveyed, more than half (53%) changed health insurance brokers in the past 12 months. The smallest among them—those with fewer than 50 employees—were the most likely to have changed brokers, with 61% of them reporting they made a change. Accelerated pressures of the pandemic drove business leaders to prioritize cost limitation and pursue options that offer better service and more options.

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“Tracking how sentiments around health benefits are changing is critical to understanding the needs of policyholders,” said David Reid, CEO and co-founder of Ease. “The pandemic has uprooted workplace norms, increased health care costs, and decreased the mental and physical well-being of employees. Our survey findings give greater insight into what executives and HR leaders are looking to prioritize in terms of employee benefits, how those have shifted, and what insurance brokers and agencies need to do more of in order to earn and retain business.”

SMBs Priorities in 2021

With the shift in employee benefits strategies during the pandemic, businesses are taking an employee-centered approach this year as they embrace solutions that provide more options and flexibility. Survey respondents listed these top five priorities for 2021:

  1. Employee health and well-being (53%)
  2. Managing claims and developing strategies to cut costs while keeping employees satisfied (40%)
  3. Improving employee satisfaction and engagement (37%)
  4. Increasing employee productivity (36%)
  5. Cost-containment of health care prices (35%)

Businesses are focused on finding the ideal suite of care benefits to maximize cost savings, all while taking into account the newfound focus on health care benefits brought about by the pandemic. To help achieve that high-quality care while still lowering costs, more businesses are turning to technology.

Benefits Go Digital; Holistic HR & Benefits Solutions are Rising

Rapid digitization during the pandemic left HR leaders with little choice but to adapt and simplify the sharing and exchange of data—which included finding ways to enhance connectivity between different digital platforms through API-based integrations. When selecting vendors to integrate with their current HR technology, the top three most important factors selected by the businesses surveyed were “mobile app for smartphones and tablets” at 44%, followed closely by “data is sent directly to my insurance carriers” at 42% and “integrates with my payroll system” at 39%. These responses further the trend towards personalization and having seamless solutions for managing benefits and HR tasks.

Further, HR benefits and payroll solutions are merging. Small businesses especially are working with several technology platforms and third-party administrators who can help them achieve greater efficiency and can offer better service with holistic HR and benefits solutions. Of the businesses surveyed, 75% work with a health insurance broker to offer employee benefits, while 25% do not. However, of those who work with a broker, 45% said that they also work with an HR software provider, 37% with a payroll system, and 32% with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO). Only 10% of respondents said they don’t work with any of those besides their broker.

The findings also highlight opportunities for transformation among those who have yet to make the digital leap, as 36% of respondents currently conduct employee benefits enrollment through paper forms, and 26% still use paper forms to manage changes. However, among those who use health insurance brokers, 28% of them are seeking more help from brokers in “finding technology to easily enroll and manage benefits without paper forms.” This response was even more common among businesses with more than 100 employees, as 35% of those respondents prioritized getting a technological benefits solution from their broker.

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Push for Personalization

Outpacing even a desire for new technology from their brokers, respondents mostly want assistance with personalized benefits education and materials to help engage employees, with 45% noting this as their top demand. Not far behind on the list of priorities were looking for help with analyzing claims data and better cost-estimating tools, at 34% and 32%, respectively.

The relationship between brokers and their carriers or policyholders is a critical step in the administration process. The report found that employers want to empower their employees to feel in control of their benefits, as opposed to settling for the options available to them. This push toward digitization and personalization can simultaneously address cost-cutting needs, while enhancing employee well-being. In fact, 54% of businesses think benefits administration technology will play a bigger role for them in 2021 when compared to years past. Of businesses that selected a benefits administration solution as their preferred method to manage changes, 54% said they’ve changed or are considering changing their benefits solution.

HR leaders and executives are also looking to curate the way in which they receive information and stay up to date on benefits and insurance information for their employees. The three most common responses on where they’re getting their information were email and newsletters (51%), social media (44%), and search engines, like Google (38%). This digital reliance creates a new point-of-entry to reach those business leaders and explore new benefits and HR solutions.

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