As employers continue to be challenged to reduce costs and increase the productivity of their employees, the pressure is on brokers to understand their needs. Brokers are critical in helping employers meet the dual demands of selecting the most appropriate insurance plan and keeping employees healthy and productive.

The following tips may help you become a more useful resource to your small business clients in controlling employees’ health care use, maintaining a healthier lifestyle and ultimately, saving money.

Educate your clients. Health insurance can be complicated, and many people do not fully understand their plans or take advantage of all their benefits. A recent CIGNA survey found that Americans spend only 30 minutes reviewing their health plan. In comparison, they spend an average of eight hours researching the purchase of a new vehicle. Brokers can help fill this education gap by understanding the needs of their clients and whether they are looking for a plan that offers control and flexibility or one that provides predictability and financial protection.

Take action to protect your clients’ asset–its employees. In working with smaller employers on ways to save money and protect their valuable asset, look for plans that feature built-in designs that help measure the overall health of an employee population. Among tools that are often used within plans are health risk assessments and trend-management software for small businesses that can predict risk and high-use claimants two to three years out. Looking for health trends early can help businesses decide what additional resources might be offered to help ease emerging health issues–from encouraging smoking cessation to implementing a disease and weight management program.

Know all the plan benefits. Preventive care is covered in many health plans, at no cost to the employee. Regular checkups and screenings can help avert potential problems or catch conditions early, before the cost of treatment skyrockets. Plan options such as a 24-hour health information line staffed by registered nurses help clients reduce medical costs by directing employees to appropriate care or helping them comply with doctor’s orders.

Understand prescription plans. As costs rise for medications, it’s imperative that members of an employer’s plan understand the importance of following prescriptions. Drug prices often make up one of the largest costs for businesses, and smaller companies may be more affected by these costs than larger firms are. Some drug options such as mail-order delivery can often reduce costs, and many plans encourage use of generic medication rather than more expensive brand names. Some even offer online tools that can help plan members identify low-cost generic options from local pharmacies.

Focus on the wellness trend. More companies are interested in wellness programs during these tough times, to help reduce absenteeism and increase the productivity of their employees. Discounts of up to 60% on wellness programs, such as smoking cessation or weight management, are included in many plans but often are underused. These types of preventive benefits can reduce the risk for illness and lessen the chance of developing more serious conditions, such as heart disease or cancer.

Manage stress for your clients. Rising unemployment rates, the economic recession and fear of losing 401(k) and retirement plans are compounding the everyday stress and worry that we all face.

Surveys show money and work are two of the top sources of stress for most Americans. Help your small business clients understand the benefits and potential costs of offering employee assistance programs that can help their employees decrease stress or focus on other health issues.

Knowing the many options available will make you a valued resource in helping your clients keep their employees productive, happy and healthy.