The biggest U.S. employers are starting to get past the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) implementation frenzy and focus more on workforce productivity improvement.
Stan Celich, the national accounts distribution leader for the U.S. arm of Sun Life Financial (TSX:SLF), gave that assessment during a recent interview about the state of the U.S. benefits market.
Sun Life recently expanded its U.S. operation by acquiring a large employee benefits business from Assurant (NYSE:AIZ). The company has been an active supporter of the Disability Insurance Awareness Month campaign, which ended Tuesday.
Marc Warrington, an executive who came over from Assurant, is overseeing benefits sales to small and midsize employers. Celich is overseeing sales of group disability insurance and absence management services to employers with 2,000 or more employees.
In the jumbo market, Celich sees less PPACA terror.
The jumbo employers “understand their options,” Celich said. “It’s really turned a corner.”
A year or two ago, the large-employer human resources and benefits managers Celich talked to were obsessing about counting employees and creating Form 1095-C PPACA coverage notices. Now, “there’s a level of comfort” with employee counting, he said.
The large-employer benefits buyers he meets are less comfortable with the idea that they can handle Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) compliance and other absence-related compliance matters. “Employers are actively looking to outsource that,” Celich said. “They’re looking for help.”
Celich also sees hunger for detailed, dashboard information that employers can use to hold workers’ medical claims down while increasing their ability to come to work and perform.
In the jumbo market, he said, the hunger for detailed health data is one of the major forces driving employers to consider shifting to self-insured health plans, Celich said.
Celich described the sales environment for large group disability and absence-management programs as steady. The number of employees at jumbo employers has been increasing since the end of the Great Recession, but more slowly than he expected, and wage growth has been modest.
The rise of private insurance exchanges has been one bright spot.
“We’re seeing the exchanges continue to grow,” Celich said. “It’s definitely a growing space.”
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