The new Affordable Care Act employee-counting requirements may be driving a major shift in the voluntary benefits enrollment community.

That’s the assessment of Kevin McNamara, a voluntary benefits enrollment specialist at the Standard, a Portland, Oregon-based unit of Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Co.

A few years ago, many employers and brokers handled the benefits enrollment process themselves.

Now, the federal government is applying the ACA employer “shared responsibility” rules. “Applicable large employers” are supposed to count how many full-time equivalent employees they have, and how many are offered affordable coverage with a minimum value. If an applicable large employer fails to offer enough of its employees minimum essential coverage, it may have to pay a penalty.

Related: The PPACA employee-counting time sponge

The rules are complicated to summarize, and even more complicated to follow.

McNamara said today in an interview that the switch to the new rules seems to be reducing employers’ and brokers’ interest in handling benefits enrollment on their own.

“It’s certainly increased the demand for benefits administration platforms,” McNamara said.

Because of that switch, and administrators’ rush to comply with the new ACA rules, many enrollment systems lack the kinds of decision support tools the employees need to understand their medical coverage, the holes in their group benefits, and the supplemental benefits options that could help plug the holes, McNamara said.

Related: 3 things workers say about high health plan deductibles

In some cases, when employers shift to online enrollment systems, and away from paper-based enrollment, without providing enough support, that can make the employee engagement problem worse, McNamara said.

Standard recently tried to fill the void by introducing a mobile phone-based app. (Or, more precisely, a Web-based optimized for mobile use). The company wants to appeal to the huge numbers of employees who use mobile phones and other mobile devices as their primary means for going online, McNamara said.

At one point, brokers may have thought of adding mobile-based apps as a frill.

Today, “it’s becoming a mandatory conversation point,” McNamara said.

McNamara says he thinks the market for non-medical benefits will be stable. (Image: Thinkstock)

McNamara says he thinks the market for non-medical benefits will be stable. (Image: Thinkstock)

2017 non-medical health benefits outlook

Standard itself is best known for writing disability insurance and group life insurance.

The company recently introduced critical illness insurance, accident insurance and hospital indemnity insurance.

McNamara said he thinks the outlook for the kinds of products Standard sells is good.

“For us, it’s pretty stable,” he said.

Employers and brokers are now getting used to the ACA rules, and they seem to be able to devote more of their attention to non-medical benefits, he said.

He said he also sees the private exchange movement growing nicely, with more broker support.

From the employee’s perspective, the private exchange enrollment process might look similar to the enrollment process available through traditional high-end, Web-based enrollment systems, McNamara said.

For the insurer, an emphasis on standardization of the plan types offered means that the process of moving an employer onto a good private exchange system is often simpler and faster than moving an employer onto the old enrollment systems used to be, McNamara said.

Another helpful force may be an increase in the number of group medical brokers with an interest in selling non-medical products, McNamara said.

To some extent, he said, that might be because of pressure on group health compensation.

The increase in interest in the non-medical health benefits “may also be because their importance is growing,” McNamara said.

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