Although the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has undoubtedly changed the health insurance market, it may not be for the reasons that most people think. What’s clear, however, is that employee benefits professionals need to adapt to new customer needs and expectations.

In other words, they need to learn how to thrive rather than merely survive.

Legislation has forced a shift in the employee benefits landscape while at the same time calling for higher quality care for all. It’s also helped make health care more accessible and affordable.

But the real change has come in the form of transparency demands from a wave of consumers who are taking charge of their own health care.

Listen to the webcast: Roadmap: How to Make Sure You Thrive in 2025

Change is also surfacing in the new roles many insurance professionals find themselves called to fill: advisor, innovator, strategic partner and futurist. A number of emerging trends will, over the coming decade, move brokers away from simply offering products and toward a more educational and consultative role, according to findings in Aflac’s “Healthcare 2025” study, which was conducted by Research Now and based on survey responses form 1,024 employers and 2,047 consumers.

Are brokers ready?

Aflac’s study offered a look at where the industry might be headed, and how brokers can prepare.

Today’s employers are being asked to do more with less. This means that brokers can play a key role by stepping in and offering innovative solutions. For instance, brokers might educate employees about the process and value of their total benefits package. Otherwise, a poor benefits experience could reflect badly on the employer.

Higher out-of-pocket costs are also driving demand for a retail marketplace and a redefined employer value proposition. While most employers see benefits as a way to attract and retain quality talent, roughly 90 percent of employees typically choose the same benefits year after year, according to Aflac’s 2015 WorkForces Report, which also was conducted by Research Now. This shows that employees perhaps don’t see the value of flexible coverage.

This phenomenon isn’t likely to keep occurring in this wave of health care consumerism, though. That is why brokers and consultants should reframe the benefits experience from a “check-the-box” activity for employees toward a solutions-based, individualized strategy.

Companies have, in a way, already begun to offer employees more control options rather than simply selecting blanket coverage for hundreds or thousands of employees.

How does the price of coverage factor into the whole equation? According to the Aflac Healthcare 2025 study, even though price can be a determining variable for employees when it comes to their health care plans’ overall value, it is neither the only nor the most important factor.

Benefits are simply a great way for employees and employers to manage overall financial risk. Many brokers are already offering solutions. In fact, 75 percent of employers feel that their brokers provide them with the best benefit options for their employees, and 81 percent of employers believe that their brokers understand their workforce’s needs, according to Aflac’s research.

Even in the midst of change, there lies a real opportunity for insurance brokers and consultants. In the coming years, employers will be called upon to offer this decision-making support to their employees. Brokers who are ready and able to help them do so are the ones who will succeed in this new environment.

With all this in mind, brokers should place consultation, education and support at the head of their priorities. And while technology provides 24/7 information and education along with myriad other conveniences, many employees agree that having access to a “real human” with whom they can discuss health care options is simply priceless.

Thriving in the year 2025 and beyond

Insurance professionals are more important to their clients today than ever before. The ACA already spurred numerous changes, and there are more to come. To succeed in the retail health care market over the next decade, brokers will need to adopt strategies for meeting consumer demands for speed, convenience and transparency.

So when it comes to the health care marketplace, how can brokers determine whether or not they’re on track? One way is to ask whether or not they’re ready to consult, provide support and respond to questions — some of which they may never have had to answer in the past.

As we move closer to 2025, the broker’s reaction to these trends will set the tone for the future of the employee benefits marketplace.

Listen to the webcast: Roadmap: How to Make Sure You Thrive in 2025

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a solicitation.

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