Whether you’ve grown to the point of being required by the Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as the ACA or Obamacare) or you’re finally ready to offer health insurance benefits after a year filled with a global health emergency, you’ll likely come across a health insurance broker at some point in your process.
Have you never heard of a health insurance broker before? Do you know what they do, but not how they work or what it means for you and your small business? Whether you’re looking for a new broker to replace a less-than-desirable current broker or you’re in the health plan shopping market for the first time, here are all the basics of finding a great health benefits broker.
Health benefits brokers versus agents
What’s the difference between a health benefits broker and an agent? Just a name? Nope, there’s a bit more to it than that.
Health benefits brokers often sell insurance from multiple insurance companies. This means that they can help you to truly figure out which insurance company has the most to offer for you and your unique small business. Brokers either work on commission paid for by insurance companies or they charge a flat fee to the businesses they work with.
Agents, on the other hand, typically work for one insurance carrier and function more like a sales and customer service hybrid. It might sound like using a broker is a no-brainer (and for some it is). However, the benefit of an agent is that they usually have the power to lower costs and make changes more easily since they’re embedded within one singular insurance company rather than working tangentially with many.
Brokers either work on commission paid for by insurance companies or they charge a flat fee to the businesses they work with. Agents, on the other hand, typically work for one insurance carrier and function more like a sales and customer service hybrid.[/blockquote]
What do health insurance brokers do?
If you’ve ever looked into what it takes to provide health insurance to your workers, you’ve found that it’s … complicated to say the least. Brokers are there to help cut through the noise and not only make sense of it all, but find the best solution for your employee health insurance needs.
Of course it’s possible to do it on your own, but many busy small business owners prefer to outsource this task to brokers.
Research and understanding your needs are key
Before you even set out to find a health benefits broker, the first thing you’ll want to do is take an inventory of your needs. Do you need special services like multiple language translations? By knowing what you need, you can find the best person to deliver it for you.
Then, once you start looking, you’ll want to entrust this task to someone who has an established reputation.
[blockquote align=”right”]One of the best ways to find a good health insurance broker is to ask for referrals.[/blockquote]
One of the best ways to find a good health insurance broker is to ask for referrals. If you know other small business owners whose companies are similar to yours, ask them about who they use or who their other small business owning friends use.
If referrals don’t turn anything up, there’s good old desktop research. By exploring everything, from scouring Yelp and the Better Business Bureau to calling your state’s insurance commissioner’s consumer number to check on disciplinary backgrounds, research is your friend.
Not sure where to start looking? The National Association of Health Underwriters has a search tool that works as a great first step.
What to ask potential health benefits brokers
Once you have your candidates narrowed down to a few (or now that you have a solid referral and you just want to double check things), it’s time to ask them questions about what they can offer. Things you’ll want to cover include:
- How the referral process works. Whether there are referral fees or the renewal process is uncomfortably short, you’ll want to know how the process is handled before you’re signed up. Most renewal processes start 90 or even 120 days before the day you need to renew and include strategic meetings to make changes to your existing plan based on your business’s evolution over the previous year.
- Whether or not you’ll have a dedicated account manager. If you go with a broker who works within a larger firm or an agent at one company, you’ll want to know how you can expect questions, concerns, and issues to be handled throughout the year. Is there just one person you call or will you be routed to a call center?
Remember: there is no 100% right or wrong answer, just what does (or doesn’t) work best for you.
If you want help searching for a broker, check out the Zenefits Health Insurance Marketplace, Easily shop for a group insurance quote supported by one of our Certified Brokers and Carriers, so you know you and your employees get the best health coverage.