Too many employers regard their health insurance providers as typical vendors, viewing them in the same light as the company that provides your office supplies. But health benefits are not toner cartridges, and your health benefits provider is not just another supplier! There are several reasons you should work collaboratively with your benefits provider to add maximum value to your business.

When Choosing Plans

Health benefits packages can be varied and complicated. Even if your human resources department provides you with all the necessary documents, it’s still essential to be able to discuss the pros and cons of various plans with your benefits provider. There’s no substitute for a live person on the other end of the telephone who can engage you in a dialogue, ask questions about your workforce and answer any questions you may have about offered benefits. That conversation is essential for making an informed decision when choosing a plan for your business.

During Enrollment

While enrolling employees in your benefits programs, it’s important to maintain contact with your health insurance provider. There are several reasons for this. First, as knowledgeable as you or your HR manager may be, unusual or unexpected questions will always arise that require “going to the source.” Second, your benefits provider may offer direct access to websites or other resources that your employees can use to choose the benefits plan that meets their needs. Finally, you and your employees will feel that you are developing a relationship with your benefits provider, and establishing this connection early is key to a successful ongoing relationship.

Staying in Touch

That ongoing relationship with your benefits provider takes several forms. Many providers maintain websites that offer health and wellness advice to your employees. Others offer a patient portal that affords easy access to appointment scheduling, reminders and other wellness-enhancing tools; this will particularly help any employees who have family members with chronic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Your benefits provider may offer a variety of patient engagement tools that can help avoid unnecessary emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

Toner cartridges and printer paper are interchangeable parts, but the value you get from great health insurance providers is not easily replaceable. You can’t have a profitable collaboration with a ream of paper, but you can and should collaborate with your benefits provider to keep your employees healthy and productive.

David E. Williams is president of Health Business Group, a strategy consulting firm serving clients in technology-enabled health care services, pharmaceuticals, biotech, medical devices and software. He is frequently quoted in the media on the business of health care and is the author of the Health Business Blog. David sits on the board of both private health care companies and nonprofits.