The Health Insurance Buying Process, Part 2: Exploring Solutions

Making any sort of business investment means entering into what can be an intimidatingly complex process — and buying health insurance is no exception. Taking on a new health plan, or even just making changes to an existing one, involves reflection and research, trade-offs and backtracking and negotiating input from stakeholders with competing priorities, among other complications that can keep you and your team busy for months.

This series breaks the health insurance buying process down into six manageable steps. While you may have to revisit each step multiple times before making a final decision, understanding the formula for successful buying can help your organization move more efficiently toward your ultimate goals — keeping employees healthy and happy while maximizing your budget.

If you’ve identified the problems your organization faces and how new or improved health benefits can help fix them, it’s time for step two: exploring solutions. Keep in mind that figuring out exactly what a solution has to have to be the perfect fit will come a little later, as will settling on the carrier who’s going to supply it. For now, your job is to get a sense of what’s out there, how the available options compare to each other and how some of them might map onto the contours of your organization.

Exploring Insurance Plans

The health insurance landscape is a tricky terrain, so it may take some work to get your footing. Start by refreshing yourself on the basics of business health insurance and investigating industry updates. Do you know the difference between a PPO and an EPO plan, or the latest research on wellness program implementation? Browse online articles, download some white papers and brush up on the materials associated with your existing plan, if you have one.

From there, taking the following three steps will help give you a sense of the many health insurance options out there.

  1. Search independently. Conduct research online into different insurance companies and check out their employer plan offerings. Take into account plan design, doctor network options, pharmacy plans, and whether they offer supplemental plans like dental, vision, life and disability.
  2. Talk to a broker. As you search, keep in mind that you don’t have to make this decision in a vacuum. If you’re intimidated by the idea of evaluating the listed plans by yourself, consider strategizing with an insurance broker during this step. These professionals sell plans from multiple insurers, making comparing health insurance plans in your area that much easier. While of course they want your business, they understand that earning it means cultivating a trusting relationship. So don’t be afraid to explain where you are in the health insurance buying process and pose the questions you need answered to move forward. The more information they have about the problems you identified in step one, the better they’ll be able to help you identify solutions that will actually work for your business context.
  3. Use your network. Similarly, take a look around at what similar companies are doing. Get in touch with your contacts at other businesses and ask what their insurance offerings look like — and, more importantly, if they and their employees are happy with them. Consider also contacting trade groups or organizations within your industry to see if they have recommendations. If a health insurance plan has worked well for a similar business, it may be more likely to be a good fit for you, too. And when it comes to the ever more competitive recruitment and retention landscape, having a sense of what your competitors offer can help you make sure your benefits hold up in comparison.

Again, don’t feel pressure to make any decisions just yet. Based on the work you put into identifying the problem, you may think your criteria for choosing an option is set in stone, but it’s only natural for your requirements to shift as you get a better grasp of what’s actually out there. If you enter into solution exploration with too rigid a sense of what you want to find, you risk coming back with nothing.

Moving Forward From Reviewing Solutions

To begin to work toward the next step of the health insurance buying process, you need to analyze the data you gathered during solution exploration and package it for consideration by the rest of your team.

While you may be able to eliminate some options outright, it’s wise to chart out the various pros and cons that differentiate each alternative. Actually developing a visual representation of this information would be wise, first because it forces you to home in on important information and set up comparisons, second because it creates a quick, digestible reference guide for anyone stepping into the middle of the process.

Don’t just deliver raw data, though. Distill a few takeaways that can be debated by the wider group. Not everyone will agree with your ultimate assessment of what the best health insurance plans for your organization are, but providing a common starting point will keep the discussion focused and productive. If you have to go back to exploring your options — or even to nailing down the problems you’re trying to solve — don’t panic. It’s better to take time during the early stages to gain consensus than be surprised later by unknown variables.

Made your way through step two of the health insurance buying process? Keep going with step three: building your criteria. If you missed part one of this series, check it out here.

This content is provided solely for informational purposes. It is not intended as and does not constitute legal advice. The information contained herein should not be relied upon or used as a substitute for consultation with legal, accounting, tax and/or other professional advisers.

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