David Rodeck

The Health Insurance Buying Process, Part 4: Selecting a Supplier

Making any sort of business investment means entering into what can be an intimidatingly complex process — and the health insurance buying process 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’re reading this, you’re somewhere around the halfway mark of the buying process for your new health insurance plan. You’ve identified the problems your insurance plan will solve, taken a broad overview of the market and determined what your ideal plan looks like. Now it’s time to narrow down the list of possible insurers through step four: selecting a supplier.

Exploring Supplier Selection for Health Insurance

Depending on where your business is located, you’ll likely have a number of different health insurance companies to choose from. You’ve likely consulted a health insurance broker to help explore your options. Using your initial research and requirements building, you can now properly evaluate who might potentially be a good fit for your organization.

Regardless of the size of your company, you should contact any insurers you’re considering working with and request a proposal. They can send over one of their agents to present how their plan would benefit your employees. Pay as close attention to the tone of the meeting as to the plan details. Part of your supplier selection should involve finding a local health insurance agent with whom you believe you could form a good relationship — they’ll be your main contact with the company, and it’s worth searching for someone who’s genuine and approachable.

To quickly compare multiple proposals, you can also meet with an insurance broker who represents plans from different insurance companies. Not only can a broker speed up the process, but they can give you a comparison of the best insurance plans in your area since they’re not tied to just one insurance company. Be sure to prepare the right questions to ask your broker during the meeting.

Once you’ve started discussing options with insurers or a broker, look to the following three strategies for guidance on effectively whittling down your list.

  1. Revisit trade-offs. In step three, you should have listed possible trade-offs for your health insurance plan, along with how they rank in order of importance. As you review proposals from different insurers, keep these priorities in mind. If your employees said keeping out-of-pocket costs low was their highest priority, for example, you can start weeding out insurers with high deductibles and copays.
  2. Evaluate implementation challenges. Ask insurers about their process for onboarding a new workforce. How efficient is their sign-up process — will employees need to fill everything out by hand, or can they file the forms online? If you’re replacing an existing health insurance plan, how different or similar will a new one be in terms of provider network, coverage for prescriptions and out-of-pocket costs? Too many changes that don’t address the problem the plan was chosen to fix could frustrate your employees.
  1. Solicit end-user feedback and references. Ultimately, you’re setting up a new health insurance plan for the benefit of your employees. When you’ve narrowed your list down to just a few contenders, considering surveying your staff one more time to see if they have a preference between the health insurance plans still under consideration. Make sure to point out the key trade-offs between the plans. Also look to other companies for insight — your top candidates should be able to provide references from similar businesses showing what existing clients think of them.

Moving Forward From Supplier Selection

Remember that in this step, your goal isn’t actually to pick your vendor yet — you’re just trying to eliminate insurers who aren’t the right fit for your needs. There’s a lot that goes into that, so during your discussions with your employees, insurers and broker, don’t lose sight of the big picture. When in doubt, refer back to the problem your organization wants to solve with this new health insurance plan. That should be the guiding force behind your decisions as you pick a few plan supplier finalists and move on to the next step.

If you’re not sure about a certain plan or insurer, ask for more information or an additional meeting. Buying an insurance plan will involve a year-long agreement, at minimum, for your entire staff, and finding a good long-term insurance partner takes time. A strong provider should understand your need to properly handle the buying process and won’t try to rush you. If they respond to this well, it’s a good indicator of what kind of experience they’ll deliver in an established professional relationship.

Made your way through step four of the health insurance buying process? Keep going with step five, validation — or see what you missed in parts one, two and three.