Recently, we published a blog article about the rising costs of employee benefits . We noted that employers blame increasing healthcare costs primarily on specialty pharma benefits, high-cost claimants, chronic diseases and conditions, and administrative expenses associated with enrolling employees and managing benefits.


Some employers are responding by reducing access to certain medications and/or care services. However, others are looking to positive, proactive solutions. They’re asking employees to participate more actively in choosing and using their own healthcare benefits. They’re introducing alternatives such as health savings accounts. They’re encouraging healthier behaviors through wellness programs. And they’re adopting new technology to educate, increase accessibility, and streamline everything.


So where are they getting all that new technology?


In many cases, from within the employee benefits industry. In August, Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser announced their 2017 Technology Innovator Awards . A review of the winners reveals broad, creative, future-forward thinking that’s benefiting benefits programs right now. Let’s look at a few examples.


Improving access to information

Many employers try to help employees get the most from their healthcare benefits by offering wellness programs, incentives for health or lifestyle improvements, etc. All too often, however, they say they are dismayed at the small percentage of employees who actually take advantage of these encouragements. Some companies say they have trouble simply getting participants to investigate what resources are available to them.


One such company was Fujifilm, where Director of Benefits, Carolyn Gordon, decided to take action. Back in 2011, she set to work revamping the company’s employee communication platform, to better inform people about available benefits options. Since then employee participation in company-offered health assessments and its incentive reward program has increased so dramatically, Fujifilm has been able to trim their medical budget by more than $5 million.


Employers are now using technology to inform employees about many aspects of their benefits – not only what is available, but how to take maximum advantage of those options, based on their own individual situation.


  • At ACI Specialty Benefits, Global Chief Information Officer Ryan Fay redesigned technology tools that help employers connect employees with personalized benefits information. These tools allow employers to create mobile-optimized websites along with an accompanying mobile app, offer text-based reminders and referrals, and facilitate employee access to ACI’s clinical network which includes HIPAA-compliant video live chat.


  • Along the same line, Mark Fitzgibbons, Head of Benefit Communications and Engagement at Holmes, Murphy and Associates, has developed an entire library of short videos employers can use to educate their plan participants about the smartest ways to use benefits resources.


  • Jason Langheier, CEO and founder of Zipongo, created an app that employees can use to make healthier eating choices. The app, which takes into account personalized data such as allergies, can be used to identify better food choices at work, in stores, at restaurants, and at home. The app also includes nutrition information and can assist with diabetes management.


  • And Ofer Leidner created a company called Happify so that employers could augment their benefits program with a mental health component. Happify’s app teaches employees to look within, to understand the source of their feelings so they can replace negative feelings with positive ones. There are more than 60 separate programs available, covering subjects such as mindfulness, resilience, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.


Improving administration

While companies understand the need to offer meaningful benefits packages, they also need to curb costs. Technology is helping them work smarter and more better, to save money and also achieve better results.


  • Tom Avery, of Innovative Broker Services, created PaperlessHR, an affordable and customizable software that enables SMBs to manage their benefits program from HR onboarding and benefits enrollment to payroll and regulatory compliance.


  • Another firm, Gusto, also makes software designed specifically for small businesses. Eric Schuchman, Head of Product Management for the company, along with his Benefits Team devised a platform that allows one-stop management of HSAs, FSAs, HRAs, and similar benefits options. The platform has integrated banking technology, a mobile app, and uses a single “smart debit card” payment system.


  • Richard Wolfe’s company, Empyrean Benefit Solutions, provides a variety of tech tools and services that enable employers of all sizes to streamline benefits management while ensuring 100% compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.


Other innovations include digital technology to assist insurance brokers in explaining and simplifying healthcare options for business clients, programs that teach employees about alternatives such as health savings and reimbursement accounts, and software that enables employers to better collate and analyze their company’s health data and costs.


But there’s more

Beyond concerns about the cost of offering and managing healthcare benefits, employers know they must offer an entire suite of relevant benefits in order to recruit and retain top talent. Technology innovations are helping employers offer a wider range of valuable benefits, too. For example:


  • Rachel Carlson’s company, Guild Education, provides Education-as-a-Benefit, through a platform that links employees with classes at multiple universities.


  • Dean Harris, Chief Technology Officer at iGrad, developed a platform that allows employers to offer financial wellness benefits in the form of comprehensive, engaging financial education programs. The platform is both cost- and time-efficient for employers.


  • David Klein’s company, CommonBond, offers another SaaS benefit, this one specifically aimed at helping employees more effectively manage and pay down their student loans. Services include personalized recommendations on choosing the best pay-down options.


As employer and employee needs and preferences change, workplace benefits continue to evolve. There’s no doubt that bright minds within and outside the industry will continue to expand the employee benefits marketplace with technology designed to address those evolving needs. Who knows what will be next?

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