February 18, 2021

What to Start (and Stop) Doing, According to America's Leading Benefits Experts

The Nava Team

Released in late 2020, Mercer's latest "National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans" found that larger employers were not only planning to enrich their 2021 benefits, but also saw the lowest annual health cost increase in over two decades, coming in at 1.9%. But smaller employers? It's a whole different story as they've experienced increases of 6.9%, almost 3x higher than their larger peers. So, what gives? How are larger employers containing costs while also expanding their benefits to support employees? To lift the veil on their playbook, we reached out to Marcus Osborne, SVP Walmart Health at Walmart, and Kelley Elliott, Managing Director of Global Talent Rewards at Delta Air Lines, to ask them what small-to-midsized employers can start (and stop) doing today to improve their employee benefits programs.

Small-to-midsized businesses often tell us that they feel like the deck's stacked against them; they don't have the headcount, expertise, or budget required to select, deploy, and manage their healthcare benefits effectively. What's the one piece of advice you would offer HR leaders at these companies?

If I was in their shoes, I would not want to tackle this all on my own. I would seek out an (ideally unbiased) advisor who can direct me and my team to make decisions that reflect the latest learnings, trends, and research, while also being adaptable enough to reflect changes in my employee population and goals.

I can’t overstate how important it is to find that right trusted partner, and don’t just feel like you’re getting sold something you can’t justify for your organization.

The hard part of healthcare is that there are thousands of different companies out there with millions of great ideas… but it’s nearly impossible for one person to learn about and evaluate all of them. We can barely do that at Delta, and we’re fortunate to have a sophisticated benefits department who focuses on this task. Despite our size, we continue to consult with experts across the industry to assess the landscape, and partner with consortiums like the Employee Health Innovation Roundtable (EHIR) to receive guidance on vendors, RFPs, and employee insights. - Kelley Elliott, Delta Air Lines

Well, here’s the thing – the deck is likely stacked against you. This is a complex, obstacle course of an industry. But acknowledging this truth should compel you to maintain a mindset of “trust but verify”. What I mean by that is that, if you’re working with a broker or directly with an insurer, don’t take what you’re being told at face value.

Don’t assume you’re getting the best deal, and don’t assume you have the full picture. There’s immense value in verifying the information you’re receiving, whether it’s through engaging with peers, studying benchmarks, or making providers and partners compete for your account.

And with verification comes more broad-based knowledge, which can yield creativity in finding alternative solutions to meet you plan goals. One example that comes to mind was a 120-person manufacturing company that spent tens of thousands each year on safety eyewear and equipment for their employees and were assured from their provider that they were getting a great deal. At some point, their HR leader noticed that Walmart sold similar equipment, and reached out to see if there was a better arrangement. And that exercise ended up saving them 70%. 70%! Being creative in finding alternative options may require a little more effort, but the results can be huge. - Marcus Osborne, Walmart

What's the one thing a small-to-midsized employer can start doing today to drive towards better healthcare outcomes for their organizations?

I can’t overstate how important employee advocacy is.

As an employer, better supporting your high and rising-risk employees is immensely critical in helping them through medical episodes. Great advocates can direct them to the best care route in a timely manner, which leads to better health outcomes for the employee and cost savings for the employer. Employees don’t ever want to feel that they’re on their own; front-end advocacy is the most impactful way to invest to drive plan ROI. - Kelley Elliott, Delta Air Lines

Better employee communication.

At a foundational level, employees need to be reminded that they have benefits, of what they are, and how to use them – especially anything preventative.

It’s critical to shorten the awareness and knowledge gap and to do that effectively, your employees need to know that you’ve got their back. This can be small things – health fairs at your office, a video of your CEO getting a flu shot, managers talking about mental health during team check-ins – but the more you focus on the ground-game and bring more visibility to preventative care, the better. - Marcus Osborne, Walmart

And, what's the one thing a small-to-midsized employer should stop doing today?

Don't let cost be the only thing you focus on as you design your benefit plans.

Cost will follow if you focus on employee engagement first. - Kelley Elliott, Delta Air Lines

Stop thinking that because you’re a smaller company, you don’t deserve the same modern benefits that larger employers receive from the providers they work with.

I’ve seen first-hand how, with a little creativity around plan design and persistence in negotiation, smaller employers have been able to get better deals. It really does happen. - Marcus Osborne, Walmart

Nava is partnering with benefit leaders from the country's largest companies to empower resource-strapped employers to provide world-class benefits for their employees, at a price they can afford. To learn more about how we can do this for your organization, reach out.

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