February 8, 2021

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In today’s episode, Chris talks to Daniel Risen,  an Employee Benefits Advisor with OneDigital Health & Benefits.  At OneDigital, he helps clients design, implement, and manage successful and cost-effective employee benefit programs. He has worked in healthcare benefits for more than a decade after graduating from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in Business and Spanish. He also serves as an Executive Board Member in charge of Programming for Middle Tennessee Society for Human Resource Management.

For more information, contact Daniel Risen at:

(615) 498 – 8286
DRisen@onedigital.com
LinkedIn

TRANSCRIPT

Chris Nichols:
Hello and welcome to The Talent Tide Podcast – the show that ensures you have the information you need to adapt and evolve your workplace culture as you ride the wave of change in talent management. I’m your host, Chris Nichols and today we’re going to talk benefit strategy with Daniel Risen at OneDigital. We’ll discuss what benefits are, how to manage them, and how to use them as an attraction and retention tool.

Daniel Risen is an Employee Benefits Advisor with OneDigital Health and Benefits.  At OneDigital, he helps clients design, implement and manage successful and cost effective employee benefit programs. He has worked in healthcare benefits for more than a decade after graduating from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in business and Spanish. He also serves as an executive board member in charge of programming for Middle Tennessee SHRM. Welcome, Daniel, thank you for being on the show.

Daniel Risen:
Thanks for having me, Chris. I’m excited to spend the time with you and your listeners today. And I hope to be able to provide some valuable information to you and your audience.

Chris:
Awesome. Well, speaking of benefits, let’s talk about them. Because they are a huge cost for for companies and employees. The last decade in in this country costs have went up exponentially. It has been a major talking point in every election since 2008. We just recently had an election. So what I think people don’t realize and even companies don’t realize is that health benefits are only a portion of the overall benefits package. So can you give us a a broad level overview of what benefits what employee benefits really are? And what maybe they aren’t, too?

Daniel:
Sure. So, to answer that question, I would say you’re 100% right. Costs for specifically health insurance and benefit costs are escalating at a rate that’s unsustainable. And the economic and working environment right now for organizations is probably as competitive now as it’s ever been in our lifetimes. So, with salaries being equal a lot of times for candidates, employers are looking for creative ways to attract and retain the top talent. And in order to do that they’ve looked at leveraging their benefit packages plans that are in place, how they communicate those plans. And, they’ve used those as a tool to build their culture and to enhance the working experience for their employees and their members.

Chris:
Very good. So when you start talking to organizations about their benefits packages, what do you typically find is the time investment that they have previously spent looking at their employee benefits?

Daniel:
So it’s going to depend on the size of the organization. Typically speaking, the group is going to start on their benefits around six months prior to the effective date or the renewal date. If you’re getting in and you’re trying to make changes, after that six month period, a lot of times it can be like changing a flat tire, while the car is still going 80 miles an hour on the interstate, because there’s a lot of intricacies involved. So as much lead time and preparation you can get in place leading up to that open enrollment period, it’s going to make it so much easier to choose the plans and to know that you’ve made the correct financial decisions for what you’re offering. And it’s also going to give you the right amount of lead time to properly communicate and deliver the right message to the employees.

Chris:
Got it. So you’re you’re talking anywhere from three to six months ahead of open enrollment, the planning process should probably be starting.

Daniel:
Absolutely.

Chris:
So, walk me through those three to six months. What should be occurring, six months out, four months out, three, and down the line.

Daniel:
So, six months out is a time where we do our pre-renewal planning meeting with the organization. That’s where our team and the employers team is coming together. And we’re going over what the past year to two years has looked like from a claims and a utilization standpoint. We’re going back over what the ultimate goals are of the organization and what they’re trying to have from an outcome standpoint from offering the benefits. We’re going to review what worked from last year and what we want to do differently. And then we’re really going to lay a foundation and a groundwork for what the next six months is going to look like leading up to that renewal period. And we’re going to try to put a timeline in place that helps the organization fully understand the steps involved and what they need to do in order for that benefits period, that open enrollment period, to be done and communicated as successfully as it possibly can be.

Chris:
Gotcha. So, who should be involved in the process of creating, evaluating, implementing the benefits process?

Daniel:
You know, historically speaking, it’s been either an owner of a company, CEO, CFO, or some type of HR that’s been involved in making the decisions. We’ve seen a lot of success here over the past few years with organizations implementing employee committees, and getting people from all different lines of the organization involved in that process. And that’s going to allow a better perception from what the employees appreciate out of their their current benefits package. And it’s also going to give us a glimpse of what they want that they currently maybe aren’t receiving out of their benefits package . We then take that committee’s evaluation or their proposal and we work with that and helping the either the owner, CEO, HR Director, make appropriate decisions and put the plans in place that’s going to best represent their total population of their employees.

Chris:
You make a great point there, Daniel, in the fact that today’s workforce is more diverse than ever before, racially, and generationally, right? Because we have different types of people in the workforce, but we have different age groups of people. And so, right now we have four generations in the workforce, from Gen Z to baby boomers, and we’ve got millennials and Gen Xers in between. So can you talk a little bit about the idea of a multi generational approach to benefits, planning and packaging?

Daniel:
I would say that’s one of the most important components that organizations should be looking at right now for the benefits packages – understanding their employee population and their demographics, and what makes up their organization from an employee standpoint. Understanding how many millennials you have, how many Gen Z Gen X, how many boomers you have.  Because the needs of those employees, from a benefit standpoint, maybe we’re talking about medical insurance, or 401k’s or health savings accounts, the needs of those generations are going to be extremely different. So if an organization can really understand their dynamics, and what makes up their population, that’s going to give them the data and the information to customize their benefits package and the plans that they’re offering, specifically around the needs of their organization.

Chris :
Perfect. So when you’re working with organizations, obviously, you get a bird’s eye view of what they’re doing. Obviously, you’re probably asking a lot of questions. And not only are you able to see that particular company’s working, but you know how other companies are doing things as well. So what do you see that companies are doing well in 2020? And then the second part of that question would be, what do you think companies are getting wrong more often than right, when putting together a benefit package?

Daniel:
I would say, what companies are doing well is the amount that they’re budgeting towards their benefits. Organizations have realized that, again, since salaries a lot of times are even when they’re talking to a potential candidate, the way to differentiate themselves from their competitors is to offer a well-rounded, robust benefits package. So organizations are now putting the dollars in the budget into those. Where they’re falling short at times is:  1. Understanding, again, their population and the plans that might best fit the needs of that organization, and then 2. How they ultimately end up communicating those benefits. There’s been numerous times where I’ve seen some of the most robust benefits package is being communicated with a paper form that’s maybe emailed or sent to a house and then there’s no follow up from the organization after that. And the employees and their dependents are left to try to figure out and understand those benefits on their own. You know, if you’re putting a lot of money into that, you know, why not do recorded video meetings or webinars or in-person open enrollment meetings, or throughout the year – why not send reminders to employees on certain things like the flu shots that aren’t going to cost them anything or talking to them about, you know, using their telemedicine benefits during cold and flu season? So, you know, there’s there’s things like that that employer groups just maybe haven’t spent the time or haven’t taken the approach to evaluate how they communicate it. I think that they can really enhance that if they just took maybe more of a creative approach to their communication strategies.

Chris:
That’s a good segue into how you probably do any communication in an organization, right? I think so many times, a lot of companies are siloed, to the point that they think well benefits is an HR thing. But but it’s really a company thing, right? And from what I have seen in organizations, this is where they have to involve different silos and come together and  work together. Because marketing should be working with HR to ensure that there is communication going out regularly to the organization. Corporate communication should be involved, right? Involve as many stakeholders as you can in the process. And I think that, from a retention perspective, you’re going to get, that’s going to be received better, right? Like, your retention might take up a little bit, because people are just more informed like, overall happiness and well being of your employees is important. And it may not seem like much, but you know, my wife and I both have master’s degrees and every fall, when we get our open enrollment forms, and we have to look at it, I feel like an elementary school student looking at algebra, trying to like understand my my benefits package. And I’m like, I don’t know what any of this means that this plan has this deductible, this plan has this, and I have all these other things included in there. So, you know, working together to build a communication strategy that’s simple to understand and helps to differentiate maybe where you were before and where you’re going today. That’s me putting my marketing hat on and kind of talking about benefits. I think it’s extremely important, because I believe when you’re in the weeds, and you’re talking about benefits all the time, you might understand them. But you have to think about the average person that’s not looking at benefits regularly, and how they they see it. So Daniel, can you talk about how organizations can do a better job of of helping to understand the actual cost involved in healthcare? So say, how do I find a provider that works within our insurance plan? But even then, are there differences in costs between providers? Right? Can you shed any light  on that subject?

Daniel:
Absolutely. So, what many people don’t understand in our country is that the costs for services can vary dramatically, depending on where you go to receive those services. For example, my wife had an ultrasound not too long ago, that her OBGYN recommended that she have. She went to where that doctor told her to go to have that  ultrasound done. And then we got a bill about three weeks later, for a little over $600. What she didn’t realize she could have done is through her insurance carrier, she could have gone on to the website, typed in ultrasound, and it would have pulled up a list of every single provider that is in her network, within the radius where she was searching from. And it’ll show the average cost though it would have cost her for that ultrasound. Now, there was a place about two, two and a half miles from our house that was a little under $100 for that ultrasound. So a pretty big difference. She could have taken all that information from that provider have gone back to her OBGYN and that OBGYN would have read that information, the exact same as if it had been done at the facility that she recommended that she go to.

Chris:
So, what I hear is maybe just putting together more of a planning, spend some time with your family planning what you need to do with your health, right and understand where you should go, I think would be valuable. Because in that situation, you don’t realize how much time you have to make that decision. And I think that I know, I felt this way when I’m at the doctor, and they’re like, “Hey, you need to go do this.” It’s like, well, do I have to go right now? And if I have to go right now, I mean, how much is this going to cost? And you’re kind of afraid to ask that question out of embarrassment or like just being like, well, sure I have to go do that. Right. And so does it make sense then to start having those conversations before you need to, right?

Daniel:
It does make sense to have that conversation beforehand. And I think it comes back to the employers responsibility to educate and keep reminding and communicating to the employees that they have that opportunity to price shop those services. And then at the point where an employee or a member is actually going in and having those procedures done, that’s when I would heavily utilize your broker partnership and having that team support the employees through that process. And to help make understanding what is normally very difficult to figure out just a little bit easier, because you’ve got a true person that is an expert, and working with medical providers and benefit details that is going to represent and be an advocate for that employee and that member throughout the year, as they’re using their benefits.

Chris:
Does it make sense for a company to have kind of a cheat sheet of maybe the top 15 or 20, most utilized services and provide that to their employees so that way, the employee is kind of already having an understanding, like, okay, I shouldn’t go, I should go to this place. If I want to get the lowest cost.

Daniel:
It does make sense to have that cheat sheet. And I would say, going back to a topic we talked about earlier, that six month pre-renewal meeting – that’s one of the conversations we have at that time is, us- the broker is going back and looking at the total group’s utilization throughout the year. Maybe it’s their pharmacy trends, or perhaps it’s understanding what were some of the high claims that really drove the cost for the group over the past year. And then we’ll work with the HR team or the marketing team, and helping them put together a communication package around those different criteria points that we’ve identified. And, again, constantly refreshing the employees and engraving in their memory, you know how to use those benefits, what’s the appropriate time to get the broker involved or how to search for in network costs and understand what the price differences are going to be. And that way, once employees get to that point, they’ve already had at least some thought process in the back of the mind of what they need to do at those certain points in time.

Chris:
Very good. I think I’m gonna be going home this evening and working with my wife to evaluate our own health benefits plans and figure out what actually what we should be doing, right. So this is actually educational for me as well, Daniel, so I appreciate you coming on and talking about these topics. But…

Daniel:
I can tell you, my wife was valedictorian in high school. And even for her a lot of times, deductibles and co pays and coinsurance all the jargon goes over her head. So, you know, that’s one more reason or one, further evidence of why organizations should utilize and leverage the resources that their broker partner is bringing to the table for them.

Chris:
And ask questions, right? I feel like the most important piece of everything, would be whether you’re the employee, or you are the employer, the more questions you ask, the better off everyone in the process is going to be, right?

Daniel:
There’s never a dumb question when it comes to benefits and health insurance because we’ve, unfortunately, been trained in our country to not want to ever ask those questions, because this health insurance is so complicated and so confusing. But, you know, that’s just further evidence why people, members, employees, employers need help and navigating the landscape of benefits and costs.

Chris:
Certainly.

(break)

Welcome back to the Talent Tide Podcast, we have Daniel Risen on today from OneDigital, and we’re talking benefit strategy. So Daniel, it’s been a great conversation so far. I’d like to transition to benefits as an attraction and retention tool. So in my industry in talent acquisition (we’ve talked about this already today, the value there of being able to utilize benefits as an attraction tool) how does a company go about evaluating their current tools against the open market? What should they do to evaluate what they’ve got today and maybe what they should be doing?

Daniel:
Well, again, I think the first step would be to evaluate your own demographics and to understand your population and what your employee makeup looks like. And then from there, it’s understanding, out of the the generations that you have in your organization, what matters most to each individual one. So for example, if if you have, you know, a significant portion of your population that is millennial or Gen X, Gen Z, perhaps we focus the package on health savings accounts and educating employees on the advantages of putting money into those, or from a plan design standpoint, maybe we put a student loan repayment option in alongside a 401k plan. You know, a lot of organizations might not consider doing that, because that’s still relatively new benefit. But as we have more of those generations leaving colleges with student debt, student loan debts, that’s becoming more and more important of a benefit option for that generation. So if I’m in that generation, and I’m looking at Company X and Company Y, and the salaries are mutual, but Company X has a student loan repayment benefit as a perk, that could tip the scale for me in deciding which organization to go work for.

Chris:
Certainly. And so you mentioned the hot topic there for maybe a younger generation, which is student loan reimbursement, which I think sounds excellent. I know that my wife and I both would would love to have been in with a company that does that. I think definitely more companies should do that. What about the other end of the spectrum? Say you have an organization that does skew maybe a little older, so Gen X, baby boomer? What kind of benefits should they be looking at then on that end of the age demographic to fit their population?

Daniel:
Yeah, well, generally speaking, from a health insurance standpoint, the older you get, generally, you start using your your insurance more frequently. So if you’re an organization that has a higher population of baby boomers, perhaps we put richer medical benefit options in place and pair that with some form of telemedicine that allows those older folks to have 24/7/365 access to a doctor without having to get out and take two hours of their day to go into a doctor’s office and to be around a bunch of other sick people that could potentially jeopardize their health.

Chris:
Certainly, no doubt. So, what are some different strategies that organizations can use to increase just overall utilization of their tools? And their benefits packages? Sorry…

Daniel:
Increase the utilization…

Chris:
Yeah. So like, increase the utilization of, say, the right benefits in the plan. So understanding, you know, if I have these benefits, what can I be getting out of it each year, right? Like telehealth – we implemented telehealth a couple of years ago at endevis. In the first year, our utilization of it was like 3%. Right? And it was supposed to be a big deal, but nobody used it. So what can organizations do differently to increase usage of those types of benefits? There may be just like, add ons, right?

Daniel:
Yeah, again, I think it’s going back to how you’re going to communicate those benefits. You know, an example we’ve used after implementing telemedicine, for example is, you know, if you do have a really low utilization, let’s find the people who did use it. And let’s find the ones who just really loved the experience. And let’s have them tell their story to the other employees of the organization. And then let’s start broadcasting that monthly or quarterly, and then remind the employees every opportunity that we have that if you have a non emergency situation, the first step you should use is probably your telemedicine benefit, because it’s not going to cost you anything to use it, you’re not gonna have to take the two hours out of the day, again, to go into the doctor’s office, and then as a whole, by shifting some of the population’s utilization to telemedicine, that’s going to keep some of your actual claims for the group off of your insurance plan, which in turn is going to keep your rates lower. And if you can do that – over 1 year, 2,3,5,10 years, you’re talking about significant cost savings, not only for the employees, but just for the group and whole by shifting some of those medical costs away from your insurance plan towards the telemedicine component.

Chris:
Yeah, I think that adding that long term component, it’s not something that we typically are thinking about when it comes to health care, right, we we end up being a little bit reactive to most healthcare problems.

Daniel:
Well, you’re 100% correct on that. I would say the majority of organizations I speak with are reactive. You know, they wait until there is a problem or costs have escalated, or perhaps it’s at renewal time and they’re getting hit with a significant increase. You know, once you’re at that point, it’s a little too late, or sometimes it can be too difficult to turn the ship. You know, if you’re an organization that takes more of a proactive approach, and you leverage your broker resources, your broker partners, and you’re constantly monitoring your utilization and you’re proactively communicating to the employees –  that, in turn, can have a significant financial impact over the organizations, especially as you look long term.

Chris:
Perfect. Well, Daniel, this has been a great conversation. It’s been extremely informative. I have to think that listeners are going to have a ton of questions. So I guess number 1,  if you don’t mind, why don’t you share a little bit about what OneDigital is and what you all do at OneDigital?

Daniel:
Yeah, sure. So we are a national employee benefits brokerage shop. So we help employers with their benefit packages and we help them shop them out every year to make sure they’ve got… I guess, the best price plans but also that the plans are meeting the goals and the objectives of what the organization is looking to accomplish. So that being said, our company, again, we’re almost in every single state across the country, we work with organizations as small as two, to organizations that are multi thousand, like Chick-Fil-A. So if we can be a resource for you, or if you’re an organization that just has questions about what you’re doing, or what you could be doing differently, I’d love a chance to talk to you and to learn a little bit more about what you’re doing.

So my number is 615-498-8286. Or you can email me at DRisen@OneDigital.com.

Chris:
Awesome. Thank you again for joining us today, Daniel. I appreciate the information. You can find Daniel as well on LinkedIn, he’s very active on there, I really enjoy some of the stuff that he shares.

So that’s all for today’s episode of The Talent Tide Podcast. Please remember to subscribe to us wherever you listen to podcasts, Spotify, Apple, Podbean, Google Podcasts, and more. Please leave us a review and let us know what you think of the show and how we can improve. Most importantly, please share with other leaders who you feel would gain from learning how to better attract, engage and retain talent.

Until next time, this is Chris Nichols saying, “Goodbye and keep working!”