Photos by Nicole Mendoza
With 73 years in the industry, Vaaler Insurance is a name you can trust in the Red River Valley. Their expertise and longstanding reputation is aided by their forward-thinking approach that is helping businesses simplify their processes. To learn more about the insurance industry as a whole and what Vaaler Insurance can offer, we sat down with their team to ask some important questions.
Vice President of Fargo/Benefits Division
What are the advantages of partnering with a broker to advise and assist in administering the employee group benefits program?
There are many advantages that an experienced broker can deliver to employer groups, especially in the areas of benefits administration, strategy, and employee education. Technology is continually improving, and our on-line platform is extremely popular with employer groups as it helps streamline the enrollment process and eliminates all the paper. The portal is super easy to use and the feedback has been tremendous. Our industry experience can also positively impact a group’s bottom- line by bringing forth plan strategies and a pro-active approach to renewal negotiations with carriers.
Why is the broker selection process helpful for an employer?
Many employer groups may have never gone through a broker selection process or may have even heard of it, but this is the recommended approach. Instead of having multiple agencies provide “quotes”, we recommend first interviewing different brokers to determine the best one to represent your business. Brokers typically have access to the same carriers, but the difference is in their experience and service capabilities. What are their service capabilities? Do they have an online portal? What is their approach to educating employees? How can their plan strategies and carrier negotiations benefit you? What is their ability to assist in the administration of daily or weekly changes with your employee benefits program? The great thing about interviewing different brokers is that you gain a lot of insight into how the industry has rapidly changed and the available resources that can help you contain costs and efficiently manage your employee benefits program.
Can you tell us a little bit about your staff structure?
Since the acquisition of Health Quote Services in 2019, we have been growing fast and building an experienced team of Benefits Advisors, Account Managers, Account Executives, and Processors. We are strategically adding staff, in order to efficiently assist our employer groups with the day to day administration of their program. For many employers, we can literally become their “backroom staff” for managing the constant changes, which rids them of all the additional paperwork and frees them up to grow their business! Administering employee benefits can be very time consuming and complicated. Our staff is equipped to take the load off our employer groups.
How does the service team support an employer?
We pride ourselves in the personal touch with all employer groups. Our ability to provide the same level of service to a large employer all the way to the smallest employer group is what differentiates us. We are in constant communication with our groups because in most cases we are providing the support for their daily changes that can happen throughout the year. From new hires or terminations to adding new additions to the family or a simple address change, we’re on top of it. This level of support that we provide our customers really builds a relationship built on trust. We don’t just show up on the renewal but are actively involved with them throughout the year.
What Value Does Your Team Provide for Smaller Employers?
For those employers that have less than 50 employees, the value we bring is in administrative support and employee education. A company’s office manager or human resources manager wears many different hats and is tasked with a variety of administrative duties. Where we can help is in the processing of new hires, terminations, and address changes with carriers. Small things that can slip through the cracks as the HR manager is pulled in many different directions. When partnering with us, we take care of those daily items and update the appropriate carriers in a timely fashion. We also build and maintain a customized, free online platform that acts as a central hub of information around the benefits offered. Leveraging technology can both streamline processes, and give an employer the peace of mind that information is accurate and up to date. Also, rules and regulations are constantly changing and thus can be daunting for smaller employers to keep up with these changes. Having an advocate like us in their corner can help keep them out of a difficult situation with the IRS. These are just a few reasons why having a broker that acts as an extension of their HR team is crucial to a company’s success.
So what I’m hearing from you is that you can kind of act as a backroom staff for the employer. Can you provide a few examples of how this would be helpful to small businesses?
Sure, some examples would be when someone has a baby, or maybe there’s a divorce, or when a company has new hires eligible for benefits or terminations – all those scenarios would require potentially many different health and benefit carriers needing to be updated to ensure accuracy and compliance. Currently, a group would have to communicate with a variety of carriers directly and monitor the progress to ensure things are updated correctly. This could take 30-45 minutes for an office manager to just process one enrollment change. When working with Vaaler, an employer would just need to email us, we update our system, and have invested in many Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) file feeds to automatically update the appropriate carriers, streamlining the process and removing the potential for human error. Employee education is also vital to the success of the benefits program. We’ll lead a company’s open enrollment meeting and work with any new hires to help all employees understand the value of the benefits a company offers.
So, don’t most brokers all have the same carriers? What should I look for? And what questions should I be asking?
Sure, most brokers do have a lot of the same carriers. But, a lot of brokers will just offer you a quote from those carriers. So really what you’re looking for when you’re talking to a broker is how they are differentiating themselves. Are they providing services behind any of those quotes or are they just handing you a product and saying, “Here you go?” Are they giving you strategies as to what plan design is best for you? Are they providing technology platforms to make life easier for you and your company? In the world we live in, the COVID world, people are looking to turn everything to technology. Face to face meetings are being replaced with Zoom meetings.
How does insurance separate itself?
Really, it comes down to three things, strategy, service and technology.
- Strategy in the form of what plan design works best for your company.
- Service is the administrative work behind the scenes. We partner with your HR team, if you have one. If you don’t have one, we can become that partner for you. We can take a lot off an employer’s plate,
- Technology is the platform we provide for you so your open enrollments can go smoothly online.
If a group doesn’t have a broker today, why should they consider getting one?
A broker is very important for employers in today’s market- place. Markets and regulations are changing and benefits have become more complex than ever before. A good broker brings information, resources, strategies and skills to help control costs and negotiate renewals or, as I say, keep the carriers honest.
They also bring value by supporting a company’s HR department and its employees. A good broker will assist HR and benefits administrators by creating a customized on-line paperless Ben- Admin platform or HRIS and providing administrative, processing and compliance support. They will also provide resources and direct contact with employees to help employees better under- stand the benefits offered and the value those benefits bring. A good broker provides all of these services bringing more value and cost savings to employers.
And why does experience in the market matter?
Broker experience matters a lot in the health insurance and benefits marketplace for many reasons. An experienced broker knows the marketplace. They know the providers. They know the carriers, plans and networks. They know underwriting, ratings and costs. They’ve got the skills and information needed to reduce costs and provide the best value possible.
Why is the renewal marketing strategy so important?
It’s important for the employee and the employer to have the renewal information ahead of time due to the Affordable Care Act, pushing a lot of groups to renew on January, 1 of every year. It’s pertinent that we get the renewal information as quickly as we can so we can analyze the information and make recommendations to help the employer make a decision on what they’re going to do going forward. Obtaining options from other carriers can provide additional leverage. In this day and age, with so few carriers in the marketplace, it’s important that we use this information to get the Employer Group the best results that we can. This also allows Vaaler Insurance to educate the employees in advance of making their benefits decision for the following year so the employees are not rushed to make decisions.
Why should employers market out their benefits solutions?
It’s important for employers to go to the market to see what options there are, especially if they’ve just been offering the same plan year after year. The market is changing, especially in North Dakota. We have more carriers coming into the market, offering more plan designs. Employees are interested in options. They want choices. Healthcare consumerism is a thing and employees want to be able to make decisions about their health care. So just offering one plan really doesn’t cut it anymore.