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Employee benefits software works for healthcare provider

An online benefits management platform from Benefitfocus enables a developmental health and home care provider to cover field employees with individually tailored insurance plans.

When the Affordable Care Act required midsize employers to extend health insurance to workers, an Ohio developmental and home health provider decided it needed modern employee benefits software.

It was 2015, and most of the Obamacare healthcare legislation's provisions had finally taken effect (the law is still substantially in place, despite recent political turbulence).

Health benefits for social workers

Private healthcare and social services agency ViaQuest had to cover -- for the first time -- about 900 direct support professionals, full-time employees who earn $9 to $10 an hour working with clients in their homes and at community clinics.

Emily StickleyEmily Stickley

"They weren't familiar with benefits. For years, they didn't have benefits," said Emily Stickley, vice president of human resources at ViaQuest.

The agency -- which employs about 1,900 people overall, including nurses, mental health therapists, nurse practitioners, home health aides, social workers and managers -- chose employee benefits software from Charleston, S.C.-based Benefitfocus.

Self-service benefits

Benefitfocus' employee benefits software enables the workers to view various health plans on their mobile devices or desktops, compare them and decide which is best for them.

The system's tools, including short educational videos, also let users calculate costs based on factors such as the number of medical appointments they expect and if they're anticipating a major life event, like the arrival of a new child.

[Direct support professionals] weren't familiar with benefits. For years, they didn't have benefits.
Emily StickleyViaQuest

"Benefitfocus has helped our employees understand their benefits and understand what a medical insurance policy does for them, what a critical illness policy does for them, how short-term disability can help them," Sitckley said. "And who's paying for it, what the employer pays versus the employee."

For ViaQuest, managing the large group of direct care workers is challenging, among other things, because of high turnover rates -- with all the hiring and exits that entails -- and part-timers frequently turning into full-timers.

Benefits administration efficiencies

At the same time, the home health agency didn't want to be in the position of doubling its benefits back-office staff (now consisting of two) to handle the expanded benefits workload, Stickley said.

"We needed something that would accommodate all of those needs," Stickley said, referring to ViaQuest's search for the right employee benefits software. "It allowed us to be more efficient."

In the three years that ViaQuest has been using the Benefitfocus platform, Stickely said, the agency has seen a 37% increase in enrollment in medical insurance plans.

Since ViaQuest turned to the employee benefits software, there has also been a dramatic uptick in the number of employees choosing high-deductible health plans with lower premiums and eligibility for tax-reducing healthcare savings accounts.

Benefits marketplace

The core of the HR technology vendor's system is Benefitfocus Marketplace, the platform employees use to "shop" for benefits, tailor the best configuration for them and then enroll.

Tom DuganTom Dugan

"The whole end goal is to create understanding upfront to educate employees," said Tom Dugan, vice president of product management at Benefitfocus.

The marketplace includes connections to more than 1,500 Benefitfocus data exchange "trading partners," which include insurers, carriers and wellness software vendors.

Benefits data that goes through the Benefitfocus platform can interface with other HR tech systems, such as payroll services. Benefitfocus calculates what comes out of the employee's paycheck and what the cost share is and sends that data outbound to payroll.

Another feature of the marketplace is a communications portal that employers, like ViaQuest, use to message their benefits offerings and their value to their employees via text, email and Benefitfocus' native app.

HR administrators can use the messaging function as a notification tool when employees need to change benefits, such as annual enrollment and major life events.

Employer-facing benefits tools

There's also a management dashboard so administrators can see what percent of employees still haven't enrolled in a benefits plan, for example, and send reminder messages to the, say, 20% who haven't enrolled yet.

On the employer side, the look and feel of the platform can be customized and branded for the organization using self-service technology, or Benefitfocus' services people can do it for the company.

"A lot of companies, like ViaQuest, don't have a lot of people doing benefits. They can have, like, one person doing it, so we become an extension of their benefits team," Dugan said.

Business side of Benefitfocus

Benefitfocus sells its employee benefits software as a SaaS HR offering on a subscription basis, usually at a per-employee cost.

The company says its customers number about 1,000 enterprises with 1,000-plus employees, and it also does business with some 54 insurance carriers of all sizes.

Benefitfocus also has partnership agreements with human capital management vendors, including SAP, for which it is the benefits module for Employee Central, and Ultimate Software, with which it is building a connection to Ultimate's payroll module.

Founded in 2000, Benefitfocus went public in 2013. The company has about 1,500 employees at offices in Charleston and Greenville, S.C., Tulsa, Okla., and Salt Lake City, making it among the larger independent HR benefits technology vendors.

This was last published in January 2018

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