Online health plans Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2009

As more and more employees become comfortable using the Internet for business transactions, many companies are using that same technology to provide online access to their benefit plans.

These e-benefits systems have improved company efficiency while providing employees with more freedom and involvement in their plans. Employees can use the e-benefits system to read up on their benefit information or tailor their packages to meet their specific needs.

John Galley, CEO of EBenefits Solutions, a subsidiary of UPMC Health Plan’s insurance services division, says there are many advantages to e-benefits systems, including an ample benefit to the bottom line.

“With an e-benefits system an employer has a better chance of building a healthy work force with more satisfied employees, while also saving money on administrative costs,” says Galley.

Smart Business spoke with Galley about how to set up an e-benefits system at your company and what elements employers should look for as part of the system.

What would motivate an employer to want to implement an e-benefits system?

It’s certainly the right thing to do for the times. With so many people comfortable using the Internet to conduct business in a number of different areas, it only makes sense that they use the same technology to connect to their benefits information.

From an employer’s point of view, an online, automated system simply makes sense. First, it’s a more efficient way for employees to administer and choose the various options offered through their employer’s benefit plans. Plus, service to your staff improves, and your human resources personnel will have more time to perform duties other than transactional and administrative tasks. The added time enables your HR staff to focus their attention on other value-added activities.

What are the essential elements that an e-benefits system should have?

It is most important that the system be both high-tech and high-touch in order for it to work effectively. By that I mean that employees need to be able to connect with the system, so that using it to administer their benefits feels comfortable to them. File feeds and interfaces are also essential.

What features should an employer look for in an e-benefits system?

There are several features that e-benefits systems may offer. Not all systems are the same. Certainly, you want one that empowers employees to make decisions about their benefit options and choices. To help communicate the value of the entire package of pay, benefits and even nonmonetary rewards, you would want a system that offers online pay advices and online real-time total compensation statements.

Because life events can impact employees, you would want a system that could handle a broad range of transactions, from open enrollment to new hires, to life events such as marriage, birth and adoption, to employment events such as changing from part-time to full-time or vice versa. The more sophisticated systems can handle all of these events very efficiently.

One other thing you should look for is a robust portal that can effectively and efficiently communicate with employees regardless of location. Online survey and management tools can help extend the HR team’s ability to communicate with management and employees.

If you have a highly configurable and customizable platform, it will enable your HR team to make the portal look and feel like your employees’ other communications and sites. You can have a customizable look and feel to match the organization’s communications and culture. You would also want a customer service center that helps employees get their questions answered without having to call HR.

What services should employees expect to receive from an e-benefits system?

Employees would probably want to have the ability to enter essential information such as annual enrollment, new hire elections, and employment status and family status changes. They would also like access to the tools that they might need to make good decisions about the plans and the options that are available to them. Of course, all employee benefit information and documents must be available to them immediately.

Other items employees should look for include:

n A place to find answers to frequently asked questions

n Real-time access that can keep administrators and employees updated with current information

n Benefit election confirmations

n Online pay advice and total compensation statements

n Access from home or work

What are some of the advantages an e-benefits system provides to employers?

Certainly, it is a simple way to eliminate waste, reduce paperwork and reduce administrative costs. Employers also see a benefit in the way that this system tightly controls benefits eligibility, as well as the processes surrounding employee benefit administration.

Because this is designed to empower employees to be more involved in their benefits, it fits nicely in this era when health care consumers are demanding options when it comes to tailoring a compensation and benefits package. There is evidence that when the work force is more satisfied and better matched with their benefit choices, they will be more productive. With an e-benefits system, communication is personalized, so it is more likely to be read and understood by employees.

John Galley is the CEO of EBenefits Solutions, a subsidiary of UPMC Health Plan’s insurance services division. Reach him at jgalley@ebenefits.com or (412) 454-8737.