Ask most small business owners their number one insurance worry and they are likely to say, employee benefits and, in particular, health care. In fact, it often seems next to impossible to provide health care without breaking the company bank.
A broker who specializes in employee benefits and health care can help. They can help you explore all your options including health savings accounts and health reimbursement arrangements. They can also help you with the legal and compliance issues, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), and other local regulations.
Even better, they can help you give benefit orientations and educate employees on their health care needs and costs.
How do you go about finding and choosing a broker who specializes in employee benefits? Start with friends, family, and colleagues. Word-of-mouth referrals are the best bet. If that doesn’t work, check with your local chamber of commerce. Look under “Insurance” in the Yellow Pages or visit the Web site of your state’s insurance commissioner. Your state insurance agency should also tell you if the broker is properly licensed and whether or not formal consumer complaints have been filed against them.
Robert L. Copeland, who specializes in health care and operates Copeland Insurance Services in Larkspur, California, recommends finding a broker who has at least 5 years of experience, preferably 10. They should also do a high volume of business (writing at least 50 policies a year), which means they are on top of their game.
Don’t worry if the broker doesn’t understand your specific industry, such as telecommunications. “I can sell Blue Cross to retail or manufacturing. It doesn’t really make a difference,” says Copeland.
Interview your prospective brokers. Ask them how many carriers they represent and why they are recommending a particular carrier. Finally, says Copeland, the best carriers will write both individual and employer policies, and understand the relationships among all the various types of coverage: short-term or permanent, PPO or HMO, COBRA, HIPAA, and group or individual policies.