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Choosing health benefits

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Few considerations are as critical in your company as picking the right health care plan. The health-benefits package a company offers is a powerful recruiting and retention tool.

It also is one of the single biggest expenses for a company. Some employers see it as a “necessary evil,” says Rod Cruickshank, president of the Portland-based benefits consulting firm The Partners Group. A more constructive way to look at it, he says, is to view health benefits as an asset, not a liability.

Cruickshank says a company’s health plan reflects its ambition as a business. Sure, health benefits are pricey, but business leaders need to decide if they want to use benefits as a way to attract and keep skilled workers. “You need to be prepared to play with the big boys,” he says.

To start, pick the right health-care plan for your business by carefully choosing the right health-benefits broker: They know the language, so let them do the interpreting. A good broker will put in the necessary extra effort getting to know the company, learning its needs and its financial limits. Brokers also have the experience to navigate the maze of health-insurance providers and HMOs, PPOs and HSAs.

“A good broker will listen more than they talk,” says Cynthia Cameron, owner and president of Lake Oswego-based Benefits Specialists.

It’s important to also remember that it takes only a week for somebody to earn a license to sell health insurance. Before choosing a broker, ask how much experience they have and how they succeeded in working with other companies. An inexperienced broker may lock you into a contract your employees are unhappy with, which may lead to litigation. “Doing a good job in health care means a broker has been there the last decade,” Cruickshank says.

Part of the challenge in choosing a health-care plan is that it also depends on an executive’s opinions about health care, says Cruickshank. If you believe workers should strive to take more personal responsibility for their health, your plan might emphasize this by rewarding prevention efforts. If you believe workers should have total access to comprehensive health care no matter their lifestyle or predisposed conditions, your plan will cater to this.

“The days of just saying, ‘I will take that plan,’ are over,” Cruickshank says. “Health care is so expensive everybody is engaged.”

As a business executive, clearly communicating your belief on health care and how it may be incorporated into the business will help a broker find the right health plan for your company. Of course, potential employees will have their own verdict.


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