Introduction to the “Other Side” – What I know now that I didn’t know then

Since 1993 I have lived and worked in “The Last Best Place” Montana and Idaho.  Benefits and Payroll, my area of expertise, holds its own unique set of challenges specific to this area.  While attending a recent National User’s Conference out East, I introduced myself to a group of seasoned piers as a Payroll and Benefit Coordinator who had recently joined a Montana based Insurance Benefit Brokerage.  “Montana!  Wow, do you have Internet out there yet?”  they laughed.  But they weren’t joking.  I assured them that not only did we have high speed wireless Internet, in most places, but also those new fangled…what do you call them…oh yes automobiles. 

“What would make you want to move to the ‘Other Side’ (not to be confused with the Dark Side)” they asked.  By this they meant out of Human Resources and into the world of Insurance Benefits. A good question. For me it was an opportunity to do what I love best, provide education, quality benefits, and innovative tools to employers and employees.

What I know now, that I didn’t know before I took the leap to the “Other Side” is that there are numerous misconceptions that exists between the employer and the benefit carrier.  Speaking as a former HR Department client I can say the suspicion that carriers are only out to make a dollar runs deep.  The more I understand the other side of the equation the more I realize that carriers have the same goal as the employer; to provide quality benefits to the employee.  Carriers and providers may sometimes perceive our area as technologically behind the curve when in fact we have many progressive employers ready to embrace insurance technology, especially if it can save them time and money.   

In the end, we are all working toward the same goal and I am glad to be in a position to help both teams.   With proper education, and some hard work, we can move past these misconceptions and get down to business in “The Last Best Place.” 

Holly Ashcraft

Fringe Benefit Resources

Benefit Management Specialist

Reining in Runaway Healthcare Costs – A Dental Consumer Advocacy Approach

Recently, I have read a number of interesting and informative articles regarding the importance of Dental Hygiene as it relates to direct medical costs and health insurance premiums, as well as indirect costs due to absenteeism and lack of productivity.

For some time we have recognized the work related ramifications of health risk factors such as obesity, smoking, stress, poor diet, and inactivity.  We must now add neglected dental health to this list as a significant cause of acute and chronic illness, pain, poor diet, and eating habits, and physical and emotional distress.

Guardian Life Insurance commissioned a survey of 1000 US consumers in September of 2006.  They found that 89% of the participants in the dental coverage survey agreed that there is a connection between oral health and overall health.  A Swedish study published in July 2006 Journal of Periodontology suggests the direct relationship of loss of teeth to likelihood of heart attack.  A University of North Carolina study published in a 2007 issue of Blood Purification reports that elevated levels of antibodies to gum disease are directly associated to decreased levels of kidney function.  There is more than sufficient evidence to support the fact that oral infection is linked to heart disease and stroke, diabetes, pre-term birth, and respiratory diseases.

Periodontal disease is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.  Researchers have found that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease as those without.  Periodontal disease is more common in people with diabetes and it is significant that 65% of deaths in people with diabetes are due to heart disease and stroke.

We want to hold down costs of health coverage for our employees and employer.  We advocate Wellness programs for our employees to help hold down costs of future healthcare.   It is time to accept the fact that participating in a group/voluntary dental plan combination will be a great factor in accomplishing this goal.  The cost of a very basic group dental policy will be minor compared to the overall cost of employee healthcare coverage.

Let’s solve the need for education of Employer-Sponsored Benefits

QUESTION: How can this be accomplished throughout the year with the limited time and resources available within our organization?

Go outside of the organization! Your Benefit Broker is a source and should be responsible for providing the education to your employees. This Broker, working within the parameters set by the organization, should have the tools available to educate and “not just sell benefits.”

Your Broker needs to ahve online education capabilities. Guardian Insurance produced a survey of Benefit Administrators that shows “over the next five years, administrators who rank Online Tools as very important, will increase 27%.” Online systems can be designed to handle paperless enrollment, changes in status, provide marketing program works to educate the employee and their family about the employer’s program. The face-to-face program allows the employee to discuss if the product fits his or her family’s needs and allows the employee to ask the personal question about their individual situations.

At Fringe Benefit Resources we can use online tools and blend this capability with other methods such as employee group meetings, face-to-face, utilize your organization’s e-mail and newsletters. Only 35% of employees surveyed rated their employer’s Benefit communication as adequate. Of the 35%, 65% stated they lacked someone familiar emough with the employer-provided benefits to discuss special issues. Throughout the year, not only new employees but all “benefit eligible” employees need a systematic schedule of opportunities to visit with the Broker about their current program or programs available for their enrollment at the next Open Enrollment. We offer our clients monthly or quarterly scheduled dates to be available for face-to-face appointments with employees who want to discuss such subjects as

  • How to file a claim
  • Re-evaluate their current enrollment
  • Find more cost-effective ways of providing needed benefits or beneficiary-address-benefit changes

Having a schedule set for employees allows the organization to delegate time for Benefit education to the Broker and provide a contact for the employee to answer their questions.

Next issue we will discuss the medical expense reimbursement benefit within the section 125 plan and how this “under-utilized” benefit can increase profits for the employer and increase the “bottom line” for the employee.


Employees spend less time reviewing their benefit options than they spend preparing for a Holiday dinner (survey results showed 1.6 hrs for Thanksgiving)

According to a research survey conducted by the Guardian Life Insurance company, almost one-half of working Americans spend either no time or less than 1 hour reviewing their benefits each year. This survey was conducted following the Fall workplace open-enrollment season. Some 71% of survey respondents said it is “easy” or “very easy” to select employee benefits while only 21% say it is “difficult” or “very difficult”.

What is extremely alarming is the lack of knowledge by the employee when questioned about the benefit selected during the enrollment process. 70% of employees surveyed said they know the difference between group and voluntary individual life insurance. Yet over 55% did not realize that upon termination of employment they would lose their group coverage. Over 48% did not realize employer-paid disability income benefits are taxable at time of claims payment. Over 68% did not know if their disability coverage was effective while on the job. Over 40% did not realize they had guaranteed issue only within a specified time period. 60% of employee respondents ranked “financial security if a wage earner can no longer work do to disability or a serious illness” as important. Only 21% felt their employers were addressing these concerns, despite the fact that more than two-thirds of all employers offer short or long term disability benefits. Apparently, employees simply do not make the connection.

The employer and the benefit broker need to understand that to make employee education effective, we need to keep it personal. We need to schedule “Time out for Benefits” not just once a year for a “herd them through open enrollment” but throughout the year with information provided by the broker and the employer. Education throughout the year allows the employee to feel more comfortable and knowledgeable about the benefits you the employer are providing. Also education, prior to open enrollment time, produces an employee who knows what they want or need for their families financial well-being.

Next issue: “Ideas to provide a solution to employee education of employer provided benefits”

Dan Oakland, Principal of Fringe Benefit Resources, is proud to be endorsed by MHA Ventures, Montana Automobile Association, Idaho Automobile Association, Northwest Montana Physicians Group and the Montana Health Network.

Incorporating Dental Health Into a Wellness Program

This is a follow-up to “Reining in Runaway Healthcare Costs… a Dental Consumer Advocacy Approach,” and provides ideas that should be incorporated into your existing Wellness Program.

EDUCATION: People of ancient times believed that the stabbing pain of a toothache was caused by a toothworm. A folk cure was smearing honey on the infected tooth and waiting at night with tweezers to pluck out the toothworm…Times and cures have changed however the need for education is important if we are attempting to reduce our healthcare costs. The education needed in your Wellness Program should include both Prevention and Repair

Prevention of dental disease, decay or tooth loss begins with an employee’s desire to start a routine of brushing regularly, flossing and routine exams. Our employees often need to be reminded that having Periodontitus means they are twice as likely to suffer a fatal heart disease than people without. What is the primary prevention tool for Periodontitus- regular brushing and flossing our teeth.

Repair falls into either work needed to be performed by a dentist or simply working with the dental hygienist. The hygienist plays the most critical role of all in the prevention of dental disease. Regular cleanings promote healthy gums and prevents bone loss and decay. Hygienist check-ups also detect Oral Cancer-6th most common cancer with 40,000 new cases annually-9000 deaths.

Another issue that needs to be addressed in a wellness program is “Dental Fear”- the ADA study showed that over 50% of those studied have a fear of going to the dentist. We need to educate our employees that this dental phobia costs money for both the employee and employer-affects there social life and self-esteem. Why? Dental disease causes unsightly tooth loss, ruins your smile and is the leading cause of bad breath. In a majority of cases, a visit to your hygienist regularly eliminates the perceived costly and painful visits to the “dentist.”

Dental Disease is not only a disease of the mouth, but also a disease of the body. Not only does it drain your energy, it ends up dramatically lowering your body’s resistance to any other disease to which your employee may be exposed. When you look at dental disease in this way, you can no longer afford to not provide your employees with benefit protection and education to lower the cost of Healthcare for your organization.

Enrollment Process Heightens Benefit Value, Unlocks Success in Hospital Talent Search

In today’s tight labor market, providing health care employees with a clear understanding of the value of their benefits package is crucial. It could sway an employee’s decision about whether to change jobs if he or she recognizes the true value of benefits versus a competitor’s salary

One of the top benefits priority among hospitals is to reduce paper pushing, as well as the errors associated with keying in employee information, since their HR departments typically are understaffed and lack enough time to devote to enrollment. HR departments are being asked to become more efficient in attracting and retaining employees, and ultimately, improving bottom-line results through shifts to more voluntary or high-deductible options. It’s not only enrollment selection but also management, and the only logical direction seems to be automation. From a strategic standpoint, HR can spend more of its valuable time on having the most effect on the organization as a whole.

An important value the HR departments can receive from their online enrollment partner is that employee data can be directly imported into their payroll system, not only for open enrollment but also year-around management of new hire enrollment, life status event changes, etc. Building benefit statements into the enrollment flow is also a valuable service that continually reinforces the critical message of just how much the employer spends on benefits and salary as part of a total-compensation approach.

Fringe Benefit Resources and American Fidelity (with several of their own endorsed products) are among a select group of vendors that market benefits endorsed by the American Hospital Association (AHA) and ASHHRA. Representing products that have met standards for quality, stability, dedication to health care and customer service provides these vendors with added credibility. And, the AHA works only with vendors that understand the nuances of hospital employers and employees.