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By Matt Houghton

We all know that offering great benefits is an important part of attracting the best employees. 

The best indicator is that employees are now using their dental, prescription drug, paramedical and vision coverage at record levels, further cementing them as a crucial piece of their total employee compensation. But as essential as benefits are, even seasoned HR professionals can be challenged in understanding all of the elements of choosing an effective, sustainable group benefits program.

Here are some key questions to ask to help find the right program for an organization’s current and future employees.


Figuring out what type of plan you and your employees really need can feel like an overwhelming first step. These questions will help you to best identify the group plan (and provider) that is right for your employees.

What benefits will be included for our employees and at what cost?
What are the things that will affect the cost of my benefits program, now and in the future?
Is the provider pre-disposed to keeping costs down to maintain the overall value and affordability of my program?
Do they understand the difference between “price” and “value”?

Like any other product, when a prospective provider offers what seems to be “too-good-to-be-true” group benefit prices, they’re usually cutting quality – or lowballing to get your business. Once you’re on board, you’ll often see massive increases at the first renewal as they recoup their discounted first-year prices. Just like you would with any major purchase, do your research, ask theright questions and be skeptical of anything that seems “too good to be true.”

Premium stability

The stability of the premium is an important component of your benefits plan. As the plan sponsor, you’re making a promise to your employees that you will be providing them with great benefits – not just next year, but over the long term. Securing a plan that will contain costs means you can sustain your plan for years to come, and continue to deliver on your promise. To better understand what the future looks like for your benefits plan’s premium costs, ask yourself:


Does my prospective supplier make cost-containment a priority?

Costs are rising all the time (particularly in the areas of prescription drugs and disability), so look for a provider that makes a point of showing you how they are actively working to keep overall costs down every day. If they aren’t willing to discuss cost-containment, chances are they don’t have any solutions. If, however, they are demonstrating that they take cost-containment seriously, chances are they are working hard to keep your costs under control in all areas.

Claim payments service

Your employees experience the value of your plan the minute they submit a claim. This is their first “touch point” with the benefits plan, and will set the foundation of the employee’s perception of the plan. Ask these questions to clearly define the speed and ease of claim payment:

How quickly are employees’ claims processed?
How complicated is the process?
How quickly does customer service respond?
What level of customer service should one of our employees receive if they have a problem?


While innovation might not seem like a top priority when identifying a group benefits program and provider that will be a valuable partner over the long term, it inherently is. The world is changing, and in order to remain relevant and of value, your group benefits provider should be innovating continuously in areas that provide value to your organization and your employees. To help identify a benefits provider who sees innovation as a part of their commitment to you, ask yourself:
Do the plan and provider demonstrate innovative products and structures that help keep costs under control and still add overall value to our program?

While many plans may look the same, some companies have shown their ongoing commitment to finding innovative ways to restructure or reinvent traditional benefits elements.

You should look for unique approaches that add value.

While many plans may look the same, some companies have shown their ongoing commitment to finding innovative ways to restructure or reinvent traditional benefits elements.


Most of us – even those whose responsibility it is to identify the right benefits plan for the organization – aren’t experts on insurance. It is important to look for a provider that speaks to you in a language that you understand and that doesn’t default to industry jargon and complicated information that is confusing rather than clear. Look for a provider that is proactive in pointing out ways to add value to your program by showing you cost savings that you otherwise might not have even known were there.


Insurance is highly complex. Much like having a trusted mechanic, a part of your decision to go with one provider over another will come from a sense of trust and your own instincts. Look for indications that the partner company is worthy of that trust. Along with asking the questions listed earlier, ask for customer testimonials and references and take a good look at how long the company has been in business and what their overall reputation is.

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