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Should I stick with one health insurance broker or change regularly?

June 11, 2017

Picking the right insurance plan as a business can be quite daunting. There is a lot to think about, a lot to do, and a lot to compare – especially when it comes to the intricacies of mandatory health insurance in the Middle East.

You could make your life easier by entrusting a broker to take care of all the questions and find the best cover for you. The very best brokers will know the healthcare market and learn your business inside-out. They save you a lot of money, hassle and more.

But finding a broker you trust is something a lot of businesses struggle with, especially small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

Businesses that deal directly with insurance providers tend to default to the cheapest, most basic cover they can get. However, an insurance broker can collaborate closely with providers to create strong, tailor-made solutions for your company.

Benefits of building a relationship with your broker

Understanding the benefits of building a long-term relationship with an insurance advisor is useful for two reasons: it helps you maximise the value you receive, but also tells you when to go searching elsewhere. Let’s look at that in more detail and see how your business can benefit.

Understanding the benefits of building a long-term relationship with an insurance advisor is useful for two reasons: it helps you maximise the value you receive, but also tells you when to go searching elsewhere.

There are plenty of registered insurance brokers out there – 157 in the UAE alone at the last count – so you’re not stuck for choice. Some will be good advisors, some bad. Some will be healthcare specialists, some generalists. Some will also specialise in either SMEs or large corporations. Find your best fit and then give them a chance to win your trust.

Here is your broker checklist.

1. Reacting to changing needs: A broker isn’t tied to any one insurance provider – at least, they shouldn’t be. They are tied to you. They will continually monitor the market and monitor your business, on the basis that a policy that was right one year may not be right the next. A growing business has growing insurance needs.

Take the burgeoning digital sector, for example. Right now, Middle East SMEs lag behind the rest of the world in their adoption of technology. In 2015, a McKinsey report found that only 18% of SMEs in the UAE had an online presence. This in a region where 88% of the population go online daily. Many SMEs are now adapting to survive and it’s predicted that by 2019 the UAE will have the world’s highest growth rate in traffic to the cloud. The health implications are huge, because more of us will be working from home and more of us will be in sedentary jobs. A broker who monitors these changes to your business will be best placed to find a policy or wellness programme to suit your needs.

2. Seeing the big picture: Hot on the heels of digitisation is the collection of data. Insurance providers love data because it helps them better understand risk. An insurance broker’s strong relationship with providers will allow them to work together to track trends over time.

3. Customising your cover: Different employees come with different levels of risk and often the high risks of the few can push up the premiums for the many. For example, type 2 diabetes, which is particularly prevalent in the UAE and Qatar (affecting one in five, compared to one in 20 in the UK) is estimated to cost the healthcare system USD 2,155 per person per year. Therefore, it’s important that your employees’ risk for such conditions are carefully assessed and a flexible premium arranged accordingly. If your broker has been given time to understand more about your employees’ needs, they should be able to find a well-suited solution.

4. Thinking beyond insurance: As a broker builds knowledge of your business and employees, they will be able to provide advice on other ways to reduce insurance costs by bringing more awareness to staff for preventative care. This could mean introducing wellness experts to help your employees become healthier or even working with you to design a personalised wellness programme.

As a broker builds knowledge of your business and employees, they will be able to provide advice on other ways to reduce insurance costs by bringing more awareness to staff for preventative care.

5. Building trust: While brokers can tailor their services more accurately as they learn more about your needs, a long-term relationship gives you the knowledge and confidence to trust your broker’s judgement and advice. This is where brokerage really comes into its own: they do the thinking for you. A trusted advisor will save you hours in decision making and market reviewing and will make the renewal process in particular much less daunting and time consuming.

6. Familiarity: Finally, it’s important not to overlook the benefits of your broker gaining long-term insight into your plan and members. Obviously, this can only happen when they are engaged for a long tenure – building up that familiarity, knowing your business and members inside-out, and understanding your overall goals. This can lead to highly tailored and specific advice, which ultimately benefits your company and brings genuine savings.

Overall, if you’re satisfied with your broker then it’s wise to bring in one new broker every three to five years to ensure that you are truly getting the best advice and are with the best provider – this would include ensuring the premium is issued from the provider (and not just the broker) to certify that it’s not only the broker commission that is affecting the premiums.

What if I don’t trust my broker?

Let’s look at the flip side. To build a healthy relationship with your broker, you first need to make sure you have a good one. If you don’t, then by all means look elsewhere. I would recommend a yearly review with your broker to assess performance and discuss future challenges. Below are a few questions you should ask about your broker when assessing their performance.

1. Are they inquisitive? A little probing goes a long way. You should be pleased if your broker asks lots of questions or requests information, even if this makes you uncomfortable at times. Insurance is a complex, data driven business and the more you’re prepared to impart, the better fit your broker will be able to achieve the right cover. If you have a broker who takes little interest beyond the basics, then alarm bells should be ringing.

In the Vero SME Insurance Index, one thing was very clear: highly satisfied clients tend to have more proactive brokers. In fact, 76% of SMEs who were satisfied agreed that their broker provided in-depth information and analysis of all the options. This dropped to 40% with the unsatisfied clients. Frequent interactions with your broker means they are constantly reassessing your needs and staying ahead of the game.

2. Do they understand your needs? Reducing cost is a primary concern with health insurance, but so is improving the health of your workforce. Your broker should be providing advice and guidance on qualifying tests and help you engage with other gatekeepers in the market, such as mobile doctors.

3.  Are they unbiased? Your broker should act in your best interests, not that of the provider or themselves. However, commission may skew things. Sometimes brokers reduce premiums from their own commission simply to secure your business and then you see a huge hike in premiums the following year. If you’re finding yourself changing policy frequently, this may be a cause. This is where independent client testimonials from the broker can be valuable.

4. Do they get their hands dirty? A good broker will be prepared to roll their sleeves up and help out with difficult or complicated claims. After all, they are the experts. They should be prepared to discuss options with individual employees and help guide them through the process or act as a mediation service.

A good broker will be prepared to roll their sleeves up and help out with difficult or complicated claims. After all, they are the experts.

Continuity counts

For the large number of SMEs that eschew the services of a broker when shopping for health insurance, the motivation is nearly always cost saving. This assumes that health insurance is a necessary evil rather than a positive benefit. When done properly, your company health policy can be a benefit that not only enhances the lives of your employees but also attracts high quality candidates to come and work for you. A trusted broker can help you find cover that fits your needs perfectly, keeping costs streamlined, encouraging a happier, healthier workforce and providing good value healthcare when and where it’s needed.

About the author: Nausheen Popat, Founder & Chief Operating Officer

Nausheen Popat cofounded Lifecare 20 years ago with Alniz Popat, and is today responsible for managing and coordinating the operational running of the business across Dubai, Kenya and Qatar. Nausheen focuses on delivering Lifecare’s operational excellence strategic initiatives. She has been integral in developing relationships with customers and major service providers in the market in order to promote strategic partnerships that serve our clients and promote the growth of the business. Nausheen is a graduate of the University of Northridge, California and holds a bachelor’s degree in Hotel Management.