Amid all the eating, family and friend visits, football games, and shopping expeditions that traditionally fill the four-day U.S. Thanksgiving holiday weekend, many U.S. households will spend time grappling with a far less festive activity: the cumbersome annual process of picking insurance plans for the upcoming year, a.k.a. "open enrollment."
As many readers can attest, it can take hours to sort through the pros and cons of the various options. Traditionally, large companies have devoted seminars or (more recently) webcasts to educating employees about their choices. Now, however, some self-insured corporations are turning to cloud software services to help with that task—and pulling back on their relationships with benefits advisory firms.
One tech company benefiting from that attention is Benefitfocus (bnft), which sells its software to approximately 830 large employers including food company Dannon, apparel maker Under Armour (ua), and propane company AmeriGas. Benefitfocus' revenue grew 28% for the third quarter ended Sept. 30, and it's aiming for $233 million to $235 million by the end of the year.
The company is allied closely with cloud human resources software giant SAP SuccessFactors (sap), which has the right to sell the Benefitfocus service to its own customers. Benefitfocus also part of the marketplace sponsored by big benefits advisory firm Mercer, and it has buddied up with cloud HR software company Ultimate Software.
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In its most basic iteration, you can think of Benefitfocus as a benefits adviser. The system organizes plan information centrally and helps draw attention to new options, such as programs for critical illness, voluntary vision coverage, or even plans for pets. It uses employee payroll data to make suggestions. "We know how to communicate the benefits to get the right people into these programs," Benefitfocus founder and CEO Shawn Jenkins tells Fortune.
That can translate into reduced cost increases for self-insured companies, Jenkins said. Many Benefitfocus customers, for example, are reporting fast growth in adoption of high-deductible health plans—especially among younger employees. That could help large companies better manage premium increases, according to a company analysis. "Benefits are going through a generational transformation," Jenkins said.
Benefitfocus is also finding favor with big companies that support hundreds or thousands of workers scattered across branch or field locations, such as the biggest U.S. propane company AmeriGas (apu), which employs approximately 8,500 people across close to 850 locations.
Andy Rosa, director of human resources for the company, said AmeriGas adopted the Benefit service in January 2014. Since that time, there has been a marked increase in enrollment for flexible spending accounts (which employees can use to offset out-of-pocket medical expenses) and for voluntary policies that offer extra coverage in the event of a critical illness or accident, Rosa says. At many large companies, the participation rate is around 14% of the workforce. For AmeriGas, however, that percentage is closer to 25%. "We are light years ahead of where we were."
The system has been particularly useful in communicating subtle differences between plans, often through videos, Rosa says. "Some people don't read and comprehend the complexity of insurance," he adds. "This helps make things simpler."
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Many of Benefitfocus' customers start using the service during the fourth quarter, when employees are considering and selecting coverage for the next year, Jenkins says.
One area of future investment involves accommodating data feeds from fitness trackers and other biometrics devices. The system started supporting data analytics applications from Limeade, which sells an employee engagement system, earlier this year.