Q&A with Josh Collins: Lifestyle Benefits & Trends

josh collins headshotJosh Collins is president of NueSynergy, one of the largest benefit account administrators in the country. As part of our ongoing Q&A series with industry thought leaders, we recently met up with Josh to hear more about employer and agent pressures, new lifestyle benefits and other (growing) market trends.

To say the current economic climate is an interesting time for employers is a gross understatement — with many still desperately trying to attract and retain employees, and now a growing number considering restructures. Can you talk a little about scale and what you’re hearing from employers?

You’re correct. This is an unprecedented time of change – whether it’s employers looking for solutions or agents talking with us about how they can differentiate themselves by finding creative ways to help their clients attract and retain an experienced workforce.

We’ve found a common theme in our discussions: agents are looking for innovative solutions because their employer clients want to increase benefits and decrease turnover.

Can you give us some insights into the war for talent and how attrition is impacting the need for lifestyle-based solutions?

According to SHRM, in the Fall of 2021, 66 percent of employees were waiting to review their company’s new benefits offerings before deciding whether to stay or go. That tells you all you need to know about how imperative it is to offer great benefits if you want to retain your current employees. Then we need to add into that equation how important it is to attract new employees as well.

Employers are looking for ways to think outside the box with their benefits programs and NueSynergy is working with companies, insurance agents, and benefits brokers to develop more creative ideas.

One of those new ways that’s gaining momentum is offering carded lifestyle benefits to attract and retain. Can you talk about lifestyle trends you’re seeing? For example, benefits like spousal HRAs, which sounds innovative.

Particularly in the past 18 months, NueSynergy has seen an uptick in employers that are interested in our lifestyle spending account (LSA). If you’re familiar with a flexible spending account (FSA), the LSA is very similar but doesn’t have the eligibility restrictions because it’s taxable to the participant. Without the restriction limitations, employers can contribute funds for their employees to buy things like gym memberships, athletic apparel, spa days – or even use the funds for tuition reimbursement and student loan payments.

The Spouse Saver HRA has been a terrific solution for employers that have seen high claims utilization from spouses covered under their employer plan.

NueSynergy worked with a large client to come up with a solution to incentivize employees’ spouses to elect coverage from their own employer rather than being a dependent on their spouse’s plan. Rather than simply forcing them off their spouse’s coverage, they can get coverage through their own employer and also have access to HRA money that can help pay for up to 100 percent of their out-of-pocket expenses – like copays, coinsurance, deductibles, etc.

It’s quite innovative because it removes the uncertainty and extra cost of covering dependent claims and allows the employer to cap their cost at whatever amount they choose to contribute to the Spouse Saver HRA, and it helps the spouse pay their insurance related expenses—a win-win.

Any other trends you’re seeing in the market—from HSAs to options like ICHRA and beyond?

NueSynergy works to keep our agents and employer clients up to date with the latest advances in consumer-driven health care. HSAs have been around for long enough that the “triple-tax advantage” (tax-free contributions, tax-free investment income, and tax-free purchasing on eligible products and services) is much easier to convey than it once was. Instead, we focus on communicating IRS updates for eligibility and new innovations that make investing HSA funds easier to understand while also catering specifically to the participant’s experience level.

We have also been very active with our ICHRA administration. The concept took a little while to get off the ground because there was definitely a learning curve. NueSynergy has been very active in educating agents and employers. Over the past six months, we have seen a significant increase in the interest of ICHRAs and have brought on a number of clients with very positive feedback.

Finally, as a TPA executive, how do you think about distribution channels? What do you need to do as a business owner to create product expansion opportunities?

NueSynergy has done several things to assist our clients outside of their traditional plan year model. We try to think about how we can come up with solutions others may not think about. Many employers – particularly in the 50-250 employee range – are struggling to fill their current openings. And the employees they do have are forced to take on additional work to help fill the gaps. This creates an inefficiency because it takes the focus off their area of expertise.

As an example, many HR and administrative teams are stretched to the limit. And with additional benefits being offered, it can be a lot to keep track of invoicing, payments, census updates, reconciliation, etc. NueSynergy’s Combined Billing administration executes each one of these responsibilities and provides a nice, clean summary each month. For our clients – specifically the administrative teams – it can be like adding the productivity of another employee.