Once a quarter, I plan to feature an article on an HR Professional that is making a major impact in the profession. This quarter, I have selected Olga Alvarez, the most knowledgeable benefits specialist I know.
Not only is Olga knowledgeable about the benefits administration process, she also knows cost saving secrets on how to keep benefit costs low and can educate employees on how to best optimize their often-underutilized benefits.
For our interview, we have met in the posh lobby of the Post Oak Hotel in the Galleria Area in Houston, TX.
So tell me, now that the 2019 open enrollment period is over, what significant changes have you seen in healthcare insurance options that you didn’t see last year?
In the past few years, there has been a significant trend in employers tying wellness to their employee health benefits. There are several wellness vendors that have done an excellent job in creating innovative and successful wellness programs. This year we were introduced to an awesome performance-based pricing wellness program. I’m referring to OMADA which a program that tackles chronic disease prevention particularly diabetes. The fact that it’s a performance-based pricing program means that the employer doesn’t get charged until they see results which speaks highly of OMADA’s guarantee for the high success rate of their program. These types of programs are awesome because they help employees make significant improvements to their overall health while also helping employers keeping their medicals claims down. It’s a win-win situation for both vendor and employer partnership.
What are ways that employees can cut cost when deciding on healthcare benefits?
One great way for employees to cut costs is for them to enroll in supplemental insurance plans such as those offered by AFLAC. I’m referring to plans such as Hospital Insurance, Accident Insurance, Critical Care, etc. These plans have a cash payout that is paid out directly to the employee via a direct deposit. The intent of these types of plans is to offset the out of pocket costs such as the medical deductibles and coinsurance. However, the monies can be used for any type of cost even things such as mortgage payment, car payments, utilities etc.
What are some great additional healthcare benefits that employees tend to forget to use or sign up for?
Employees often forget to use all their benefits particularly the dental plan’s standard benefit of two (2) free annual cleanings and the dental “standard” allowance of $1,500 per year. Also, most supplemental insurance plans such as the hospital and accident plans have a wellness pay out of an average $50 per plan per member enrolled (a claim must be filed). These are two example of the type so benefits employees tend to forget are available each year.
As long as I’ve known you, you’ve always valued your relationship with your insurance broker. Why is that relationship so important?
The broker is a key partner in the success of an employer’s benefit programs. They go to market annually to bring multiple quotes to the table from the big carriers also known as the BUCA (Blue Cross Blue Shield, United, Cigna and Aetna) which is followed with their advice to which quote is the best option and best meets the client’s needs. In addition, they also serve as a consultant to keep their clients legally compliant with government regulations such as ERISA and PPACA.
What advice would you give to young professionals who may be interested in pursuing human resources as a career?
Any person looking to go into HR, should start off by obtaining their PHR certification and/or work on landing an entry level position in HR. I would also recommend that they network with other HR professionals by means of joining an HR association such as HR Houston and/or SHRM. Another great way to get started is to attend one day benefit seminars often hosted by Fred Pryor or Skillpath which are great crash course type seminars dealing with benefit subject matters.
About Olga Alvarez:
Olga is currently working at Versa Integrity Group in Houston, Texas. In this role, she is responsible for the administration and implementation of Versa’s employee benefit programs. When she is not working, Olga is caring for her family and mentoring young aspiring HR professionals.