The Commercial Benefits Landscape: Three Trends Driving Innovation and What These Mean for the Consumer Experience

Updated on April 12, 2023

According to Jon Jennings, chief actuary and vice president of underwriting and project management at Delta Dental of Missouri, there were a record number of benefits plan changes in 2022, with the majority of those changes involving increasing benefits. During a year of economic uncertainty, more and more payers and providers are receptive to change — and with good reason. They have to be receptive if they want to stay relevant. Nowadays, continuous member engagement requires more than just offering a connected and interactive benefits experience. Everything from shopping habits to self-service capabilities to new technology must be factored in to meet member needs. 

Jennings was one of the four senior leaders featured during a panel discussion on “Innovations in the Commercial Market” presented at SKYGEN Summit Transform 2022, an invite-only annual event bringing together leaders in specialty benefits management and technology. SKYGEN is a leader in the vision and dental specialty benefits management, technology and administration space. When it comes to trends influencing commercial dental and vision benefits innovation, other insights from the panel discussion include: 

  • Increased expectations for consumer experience from younger members
    In general, younger generations have vastly different notions and expectations when it comes to choosing healthcare benefits. Brian Goetsch, managing director of HealthScape Advisors, suggests that this is largely in part because these generations are looking at and shopping for benefits in drastically different ways than older generations.

    According to a recent survey by Kyruus, 55% of millennials prefer online scheduling whereas baby boomers and Gen Z still prefer using the phone. Furthermore, nearly 55% of millennials and Generation X use online reviews to select care providers, compared to 40% of baby boomers and 28% of seniors.

    As younger members are increasingly turning to online tools to shop around for providers and benefits plans, John Ryan, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Vision, offers that payers and providers must facilitate this trend by continuing to focus on the consumer experience and find ways to make that online member experience more seamless and accessible. 
  • Consumers as a driver of technology and self-service capabilities 

From personalized shopping recommendations to online customer service tools, today’s consumers expect a connected experience in all aspects of their lives — including from their healthcare providers. The explosion of digital healthcare has radically changed the way that consumers interact with and make purchase decisions, so much so that consumers are no longer simply just active users of the self-service tools that enable purchase power but direct influencers on the future growth of these tools.

Goetsch describes the need to “curate the member find care experience,” and that healthcare providers must offer the kind of experience that members have grown to expect from their shopping experience across all other industries. Before a member chooses a dental or vision provider, he or she wants to know if the provider is right for them. The evolution of technology and self-service capabilities will increasingly be drivers of that. Open Table-style tools for comparing the quality of different providers, scheduling appointments and pricing services will all come into play.

  • Shift from treatment cycle to wellness cycle in benefits utilization and virtual care 

Scheduling an appointment and sitting in a waiting room to be seen by a dentist twice a year is no longer the only option for consumers. Teledentistry and virtual health are making it possible for members to choose how and when they take care of their dental and vision needs, which Bruce Silverman, owner of Silverman Consulting, suggests is providing a way for members to engage with and better understand their health as part of a larger wellness cycle. With not all consumers seeking out the same level or frequency of care, virtual health will serve as an ongoing member engagement tool that will enable continuity of care throughout a member’s life, as well as encourage benefits utilization.

Goetsch suggests that a more holistic concept of wellness is also contributing to a rise in popularity of seeking out second opinions or second consults, a trend which will ultimately help members feel more prepared along their wellness journey. 

How SKYGEN is driving innovation

As the member healthcare experience more closely resembles that of a consumer-driven one, commercial benefits providers will need to adjust accordingly. 

As SKYGEN manages this landscape, it will continue to look at ways to evolve and meet the consumer not only where they are now but where they are going. In addition to plans in 2023 to create deeper and more responsive processes that are all about the member experience and journey, SKYGEN recently introduced a direct-to-consumer platform — a completely customizable shopping portal that can be branded to an organization’s messaging and product portfolio. Through this portal, users can compare plans, establish payment methods and enroll online. 

All of these trends driving commercial benefits innovation point to opportunities for change and creating more meaningful, connected experiences for the member. By listening to the consumer and continuing to meet their evolving needs, the payer and provider will not only be able to expand their existing portfolio but also play a closer and more intimate role in the overall consumer journey. 

John Schaak
John Schaak

John Schaak is Chief Innovation and Growth Office at Skygen.