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Third-party administrators see changes in tech, benefit plans

A number of the Mississippi’s third-party administration firms say business is good and growing. They note trends in their industry that include more widespread use of technology, changes in supplemental benefits and more small companies using their services.

“The biggest trend I see is that consumers are more educated and aware of rising costs of medical care, along with more computer savvy so they are requesting more technology to look at their claims online,” said Wally Davis, vice president of Health Link and Acclaim in Tupelo. “We get a lot of requests for people to be able to see their claims.”

The full-service third-party administration group began in 1996, the early days of such firms, and now has 28 employees. The most used service is administering medical claims. Davis said its job is now more challenging and facing new challenges every day.

“There’s more competition in the marketplace now and the biggest challenge is keeping up with technological advances,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot more specialized procedures and requests from members traveling to another location for a service not offered in Mississippi.”

He feels it’s tougher and tougher for small business owners to provide benefits, and is beginning to see an increase in consumer-driven healthcare plans, a trend that has grown faster in urban areas.

Dyatech was begun in Jackson in 2001 by Frank Harrison to administer record keeping for 401(k) plans and payroll and human resource services. President Mike Craft says the firm now provides services in all 50 states for 401(k) plans.

“The trend is that both services are growing,” he said. “There are so many taxes and federal regulations now. Small companies don’t want to deal with payrolls and 401(k) plans. It’s a headache they don’t have to deal with and can spend their time managing their business.”

Craft said the firm, with 42 employees, promotes customer service and he believes that’s why it’s growing. It is now administering 1,400 retirement plans and 70 to 80 payroll plans.

“We’re seeing a lot of movement with HR consulting; a lot of policies and procedures to develop. We are there to answer COBRA questions, too. People call here and talk to a real person,“ he said. “It’s all automated, but there is still a direct link to a live body when someone calls us. We get a good response from that.”

David White is president of Morgan White of Jackson, a 21-year-old firm that administers vision and dental plans for United Healthcare, Delta Dental and Standard Life and Accident Company.

“Business has been strong for us. We’re seeing some changes in benefit design for the first time on the supplemental side,” he said. “There’s so much pressure on healthcare insurance rates that some employers are offering supplemental benefits on a voluntary basis. Employers may pay less of it or none of it. Still, it’s better for employees because they can pay for it from pre-taxed income and get cheaper rates.”

White said there’s a lot of plan changing going on as employers look for ways to counteract the high costs of benefits with something different.

“It’s a two-edged sword for employers,” he said. “They need benefits to attract the best workers, but must find a balance. We must provide something for them that gets the job done and gives them the best price.”

One new solution for supplemental benefits may be a gap plan, which can result in a 15% savings on the overall benefits bill. That’s something that White said is more popular in the times of big health insurance rate increases of recent years.

“Agents are telling me they’re seeing rate deductions anywhere from 10% to 20% for the first time in a long time,” he said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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