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AI is making employee benefits a little more beneficial

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Artificial intelligence and cognitive technologies are used in many industries to tackle tasks traditionally performed by people. These technologies change the economics of performing specific tasks and potentially change the speed and quality of those actions. These benefits do come with some trade-offs, but when used properly, the implementation of these technologies can drastically change an industry.

Employee benefits may seem like an odd application of such advanced technology at first glance, but once you understand the implications, you can see the true benefit AI can have. Companies spend on average 25 percent to 40 percent of an employee’s salary on benefits, according to Joseph Hadzima, Jr., a senior lecturer at MIT Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship. Employee benefits are often the second line item in a company’s budget, and these benefits have been serviced with minimal technology until this point.

Usually, employees are handed a stack of documents at an enrollment meeting that’s around 200 pages long.

HR teams use outdated processes for complex issues

Employee benefits are complex and vary from company to company. Even within the same company, there can be a wide variety of offerings. A single company might offer the choice of three different plans for medical, dental, and vision, as well as an HSA or FSA. Companies might also offer different wellness programs or even alternative prescription benefits. I’ve seen a single company with three different options within seven categories, giving an employee over 2,000 potential selections.

If an HR department gets a question about something, they will usually just tell an employee to call the service provider or benefits broker. But most vendors rely on technology from the ’90s, like call center IVR systems that have long hold times. I’ve personally waited on hold for over an hour waiting to speak with my health care provider, far from an ideal experience.

These systems also provide little guidance on what an employee does with their benefits. With something like health care benefits, this can lead to disastrous results with increased costs to both employers and employees. Every employee benefit a company offers is a complex service offering — which is exactly the kind of problem AI and cognitive technologies can tackle perfectly.

Cognitive technologies offer better solutions

Artificial intelligence-powered chatbots can service employee benefits at a lower cost than traditional call centers. An average call center costs at minimum $1 a minute for service. Specialty call centers that are specific to health care cost at least double that. My team has been able to handle over 80 percent of our interactions with our AI chatbot. This frees up our concierge staff and allows them to perform higher level tasks.

My team has also programmed our chatbot to do outbound engagement campaigns that would be cost prohibitive for a traditional company to perform. At the start of flu season each year, we reach out to our members with a reminder to get a flu shot. Our chatbot can automatically pull insurance information and find a local provider who will take each individual’s insurance. This costs us pennies in server time to perform for thousands of members across the U.S. Without artificial intelligence, an outreach of this scope would be next to impossible and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Artificial intelligence is already drastically changing employee benefits today,” said David Contorno, whom Forbes called one of America’s most innovative benefits brokers. “Companies have introduced more and more programs to tackle the rising costs of health care, but AI has supercharged these programs. AI is a game changer in its ability to personalize the member experience and get employees to use these programs. I’ve talked to companies that have implemented programs like telemedicine that have had zero to no utilization. The new companies that have come into the market and added artificial intelligence to service these programs have had their usage skyrocket — we are talking a 25 times increase in usage. It’s been a game changer for the industry.”

AI is the future of benefits management

Artificial intelligence technologies will continue to improve and change employee benefits. Companies are putting a higher level of financial risk onto employees for health care costs with the rise of high-deductible health care plans, which now account for 29 percent of all employer plans. AI will guide the way to ensure these employees understand how to use their benefits correctly. With the amount of data that’s involved with these plans, AI is almost the only way to service these plans correctly.

Medical expenses is the number one cause of personal bankruptcies, according to the American Journal of Medicine. At least now we have AI to guide people in the right direction and avoid financial pitfalls created by faulty benefits planning.

Artificial intelligence drastically changes the economics of service. It allows for better, more frequent interactions. It also allows companies to be more proactive in helping customers and can drastically change business models. Due to the complexity of employee benefits and health care, AI is the perfect tool to tackle these problems and transform an industry.

Rick Ramos is the chief marketing officer for HealthJoy.com, a guidance and cost containment platform for employers to manage their health care.

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