3 quick thoughts from Wellthie CEO Sally Poblete on small group health insurance market

Today, many small employers that dropped group coverage for employees are reversing that decision — as The Wall Street Journal noted — and again shopping for small group health plans as individual plan premiums increase and provider networks narrow.

Insurers offering small group plans face a few key issues in 2017, namely cost-saving initiatives, innovative benefit design and tapping America's remaining uninsured population, says Sally Poblete, founder and CEO of Wellthie, an e-commerce platform for health plans.

While the small group market may be avoiding many of the individual market's woes, payers are still seeking more efficient ways to operate and lower medical costs.

Ms. Poblete spoke with Becker's Hospital Review about current shifts in the small group health insurance market.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What are some small group market trends you have seen over the past year?

Sally Poblete: I have seen three key things. First is more than ever, small businesses are continuing to focus on the affordability of insurance. With healthcare costs rising, insurers in the small group market are continuing to look for ways to save in terms of their healthcare dollars.

Two, small businesses are looking for creative ways to think about their benefits. This includes professional employer organizations, self-funding or leveraging the individual insurance market to help employees gain coverage, especially if companies have less than 50 employees.

Third, small businesses are continuing to demand a faster experience when it comes to managing benefits. They are looking to brokers and companies to help them make their decisions. The use of brokers has been the norm for many years. However, there is an increasing use of technology.

Q: Can you talk about the landscape of the small business insurance market?

SP: Small business insurers are utilizing the same regulations under the ACA, though they have not seen similar concerns or exits in the small group market as in the individual market.

Instead, we expect carriers are continuing to focus and invest in small group membership. This is not in reaction to individual market exits, as small businesses are the bedrock of the U.S. economy and they need insurance as a whole. It's a robust, strong market.

Q: The number of uninsured Americans is at a historical 8.6 percent low. What are some tactics insurers can use to access the untapped uninsured market?  

SP: On the small group side, the working uninsured, — freelancers, small business employees — these individuals have jobs but are not getting benefits from their work. They may not be fully aware of the opportunities they have in the individual market. We think that is one of the most untapped uninsured markets. 

More articles about payer issues:
Medicare open enrollment starts Saturday: 5 things to know
16 payer, provider contract disputes, resolutions
Vanderbilt University Medical Center goes out of network with ACA plans

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