Recently, I attended a conference for employee benefit administrators. It’s an event I’ve been attending for many years now as our agency has worked with third party administrators for nearly 30 years. As always, I left with nuggets of valuable information and a few great ideas, but this last time struck a different chord.

I was listening to a panel discussion where industry leaders were questioning who it was they truly served – the employers or the plan members (aka the employees and their dependents who actually use the health benefit plan offered by the employer)? As the debate went on, all I could think about was how strongly I believed the answer must be BOTH!

I mentioned earlier that Barcelona Creative Group has helped third party administrators (TPAs) market themselves for nearly 30 years. It’s true, Tom Barcelona is a pioneer, helping to found the first marketing co-op for independent TPAs in the ‘80s. They worked together to develop print ads, brochures, trade show displays, benefits newsletters, videos and the list goes on. The goal and the message were always crystal clear – to tell the heroic story of the independent TPA, the self-funded health plan experts who are nimble and creative, with the ability to solve real healthcare cost problems for small and mid-size employers. Always tackling the big, bad BUCAs who had much deeper pockets and huge marketing budgets. I’ve known some of these leading TPAs since I was a kid and now have worked with them professionally for many years and many truly are innovators.

It seems to me that while fully-insured plans and the promise of deep network discounts will always be challenges faced by TPAs, they are far from the only challenge that TPAs of the future must overcome.

Have you ever read “Who is Your Brand’s Villian?” by Robert Rose? It’s fantastic! And I think, very relevant here. Robert discusses how every great story has a villain and our natural tendency is to make our competition the villain. According to Rose, this is a mistake because we and our competitors are both after the same thing. He believes we should think of the competition as the annoying character that pushes the hero to go harder – like Val Kilmer’s Iceman in Top Gun or how Netflix feels about sleep, for example.

It’s no secret that rising healthcare costs have threatened our economy and often times financially paralyzed employers, hard-working individuals and families across the U.S. And what’s a major factor in these costs? Low healthcare literacy that results in underutilization and care decisions that fail to minimize unnecessary expenses. Most employers lack the answers their people need, but TPAs can step up and be the hero in this story. From a marketer’s perspective, it’s a serious misconception when TPAs believe that their innovation and highly personalized service are limited to the employer and the health plan itself. The fact of the matter is their true client is both the employer and the plan members. In no way do TPAs have to choose to serve one or the other.

Even after working with an independent employee benefits administrator to build a self-funded healthcare plan, it can be difficult for the employer or HR personnel to connect with employees and make them understand the true value of the plan. To help them fully understand the benefits being offered and when and how to utilize the tools available to them.

This is opportunity knocking for TPAs – a chance to answer the bat phone and save the day. There is a massive demand for education as both employers and plan members struggle to understand and utilize their benefits. Forget renewal time! This is a 365 day-a-year opportunity to become “sticky” with your employer clients. Providing insights, information and expertise to covered employees and their family members is a fantastic way for you to truly make a difference and become a trusted advisor to your clients AND their most important asset (their people).

Remember, a happy plan member equals a happy employer client. And a TPA of the future must recognize that they are accountable not just to the employer, but to every plan member as well. Informed members are more cost-effective, better utilizing the benefits they have to receive the care they need when they need it.

As a creative TPA, you have the knowledge and experience to turn employees into wise consumers of healthcare. Now you need the marketing power to put it to use. By providing education and resources across the right mix of media channels, TPAs can be the hero that helps employer groups soar to new levels and conquer the doom of healthcare confusion. And, if you need a trusty sidekick to help you make it happen, give us a call, we’ll fly with you!