Learn about how Ideon helped Suvaun launch an ancillary quoting experience in just days, resulting in better scalability, improved connectivity, and an enhanced broker experience.
Learn about how Ideon helped Suvaun launch an ancillary quoting experience in just days, resulting in better scalability, improved connectivity, and an enhanced broker experience.
At Ideon, we’re regularly expanding our network of carriers and technology platforms, from industry leaders with 100+ years of history to startups at the forefront of health and benefits innovation. We’re proud to introduce a new addition to the Ideon ecosystem: Brix, a group life insurance carrier offering affordable plans to small businesses.
In this video, John Flueckiger, Brix’s founder and CEO, shares the origin story of Brix, insights on their digital strategy, and how working with Ideon enables third-party platforms to quote Brix’s plans.
Here are three key takeaways from the video:
By Zach Wallens, Director of Content and Communications, Ideon
The HR and benefits technology (bentech) ecosystem has exploded in recent years, with billions in venture capital investment driving innovation and new players in the space.
That’s left insurance carriers with a strategic and technology challenge: how do we partner and connect with dozens of bentechs, ensuring brokers and members have a great experience across the platforms they use today?
Ted Phillips, Sun Life’s AVP, Distribution Digital Center of Excellence, tackles these challenges every day. Ideon spoke with Ted about Sun Life’s tech partnership strategy, the value of “enhanced” API connectivity, and their new partnership with Ideon.
The below interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
IDEON: What’s your role at Sun Life?
TED PHILLIPS: I lead a team that’s responsible for the strategy and execution of our benefits technology (bentech) platform partnerships. We’re looking to create new partnerships, bring them to market, and grow premium through these relationships. Through Sun Life Link, we work with our accelerator team on building out API connectivity, and our data operations team, which takes the connectivity we build and operationalizes it.
Our ultimate objective is to make benefits easier to manage — to remove headaches that are often felt in managing ancillary products. We want to streamline benefits administration, billing, and everything in between.
How has your partnership strategy evolved recently?
We’ve transformed our partnership strategy for three reasons: First, there’s an expectation now—among members, brokers, and employers—that technology works seamlessly. It’s incumbent upon Sun Life to make sure the benefits experience is great for everyone and that we meet their expectations.
Second, technology has advanced quite dramatically over the past 2-3 years. APIs and enhanced connectivity are the hot topics of today. Most of the bentech ecosystem are working toward some level of enhanced API connectivity.
Third, the bentech ecosystem is far more complex and nuanced than a few years ago. Before, there were benefits administration platforms (BenAdmins), but now there are many more layers and segments within our ecosystem: HCM, proposal tools, quote-to-enroll, broker tech, resellers, and more.
What does that complexity mean for your team?
In 2019, the global investment in HR tech was $5B. In 2020, it was $17B. What that creates is a whole host of companies that are extremely valuable, like Ideon, and others that are just getting their idea off the ground. For us, the challenge is making the right decisions on which bentech platforms to partner with.
We’re always evaluating two things: which segments of the ecosystem do we want to work with, and how can we connect with them? Sun Life can’t take in every connection request we receive from bentech platforms. Middleware like Ideon allows us to multiply our team’s impact by increasing the number of platforms we can connect to.
Sun Life recently partnered with Ideon to enhance your data exchange capabilities with bentech platforms. How does better connectivity affect your clients?
It’s all about making benefits easier. APIs and enhanced connectivity enable us to streamline eligibility, benefits administration, enrollment, etc., and that saves hundreds of hours for our brokers and clients.
We find that when employer groups are on platforms, especially those with which we have enhanced connections, they have access to more Sun Life products and better benefits education experiences. Also, with better connectivity, the enrollment and administration process is faster and more accurate, leading to fewer claims and billing issues.
Let’s talk more about that. How do APIs improve data accuracy?
Technology, including APIs and enhanced connectivity, allows us to identify errors and correct them before they become significant client issues.
It starts with making sure benefits products are set up correctly on platforms. We then use APIs to ensure enrollment eligibility is completed quickly and accurately, to make sure benefits are available when they’re needed.
As enhanced connectivity becomes commonplace, there will be tremendous value in having more accurate data connections. It’s not just about speed — accuracy is just as important.
Does this help Sun Life’s operational team, too?
Absolutely, there’s a big impact on carriers. The Ideon system creates better data accuracy — which may equate to fewer support calls, fewer billing issues, and fewer claim issues. That can have a huge effect on the industry: we’ll all be much better off if we aren’t using paper and email to solve and reconcile these data errors. With better connectivity, they might not be issues at all.
We’ve talked a lot about carrier-bentech partnerships. How else is the industry working together?
There’s beginning to be a collaborative mentality in the benefits industry. Data accuracy and data exchange are industry-wide challenges, and neither will be solved by one carrier alone.
LIMRA is a great example of industry participants and even competitors working together to solve these challenges. There’s a mentality amongst a group of individuals that we need to fix this as an industry. If we do, everyone will be better for it.
Final question: Besides API connectivity, in what other areas is Sun Life investing in technology?
Sun Life is, first and foremost, an insurance company. But we have developed proprietary technology that provides a modern client experience. Sun Life Onboard, for example, is a digitally enhanced onboarding experience. Our Benefits Explorer tool helps educate members on benefits pre-enrollment and throughout the client lifecycle.
But it’s a balance. We also need to be where our clients are. As we’ve talked about, Sun Life has invested significantly in API-powered partnerships with bentechs in the market. Ideon is a big part of that.
We don’t think of these as separate buckets — in-house vs. external investment. We look at it holistically and invest accordingly. Ultimately, we want to make benefits easier to enroll, manage, and administer, on platforms and throughout the benefits ecosystem. We do it by developing technology and through partnerships with companies like Ideon.
“Ideon cleans up the big mess the industry has built”
With the agency management software Benelinx, employee benefits brokers access health insurance quotes from multiple carriers in a flash. The company was started by Rachel Zeman, who formerly ran a brokerage and was frustrated with the redundancies and errors that were par for the course in the space.
In contrast to the traditional, broken model, brokers using Benelinx’s quoting engine have to enter a client’s parameters just once to quote and compare medical plans from numerous carriers.
Backstage, Ideon’s APIs quietly power Benelinx’s quoting tool through seamless data exchange. (We’re the strong, silent type.)
Helping agencies compete nationwide.
Rachel Zeman built RiteHealth Solutions into a thriving benefits brokerage based in Boulder, Colorado In 2019, she sold that company and started Benelinx to offer other brokers access to the customized software platform she had built for her own firm. Benelinx relies on Ideon to make it easier for brokers to provide quotes that compare rates from multiple carriers.
Tell us more about why you started Benelinx
When I ran a brokerage we had become increasingly frustrated with the industry’s archaic systems, which are littered with redundancies and errors that don’t make sense in the modern world. We’d ask, “Why do we have to enter the same client information five times into five different systems?” And there was never a good answer. So we decided to streamline the process and built applications on the Salesforce platform. I knew this was something the market needed and it wasn’t available.
What problems do brokers face getting quotes for health insurance?
Most agencies are still running their entire business on Excel spreadsheets. If they want to make a proposal for clients, they have to go to the websites of four, five, six carriers, and upload the employee census to each, then download a quote. Then they have to compare them because every carrier’s rates and requirements are different. The only practical alternative they had was to work with a general agent that had relationships with multiple carriers, but as brokers get larger they often want to bring more in-house.
How does Benelinx make that easier?
The broker just enters the parameters for a particular client and uploads the census one time. Then all we have to do is ping Ideon, and we get back everything that is available to the client based on each carrier’s underwriting requirements. Every time we demo the quote function to a broker they are blown away.
Why did you decide to use Ideon to power your quoting engine?
The only other option would be to go to all of the carriers directly. It would have been very painful. When we started, we tried to get carriers to give us their rates electronically, and most wouldn’t give us the time of day. If they did agree, the data they sent would have to be cleaned, verified, and put into a standard format. Every carrier uses its own system and way of transferring data. Ideon cleans up the big mess the industry has built.
Can you describe the experience of integrating Ideon into your system?
My developers would say they have had nothing but amazing support, starting when we were integrating Ideon into our system. The customer service was great, and all their technology was up-to-date.
What’s the biggest advantage of working with Ideon?
Ideon has made it easy for us to grow. They are adding new products, like level funded plans. That’s something our clients have been asking for so now we can plug it into our system. It’s so simple. We’ve also been able to expand nationally. If we didn’t have Ideon we would have to go state by state and convince every carrier to give us rates. I can’t fathom what that would look like.
How does your story fit into the broader industry picture?
Our industry is in the middle of a huge consolidation, and that makes it difficult for many brokers. There is nothing more important than maintaining boutique brokers that can help smaller-size businesses make complicated and expensive decisions about healthcare. Ideon is helping us offer a very affordable solution that lets brokers of all sizes compete.
“Ideon does all the heavy lifting—cleansing, filtering, refining all that data from carriers—and then they output a single, consistent data format that’s really easy for us to consume”
PerfectQuote is a SaaS solution for employee benefits brokers and agents, founded in 2017 on the hypothesis that there had to be an alternative to the manual spreadsheeting of benefits and rates. And indeed there was. With PerfectQuote’s software, benefits brokers in the large group space can now quote, analyze, compare, and present plans from carriers in all 50 states.
But what of the small-group space, you ask?
Powered by Ideon, PerfectQuote now offers one of the industry’s leading small group quoting experiences. Want an inside look at how PerfectQuote expanded its platform? See below.
Helping Employee Benefits brokers and their teams sell more, faster and better
Since 2017, PerfectQuote has provided quoting, analysis and presentation software to group brokers and general agents, with the goal of supporting plans for small (ACA) and large-group medical in all 50 states, alternative-funded and ancillary lines of coverage.
To understand how the company works with Ideon, we spoke with Aaron Snyder, president and co-founder, and Curtis Kadohama, head of product. Their answers have been consolidated and edited for clarity.
What’s the cocktail party version of PerfectQuote?
Aaron Snyder: PerfectQuote’s CEO and co-founder, Justin Sylvester, was an employee benefits consultant. Around 2013 he started thinking that there had to be a better way to support brokers and their teams in the manually intensive process of spreadsheeting benefits for clients. He developed the initial push of the idea and in 2017, we started to collaborate. The next year we came out with our first product, called PerfectQuote, with the proposition that we could eliminate the laborious data entry that had been required to sell and renew insurance for brokers in the large group space. While brokers had some options for small group, PerfectQuote was designed to allow brokers to upload any quote file, from any carrier, for any size group. From this point, they would have the ability to analyze and present employee benefits options quickly and easily and without error.
How does Ideon enter into this?
Aaron Snyder: As I mentioned, one of our main differentiators is that we support the large-group portion of a broker’s book of business, with plan and rate data that we get directly from carriers. But on the small-group side, which involves many more carriers, we didn’t have a solution that could support a broker’s entire book of business. So, like any nimble start-up, we developed our small group module and quickly figured out that Ideon could be a single source of truth for small group data,and eliminate some of the friction we experience within the other side of the platform. Ideon provides a very essential function for us.
Why is it such an essential function?
Curtis Kadohama: The easiest way to understand the value of Ideon is to compare our small group and large group data workflows. In the large group market, every carrier has its own format for quote files, each of which may also vary by state. So we’re constantly having to adapt to new file formats, new layouts, new ways of carriers interpreting and illustrating benefit values. It’s highly manual and time intensive. Compare that to our small-group workflow. Ideon does all the heavy lifting—cleansing, filtering, refining all that data from carriers—before they output a single, consistent data format that’s easy for us to consume.
Can you quantify the savings in time or effort from using Ideon as your small-group data source?
Curtis Kadohama: We’ve done some rough analysis. Let’s say there’s a new PDF quote file we receive from one carrier for one state covering one plan. We estimate it would take us 15 hours in terms of scraping, mapping, analyzing, developing, QAing, and refining before we can say, “Okay, it’s ready to use by our brokers.” Now compare that to what happens with Ideon. We’ve already done our integration with them, which took some development time—and each year we’ll spend a little dev time on updates—but for a given employer group, depending on the state, our application could give a broker 700 or 800 plans to present to his or her client, in a matter of seconds. In contrast, a broker’s offering to a client is typically limited to how many spreadsheets of plans can be manually created using carrier documents and PDFs. It’s a pretty drastic difference.
Are there benefits to partnering with Ideon beyond time savings?
Curtis Kadohama: Having a dependable source of data helps on the inbound side, in terms of knowing that we’re receiving reliable information. It allows us to consistently and confidently display information in our application and in our Excel exports to customers. Compare that, again, to our large-group side, where the data we receive is both inconsistent in terms of categorization of information and challenging in terms of quality, with missing decimal places, dollar signs, percentage signs. It’s a difficult experience for everyone, from the people on our team processing that data to the end brokers who have to interpret it. Ideon basically removes those challenges from the small-group side of our business—and to the extent that there are questions or complexity to clarify, which is inevitable, the Ideon team is highly responsive.
“I think of Ideon as infrastructure-as-a-service”
Reclaim helps individuals and families manage their healthcare bills by providing a bevy of insurance-related services. The company’s app allows users to access bills, learn how they might offset costs, discover how they might have received more cost-effective service elsewhere, and more.
Reclaim is out to simplify the insurance experience for the consumer—but they were also eager to simplify their own internal operations.
Enter Ideon’s API, an accurate and comprehensive source for provider-network data—information on which doctors and facilities participate in each insurance network.
Before Ideon we were getting data from carriers, but each one’s schema is different. That makes the ETL [extract, transform, load] process difficult because we were doing several data manipulations per carrier. Now it’s just one schema that we have to worry about—Ideon’s.
Using Ideon also means we don’t have to worry about delays. It’s derisking for us.
So says Reclaim’s co-founder and CEO, Nataly Youssef. Interested in hearing the whole story? Download our case study here.
“When data is in sync, everybody wins”
“Partnering with Ideon makes us a scalable solution”
For nearly a decade, Gravie has been disrupting the health insurance space through its innovative health benefits solutions, from pre-tax individual market options to its own flagship health plan, Comfort.
Since 2018, Ideon has played an important role in streamlining Gravie’s processes. Nicole Lovaas, a vice president at Gravie, shared how things looked before Ideon came on the scene:
We used data we found on healthcare.gov or from the Department of Commerce or other sources—for every state. It was very labor-intensive. We had to enter all the information we collected into Excel spreadsheets, which we then loaded into our system to display plan and rate data.
The folks at Gravie also knew that ICHRAs were going to be a big deal in 2020, and were eager to present themselves as a national solution. However, they were unenthusiastic about the multiplicity of sources that would need to be involved.
Want to learn how Gravie said sayonara to manual processes—and expanded their national reach? Get the case study here.
“Our benefits enrollment and administration experience is light years faster”
Green Leaf Payroll & Business Solutions helps its clients in the cannabis industry streamline a wide range of payroll and HR tasks, from securing bank accounts to providing access to a suite of benefits and HR technologies.
As Green Leaf expanded its benefits solution, there was one often-requested service that it was hard-pressed to address: connectivity between an employer’s benefits software and its insurance carriers.
Hear it from them:
“We were avoiding it like the plague,” says Tyler Priest, Green Leaf’s vice president for strategic accounts. “It would take eight to 12 weeks to build carrier connections, and something would always break. Then I’d have to devote employee time and energy to fixing it that should have gone to servicing clients.” It was simpler to have the employer or its insurance broker manually fill out forms to add or change coverage and send them to the carrier.
By the start of 2021, however, potential clients started demanding the speed, efficiency, and automation of electronic connections to their carriers. “If we didn’t offer a solution,” Priest says, “we ran the risk that clients would look elsewhere.”
Researching the options, Priest found an article explaining that EDI, the technology used to connect to carriers, was being replaced, in some cases, with APIs, a modern approach that is much faster, scalable, and more accurate. He contacted Ideon, a leader in API solutions for benefits platforms, to help Green Leaf enhance its carrier connectivity capabilities.
Wondering how it went? (Hint: This story has a happy ending.) Download the full case study here for all the details.