//social links "sameAs": [ "https://www.facebook.com/merchantsmtg/", "https//plus.google.com/114832614623019927839/about" ]

By Don­na Mar­shall, MBA
CEO, Knowl­edge Ben­e­fits

Who admin­is­ters con­tracts for bil­lions of dol­lars each year and cov­ers health­care ben­e­fits for over 150 mil­lion Amer­i­cans? Health ben­e­fits admin­is­tra­tion man­agers and exec­u­tives do. A study just pub­lished by the Inter­na­tion­al Foun­da­tion of Employ­ee Ben­e­fits Plans cites that ben­e­fits account for an aver­age of 32% of pay­roll costs with the largest amount spent on health insur­ance, a total of 8% of pay­roll. Com­pa­nies like Star­bucks and Gen­er­al Motors report spend­ing more mon­ey on health­care than beans and steel respec­tive­ly. Employ­ers are in the health­care busi­ness and need the exper­tise to admin­is­ter health­care ben­e­fits.

Salary and skills

A recent salary guide pub­lished by Ajilon shows the Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics record­ed 547,000 jobs for human resource spe­cial­ists in 2016 and fore­casts an annu­al growth of 7% each year. A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of these jobs are for health ben­e­fits pro­fes­sion­als. Accord­ing to the salary sur­vey, a ben­e­fits pro­fes­sion­al at the direc­tor lev­el can expect an aver­age base salary of near­ly $150,000 in 2019, among the high­est com­pen­sa­tion with­in HR spe­cial­ties. So how does one get from HR spe­cial­ist to ben­e­fits direc­tor?

Skills that job seek­ers can expect to find in post­ings for top ben­e­fits admin­is­tra­tion jobs include the abil­i­ty to eval­u­ate ben­e­fit plans to ensure they are cost effec­tive, com­pet­i­tive, and meet the needs of the com­pa­ny and employ­ees. Enlight­ened employ­ers also seek can­di­dates who make rec­om­men­da­tions for new ven­dors, plan designs, and fund­ing strate­gies. But the most effec­tive health ben­e­fits exec­u­tives know about pop­u­la­tion health and ana­lyt­ics, con­tract nego­ti­a­tion with per­for­mance stan­dards, and qual­i­ty and safe­ty in health­care. Demon­strat­ing exper­tise in these areas will enhance your impact and influ­ence in your orga­ni­za­tion.

In addi­tion to the skills and num­ber of years’ expe­ri­ence, many employ­ers pre­fer can­di­dates for top posi­tions who are SHRM Senior Cer­ti­fied Pro­fes­sion­als (SHRM-SCP). Such cre­den­tials show com­pe­ten­cy that employ­ers val­ue, with at least one study cit­ing a $20,000-per-year dif­fer­en­tial for man­agers with SHRM cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Moving up the ladder

So, how do job seek­ers get the expe­ri­ence they need to move to that next job? Do cur­rent cer­ti­fi­ca­tion cours­es allow for spe­cial­iza­tion in the skills that make a suc­cess­ful health ben­e­fits admin­is­tra­tor?

We con­duct­ed a small focus group of expe­ri­enced health ben­e­fits exec­u­tives two years ago. We found that half of the group did not have a SHRM or Cer­ti­fied Employ­ee Ben­e­fits Spe­cial­ist (CEBS) cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. They learned “on the job” and cit­ed a lack of spe­cif­ic train­ing in their spe­cial­ty, not­ing a reliance on sem­i­nars, co-work­ers, and ben­e­fits bro­kers as sources of new infor­ma­tion. They were sat­is­fied man­ag­ing cost increas­es to the mid­dle of the pack and fol­low­ing lat­est trends in health ben­e­fits design with­out ana­lyz­ing the health impact on their spe­cif­ic pop­u­la­tion.

The cost of not having a health benefits expert

What is the oppor­tu­ni­ty cost for lack of strate­gic health ben­e­fits exec­u­tives? One clear exam­ple: Esti­mates of waste in the health­care sys­tem show at least 30% of spend­ing goes to ser­vices that are over­priced, not need­ed, and some­times actu­al­ly cause harm. Yet, few employ­ers seek to inter­vene in this sys­tem of health care that fea­tures unwise care and out-of-con­trol costs.

Tena­cious employ­ers can lead the way in sav­ing dol­lars on behalf of their employ­ees and their own bot­tom line. Employ­ers can seek health ben­e­fits exec­u­tives and man­agers who have the edu­ca­tion and the skills to be effec­tive in this spe­cial­ized are­na. But where is this excep­tion­al, well-qual­i­fied group of health ben­e­fits exec­u­tives? We need to build that cadre now with a career lad­der of exper­tise and com­pe­ten­cy in the spe­cial­ized area of ben­e­fits admin­is­tra­tion.