A Conversation with...Jeff Kennedy: Benefits Specialist, Nixon & Lindstrom Insurance

A Conversation with…Jeff Kennedy: Benefits Specialist, Nixon & Lindstrom Insurance

You were recently selected by the National Association of Health Insurers as president of the statewide association. What does the organization do?
It’s our industry association, probably the premier industry association for agents and brokers across the country – working specifically on benefits and health insurance, dental, vision, life , short-term/long-term disability, lines of coverage you would expect to receive from your employer. And then also representing agents who work in senior markets with Medicare, individual health insurance, and other direct-to-consumer coverage hotlines. The association itself is divided into chapters across the country – at least one association in each state. Within this state association, there are individual chapters. I facilitate the state association as chair of the board, as well as our Springfield chapter.

What are your goals as Chairman of the Board?
We advocate at the national and state level, and even at the regional level, for legislative guidelines that affect our clients. Really, the most recent problem is this family problem. Family issue refers, essentially, to a spouse or dependent accessing health insurance on the exchange while the spouse may have access to a group plan. Currently, the law is written if you are offered a health plan and it is deemed affordable for you – meaning the employee-only premium you would have to pay is affordable by calculating less than 9.5% of income annual household – in law, the employer has done their duty by providing you with an affordable health plan. But it also makes your dependents ineligible for any tax credits if they were to purchase health insurance in exchange for themselves. In other words, just because your employer provides group health insurance and they (provide) health coverage for your spouse or dependents, it can be quite expensive to add dependents to most group health insurance plans these days. The law really wasn’t written with that in mind. Now that language has changed to fill in some gaps. If adding your spouse or children to your plan is deemed unaffordable, these people can now purchase health insurance in exchange and potentially qualify for subsidized tax credits. Advanced Exchange Tax Credits would essentially subsidize your monthly health insurance premium, making it much more affordable for some who were previously uninsured or paying a lot for that group coverage.

The Society for Human Resource Management’s 2022 Employee Benefits Survey places benefits related to health, retirement and financial planning, and vacation as the top three ranked benefits. Is this compatible with the Springfield area?
Most employers, when we meet with them and do a pre-assessment to see what their benefits currently look like, what they’re looking to accomplish; these three are usually at the top. Here in our region, in particular, we see a lot of employers offering disability benefits. Many of these lines of coverage are offered on a voluntary basis. Employers who want to offer it but don’t have it in their budget offer a great benefit to their employees at a much more reasonable cost. Often customers do not realize this. They think if I offer it, I have to pay for it. There’s some truth to many lines of coverage built into employee benefits, but honestly, putting a strong offer in place and allowing your employees to choose what’s important to them is almost as important as anything. which of them.

With a possible recession on the horizon, companies may seek spending cuts. Should they touch the benefits?
Most of my clients are preparing or planning around a recession type period. However, many of the clients I see have had very good years. One of those key elements is their workforce; being able to retain those employees through this downturn has probably been one of their #1 priorities. My clients aren’t looking to chip away at their benefits in most cases. Employers have contacted me asking how we can strengthen it further. Often, if we have all of these lines of coverage, we will consider changing policies, procedures, or culture changes to perhaps encourage some growth on the employee culture side. That PTO schedule, flexible time off, remote work opportunities, that sort of thing. Many of them have reassessed their physical structures, the real estate in which they are located. Do they need the space they have? Is there a better use of space? I think what we’re seeing is not necessarily a push to get rid of benefits, but maybe to grow our dollar.

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