Michael Levin is the Co-Founder and CEO of Ideon, connecting health insurance and benefits carriers with insurtech platforms, enabling efficient data exchange, at scale. Michael was interviewed by Michael Fiedel, a Managing Director at InsurTech Ohio and Co-Founder at PolicyFly, Inc.
Mike, what are the biggest challenges facing the employee benefits industry from a technology perspective today? And what do you think are some of the opportunities?
“It all starts with the member experience. Some of the challenges members have in the health and benefits space stem from confusion around what these products are. There’s a lot of strange terminology where unless you're in the industry, you may not understand the difference between a copay, coinsurance, deductible or out of pocket maximum. You may not know what treatments are covered by insurance, or whether your doctor is in network. Imagine you're in the yard, step on a rake and hurt yourself. You’re probably not thinking about whether you have coverage at that moment. The industry could do more to remind people of their benefits when they need them most.
When you take all of that together, the health insurance and employee benefits experience for the member is lacking compared to any kind of other experience we may have in our daily lives. The common thread hindering a better experience is a lack of quality connectivity among key stakeholders in the benefits ecosystem — carriers, insurtechs, benefits administration platforms, employers and brokers. This makes the exchange of data challenging.
Great member experiences are a direct result of high-quality and accurate data being exchanged seamlessly. Ultimately, it’s about getting the right data to the right place at the right time.
Common data issues impact members throughout their benefits experience. For example, individuals often have difficulty understanding industry jargon, which lacks consistency across different carriers. At its core, this is really a data quality issue. It’s one that we're passionate about solving.
Another example: coverage issues. When you or your dependent arrive at the doctor and find you’re not enrolled correctly, it’s often due to the overwhelming amount of manual data entry still required in the benefits industry today, resulting in data inaccuracies and errors. That's what Ideon is all about, fixing those problems to the benefit of the member, but also to the broker, employer and carrier. Essentially, everyone in this ecosystem.”
Where do you see cross-industry collaboration being an opportunity?
“Consider the example of employees and their families enrolling in the group benefits plans offered by their employers. As we bring on more and more clients, we are finding that about 8% of that enrollment data is wrong and creating a coverage issue. For example, imagine if your plan enrollment through your employer never went through because someone entered your birth date or your social security number incorrectly. Solving this is possible, but the interesting part is that these problems have become institutionalized and accepted.
Carriers, employers and brokers have built a process to deal with the customer service aspect to clean up the problems after the fact, but these are solvable problems before they reach this point. We're very passionate about that. But, solving these issues requires cross-industry collaboration, and everyone's got a role in solving this issue. Many carriers don't have the capability to share information across the industry ecosystem. Sometimes that's a technical barrier. Sometimes it's a philosophical barrier, but that sharing needs to occur. Employers have to have an ability to recognize when there are data discrepancies and route them to the right person to rectify it. Ultimately, everyone has a role to play in cleaning up data, so experiences are delightful for all: members, employers and brokers.”
How is the pandemic affecting employees and employers as well as the digital transformation of employee benefits as an industry?
“Prior to COVID, our industry was very slowly moving toward being digital, but the pandemic changed that. It changed the dynamics of how insurance products are sold and how people enrolled in them. You no longer have brokers coming into your office to walk you through the open enrollment process in person. Carriers quickly became aware that they had to do things differently. COVID has been a tailwind for this industry's digital transformation, a precipitating event that kickstarted us forward.”
Why do you think we are seeing a lot of energy around health insurance and employee benefits?
“As I mentioned before, the experience for members, employers and brokers has room for improvement. There's a lot of really smart people who are saying, ‘We can solve this. We can make this a better experience for all.’ That has attracted talent and investment. Employers should think about employee benefits as a line item on their P&L (Profit and Loss). For Ideon, behind direct payroll cost, it’s our single largest line item expense. For such a large investment, the experience should be better for both the individual and the group market. In response, a lot of great innovation is happening across the country, including in Ohio, and we love that. Our job is to power this innovation and connect the benefits ecosystem, so these folk can focus on creating great experiences.”
What advice do you have for other insurtechs that are looking to partner with large insurance carriers?
“First, keep in mind that carriers are risk averse. Their whole business is to manage risk and that permeates throughout the organization. Many are very old—some of our carrier partners are 150 years old, and those roots run deep. But, for a modern tech company, you have to understand, recognize and embrace the fact that there are many decision makers and influencers within these large organizations. For all of the obvious reasons, you have finance, sales, member operations, etc., which are often separate silos within these carriers that need to embrace insurtech solutions. Those opportunities tend to move slower, but once you are inside those four walls, they're very enduring with deep relationships.”