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Health insurers must get creative with benefits to fill critical vacancies

Competition, an aging workforce, an outdated image contribute to staffing shortages for the health insurance industry.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

In the healthcare labor market, there is a shortage of talented staff and a critical need to fill data, analytics and other administrative positions outside the roles of physicians and nurses.

The nation is operating under an overall low unemployment rate of about 3.7%, while the rate for hospitals stands at 1.6 percent and for health insurers, 1.7 percent, according to the Semi-Annual U.S. Insurance Outlook Study conducted by The Jacobson Group.

Getting healthcare talent and HR departments together is the job of Abbe Sodikoff, senior vice president of The Jacobson Group, who works mostly with payer clients.

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It takes more than money to attract data-savvy individuals to a field that, in the past, has lacked the edge and attractiveness of going to work for an Apple, Amazon, Google or Microsoft.

Job seekers fresh out of college may still have expectations of both a stodgy office building and future career.

"The old stereotype, the 55-year old underwriter," Sodikoff said. "We're trying to turn that image around, trying to show how insurance can be sexy. Now if you look at their websites, you can't tell it's an insurance company right away."

Health insurance is built on data and analytics and is increasing turning consumer-centric to compete with the likes of Amazon.

Insurers need to fill positions in data analytics, business intelligence, report governance and population health. The other large area where staff is needed is care management such as  medical directors and also medical coders.

The staffing crunch is further aggravated by an aging workforce. About a quarter of the insurance industry, about 25%, is staffed by workers over the age of 55.


"It's getting people in the door where we spend a lot of our time," Sodikoff said.

The old formula was to hire staff for the claims operation center, customer service center and for other departments on a temporary basis, and if that worked out, to hire them full time.

Temp to perm no longer works because the employees don't want to wait the 8-10 weeks at a lower pay scale to see if the job pans out. There's so many other full-time offers at a better pay.

Though using temporary staffing as a method to fill full-time slots is no longer a viable method for recruitment, more insurers than ever are dependent on a less permanent workforce. The percent of insurers filling vacancies with temps currently stands at 18 percent, up from 5 percent just a few years ago.

"A lot of that is driven is because it's become so competitive to hire," Sodikoff said.


Salary is just one factor for attracting talent. Getting creative with more non-traditional benefits is another.

Flexibility has become key. Workers want flexible work schedules, the ability to work from home, reimbursement of student loans and unlimited paid time off. Also big is the availability of personal and professional development.

"People want their employer to invest in them," she said.

Also, insurers need to look outside of insurance for talent. In seeking someone to fill an analytics role, Sodikoff advises companies to look for someone with that level of talent in another industry.

"There's the raw DNA and potential; what is transferable and what can be learned on the job," Sodikoff said.

And salaries must be competitive.

"We're getting there," she said. "We still struggle with salaries not being market competitive."

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
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