A Look Under the Hood of a Benefits Captive

Jeff Miller

The Risks, Rewards and Requirements of Benefits Captives | Jeff Miller | Corporate Synergies

As with anything in life (or insurance) there are risks and rewards. A benefits captive is no different, but they can help control rising healthcare costs.

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Wondering if a benefits captive might help you reign in healthcare costs? Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was implemented in 2011, small and mid-size employers have been trying to find creative ways to contain costs, sidestep certain ACA requirements and take control of their employee benefits. For many, the solution is self-funding.

But self-funding also means purchasing stop-loss insurance, which may include deductible limits and premium rates that are far too onerous for some small and mid-size businesses.

Enter benefits captives.

A benefits captive is comprised of a group of employers that unite to insure the medical risks of its participant organizations. A benefits captive pools self-funded employers together to save on stop-loss insurance. Employers share risk on stop-loss insurance, which could cut claim minimums by half—from $50,000, which would be out of reach for many employers, to a much more manageable $25,000, for example. Individual employers take on risk below the minimum, and then transfer risk to the captive above that amount.

Sharing risk is attractive to employers; however, this only makes sense if each member of the benefits captive is working equally hard to mitigate risk and keep claims low. There are a few ways to do this.

Employers in benefits captives often share common traits with one another. They may be in the same or similar industries. A captive for private schools, for example, makes more sense from a risk-sharing perspective than a captive that would include a mix of private schools and manufacturing facilities.


Members of benefits captives may be like-minded in plan designs, wellness programs and healthcare management.

For example, employers in a captive may need to meet certain requirements for health and wellness programs, such as biometric testing, routine physicals and other health screenings. They may also require thorough disease management programs to be in place to help employees manage chronic health issues and keep costs down.

This ensures that the employers in a benefits captive are all working toward the goal of containing costs and is a clear advantage over being in a fully insured pool with other employers who may not share the philosophy on health and wellness, which will drive up rates.

Benefits captive risks

Though the goal of a captive is to create an environment with visibility into the plan, the opportunity to contain costs and the flexibility to pay claims as they come in, there are some risks, too.

The primary risk is not specific to captives, but to self-funding. Paying claims as they come in saves money if claims are low, but a higher-than-expected claim can be a shock to the system. Beyond being prepared for this arrangement, there are some risks specific to benefits captives. One is financial complexity: employers must put up collateral for the “shared risk corridor”—the area between the low stop-loss minimum and maximum—as well as third party administrator fees associated with running the captive. If the shared risk corridor runs a deficit, the participating employers must pay an assessment to the captive to cover the costs.

Benefits captive rewards

Overcoming the complexity and ensuring appropriateness for a captive can pay off. One captive for private schools has seen single-digit increases of 6% to 7%, compared to the market trends of 10% to 12%.

Benefits captive members also pay lower premium taxes, avoid healthcare reform fees and pay lower carrier fees. They also have more flexibility in plan design and don’t have to worry about state-mandated benefits.

Benefits captive candidates

Benefits captives have become a good option for small and growing businesses that want to contain health insurance costs. The ideal company is between 50 and 200 lives, financially stable with a strategy for health risk management and wellness and disease management. The right employer is also willing to commit and take a long-term view of a benefits captive—many arrangements require a three-year commitment.

Benefits captives aren’t right for everyone, but they are a good option for an established employer willing to weed through the complexity and take the long view of benefits in order to contain costs.


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© 2018 Corporate Synergies Group, LLC. No part of this material may be republished or distributed without prior written consent.


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    By: Jeff Miller

    Jeff Miller has more than 25 years of experience in the insurance industry in a wide range of capacities and locations. His unique and varied background has served him well in his role as Regional Vice President with Corporate Synergies, where he oversees the development and growth of the firm’s new business producers in the greater Philadelphia area.

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