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The Ultimate Guide to ASO Health Insurance: Benefits and Drawbacks

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The Ultimate Guide to ASO Health Insurance: Benefits and Drawbacks


ASO health insurance is an attractive option for many businesses looking to strike a balance between comprehensive health coverage and cost efficiency. At its core, ASO (Administrative Services Only) health insurance is a self-funded arrangement where the employer pays for employee health benefits but outsources claims processing to a third party.

If you’re wondering about the key benefits and drawbacks of ASO health insurance, here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Benefits:
  • Cost savings based on actual claims, not estimated.
  • Flexibility to offer additional health benefits.
  • Stop-loss policies limit catastrophic claim costs.

  • Drawbacks:

  • Unexpected high claims could erode profits.
  • Employers fully bear the risk of losses.
  • Traditional plans might be more cost-efficient for smaller groups.

In a nutshell:
ASO health insurance offers significant cost benefits and customization possibilities but comes with financial risks that need robust management strategies.

Experienced Partner with a demonstrated history of working in the insurance industry. Skilled in Whole Life Insurance, Long Term Care Insurance, Health Insurance, Employee Benefits Design, and Sales. Strong entrepreneurship professional with a Bachelor of Science (BS) focused in Mathematics from Brooklyn College.

NPA is a specialist in non-traditional boutique health insurance for GAs, Brokers, and Clients. We pride ourselves on our ability to integrate vendors through our Third Party Administrator affiliations. This allows us to create a concierge level experience for all our partners as well as covered members while still achieving substantial cost savings over traditional carriers. With over 40 years’ experience in the health insurance marketplace, we are well positioned to take advantage of the latest strategies that others miss.

A detailed infographic showing the benefits and drawbacks of ASO health insurance - aso health insurance infographic pillar-5-steps

Next, we’ll dive deeper into the definition, features, and operational specifics of ASO health insurance plans.

What is ASO Health Insurance?

Administrative Services Only (ASO) health insurance is a type of self-funded insurance plan where the employer funds the health benefits but outsources the administration to a third-party vendor. This setup allows employers to maintain control over their health benefits while delegating the day-to-day management to experts.

Key Features of ASO Health Insurance

1. Self-Funded Structure

In an ASO plan, the employer assumes the financial risk for providing health care benefits to its employees. Instead of paying a fixed premium to an insurance company, the employer pays for actual claims incurred. This can lead to significant cost savings, especially for large employers with stable claim histories.

2. Third-Party Administration

A third-party administrator (TPA) handles the administrative tasks associated with the health plan. This includes processing claims, managing benefits, and providing customer service to employees. By outsourcing these tasks, employers can focus on their core business activities.

3. Employer Responsibility

Under an ASO arrangement, the employer is responsible for funding the health benefits. This means they pay for the medical claims incurred by their employees. However, they do not have to worry about the administrative burden, as this is managed by the TPA.

4. Administrative Services

The TPA provides a range of administrative services to ensure the smooth operation of the health plan. These services include:

  • Claims Processing: Evaluating and processing health care claims submitted by employees.
  • Benefits Management: Managing the various benefits offered under the health plan, such as medical, dental, and vision coverage.
  • Customer Service: Providing support to employees who have questions or need assistance with their health benefits.

5. Cost Control

One of the main advantages of ASO health insurance is cost control. Employers have greater visibility into their health care costs and can implement strategies to manage these expenses effectively. For example, they can:

  • Negotiate Discounts: Work with providers to negotiate lower rates for medical services.
  • Implement Wellness Programs: Encourage employees to adopt healthier lifestyles, which can reduce overall health care costs.
  • Monitor Claims: Regularly review claims data to identify trends and areas for cost savings.

6. Flexibility in Plan Design

ASO plans offer flexibility in designing the health benefits package. Employers can customize their plans to meet the specific needs of their workforce. This can include choosing which benefits to offer, setting coverage limits, and determining employee contributions.

7. Access to PPO Networks

Employers using ASO plans often have access to Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) networks. These networks consist of health care providers that offer services at discounted rates. By using PPO networks, employers can further reduce their health care costs while providing employees with a wide range of provider options.

8. Improved Cash Flow

Since employers only pay for actual claims incurred, they can better manage their cash flow. Unlike traditional insurance plans with fixed monthly premiums, ASO plans allow for more predictable budgeting and financial planning.

Example Case Study

A large manufacturing company with 500 employees switched to an ASO plan to gain better control over their health care costs. By partnering with a reputable TPA, they were able to implement a wellness program that encouraged preventive care and healthy living. Over the course of a year, they saw a 15% reduction in health care claims, resulting in significant cost savings.

healthcare cost savings - aso health insurance

Next, we’ll explore the benefits of ASO health insurance, including financial and operational advantages.

Benefits of ASO Health Insurance

Financial Advantages

Cost Savings
With ASO health insurance, employers can save money by paying only for actual claims rather than anticipated ones. If your company experiences fewer claims, you keep the surplus. This can be reinvested into your business or used to enhance employee benefits.

Investment Earnings
Employers can set up a health trust where investment earnings, usually tax-free, can fund plan expenses. This adds another layer of financial advantage that is not available with traditional insurance plans.

State Premium Taxes
Most elements of self-funded programs are exempt from state premium taxes, which typically range from 2% to 6% of premiums in fully-insured programs. This can result in substantial savings.

Affordable Care Act (ACA) Fees
Not all ACA fees apply to self-funded programs, which can further reduce costs.

Improved Cash Flow
By opting for an ASO plan, companies can improve their cash flow. Instead of paying fixed premiums, you pay for claims as they occur. This flexibility can be particularly beneficial for managing your company’s finances effectively.

Operational Advantages

Custom Benefit Plans
One of the standout benefits of ASO health insurance is the ability to design custom benefit plans. Unlike traditional insurance, where plan options are predefined, ASO allows you to tailor the benefits to meet your employees’ specific needs.

Administrative Efficiency
ASO plans often come with administrative services provided by third-party administrators (TPAs). These services include claims processing, benefits management, and customer service, making the overall management of health benefits more efficient.

Reduced HR Burden
Managing a traditional group health insurance plan can be a significant burden on your HR department. With ASO, much of this administrative load is shifted to the TPA, freeing up your HR team to focus on other important tasks.

Access to PPO Networks
ASO plans often provide access to national Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs). This means employees can choose from a broader network of healthcare providers, often at reduced rates.

Flexibility and Control
ASO health insurance offers greater flexibility and control over your healthcare plan. You decide what benefits to include and how to manage them. This level of control is not available with traditional insurance plans, where the insurance company makes these decisions.

In the next section, we’ll delve into the drawbacks of ASO health insurance and how to mitigate the associated risks.

Drawbacks of ASO Health Insurance

Mitigating Risks

While ASO health insurance offers many benefits, it’s important to be aware of the potential drawbacks and how to mitigate them.

Financial Risk
One major drawback is the financial risk. Unlike traditional insurance, where you pay fixed premiums, ASO plans require you to pay for actual claims. If your employees have more claims than expected, your costs can skyrocket.

Legal Responsibility
With ASO health insurance, the employer assumes full legal responsibility for the plan. This includes ensuring the plan complies with all relevant laws and regulations. Failing to do so can result in hefty fines and legal complications.

Profit Erosion
Unexpectedly high claims can erode your profits. If you have a year with many high-cost claims, it can severely impact your bottom line. This is a significant concern for smaller businesses that may not have the financial cushion to absorb these costs.

Realized Deficits
Employers are fully responsible for any deficits experienced by the ASO insurance policy. This means if your claims exceed your budget, you’ll need to cover the shortfall. This can be particularly challenging for policies with high impact, like life insurance.

Stop-Loss Insurance
To mitigate these risks, many employers opt for stop-loss insurance. This type of insurance protects you from catastrophic claims. For example, if you set a stop-loss limit at $10,000, any claims above this amount will be covered by the stop-loss policy.

Catastrophic Claims
Catastrophic claims can be financially devastating. These are high-cost claims that can arise from serious illnesses or accidents. Stop-loss insurance can provide a safety net, ensuring that your business is not overwhelmed by these unexpected expenses.

Financial Protection
Investing in a stop-loss policy is one way to provide financial protection for your business. It limits your losses and ensures that a single catastrophic event doesn’t derail your financial stability.

In the next section, we’ll compare ASO plans to traditional insurance plans to help you understand which option might be best for your business.

Comparing ASO Plans to Traditional Insurance Plans

Traditional Insurance Plans

Cost Coverage
Traditional insurance plans cover the cost of claims through fixed premiums. These premiums are set by the insurance company based on anticipated claims for the year. If actual claims are less than expected, the insurance company keeps the surplus. Conversely, if claims exceed expectations, premiums increase the following year.

Premium Control
With traditional insurance, premium control is in the hands of the insurance company. Employers have little say in how premiums are calculated or adjusted. This can make budgeting difficult, as unexpected premium increases can strain financial resources.

Surplus Management
In traditional plans, any surplus from lower-than-expected claims is retained by the insurance company. Employers do not benefit directly from cost savings, limiting their ability to reinvest in other areas of their business.

Insurance Company Control
Insurance companies control the administration of the plan, including claims processing and benefits management. This can lead to limited flexibility for employers who want to customize their benefits packages to better suit their employees’ needs.

Limited Flexibility
Traditional plans often come with a one-size-fits-all approach. Employers have limited options to tailor the plan to their specific needs, which can result in less optimal coverage for employees.

ASO Plans

Variable Costs
ASO health insurance plans have variable costs based on actual claims. Employers pay out of pocket for claims as they occur, which can lead to significant cost savings if claims are lower than expected. This contrasts with the fixed premiums of traditional plans.

Employer Control
Employers have more control over their healthcare plans with ASO. They can customize benefits, manage claims, and adjust funding levels as needed. This flexibility allows for more tailored and potentially more cost-effective coverage.

Potential Savings
One of the major advantages of ASO plans is the potential for savings. If claims are lower than anticipated, employers keep the surplus and can reinvest it in their business. This is a significant contrast to traditional plans, where the insurance company retains any surplus.

Surplus Management
Under ASO arrangements, employers manage any surplus from lower-than-expected claims. This allows them to reinvest in additional employee benefits or other areas of their business, providing more financial flexibility.

Premium Control
With ASO plans, employers have more control over premium costs. They can adjust their funding and stop-loss levels to better manage expenses. This control helps in better forecasting and budgeting for healthcare costs.

In summary, ASO plans offer variable costs, employer control, and potential savings, making them a flexible and potentially cost-effective option compared to traditional insurance plans with fixed premiums, insurance company control, and limited flexibility.

Next, we’ll explore the types of ASO plans available to help you choose the best fit for your business.

Types of ASO Plans

When considering ASO health insurance, understand the different types of plans available. This ensures you choose the best fit for your business needs. There are primarily two types of ASO plans: pay-as-you-go and budgeted plans. Let’s dive into each type.

Pay-as-you-go Plans

Pay-as-you-go plans operate on a straightforward principle: you pay based on the number of claims made each month. This means your costs are directly tied to the actual healthcare usage by your employees.


  • Flexibility: Payments vary, reflecting actual claims.
  • Potential Savings: If your employees have fewer claims, you save money.


  • Unpredictable Costs: Monthly costs can fluctuate, making budgeting challenging.
  • Cash Flow Management: Sudden spikes in claims can strain cash flow.

Budgeted Plans

Budgeted ASO health insurance plans offer a more predictable approach. These plans set a fixed monthly fee based on your claim history from the previous year. At the end of the year, any surplus or deficit is reconciled.


  • Cost Predictability: Fixed monthly payments simplify budgeting.
  • Stability: Reduces the risk of unexpected cost spikes.


  • Potential Reconciliation: You may need to pay extra if claims exceed the budget.
  • Less Immediate Savings: If actual claims are lower, savings are realized at year-end.

Cost Predictability

Choosing between these plans often hinges on your preference for cost predictability. Budgeted plans offer stability, while pay-as-you-go plans can lead to savings but come with the risk of fluctuating expenses.

Claim History

Your company’s claim history plays a crucial role in determining the best ASO plan. A detailed review of past claims can help predict future costs and guide your choice between pay-as-you-go and budgeted plans.

In the next section, we’ll address some common questions about ASO health insurance to help you make an informed decision.

Frequently Asked Questions about ASO Health Insurance

What is ASO in health insurance?

Administrative Services Only (ASO) in health insurance is an arrangement where employers fund their own employee benefit plans but outsource the administration to a third-party vendor. This means the employer pays for the claims, while the third party handles tasks like claims processing, benefits management, and other administrative duties.

What is the difference between a TPA and an ASO?

A Third-Party Administrator (TPA) and an ASO have some similarities, but they are not the same.

  • TPA: A TPA is an independent entity that provides administrative services for health plans. They are not part of an insurance company and often work with multiple employers, offering a wide range of services like claims processing and benefits administration.

  • ASO: An ASO is typically a service provided by an insurance company as part of a self-funded plan. The insurance company acts as the administrator but does not assume the risk of the claims. The employer remains responsible for paying claims.

How much does ASO cost per month?

The cost of ASO health insurance can vary widely based on several factors:

  • Professional Services: Fees for administrative services can range from a few dollars to several hundred dollars per employee per month, depending on the complexity of the services required.

  • Claim History: Your company’s past claims can influence costs. A history of high claims may lead to higher administrative fees.

  • Stop-Loss Insurance: To mitigate financial risks, many employers purchase stop-loss insurance, which adds to the overall cost but provides protection against catastrophic claims.

Keyword research and optimization strategies can help you find the best ASO plan for your needs, ensuring you get the most value for your investment.

In the next section, we’ll delve into the financial advantages and operational efficiencies of ASO health insurance to help you understand its true value.


In summary, ASO health insurance offers a unique blend of flexibility, cost-saving potential, and control that can be highly advantageous for employers, especially larger companies. By opting for an ASO plan, you can tailor your healthcare benefits to meet the specific needs of your workforce, while also managing costs more effectively.

At NPA Benefits, we provide a range of flexible options that allow you to design a plan that fits your organization perfectly. With our expertise, you can achieve significant cost savings by paying only for the claims that are actually incurred, rather than inflated premiums based on anticipated claims.

Moreover, our ASO plans give you greater control over your healthcare expenditures. By integrating stop-loss insurance, you can protect your business from catastrophic claims, ensuring financial stability while still offering comprehensive health benefits to your employees.

Choosing the right health insurance plan is crucial for both your employees’ well-being and your company’s financial health. With NPA Benefits, you can navigate this complex landscape with ease, ensuring you get the most value for your investment.

For more information on how ASO health insurance can benefit your business, visit our level-funded health insurance page. We are here to help you make informed decisions that align with your company’s goals and budget.

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