POWER BROKER: EMPLOYEE BENEFITS
Senior Vice President
Nontraditional Insurance for Nontraditional Workers
The U.S. Woman’s Chamber of Commerce was looking for health
insurance and related education for traditionally uninsured parties,
including part-time workers and small women-owned businesses,
said Fred Karutz, a third-party consultant.
Together, he and Jennifer Akhter developed solutions.
“Jenn drove creation of the multichannel health care coverage
and education campaign,” Karutz said. “She brought industry expertise wrapped around her
knowledge of the customer experience to translate what I knew about the consumer health
business into thoughtful action for the Women’s Chamber.”
Akhter also helped Uber address workers’ comp. As independent contractors, Uber
drivers don’t get benefits.
“We wanted to tackle workers’ comp in an affordable way,” said Patty Daberkow, project
manager, Insurance Solutions, Uber Technologies.
In collaboration with Uber and OneBeacon, Akhter created a program to protect drivers.
Used with the Uber app, the program offers “benefits” designed for independent workers.
Since the program piloted, it has rolled out to more than 30 states.
A company with more than 20,000 employees wanted “affordable, ACA-compliant”
health insurance for its part-time and seasonal employees, said its director of benefits.
He turned to Akhter, who established an online environment linking employees to state
and federal health care exchanges and to additional carriers providing ACA-compliant plans.
INSURICA, Oklahoma City
Delivering in a Turbulent Market
Ongoing efforts to comply with the Affordable Care Act, uncertainty
over its future and medical cost inflation all result in an ever-
changing marketplace. Entities with limited resources — like
municipalities and nonprofits — struggle the most to keep pace.
“Dustin Brand walked us through the market changes. We
changed carriers this year and switched to more managed care
through an HMO. There were more restrictions, and presenting plan changes to employees
can be very sensitive and emotional. Dustin was there to address each employee’s
questions,” said Janice Cain, city manager, the city of Altus in Oklahoma.
Brand implemented a similar change for Goodwill of Oklahoma. The organization’s health
care costs were burgeoning due to both expanded eligibility under the Affordable Care Act
and to largely unmanaged emergency medical care and pharmacy utilization.
Brand was able to partner the nonprofit with an Accountable Care Organization, which
offered an HMO that introduced more medical management into the plan. This helped to
control costs while still allowing employees the flexibility of using urgent care services and
a few other specialists without a referral. Brand was also able to secure around $200,000
in premium subsidies from the state’s Insure Oklahoma program. In the end, he and his
INSURICA team saved Goodwill close to $1 million.
“He is very knowledgeable and is an expert in the field. He presents information well on
the options available and can identify the issues we may encounter up front,” Cain said.
Senior Vice President
HUB, San Diego
Deep Dive Into Client Needs
“Matt Creighton understands us,” said Trish Besaw, director,
human resources, Family Health Centers of San Diego.
While higher rates prevail, HUB International’s Creighton
redesigned the nonprofit’s health plan, which had taken hits from
expensive claims, offering better benefits at a reduced renewal rate.
And he found health coverage allowing employees, many of
whom live in or near Mexico, to use Mexico’s affordable medical and dental facilities while
still allowing emergency care in California.
In time for Welk Resorts’ open enrollment, said Tracy Ward, vice president, corporate
culture, Creighton and his team created a benefits microsite, an online version of its
benefits platform, enabling mobile access with links to websites and carrier contacts.
With Creighton’s help, Welk also introduced a wellness portal to replace its onsite
classes, improving participation across the company’s multiple locations. He also helped
launch an initiative to analyze workforce productivity and absence management.
“He poured a lot of effort into bringing these projects to fruition,” said Ward.
When Rivulis Irrigation spun off from John Deere, the new company needed to find an
equivalent benefits package as quickly as possible for its already shaken employees, said
Nannette Doolittle, human resources manager.
“We needed a quality broker to find good insurance and make quick, smart decisions,”
Doolittle said. “Matt worked hard and fast. He’s very detail oriented.”
Suzanne McGarey, CEBS, CLU
Ascende — a Division of EPIC, Houston
Taking the Long View
A private equity firm in Oklahoma had a unique problem. They did not
have a competitive employee benefits program, because they didn’t
need one. The successful firm had no trouble recruiting employees,
and the prestige of working there overshadowed any concerns
employees might have had about their benefits, or lack thereof.
But then the leadership changed, and the firm’s reputation
took a hit. Now if the company wanted to recruit the best of the best, it needed to revamp
its benefits offering. Enter Suzanne McGarey, CEBS, CLU, and her team at Ascende.
“As a PE firm, every dime we spend is scrutinized by our equity partners, so we have to
keep costs low while still offering competitive benefit plans. So we have to determine what
employees find valuable. Ascende helped us conduct a survey of our employees so we could
get a feel for what matters to them,” said the firm’s VP of human resources and administration.
McGarey also helps her clients develop long-term plan strategies. When HR technology
company Empyrean Benefit Solutions debated whether to switch from an unpopular high-
deductible plan back to a PPO, McGarey helped them to recognize that the problem was not
the plan but the education being provided to employees.
She helped Empyrean communicate with and market the plan to its employees. She
also helped them implement a wellness program that rewards participants with a few
dollars each day deposited in their health savings accounts.
“The program rewards positive behavior rather than punishing lack of participation.”
Cutting Costs Without Sacrificing Convenience
“Keeping our employees healthy is a win-win in terms of
our workforce and our dollars,” said Mark Browder, CFO,
ChildCareGroup. For Browder, maximizing health care dollars with
an effective benefits program is especially important because
ChildCareGroup is a nonprofit. Every cent counts.
Angela Bassinger helped the company get the most for
its money by suggesting a telehealth vendor that would provide added convenience
and ultimately decrease expenses on its health plan by reducing the need for doctor or
emergency room visits. From January 2016 to February 2017, the company saved an
estimated $132,000 in claims that would have been incurred if the members chose an
onsite visit instead of telemedicine.
Bassinger also helped the nonprofit implement a pharmacy advocacy program that
evaluates employees’ medications for compliance and suggests lower cost alternatives
“Angela has also rallied her office to throw some holiday parties for the kids and bring
them gifts — so she supports us in other ways outside of providing insurance. She’s got our
back,” Browder said.
Bassinger and her team also helped Prospect Airport Services drop their fixed costs on
excess insurance by about 15 percent, even while clearing the hurdles of Affordable Care
HUB, Newport Beach, Calif.
“Eric Barthel helped Stanislaus County, Calif., abandon the ‘normal’
brokerage process, where carriers set the rates and then brokers
beat them up,” said Jody Hayes, CEO. Instead, he helped create a
nonprofit organization to build its own health plan.
This year, when the county had enough data, Barthel used it to
negotiate better contracts with carriers.
“Typically you don’t know what you’ve bought, only the cost of the entire package,” Hayes
said. “Eric changed that dynamic. Instead of being in the business of buying health insurance,
we are now in the business of buying health care.”
Even allowing for the vagaries of what might have been, Barthel’s strategy brought
“substantial” savings: $26 million in 2016 compared to projected costs for the county’s
traditional health care program through 2011. Along the way, inflationary costs fell from an
annual average of 11 percent between 2005 and 2011 to 6 percent between 2012 and 2017.
“Eric knows what a broker should know, then a whole lot more,” said Hayes.
That includes providers, said Mary Lou Bennett, board member, Retired Employees of
Kern County, Calif., such as the clinics and hospitals Barthel recruits to take blood work and
distribute educational information at its health fairs. “Health fairs can get out of hand because
of no-shows,” she said. “Everybody Eric invites always comes through.”
Bennett’s board depends on his negotiation skills. During conferences, Barthel negotiates
with the myriad of insurance companies that want to get involved.