Tag Archives: Health Care

The Status Quo is “The Other Guy”


What is the status quo? In the benefits business, there are many who like to label the “other guy” as protecting the status quo. Yet, after I learn about what the person making the proclamation about his/her competitor is really doing, I conclude that they are protecting the status quo too. I know there is a desire to be different in business. Many books have been written about needing to be different. However, one is not different through a simple proclamation.

I hear new ideas every day. In the health insurance and health care businesses some of these proclaimed “new ideas” are really repackaged “old ideas”. Private Exchanges promoted as new in 2014 were recreations of cafeteria plans sold in 1986. Level-funded plans are similar to minimum premium plans sold in the early 90’s. GAP type plans were being administered in the late 80’s. On many occasions, these were promoted as new and if you didn’t sell these products, you were protecting the status quo.

Now we have an army of benefits advisors promoting things like direct provider contracting, direct primary care, referenced-based pricing, as the new savior of the health insurance system. Yet, according to one-person I quote and trust, Mark Bertolini, ex-CEO of Aetna, “direct contracting will be a failed model”. Those promoting these programs are claiming that those that don’t promote them are “protecting the status quo” while a respected insurance executive says they won’t work. Who is one to believe?

I am taking a different perspective. What if protecting employer-based insurance in general is protecting the status quo? There are brokers running around saying “Mr./Ms. Employer, you are in the health insurance business, get over it and take control”. Put in all these programs to micro-manage your claims. Well I am pretty sure employers don’t want to be in the health insurance business and be in the claim’s management business. (Though they don’t mind giving the employee some money.) If given the option to get out they would.

I am also pretty sure most employees would like more health insurance options versus having the limited options provided by employers. I know I would want more options. Yet I see no lobbying to get the employer out of the middle of health insurance, other than from the likes of Mark Bertolini and President Trump. So, if virtually everyone wants the employer out of the middle, then I would conclude that protecting employer-based insurance is protecting the status quo?

President Trump, through Executive Order, made the biggest change to our health insurance system in the last 60 years. However, rather than embrace it and deliver what most employers and employees want, the industry is somewhat ignoring it. I have some news though; this is not going away. The train has left the station. Employers and employees will eventually get what they want, and when they get it, they won’t go back.

So as one wanders through this health insurance maze, pause before you label “the other guy” as the one who is protecting the status quo. In some eyes, the one protecting the status quo may be the one in the mirror.

An Imagined Trump/Bertolini Health Care Discussion


Below is a conversation I imagine that could have happened between President Trump and ex-Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini. I would imagine this is a simplified version of a deeper conversation, but you will get it.

Bertolini – It is great to see you Mr. President.

President Trump – Same here Mark, how are things?

Bertolini – Things are great!

President Trump – Mark, as you know, health care costs are out of control. The costs are adding to our deficit and we will never control spending if we don’t wrap our arms around health care. And the citizens are beginning to really feel the pressure from these increased costs and higher deductibles. I know you have been leading the way on how to transform the health care business. What do you think we can do in the short term and long term to stop this trend?

Bertolini – Well, the number one problem is that employers are in the middle. This is a formula that can’t work and drives up costs. Until the consumer is empowered there is little chance to controlling costs. Also, in today’s environment the insurance companies make more money when people are healthy, and the health care providers make more money when people are sick. We need the health care system to be rewarded to keep people healthy.

Trump – How do we get the employers out of the middle? Everyone says you can’t take my health care away.

Bertolini – You need to eliminate the employer deduction for health insurance. As long as it is more beneficial from a tax perspective to buy through an employer than the employee buying directly, then you will have the employer in the middle. It isn’t even fair that an employer can get a deduction, but an individual can’t. Move the deduction from the employer to the employee and that will start the process to solving this problem.

Trump – The Democrats want Medicare for All. They have also don’t like the lower corporate tax rates. I have been talking to other Republicans and they are willing to trade off keeping the lower corporate tax rates and eliminating the health care deduction at the employer level. The Democrats also don’t like the fact that it is regressive. The higher income earners get a much greater deduction in pure dollars than lower income earners. If we move the deduction to the employee, they want to make it progressive. Someone making $50,000 may get the full deduction but someone making $500,000 may not get any at all. This is a compromise that could work.

Bertolini – We did the deal with CVS because we expect the employer gets out of the middle. As I said, we need to empower the consumer. If you move the deduction to the employee, you will essentially save the individual insurance market overnight. You know that right now employers are doing everything they can to dump bad risk on the individual market and you have an army of insurance brokers assisting in this process.

Trump – Well getting this done in the next year or so is going to be tough. Budget negotiations are brutal.

Bertolini – Is there anything you can do now?

Trump – Well I can work within the current laws and do something through Executive Order. What if I made an individual policy purchased through employer contributions tax deductible? I can do that real fast.

Bertolini – That’s a great start. It will put things in motion to start the focus on the consumer. Many employers want to get out of the health risk business. They would rather give employees money and just let them buy themselves. Insurance companies will start supporting the individual market much more if you do this.

Trump – After the next election we will need to pass a budget, and I think we will have to compromise and move the deduction from employer to employee. Democrats and Republicans are on board with that.

Bertolini – This will save the private health insurance market and empower firms like Aetna/CVS to really start focusing on the consumer. I always believed that the companies that provide some form of health care need to be in the risk business. The incentives need to align with the outcomes you want to get. This will do that and drive down costs.

Trump – Thanks Mark. You have been very helpful.

June 2019 – The individual Coverage HRA becomes a reality.

Possibility – Effective January 1, 2023 Deduction for Health Insurance Moves from Employer to Employee

 

The Health Insurance Tsunami is Coming – and It Will End Employer Health Insurance as We Know It


By Joe Markland and Mike Davis

This article is being written after an open and honest discussion with my benefits broker friend Mike Davis this morning over breakfast. Mike is a 30-year veteran in the business who had already sold his first benefits business around 10 years ago. After some in depth thinking we drew the same conclusion as it relates to the employee benefits business. A tsunami is coming at the employee benefits broker and most don’t see it, but it is out there. This tsunami can reduce commissions from $30 PEPM to $15 PEPM overnight. For those not prepared it could be catastrophic, however for those prepared, there may be fertile ground on the other side. Regardless, it is coming.

Mike – While this is something I have thought of as inevitable for several years, this renewal season has somewhat sealed the deal in my mind. Large increases and even a non-renewal in a market where recent tax law changes are giving employers an “out” have made me conclude it is imminent. The problem with employer-based health insurance is the perpetual gamesmanship required to find a different or better risk pool. Solutions like hiding in the pool, self-funded, level-funded, referenced based pricing, captives, and associations are all short-term solutions designed to “game the system”. In reality, the types of plans or funding are segmenting the risk pool which contributes to the larger problem of rising health care premiums in America. Many don’t want to admit this, but we are all whispering to ourselves that this is the reality. As a result, health insurance and then health care is about to change in significant ways and distributors like myself need to act or get wiped out. The phase-out of the current system and opportunity to morph has just begun.

Joe – I have been watching this market for some time and have conducted webinars and written articles about the “Coming End to Employer-based Insurance”. I will be honest, I have taken many arrows from brokers who have not liked my message, though my message is simply based on listening to people like Mark Bertolini, ex-CEO of Aetna, and an advisor to Donald Trump. Both are saying that employers should not be in the middle of health care. Bertolini took action selling to CVS. Trump through Executive Order made an individual policy tax deductible and allows the Employer to use the HRA as a contribution conduit for their contribution. They spoke. I listened and acted myself by forming my new company, N4one HR and Benefits, that is designed to thrive whether the health insurance market changes or doesn’t.

We aren’t saying the sky is falling for the sake of selling fear. From others perspective the current employer-based healthcare market is already very broken. Employers and employees’ skies are already falling because the cost burden of health insurance is significantly impacting profitability and for the individual their personal financial health. For much too long the existing ecosystem of carriers, brokers, and administrators have simply pushed the costs around. And the argument that health insurance costs are high because the cost of healthcare is high will fall on deaf ears. Healthcare costs are high because the current health care financing models do not create incentives to control costs. Those incentives need to change which include empowering the consumer.

Employers are sick and tired of being in the health insurance business. Some have started the process of getting out by looking to offer individual products through an HRA. There will be some this year, more next year, and before long there will be a Tsunami moving to individual options. We believe that after the election the deduction for health insurance will move away from the employer and to the individual, ending traditional group health insurance forever.
People and businesses are slow to change. Employees at Blockbuster were Netflix subscribers and Blockbuster could have bought Netflix. We think this is your Blockbuster moment. The Tsunami is coming. We don’t know when it will hit but it could be much sooner than anticipated. It really doesn’t matter to a certain extent because if 5% of your clients want out and you don’t know which 5% then you need to address them all. This must start NOW as the renewal season has begun, and the law takes effect for this renewal.

We have built a model that we believe can help a broker not only survive but thrive when this wave hits. However, it takes careful planning, hard work, and flawless execution. This takes time and scale. Our model shortens that time and delivers the scale needed.

Mike – Joe has been talking about this for some time. I was a doubter too (as to so soon), but his predictions have come true. A simple stroke of the pen and the world has changed. It can change even more. His argument about market dynamics simply makes sense. I read 3 weeks ago of Cigna’s re-entry into the individual market, then the same last week of United. The ACO/Value Based tight network plans are emerging from commercial carriers and Health Systems as well. While difficult for an employer to choose one ACO plan that serves all, if each individual can choose on their own, the viability increases exponentially…not to mention the individual’s ability to purchase very rich or very lean benefits to suit their needs. Like you, I can’t take the chance that the market doesn’t change. As the saying goes, “Hope is not a strategy.”

Our solution requires three things:
• First, prepare for a world where you can handle twice as many clients with the same amount of staff. This can happen in a future world where service demand decreases substantially as it is supplanted by on-line/telephonic enrollment and member services.
• Two, expand your revenue capabilities by expanding your product/services capabilities.
• Third, market, market, market, the new value proposition to sever existing relationships

We think that the small brokerage firms with deep local knowledge and relationships, and entrepreneurial work ethic, armed with the technology tools and support can adapt most quickly…. yet they don’t have the capacity or capability to do this on their own without a significant capital investment. Our solution is to do this in a shared services model through our N4one HR and Benefits organization, which is an organic broker consortium that will grow and be directed by its’ members. This isn’t merely a technology buying group or scaled product procurement Broker Association. It is a business transformation company.

We are looking for just a few brokers per geographic area to bring a new model to market. Collectively, with a unique value proposition, professional marketing, and educated and armed professionals on the front lines, we can do something great for employers and their employees. However, it requires some clean thinking and a willingness to change. If interested give us a call at 508-498-7591.