Tag Archives: ICHRA

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.

What Sport is Your Benefits Business Playing?


NOTE: This was written in 2016 but don’t think I ever published it.

With firms like Fidelity entering the benefits business, others like Zenefits and Gusto raising tens to hundreds of millions of dollars, and the national firms continuing their rapid pace of acquisitions, one must wonder whether the benefits game is changing in a bigger way. Is all this money resulting in an improvement in the business? Are the rules of the game changing? Not only the rules, but one must understand what league they are competing in. And if the rules and competition change can one continue to compete? Is the price to compete greater than many firms can afford?

In business as in sports it is important to understand the rules of the game and what league you are playing in. How you staff your team and how you play the game will change as the rules and competition changes. And as we all know we don’t get to make all the rules and control how the competition plays the game.

To compete in an individual sport like golf you need a single talented person. In basketball, you need anywhere from 7-10 skilled people. In baseball, the number is around 12-15 while in football you need 20-25. At lower levels of competition, you generally have athletes playing more than one position. In high school football, I played quarterback, safety and was the kicker. In college I was the 5th best QB so I became a safety, and my kicking skills were such that nobody would have ever called me a kicker. At the professional level, you have very specialized skills and the number of skilled athletes you need to win is even higher. Some NFL teams even have two kickers, one to kick-off and another to kick field goals. At the professional level, you need 40 – 50 quality players.

In some businesses, all these rules also play out. To compete at the highest levels, you need more players with more specialized skills. Smaller firms have fewer employees often playing multiple positions. I heard this the whole last quarter where people would say, “I’m too busy, call me after the first.” So, their 2017 plans are on hold because they could not handle fourth quarter business while planning their 2017 or even starting their marketing or sales efforts. They are playing baseball with 5 fielders and don’t recognize it. Others however, in larger firms, have staff making their 2017 plans and do have the time to start their marketing and sales efforts. They have 9 players and a bench creating a competitive advantage.

How many benefits brokers wear the hat of the sales person, the finance person, marketing, and even service? In these firms, it is not possible to deliver the results that larger firms can deliver simply because of number of resources and skills needed to compete. Some larger firms also struggle because they have the numbers but because of their structure they don’t properly leverage their size or skills properly. I once spoke to a producer in a national benefits firm creating her own brochures. Certainly, not an effective use of time or skills. I am also quite sure the marketing piece did not have a professional quality.

I always felt that lead generation or telemarketing is a very different skill than sales or benefits consulting, yet in many benefits firms the person who dials for dollars is the same person that makes the sale and then does the consulting. They play the QB, safety, and kicker. And speaking from my own experience, most often not very well.

I started creating a list of all the things a benefits firm can do for themselves, their customers, and the employees of those customers, that would be of value that most brokers simply don’t do or struggle to do. If I were to start a benefits firm from scratch today this list would be my opportunity to be different in the market. At this time my list has 54 items on it. I know many benefits firms across the U.S. yet I can only think of one firm that is executing on many of the items on my list. A few others have the ability to do so but more than likely lack the vision. So, I believe the opportunity still exists.

With new entrants to the market looking to disrupt the current benefits community and driving desire to win I don’t think my 54 items will be a secret forever. The bar will get raised and raised again, in a way that the price to compete is more resources and more specialized skills. This often means more money. It can be equivalent to the difference between playing high school football and professional football. My quarterbacking skills would not have won me any games against the pros.

The benefits game may be changing faster and in more ways than people think or see. Sometimes these things sneak up on you and if it does you could be caught off guard, ill-equipped to respond competitively. There will surely be changes coming to the healthcare market from the Trump administration. These changes may be much different than most anticipate.

This benefits game may no longer be a golf event where a single skilled player can compete. It may not even be a basketball or baseball game where 5 and 9 players are adequate. It may require the army of a professional football team with 53 highly skilled players. The increased competition in sports and business is all around us.

You can choose to compete in places where there is less competition. Many assume this is in the small group market but there are a number of new competitors going after that business too. You can sell your business. You can also choose to build your team. To do so you can raise money and hire a team like Zenefits and Gusto. To do this you will need a unique product or value proposition that can scale. You can grow organically like a Fidelity or a Paychex but that takes capital, risk, and time. Alternatives would be sharing resources with your peers as we do at N4one.

So stop stocking your shelves with new technology tools or looking for that new idea at some conference. The technology vendors want to sell to everyone so you won’t end up with anything unique. And I couldn’t imagine finding some grand idea at a conference. I certainly wouldn’t share our secrets at some conference. Even if you found some grand new idea, getting this idea to market effectively will require resources that many benefits firms don’t have. The place to start is with a vision and a plan. Or you can call us at N4one. We have created a plan. Built an army. And we have 54 things or more we are doing that most others are not.

What Comes After the Health Insurance Tsunami?


Anyone in sales understands the idea of whether you sell pain avoidance or pleasure. The statistics show, and it is my experience, that selling pain avoidance generates better results. In my last business I estimate that 75% of my clients became clients only after they suffered the loss of an important client. We have all heard the story of Blockbuster turning down the opportunity to buy Netflix for $50 million. I believe, regardless of the sales strategy, that most of us do what we do because we want to do something good for people. Selling pain avoidance may be a necessary evil at times though we do so somewhat reluctantly. Dealing with human behavior is part of business.

In my last article I wrote about, “The Health Insurance Tsunami is Coming – and It Will End Employer Health Insurance as We Know It”. The implication is this is bad because a Tsunami can’t be good, right? Well, in reality, I think what replaces the current health insurance system is going to be great. I come to work every day in my business doing as much as I can to make that happen. The tagline for my new company is, “Helping Employees Have a Better Day”. I really don’t think the current health care system does that. My 22-year-old daughter pays what is the equivalent of 90% of her health insurance premium through work for a $5000 deductible. It is not much of a benefit. The current system is very broken and does need to be wiped out.

Many benefits brokers I talk to hope I am wrong about the Tsunami because anyone protecting the current system may be wiped out. I am not hoping people are hurt. I actually think there is the possibility of a new health care system within our grasps that could really help millions of Americans. My preferred message to brokers would be “Let’s get together and fix health insurance to help millions of Americans”. That is really what excites me every day. We can do something great.

So, what is after the Tsunami? Imagine a world where health insurance and health care costs are 20% less than today. Insurance plans are easy to understand. There may be a small copay or deductible of $500 and then everything is 100%. I won’t need a medical insurance dictionary or call center to understand my health insurance or the health care system. My doctor has an incentive to keep me healthy. I get a text message from my doctor if I gain ten pounds and he asks to see me. My health data is collected on my watch or cell phone and proactively tells me what I should be doing to stay healthy. My insurance is mine and only changes when I choose to change it. I have easy access to all my medical information, and I choose who can have it. There are no claim forms. My primary care physician advises me on the best and most affordable prescriptions when needed. New health care innovations are readily available, and I can learn about them on my cell phone. There will be no need to ever negotiate health care costs or worry about balanced bills. And, believe it or not, this is not Medicare-for-All.

What replaced Blockbuster was Netflix. Netflix is better. I don’t have to get into my car and go to a store to rent something and then pay a penalty when I don’t return it on time. Netflix is better than Blockbuster, though many people who were somehow financially tied to Blockbuster may have suffered financial losses. It is an unfortunate by-product of progress.

This could be a benefits broker’s Blockbuster moment, but it doesn’t have to be. There are companies that will thrive because they help solve a major problem in America. My mission is not to help or hurt benefits brokers. The market doesn’t care what I think anyway. However, I have been promoting a health insurance and health care model that I believe can help our whole country. I think the market is ready for this change. The pieces are coming into place. We can be part of the solution, or not. So, let’s do it, because we can!