Better Voluntary Benefits with NFP Voluntary Benefits Practice Leader, Kim Heald

Voluntary benefits are among the fastest growing benefits as employers look to provide their teams with enhanced security in 2022 and beyond. But there are both challenges and big opportunities when it comes to incorporating voluntary health benefits into your overall benefit strategy. Join us as NFP’s National Practice Leader of Voluntary Benefits, Kim Heald, shares how to implement voluntary health benefits that work for employers, their teams, and their families.

How Kim Became a Voluntary Benefits Expert 

Kim’s introduction to the insurance business started as a salesperson managing the broker channel at ADP. She left to work as a broker herself and quickly realized  the importance of communication and education in the benefits sales process. She then moved over to the enrollment side before joining NFP to build their voluntary benefits Center of Excellence. Kim has been on every side of the business, which gives her a good appreciation for what goes into a voluntary benefit plan that really works for employers and their employees.  And now she’s able to share her valuable insights within the NFP organization.

Challenges in Voluntary Benefits 

Bad experiences

The first challenge Kim mentioned is that we are still fixing yesterday’s mistakes. Fifteen years ago, the primary delivery of voluntary benefits was done with the employee sitting down with a licensed benefit counselor. Some would argue that there may have been some overselling of high-priced benefits that people often forgot to use. The benefits may have been good, but it was hard to know. They often were too much for employees’ needs, too expensive, or too complicated. So much has changed since then, but unfortunately decision makers (i.e. employers) got the feeling that these benefits weren’t helping much and weren’t worth it. In many cases today, voluntary benefits are a valuable addition to the health benefit strategy, and brokers need to educate their employer clients about new, better options. 

Rushed decision-making

The second challenge is that employer education takes time. Kim and her team are working with their clients to try new things and find the right benefits for their employees’ needs. This is a consultative process, and it’s important to set aside ample time to talk with employer clients to show them the value of voluntary benefits today. It can’t be a ten minute conversation anymore. It has to be an in-depth discussion  about how voluntary plans can function within the context of the overall health benefits package. 

Poor benefits literacy

Another challenge facing the voluntary benefits industry is that employees struggle to understand their benefits completely. Kim tells us that as an industry, it’s time to focus on how we can support employees and help them make good decisions. If employers invest in benefits education, that goes a long way towards helping employees make the most of the benefits available to them. 

Tips for Voluntary Benefit Program Success 

“One piece of advice we often give out is to bring voluntary benefits from the end of enrollment to the beginning. Be prescriptive about how you are going to implement these benefits and present them to employees.” 

It is also important to evaluate the outcomes after the enrollment is complete. Was the pricing right? What options did employees choose? Do they have the right coverage? Bottom line, it’s important to review the final enrollment results to capture the important insights and learnings.  

Brella is a New Kind of Voluntary Coverage

Kim is a believer in traditional voluntary benefit products, but she’s impressed by how progressive Brella’s supplemental health product is.

“Brella is a very progressive offering for this benefit class. There are now thousands of opportunities to receive this benefit, which is a new thing. When employees see that, it’s a no-brainer that it is valuable. It isn’t this super limited benefit with only a few covered codes, it is thousands. Plus, you have made it super simple to understand, and super simple to file a claim.” 

If you’d like to connect with Kim or learn more about NFP you can visit NFP.com. To hear all of Kim’s insights, listen to the episode now. 

Note, this episode is for informational and educational purposes only. Kim Heald and NFP are not endorsed, affiliated with, nor compensated by Greenhouse Life Insurance Company.
If you liked the episode, don’t forget to subscribe and leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform. And to get in touch with Brella, you can email us at sales@joinbrella.com. We’d love to hear from you.

The Case for Employer Funded Supplemental Health Benefits

by Leslie Harding | May 17, 2021

Supplemental health plans have long been offered as voluntary benefits with premiums paid by employees. With health insurance premiums and cost-sharing on the rise, there is a case to be made for employer benefit dollars going towards supplemental health solutions to help ease the burden. Join us as Brella’s Chief Revenue Officer, Mike Zarrillo explains the advantages of employer-funded supplemental health benefits in Episode 18 of the Better Benefits podcast.  

The case for employer funded supplemental coverage

Mike recently authored an article explaining the case for employer funded supplemental health insurance. In it, he outlines why now is the time for employers to consider reallocating some of their benefit dollars towards supplemental coverage. They include: 

  1. Most of your employees can’t afford today’s health plan cost-sharing
  2. Look beyond traditional supplemental products for new plans that work
  3. HSAs alone aren’t solving the problem
  4. Asking employees to pay is like pouring salt on the wound

We highly recommend reading Mike’s post to get the background for this episode. Below, we recap our conversation with Mike and unpack these ideas to get a full picture of the case for employer funded supplemental health insurance.

What is a supplemental insurance plan? How does it relate to voluntary coverage? 

These are basic questions but they’re an important place to start. Supplemental insurance was invented to help cover life-altering, critical illnesses. It wasn’t designed to be wide-ranging. The sales process involved talking to an employer and pitching that they don’t have to fund these programs, employees will pay the premiums with payroll deductions, and it will be simple and easy to implement.

Over the past several years supplemental products have changed as deductibles have increased. But what hasn’t changed is that they are almost always voluntary. Supplemental benefits have been equated with voluntary benefits because that is the way it has always been done. Up until now, there hasn’t been a compelling reason for employers to fund this coverage. 

Currently the U.S. health system is experiencing burdensome healthcare costs, which drives up health insurance premiums and cost sharing. Critical illness and other supplemental plans are being asked to solve a problem they weren’t originally intended to address. Supplemental plans were intended to cover relatively rare illnesses like heart attacks and cancer. But nowadays people are far more likely to experience financial hardship from common illnesses like appendicitis, kidney stones, diverticulitis, etc. In the past, the need for more coverage for these common illnesses wasn’t there. But today we are seeing younger people with common health issues experiencing large medical bills that hit their deductibles, drain their HSAs, and then saddle them with financial hardship. 

Why is now the right time for employers to revisit funding supplemental coverage?

The timing comes down to a few things. First, it’s simple math. Health insurance deductibles have skyrocketed 800% over the past 25 years, while household income has grown only 18%. It’s really no wonder why half of Americans fear bankruptcy because of a major health event, and 60% would struggle to cover a $1000 unexpected expense

On top of this, research indicates that a growing number of employees are delaying care, or skipping it altogether, because of the potential costs, causing a vicious cycle that negatively impacts their health and wellbeing. 

Lastly, a modern supplemental health option like Brella delivers greater value on an employer’s benefit dollar. Up until Brella, employers have only had access to narrowly scoped supplemental products that weren’t designed to cover the broad spectrum of injuries and illnesses. But Brella is different. Brella plans have a significantly wider scope which better complements the health insurance plan and enhances the health benefits strategy.

We are at a tipping point and things need to change. Supplemental health coverage is one way for employers to take some of the burden off of employees. Any amount of employer contribution can indicate the importance of this coverage and encourage employees to consider investing in it. 

What makes Brella a different kind of supplemental coverage?

Brella is a fundamentally different kind of supplemental health insurance. In one plan, Brella covers a wide range of injuries and illnesses from moderate conditions like dehydration or a simple fracture to more dangerous or life-threatening conditions like heart attacks and cancer.  And Brella triggers benefits solely on the covered ICD-10 diagnosis code, meaning there are no accident or hospitalization requirements. This approach drastically simplifies the claims process ensuring employees and their families receive their Brella benefits quickly to minimize the financial strain caused by unexpected health issues.  

How should employers approach the funding of supplemental benefits? 

There’s no question that employer dollars are precious and the best benefits deliver the greatest return on the employer’s investment. That said, any employer funding of supplemental health benefits starts with finding the right product. Traditional options have struggled to demonstrate the compelling value that would warrant an employer contribution because of the limited coverage those products offer.   Brella changes that discussion.

A logical next step for employers is to think about the importance of the benefits they’re offering and reconsider the allocation of their spend to better align with the highest priority programs. As voluntary-only options, today’s supplemental health plans are an afterthought in the benefits offering. But,  if you had a plan that boosted the health insurance, covered more, and was designed to be utilized, then it would stand to reason that a supplemental plan should garner the highest level of attention after the health insurance plan.  

Finally, it may not be enough to just offer a supplemental plan on a voluntary basis. A plan with some level of employer funding will give it legitimacy with employees and will send the message that the benefit is valuable. Employees are fatigued enough by the time they get to voluntary options during a typical enrollment and those benefits are not viewed as important or relevant. On the other hand, if a benefit includes an employer contribution, it sends the message that it is worth paying attention to during enrollment. 

What are some of the barriers (real or perceived) that are holding employers back? 

Sometimes it just comes down to change. It’s not always easy and it may create a little more upfront work. Brella is a new kind of supplemental coverage that is changing the discussion and challenging the status quo. But we understand it can be overwhelming for some employers to change their plans and their strategy. Employers will have to be willing to take a leap and put in a little work to step forward and approach things differently. We are optimistic that brokers and employers alike remain open to making changes and implementing new solutions. 

How does Brella make buying and implementing supplemental coverage easier? 

It starts with a simpler product. Using its unique ICD-10 code approach, Brella speaks the same language as the medical plan, stripping away the complexity built into the legacy supplemental insurance options. We keep things simple with a clean, black and white focus on what’s covered and how benefits are triggered, eliminating the complexity and confusion of the old school plans.

Next, we leverage tools to demonstrate the unique value a Brella supplemental health plan would bring to your group.  We can review your real-life medical claims data to clearly, accurately, and transparently demonstrate how a Brella plan would perform. This analysis helps showcase the value and utilization of a Brella plan and the potential return on an employer contribution. And, we can model premiums in real-time to show how an employer contribution can positively impact overall plan premiums. That makes Brella more flexible than traditional supplemental plans and allows employers  to fund Brella with confidence. 

Finally, we know that implementing benefits is hard work. We’ve made it easier with paperless plan installation, a simpler, tech-enabled product, and less administrative burden. Plus, by making it easy for employees to actually use Brella, we do our part to improve the overall employee satisfaction with their benefits. Something employers will certainly appreciate.

If you’re an employer or broker, have the discussion. Think about where you can reallocate dollars to offer supplemental health insurance. Next to the major medical, it’s undoubtedly the next most important thing on your employees’ minds.

Listen to the full episode to hear more from Mike.

Mike’s Resources

Mike recommends the book Developing the Leader Within You by John C. Maxwell. He tells us that a mentor gave him this book in 2006 as he transitioned into his first leadership role. It had a big impact on him as he took on this new role and grew as a leader.  

In the book, Maxwell talks about levels of leadership that leaders will progress through. A level 1 leader is someone who is a leader only in position, meaning people follow them because they have to. This progresses all the way up to a level 5 leader, someone who is a leader as a person, meaning that people follow them because of who they are and what they represent. This is a guiding light for Mike, who often thinks about how to be true to himself and his values as an effective leader. 

If you want to get in touch with Mike or learn more about Brella, visit our website at Joinbrella.com or email us at sales@joinbrella.com.
If you liked the episode, don’t forget to subscribe and leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform. And to get in touch with Brella, you can email us at sales@joinbrella.com. We’d love to hear from you.

Better Benefits for Women and Families with Maven Clinic

by Leslie Harding | May 10, 2021

Women and growing families have healthcare needs that often fall through the cracks of today’s healthcare system. Maven Clinic’s healthcare solutions provide critical support across fertility, pregnancy, parenting, and pediatrics so that working parents can be healthy and productive. Sonia Millsom is Chief Commercial Officer at Maven Clinic, where she leads their growth efforts, revenue, and customer lifecycle. Sonia is a veteran of the healthcare space and is a sought after speaker, advisor, and mentor.

Sonia’s Journey in Healthcare

Sonia’s interest in working in healthcare started early as she was a Peace Corps volunteer working in maternal health after she graduated from college. She saw firsthand some of the issues that exist with healthcare delivery as she assisted with 27(!) births. She experienced the reality of a lack of appropriate prenatal and postpartum care and how it can impact mother and child. This fueled her passion for helping vulnerable populations. Since then, she has worked in a wide variety of healthcare roles before joining Maven Clinic last year.

Problems Facing Women in the U.S. Healthcare System 

Sonia reports that there are three major buckets of problems that women experience in the U.S healthcare system.

The first bucket is cost and outcome. Despite the significant amount of resources spent on maternal healthcare, the U.S. ranks highest of developed nations in maternal mortality, and that rate is 2.5 times higher for Black women and 3 times higher for Hispanic women. From a demographic perspective, that has huge impacts on care for women in this country.

The second bucket is the healthcare system. There is fragmented care, which makes it hard for women to coordinate the care they need. Nobody’s journey to parenthood is the same, and everyone approaches healthcare in a different way. Right now it’s hard to get comprehensive care.

The third bucket is a lack of consumerism. This is something that can be seen throughout the entire healthcare system. It is a system that wasn’t designed with women in mind, even though they make many healthcare decisions for themselves and their families. 

How Maven is Addressing Healthcare Challenges

Maven Clinic thinks about healthcare in a comprehensive way to deliver better care at a lower cost. They offer support with pre-conception, paths to parenthood, prenatal care, postpartum care, parenting, and pediatrics up to age ten. They also think about care from a global perspective, particularly as employers are thinking about parity between international and domestic benefits. That gives them a unique perspective on creating a great experience for their customers.

Maven’s Three Core Pillars:

  1. Care advocacy – Care advocates hold your hand virtually throughout your whole experience with Maven, guiding you to the best quality care in your area and helping you take advantage of all your health insurance benefits. This helps facilitate trust and builds relationships with members, so they know they have someone they can turn to when they need care.
  2. Telehealth – Built before virtual care was more of the norm, Maven’s telehealth offers 25 different specialties, with a diverse group of providers that can meet the unique needs of all members. Telehealth facilitates on-demand care that supports members when they need it.
  3. Content and community – Maven curates information that may be relevant to members delivering the right info at the right time. Community is so important during the process of growing your family. Maven creates support groups for many diverse topics and situations so they can deliver a best in class outcome in clinical, financial, and personal satisfaction.

How the Pandemic has Impacted Maven 

All of the communities that Maven works with have been impacted by the pandemic, including employers, employees, and the Maven team. Sonia shared with us, “We also think about the 8 million women that we’ve served since we were founded and our own community within Maven that is 160 employees and going strong.” Serving this diverse group of people during the pandemic has been a guiding light for Maven. 

Employers have also been asking for new programs in light of the pandemic. Things like weekly benefit meetings to talk about current issues and manager training for HR professionals. The team at Maven Clinic is nimble, open to listening to customers and innovating to deliver what they want. 

What’s Next for Maven 

Next up is a new program called Maven RX, a specialised pharmacy network that allows women to get discounted fertility prescriptions sent to their home same-day or next-day. They can also get advice from pharmacists on any questions they may have. Maven is also looking to expand on a global basis, creating parity with other countries’ healthcare offerings. 

Maven Clinic is also thinking about vulnerable populations as they build new programs. Medicaid is a huge opportunity to help parents and change outcomes for women’s health. Not everybody is getting healthcare from work and they still need solutions like Maven Clinic. 

Hear more from Sonia in the full episode:

Sonia’s Resources 

For Sonia, people are the greatest resource. That’s why she recommends the Women Business Leaders of the U.S. Health Care Industry Foundation (WBL), a nonprofit connecting women business leaders in the healthcare industry. The WBL is all about providing mentoring, networking, and career growth opportunities. Now more than ever, women helping other women is so important. 

If you want to get in touch with Sonia or learn more about Maven, visit MavenClinic.com. Note, this episode is for informational and educational purposes only. Sonia Millsom and Maven Clinic are not endorsed, affiliated with, nor compensated by Greenhouse Life Insurance Company.

If you liked the episode, don’t forget to subscribe and leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform. And to get in touch with Brella, you can email us at sales@joinbrella.com. We’d love to hear from you.

Building a Seamless Benefits Experience with Noyo

by Leslie Harding | May 3, 2021

Employers are increasingly turning to benefits administration platforms to manage ever-changing enrollment data with multiple carriers across their suite of benefits. In this episode, Noyo Co-Founder and CEO Shannon Goggin joined us to talk about Noyo’s API-driven solutions that power data exchange between the leading benefits administration platforms and a plethora of carriers, from industry veterans to new solutions like Brella.

Shannon’s journey to working in health insurance

Earlier in her career, Shannon was a strategy consultant at Monitor Deloitte. Shannon says she didn’t expect to get into the benefits space after leaving consulting, but she wanted to work with a new and innovative company, so she looked to join a startup. Her search led her to join Zenefits, a startup working in the HR and benefits space to help small businesses. Shannon worked as a Product Manager, where she built the engine for the small business insurance shopping experience. She says that she had always understood health insurance to be a pain, a little intimidating, and not very interesting. But working at Zenefits changed that completely, as she found out how complex and dynamic health insurance can be. 

Shannon saw that all of the things that are happening behind the scenes in insurance administration are directly impacting people’s experience with their healthcare. That makes those behind-the-scenes moments so important, yet they often weren’t optimized the way they could be. She explains, “The point of insurance is that you pay a little bit every month into a pool of money, so that if something happens where you need to draw on it, it’s there for you. And in a lot of ways our industry misses the mark and falls short of delivering on that promise to people.” So Shannon came to find that modernizing the health insurance space is really high-impact work. 

The problem with insurance data and Noyo’s solution

Employers face a lot of challenges behind the scenes managing their benefits. When it comes to data, we still haven’t cracked the code for getting data out of benefits administration programs into carrier platforms. The way data moves around the health insurance ecosystem is very complex. The data is often sensitive health information, and it’s important because it directly impacts what coverage people are actually enrolled in and when they can use it. In benefits administration, manual processes, inefficiencies, and bottlenecks are common, and they have important real-world consequences.

Noyo was founded to provide a solution to these data-related issues in benefits administration. Noyo is a complete API solution that sits between benefits administration platforms and insurance companies to make it easy for them to share data. They take data transparency very seriously, and offer granular tracking of data and changes. This helps employers and employees alike feel confident that they know where their health insurance coverage stands at any given time. 

For example, let’s say you have a new hire who has just started and signed up for coverage. They fill out paperwork that goes to the carrier. From that point forward, it’s pretty much a black box. The employee doesn’t know if the paperwork has been received, processed, or anything else. It’s possible they may go to the doctor thinking they are covered, only to find there was some issue on the administration side and they have a huge bill. That’s a really bad experience for everyone involved. 

Noyo is not only improving the employer’s experience with their benefits administration platform, but also enabling new types of benefits to become available because it’s easier for companies to integrate with benefit administrators. That’s one of the reasons Brella has announced they are partnering with Noyo.

Fostering innovation in an established industry

Shannon tells us that if you know too much about the way a space works, it can be difficult to break out of that thinking and come up with new ideas. It’s important to marry that deep experience with diverse backgrounds so that creative thinking can happen. You can’t approach a hard problem like health insurance with the same solutions that have always been used. 

Advice for choosing a benefits partner 

Not all integrations are the same. There’s a lot of marketing out there, but it’s smart to really ask what is happening behind the scenes. Is it truly automated? How long will certain tasks take? What technologies are they relying on? It pays to be specific and ask these questions before committing to working with a benefits partner. By choosing forward-thinking partners, like Noyo and Brella, you’re positioning yourself for long-term success. It’s not just about being successful today, but about setting yourself up for success tomorrow. 

The impact of COVID-19 on Noyo and the insurance market

COVID-19 impacted the insurance industry in myriad ways. Noyo has always had a distributed team, so luckily there wasn’t much to change in the way the team works. 

At a broader level, Shannon saw that the pandemic made people wake up to how quickly they can make necessary changes. In the past five years, there has been a dramatic change in attitude towards new technology in the insurance space. There used to be tons of inertia at many organizations, but now that has really shifted, especially with the pandemic. Many companies have stopped looking at ten-year time frames for changes and made dramatic changes in just a year. That’s a big shift for the industry. 

Hear more from Shannon in the full episode:

Shannon’s resources

Shannon recommends Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values by Fred Kofman. The book talks about creating a valuable company that is values driven and values aligned. He lays out values you may be thinking of and tough situations you may have to navigate as you build a company. He guides you through how to approach these situations so you can have positive outcomes at your company. It’s not your typical business self-help book. 

If you want to get in touch with Shannon or learn more about Noyo, visit their website at Noyo.com. Note, this episode is for informational and educational purposes only. Shannon Goggin and Noyo are not endorsed, affiliated with, nor compensated by Greenhouse Life Insurance Company.

If you liked the episode, don’t forget to subscribe and leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform. And to get in touch with Brella, you can email us at sales@joinbrella.com. We’d love to hear from you.

Better Benefits Podcast Episode #15: Is Health Insurance Reimbursement a Viable Health Benefits Strategy? with Take Command Health

by Lesling Harding | April 19, 2021

In this episode of Better Benefits, Kyle Estep joined us to talk about individual coverage health reimbursement arrangements (ICHRAs) and their viability as a health benefits strategy for employers. Kyle is the Head of Growth and Business Development at Take Command Health, a Dallas-based company on a mission to accelerate the adoption of the health insurance reimbursement model. Previously, Kyle spent five years building out insurance operations and sales in the Texas market with Oscar Health.

Kyle’s journey to the healthcare industry

Kyle started his career in consulting and got an MBA around the time the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was introduced. The ACA changed the game in healthcare, and when he went back to consulting he was involved with some really interesting insurance projects. He was looking to do more healthcare-related work when he heard about Oscar Health. He joined their team in Texas and had a lot of fun building the business, launching new insurance products, and growing the team. 

Then along came new legislation during the tail end of the Obama administration that said small businesses could reimburse employees for health plans tax-free. This was a game changer. The Trump administration went on to widen these rules, paving the way for more widespread adoption of health reimbursement arrangements. This was a eureka moment for Kyle, and he joined Take Command Health to be able to build out this new product.

What is an individual coverage health reimbursement arrangement (ICHRA)?

ICHRAs are a new alternative to traditional group health insurance. They can be offered instead of group health benefits or in addition to group health benefits. Historically they have been a bit of a hot button topic, with many in the industry debating if they are a great opportunity or flawed alternative to traditional benefits. 

ICHRAs came about in part because employers have long been asking if they can just give their employees money and let them choose their own insurance. That way they can avoid the headaches that come from choosing plans and going through renewal every year. Plus, they have more flexibility if they have employees in multiple states. 

Before the ACA, that wouldn’t have worked well for two reasons. One, if employees were healthy they may have been able to get “good” coverage on the individual market, but if they had pre-existing health conditions, they could be out of luck. The ACA introduced consumer protections in the individual market that eliminated this issue. Two, tax law wouldn’t have allowed it. In the past, employers were not allowed to reimburse employees for healthcare. These payments would have been taxed as wages and subject to all regular payroll taxes. But those regulations changed, which allows ICHRAs to have the same tax treatment as a group plan. 

How Take Command Health is bringing ICHRAs to market

Take Command Health offers an end-to-end solution for employers who want to implement an ICHRA. They help employers manage reimbursements and their  software  supports employees as they shop for their own plan.

Take Command offers support for employers, employees, and even brokers. Employers need to make sure they stay compliant as they implement an ICHRA. They also need to choose an amount to reimburse that accomplishes their goals and makes the most of employees’ buying power. The team at Take Command can look at an employer’s current health plan and translate that offering to an ICHRA. It’s all about understanding what an employer’s goals are and how to achieve them.

For employees, choosing their own plan may seem daunting. By regulation, employees must be allowed to pick any local ACA-compliant plan. The Take Command team helps employees make their choice and can even submit applications to some insurance carriers. 

Take Command Health also helps their broker partners understand the ICHRA model and figure out what the whole solution would look like. This is a great solution for brokers to have in their back pocket for clients who might be a good fit. They also have a revenue share arrangement with brokers so they can get paid appropriately for their services.

The impact of COVID-19 on ICHRA adoption

ICHRAs were first broadly available in 2020, so we’ve yet to see meaningful historical data on adoption rates. But we do know that the pandemic introduced a lot of new concerns for employers, especially with healthcare-related issues. It was a time of competing priorities, and it’s certainly possible there was hesitation to change benefits. Take Command Health still doubled in size last year, which was very exciting. The team is looking forward to the market stabilizing and being able to offer ICHRAs to employers who are looking for new options.

What’s next for Take Command Health?

Kyle tells us that Take Command Health is excited to continue to grow in 2021 and beyond.  That will entail a lot of recruiting and hiring to find the best team members. The team is also looking forward to getting back into a physical office. They are excited to build more partnerships with brokers and learn how they can best help them and their clients. The team is also working on a payment solution where employers can pay carriers directly for premiums, so employees don’t have to worry about fronting the money. This would be a big win for employers and employees alike. 

To hear more from Kyle, listen to the full episode:

Kyle’s resources

Kyle’s favorite resource for data related to the healthcare industry is the Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a go-to for all types of research, and it is an invaluable resource for anything related to healthcare in the U.S.

If you want to get in touch with Kyle, visit Take Command Health.

Note, this podcast is for educational and informational purposes only. Any discussion of taxes is for general informational purposes only. Greenhouse Life Insurance Company, its agents and representatives, do not give tax advice. Kyle Estep and Take Command Health are not affiliated, endorsed, or compensated by Greenhouse.

If you liked the episode, don’t forget to subscribe and leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform. And to get in touch with Brella, you can email us at sales@joinbrella.com. We’d love to hear from you.

Better Benefits Podcast Episode #14: Are your health benefits financially inclusive? with Carolyn McMahon

by Leslie Harding | April 12, 2021

In this episode of Better Benefits, Carolyn McMahon joined us to discuss human-centered design and its potential to help make health benefits more financially inclusive. Carolyn is an independent financial inclusion consultant and founder of FemFinance, which offers consultation in the areas of strategy, consumer research, and product design. She specializes in complex program management, strategic communications, product development, and human-centered research. We also welcomed a special co-host this episode, our Chief Insurance Officer, Amanda Turcotte.

Carolyn’s journey to working in financial inclusion 

Carolyn’s first professional passion was conflict resolution, and she is a trained mediator. In doing that work, she spent a lot of time in people’s personal finances, observing how money can constrain what they are able to do in their lives and how that can lead to conflict. That sparked her interest in understanding more about financial inclusion.

Financial inclusion asks us to consider how we can design systems that are more accessible. This includes changing systems that weren’t created to be inclusive and increasing access to financial products that meet people’s needs. 

Carolyn’s work in financial inclusion led her to start her research and strategy firm, FemFinance. She says it was a “no-brainer” that she would be leveraging human-centered design practices and principles to inform her work there. 

What is human-centered design?

Human-centered design as a principle is just what it sounds like, putting human behavior and attitudes at the center of inquiry. On principle, it means taking human needs into consideration first. There is nothing novel about human-centered design, which is, well, by design. That’s because it is all about meeting human needs. It is simple and elegant. With human-centered design, your touchstone is solving a real problem for real people.

Human-centered design is also a research methodology. It involves thinking about qualitative data, having small sample sizes, and using longer engagements with research participants to fuel deep insights. It involves participants, not subjects. In a human-centered design process, when you are researching you are co-creating with your participants. 

Classically, another principle of human-centered design is that you don’t start with a product. You start with curiosity about a need or problem. Fundamentally you are not testing a product, you are making a hypothesis around a problem, then understanding that problem and how it manifests in daily life. Once you understand the problem fully you can begin thinking of possible solutions.

What happens when we apply human-centered design principles to employee benefits? 

Using human-centered design principles is certainly not the norm at health insurance companies. Based on her experience in the industry, Amanda tells us that typically they start with a product and identify quantitative problems, like not meeting enrollment or profitability goals, then make hypotheses, agree on what to try, and implement changes to the product. The problem with this system is that it goes from problem to hypothesis to conclusion—there is no step for research, experimentation, and analysis. Human-centered design focuses on understanding problems before jumping to solutions, which can make those solutions better suited to meeting people’s needs.

Employers and brokers can use human-centered design principles to improve their employee benefits strategy. On a global level, something everyone can do is try to cultivate a mindset of genuine curiosity. Speaking to this idea of genuine curiosity, Carolyn tells us, “That’s really easy to say and it’s really difficult to do. It’s hard to ask questions, especially when you’re afraid of the answers…and it’s hard to be curious about things that aren’t immediately in front of your face.” 

One of the benefits of human-centered design is it elevates voices you may not be hearing. For example, if you’re a broker, you’ve likely got some clients who are always calling you, wanting to talk about their rates, their plans, their problems. You know their challenges and needs intimately, so it’s easy to be reactive to their problems. But who are you not hearing from? Who are the clients who renew every year, but never call? What about the clients who ghost you at renewal time? What did you not hear about from them? Human-centered design principles might say, let’s go out and do long-form interviews with these people you never hear from. Ask them open-ended questions from a place of curiosity, and be ready to hear about their full experience. Then let this inform your relationships, your behavior, and your plans.

What should employers know when implementing human-centered design in regards to their benefits?

Health insurance is one of the most personal products on the market. It exists at the intersection of money, health, family, and in some cases religion. People don’t want to talk about these at a party, let alone with their employer or boss. Employers often have to be stewards of the law, of compliance, and of the bottom line. Those hats that employers have to wear are sometimes not well-suited to encouraging open, honest, safe conversations with employees. For this reason, it is sometimes beneficial to bring in outside researchers to help. Employees may feel safer sharing their true thoughts and feelings with a third party instead of their employer, which can generate more meaningful data and insights. 

How can human-centered design fuel financial inclusion? 

Human-centered design is aligned with inclusion because it is about understanding the needs of all people, but it still has to be intentional to be inclusive. The same biases that can permeate big research studies can also permeate research fueled by human-centered design. It’s important to acknowledge those factors and be intentional about mitigating biases. Some ways to do this include structuring conversations and questions to be inclusive. When researching small groups of participants, think about who is in that room, their varied experiences, and spend time with them asking open-ended questions. Be open to hearing what they have to say, including views that you may not be aware of or expecting. Then allow all these insights to inform any solutions you come up with.

Listen to the full episode to hear more from Carolyn.

Carolyn’s resources

Carolyn recommends the book The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West. She describes it as a small book that’s had a big impact on her thinking. It is an accessible text that paints a vivid picture of poverty in America, which is essential to learn how to ground yourself in the structures of this country.

She also recommends Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford, and Orlanda Ruthven. This book was one of the very first financial diaries. The authors’ primary insight is that we may think that people who don’t have much money don’t have an active financial life, when in fact the opposite is true, and the tighter money is the more active your money management must be. This book represents a profound shift in thinking for many. 

For those interested in learning more about human-centered design, Carolyn recommends IDEO’s human-centered design kit. And a lot of sticky notes to record your findings! 

You can get in touch with Carolyn directly at carolyn@femfinance.org and learn more at FemFinance.org.

Note, this episode is for informational and educational purposes only. Carolyn McMahon is not endorsed, affiliated with, nor compensated by Greenhouse Life Insurance Company.

If you liked the episode, don’t forget to subscribe and leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform. And to get in touch with Brella, you can email us at sales@joinbrella.com. We’d love to hear from you.

Better Benefits Podcast Episode #13: How to get the most for your health benefit dollars with Deb Gordon

by Leslie Harding | April 5, 2021

In this episode, we were joined by Aspen Institute Healthcare Innovators Fellow Deb Gordon, author of The Health Care Consumer’s Manifesto. Deb is a seasoned health insurance executive, and her research and writing have fueled her passion for helping Americans become savvy health care shoppers. We talked about how employers and brokers can help reduce healthcare costs by giving consumers expert guidance so they can feel confident as they shop for plans and healthcare services.

Understanding the U.S. healthcare system 

Deb’s career journey started in academia, where she studied bioethics and public health and found her passion for consumer insights. That academic foundation has informed her career and how she thinks about understanding consumer behavior. Deb went on to be the Head of Marketing for a Medicaid health plan, where she saw first-hand some of the issues people faced in shopping for and using health plans. She found that it’s hard to make insurance easy, because it simply isn’t. But there’s more to be done to help people buy and use it well. 

Deb took her dissatisfaction with the current U.S. healthcare system and turned it into action. As an Eisenhower Fellow, in 2013 she went to Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore to better understand their health systems. She found that in Australia and Singapore, consumers play a bigger role in their healthcare coverage than in the U.S. There is more widespread use of savings plans and consumers have more say over their spending, but there is also more of a sense of partnership with the government. In the U.S., we haven’t set up our health systems that way, in part because of cultural and political differences. We continue to have a system that focuses highly on individual responsibility and doesn’t have a strong sense of partnership with the insurer. 

The impact of cost-sharing on rising healthcare costs

There was a time that many people thought that higher cost-sharing would incentivize U.S. consumers to shop for less expensive healthcare and utilize their plans more efficiently, thus reducing costs. But it hasn’t worked out that way. Over the past decade, more and more cost-sharing responsibility has ended up on consumer’s shoulders, in both ACA  and employer-sponsored plans. The average deductible in 2019 for an individual plan was $1,931, and for a family it was $3,655. 

As a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School in 2017, Deb saw that cost-sharing had risen, but nothing else had changed with it. Consumers were not more savvy or invested in their healthcare. Costs continued to rise, while cost-sharing suppressed utilization overall. Consumers have difficulty distinguishing between appropriate and inappropriate utilization. Couple that with a fear of unexpected costs, and people are avoiding care, even if that care is essential to their well-being.

How employers can help reduce costs and foster goodwill 

As employers shift rising health plan costs to their employees, employees are aware that the value of their benefits has eroded over time. They blame policymakers and they blame their employer, leading to an erosion of goodwill in the workplace. 

However, there are some positive ways that employers are dealing with rising costs to help their employees. One example is a reimbursement program, where employers offer to pay up to a certain amount of a plan’s deductible. It does add some costs back in, but it can still be beneficial because while only some employees will use this perk, it acts as a safety net for everyone and helps to reduce financial anxiety. 

Another way that employers can help is by providing expert, personalized advice as employees shop for plans. Data shows that the vast majority of employees overbuy health insurance. Some people buy more coverage than they need because of uncertainty or fear, and some are confused about their options. An employer can help by providing resources, like access to an expert broker, who can help employees make economically rational decisions before they buy.  

Another option is to provide additional benefits, like Brella, that can help employees with unexpected healthcare costs. Supplemental insurance is an alternative to an HSA or an expensive low-deductible plan that can yield cost-savings while still providing better coverage. A solution like Brella can work in tandem with other interventions to help give  employees more peace of mind. 

Finally, employers can turn the lens on themselves and figure out how to make their workplaces physically and mentally healthy environments. COVID-19 has intensified mental health burdens, and as we come out of the pandemic, we may see more issues surface as people cope with their experiences during the past year. Employers can do a lot to make sure they foster kindness, compassion, and humanity in their workplaces. We are people when we go to work, and we are people when we go home. It’s time to make sure we recognize our mutual humanity at work so we can foster healthier teams and relationships. 

What’s next for Deb: Financial vulnerability index

In the rest of 2021, Deb plans on revisiting a project that the pandemic put on pause: working on developing a financial vulnerability index. Healthcare and financial well-being go hand-in-hand. The pandemic amplified awareness of how these two topics are interrelated, but there’s still room to increase public understanding of the specifics. Deb plans to develop a financial vulnerability index with the goal of better understanding how health consumers make financial decisions and creating solutions for some of the issues people face in this arena. 

“One of the things I’ve learned in my career… is that people with all the resources available to them can still feel vulnerable. Vulnerability can be tangible—folks who don’t have money or access to information or access to care—but it’s also a state of mind.” 

Listen to the full episode to hear more from Deb.

Deb’s resources

Deb recommends the book The Healing of America by T.R. Reid, calling it “one of the best healthcare books I’ve ever read.” It is a comparison of health systems around the world, told in a narrative style. The book delves into the structure of different healthcare systems and the cultures behind them. 

You can find Deb on Twitter @gordondeb, writing for Forbes, and at debgordon.com

Note, this episode is for informational and educational purposes only. Deb Gordon is not compensated, affiliated with, nor compensated by Greenhouse Life Insurance Company.

If you liked the episode, don’t forget to subscribe and leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform. And to get in touch with Brella, you can email us at sales@joinbrella.com. We’d love to hear from you.