Sherri Bockhorst

For highlights of my perspectives in articles and other forums, see links on LinkedIn and Twitter.

This post is part of our Exchange Innovator Series featuring leading private exchange, health care reform and Medicare experts from Willis Towers Watson. See Joe Murad and John Barkett.

I’m Sherri Bockhorst, managing director with Exchange Solutions, Willis Towers Watson’s private exchange business segment.

It’s my mission to support employers’ strategic business needs as well as help them meet their employees’ needs around their health care, finances and family situations.

At the end of the day, I’ve found that employers and employees are after the same thing: They want better health, productivity and protection from risk.

I help support the strategic direction of our group exchange for active employees through product design and development, forming strategic alliances with value-add third parties and raising the level of awareness and understanding across exchange-space participants including employers, employees, insurance carriers, and others.

My health insurance roots

Horsing around with Dusty

Most of my career has been focused on supporting large employers in the health care space. I have worked with employers under many different circumstances, including companies that needed to figure out how to provide benefits in a high-turnover environment, or how to work successfully with their unions.

My passion for my current job is based on seeing how a comprehensive exchange solution can be configured to solve each employers’ unique needs in a way that provides many options for the employer and a range of plan choices to meet the diverse needs of employees.

Exchanges like ours take the best practices that we’re figured out for large employers with the resources for a completely custom solution and package those leading-edge solutions so employers without the same resources can deploy a similarly configured approach.

We take the best thinking from our years of experience working with large employers – levers like high-performing networks, optimizing pharmacy costs, promoting and supporting consumerism, choice from the right mix of plans so employees and retirees can pick the best one for their personal needs, and integrated well-being and incentive design – and make it more accessible to smaller groups. Because why should these levers only be available to employers with a 100,000-employee workforce? The same solution could make sense for employers of any size.

At the same time, many employers aren’t necessarily ready to adopt the full depth of our solution. Account-based health plans are a good example; initially employers may want to make them available while continuing to offer more traditional options, like PPOs. Not all employers will be on a total replacement track, but having access to them is likely to be of interest.

All of those levers are embedded into OneExchange. So if and when employers are ready to change gears and adopt new strategies to achieve their goals, they can dial our exchange levers up or down at the pace that’s right for their organization.

Sailing with son, George


Where I see health insurance going

Right now we’re continuing to see exchanges evolve and change, and that makes a lot of sense, given how this space is developing as a new way for employers to deliver health benefits.

With employer adoption, we’re learning more about what employees will purchase, what kinds of choices and products they gravitate toward and how much they need to talk to individuals or want other types of on-demand decision support.

So that brings us back to where we started in terms of employers and employees ultimately wanting the same thing. Exchanges are fine-tuning the many ways their offerings can support the common ground between employers’ and employees’ goals – both where they are now and where they want to be over time.

As exchanges become more ubiquitous – and I believe this will happen within the span of my career – private exchanges will contribute greatly to the environment that will create transparency and choice for individuals and operate as a robust channel for delivering higher value employee benefits programs for employers.

To reach me for comment on an article or a presentation, contact Melanie Meharchand, Director of PR and Social Media for Exchange Solutions, Willis Towers Watson.

Glassdoor, a job search site, recently compiled a list of 20 companies that provide job perks that are especially attractive to potential new employees.

Perks are essential in attracting and retaining talent, and companies are offering more and more varied perks to hire the very best they can. Nearly 3 in 5 (57%) job seekers reported benefits and perks being among their top considerations before accepting a job, according to Glassdoor data.

If media coverage is any indication, workplace perks are clearly a hot topic, with pieces on “top perks to attract top talent” appearing in Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Inc., Money, and Forbes in the last several years.

The perks vary widely, but common themes emerge among the most popular benefits, namely parenting, lifestyle, education or skill building, and cash perks.

Benefits related to parenting are on the upswing, particularly in the tech industry as giants such as Apple, Google, and Facebook have rolled out new benefits for new parents. One new benefit underscores the challenges of women balancing careers and children: egg freezing services for women who choose to delay having children. Another is companies paying the costs of shipping breast milk home when new moms are on business trips and separated from their babies.

New parents also no doubt perked up (pun intended) when companies offered such benefits as unlimited parental leave (Netflix) and $4,000 in “baby cash” for the birth of a newborn (Facebook).

For all that, employee perks that tend to get the most attention, and are most often tied to the products the company offers, fall into the lifestyle category. Burton, a snowboard and snowboarding apparel company, offers season ski passes and “snow days” to its employees. Similarly, REI offers paid days off to its employees to enjoy their favorite outdoor activities. The outdoor gear and sporting goods store made headlines for closing on Black Friday and inviting its employees to #OptOutside. The World Wildlife Fund offers paid days off, nicknamed “panda days,” after the company mascot.

In the education and skillbuilding category, web and mobile app company, Asana, offers life and executive coaching outside the company. And Epic Systems offers employees who have worked there for five years a four-week sabbatical to pursue “creative activities.”

Cash is still king in some companies even as they offer new benefits such as student loan debt reimbursement, a huge draw for Millennials in particular since as many as two-thirds graduate college with significant debt. Airbnb offers employees $2,000 for places to stay as they travel around the world — with the not-surprising requirement that they stay in Airbnb properties.

The takeaway is that top perks are changing as companies strive to meet the needs of a more diverse workforce. The old standbys of health insurance and paid time off still matter most. But employers might want to take a closer look at baby cash and snow days as well.

For the complete list of top perks from Glassdoor, click here.

The FDA’s approval of the first biosimilar, Zarxio, as an alternative to Nupogen in March of 2015 marked a turning point. Many name-brand drugs already had lower cost generics, but biologics such as Nupogen did not. The possibility of biosimilars being available at lower cost bodes well for employers seeking to control rising pharmacy costs.

In the immediate term however, hurdles exist to widespread adoption. A recent article in Managed Healthcare Executive highlighted issues related to reimbursement as one source of concern. In particular, there are questions about how biosimilars would be categorized under Medicare.

As it stands, all biosimilars (with Zarxio alone in that category for now) are assigned the same J-code for billing. J-codes refer to injectible drugs that usually cannot be self-administered, such as chemotherapy drugs. The concern is that lumping all future biosimilars under the same code could lead to confusion down the line and even lead to safety issues.

Managed Healthcare Executive interviewed Nadina Rosier, North America health and group benefits practice leader of pharmacy at Willis Towers Watson, on this topic. Rosier noted that such coding and other naming conventions for biosimilars are in the early stages. “The ability of biosimilars to reduce plan sponsors’ costs for specialty drugs,” she cautioned, “remains unpredictable.”

That said, the potential benefit is huge, with a 2014 RAND study projecting that biosimilars could result in over $44 billion in savings on biologics between 2014 and 2024. So there is a strong incentive to figure out how reimbursement would work to smooth the path to widespread adoption.

For the complete article in Managed Healthcare Executive, click here.