road from above

On November 16, 2017 Wills Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW), announced that is has renamed one of its Exchange Solutions as Benefits Delivery and Administration (BDA). The company also said that it has introduced Via Benefits TM, a new consumer-facing brand name for some of the solutions within BDA, previously captured under OneExchange® and Acclaris.

“Our benefits delivery and administration solutions have continually evolved to address the challenges that employers face within the ever-changing benefits landscape,” said Gene Wickes, head of Benefits Delivery and Administration, Willis Towers Watson. “This new segment name and brand better reflect our current product suite and strategy, and we believe they more accurately capture the spirit and reality of our vision, how clients think about their benefits strategies, and how we currently bring our solutions to market. Our mission is to help our clients unlock the value of their benefits programs with strategies and solutions that empower people to maximize the value of their benefits dollars in this evolving marketspace.”

The BDA segment combines the company’s leading administration, benefits accounts and marketplace (often called exchange) offerings for North American employers and plan sponsors. The company delivers a range of integrated benefits delivery solutions designed to meet employers’ unique needs wherever they are in their benefits strategy lifecycle.

The Via Benefits name signifies a journey toward finding a personalized portfolio of insurance coverages to meet the diverse needs of participants.

Read the entire press release here.

 

robharkins

For highlights of my perspective in articles and blogs, see my comments 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 John Barkett and Sherri Bockhorst.

I’m Rob Harkins, private exchange practice leader for mid-market employers, for Willis Towers Watson’s private exchange business sector.

As part of the Health and Benefits segment, it’s my mission to ensure satisfaction internally, as well as externally, with our leading mid-market clients, accessing a modernized technological approach to benefit delivery, whether their need is individual Medicare, pre-65 retiree benefits, or group coverage.

I’ve been heavily involved during the merger of Willis and Towers Watson, enhancing the transition and acting as a bridge between our Health & Benefits consulting group and our base of mid-market employers, with populations ranging from the hundreds to the tens of thousands.

My health insurance roots

harkinsdinnerwfriends

Baltimore with my wife and friends

I cut my teeth on exchanges at Extend Health – a start-up that was acquired by Towers Watson in 2012. Having worked on Medicare Advantage with a focus on state and public sector employers, I was a steward for our channel partner relationships between consultants that wanted to provide a private Medicare exchange to their clients, including Towers Watson and Willis. I eventually moved from Extend Health to become the exchange practice leader at Willis. Collaborating with Liazon, I developed the Willis private exchange platform. In the process, I kicked the tires on every private exchange in the market in order to create something that would deliver true value to our employer clients and their employees.My education was in health care administration, which provided a terrific springboard for my career. I’ve worked in a range of companies, from start-ups to major national health insurance carriers, and this breadth of experience helped me to develop products and solutions that synched with innovation in the health care space.

 

My attention and focus is always drawn to what we can do operationally to innovate with technology and engage employees. I’ve always been the change agent. My true passion is looking at what is on the horizon and integrating the very best components of the past, present and the future into one integrated vision. One of my strengths is getting employers to understand how and when change can be beneficial. I believe in identifying various opportunities that can bring clients value, and then helping them get there by painting that picture for them.

Where I see health insurance going

harkinshike

I love the outdoors and hiking

One of the top reasons employers are now turning to private exchanges is the changing workforce.

A digitally savvy younger workforce does not want to access benefits from an antiquated system. They just don’t. No one wants to get into a car and wind down a window or push a button to lock a door. Health exchanges are to benefit delivery what the smartphone has been to the telephone.

The benefits world moves very slowly, especially when it comes to employers who have a very paternalistic approach to employees. But how can we continue to deliver on paper or in a clunky benefit administration system that has to rival the ease with which we can buy cars? The system has to be very sophisticated.

harkins-familty-cruise

Very proud of my big family

Private exchanges are bringing benefits into the 21st century—with access and choice. Ten years from now, everyone will be using exchanges, because the way it was done yesterday just can’t continue. Once you change technology, there’s no going back. The dial-up phone is gone.

I believe that there will be gradual embracing of all the components that are part and parcel of the technology enhancements exchanges bring.

We all learned how to shop online—no one gave us a training manual. We all figured it out, and our culture changed around the technology, and the technology was very agile and responsive. And that’s what the exchange platform is: It’s a new way of doing things.

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.

 

A recent article in Employee Benefit Advisor (EBA) highlighted the fact that to be successful, health insurance brokers must increasingly make themselves known in a particular industry and have a depth of knowledge beyond that of a generalist.

Interviewed for the EBA article, Jim Blaney, health and benefits practice lead for Willis Towers Watson, maintained that in the large and mid-market, brokers might not even get a meeting with a potential client if they aren’t prepared to address more than just the employer’s insurance needs. Among the employer needs Blaney pointed to are ACA compliance, talent management, globalization, and private health insurance exchanges.

In a separate conversation, Blaney suggested that an apt analogy for the changing health insurance brokering industry is the travel industry, which was disrupted by the arrival of third- party booking sites. “New actors in the health insurance space have upset the apple cart of how health insurance used to get sold, and introduced transparency and price competition,” he said.

With regard to private exchanges, Blaney noted that they offer a way for employers to fund benefits and also relieve them of the burden of plan design. “An exchange handles everything from providing plan options and providing thousands of benefit advisors to helping employees and retirees pick the best plans for them, said Blaney. “This reduces administrative burden for the employer and gives employees or retirees better access to plans.”

Brokers with the right expertise can help employers figure out how to design and deploy effective exchanges for their employees, according to Blaney. “The most successful exchanges are those that optimize evaluating and selecting health insurance in much the same way Amazon did for online shopping,” he said. “A broker that can help employers make this transition is going to be in demand.”

Read the complete article in EBA here.

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.

Tension between traditional health insurance brokers and startups offering web-based and other tech-based solutions continues to rise. However, while some traditional brokers fear advanced technology solutions, others highlight their unique value add borne from years of experience as valuable differentiators.

A recent article in Business Insurance explored this classic showdown between “high tech” and “high touch.” In reality, there is room for both. For example, a seasoned broker might bring valuable wisdom to a strategy while a tech-based solution might enable a strategy to scale.

Randall K. Abbott, a North American leader and senior strategist in Willis Towers Watson’s Health and Benefits practice, noted in the article that the primary threat to traditional brokers is not competition from tech startups, but rather consumer preferences. “People want to do things just like they do on Amazon,” said Abbott.

Still, Abbott said it is “way too early to sound the death knell for brokers. Traditional brokers (will) adopt some of the new technologies to meet the needs of their consumers, and I think we’ll increasingly find that some that relied extensively on the technology will find the need to provide more personalized decision support.”

For the complete article in Business Insurance, click here. (Note: a paid subscription is required.)

Towers Watson is very proud to be named by the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals® as Leader on the 2015 Global Outsourcing 100® list again in 2015 – the fifth year in a row.

Towers Watson is a global outsourcing leader

These results from our employer clients and their employees support the strength of the program

In 2014, Towers Watson jumped 50 places to earn a 21st-place ranking on the list of 100. This year, to reflect a new emphasis on innovation and social responsibility, rather than a numbered rank, companies are being judged across four categories.

Under the new system, Towers Watson was also named one of the Best Leaders in Revenue Growth, one of the Best Leaders in Employee Growth. Towers Watson also earned a distinguished star rating for programs for innovation.

These results from our employer clients and their employees support the strength of the program:

  • Our outsourcing services have a 99% annual client retention rate.
  • 9 out of 10 clients extend their engagement with us beyond the initial contract.
  • 98% of the individuals served are satisfied with our customer service.

Key factors in our recognition include:

  • OneExchange, Towers Watson’s industry-leading private exchange, which serves all workforce populations
  • A newly redesigned employee experience in our benefits administration system, which makes it easier for people to select and evaluate benefits when enrolling as well as access their data on demand.

Tony DeNucci, managing director, Benefits Administration Outsourcing, for Towers Watson had this to say of the recognition: “Towers Watson is honored to be recognized for innovation and growth. We are proud to serve the employees, retirees and family members of the world’s finest companies, providing them with innovative benefit solutions, accurate benefits administration and an exceptional customer experience.”

Download a copy of Towers Watson’s global outsourcing services infographic here.

Read the full announcement here.

Joe Murad, Managing Director with Ex

For highlights of my perspectives in articles and other forums, see me on Twitter at #WTWJoeMurad

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

I’m Joe Murad, managing director with Exchange Solutions for Towers Watson. I oversee our individual exchange solutions that serve Medicare-eligible and pre-65 retirees, part-time employees and their families.

Every day, my goal is to figure out how we can leverage our position as a technology leader to connect employers and the consumers they represent with better value while selecting health insurance. Our mission is to create cost savings for our employer-clients and provide our individual consumers with improved choice and control over their health benefits.

My health insurance roots

I grew up in Silicon Valley, surrounded by technology, innovation and disruptive market forces. Of the four start-ups I’m fortunate to have been a part of – my last two have been in the health insurance space – but I got my start in the world of relational databases.

It’s very typical of Valley ventures that innovation comes from outside an industry – from those who are not entrenched in industry thinking. Given my tech and my health insurance experience, I’m now one of the few people in our industry who has brought technological advancements to health care twice.

Joe Murad, Managing Director with Exchange Solutions

Skiing with the kids in North Lake Tahoe

I helped found the nation’s first private Medicare exchange start-up a decade ago. Today I continue to apply that expertise to help employers leverage opportunities in the individual market made possible by health care reform.

It was true then and remains true today that health insurance – the largest sector of the nation’s largest industry (health care) – is burdened by inefficiencies, making it ripe for innovation and change.

The evolution of private exchanges

Private exchanges emerged as a result of three factors coming together at just the right time. The first was the idea of managed competition in health care, pioneered by Alain Enthoven in the 1970s. We were very fortunate to work closely with Alain early on as we were designing our private Medicare exchange.

The second factor was health care reform – which took the form of the Medicare Modernization Act in 2003 and now the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, aka the ACA) of 2010 – both of which created a viable individual market for health insurance, first in the Medicare world and now in the pre-65 world.

Joe Murad, Managing Director with Exchange Solutions

On the beach

The third factor is powerful platforms for consumer technology, which emerged in other industries – think of Amazon and Travelocity – and which we applied to health insurance.

Today my focus is on helping employers provide quality health benefits at a lower cost and to empower consumers with more choice and control over their health benefits. I also believe that over time our exchange model will drive more consumerism in health care – which will lead to a more efficient and effective health care industry.

Where I see health insurance going

On the Medicare exchange side, the market has hit its stride in the private sector. Two years ago when IBM announced moving to OneExchange for its retirees, the whole nation sat up and took notice of the exchange concept. It was no longer seen as a nascent technology play – it’s now understood as a practicable strategy that crosses all industries and company sizes. We are also seeing strong uptake in the traditionally conservative public sector.

As we move forward, the next logical frontier is how to make health insurance more reflective of the voluntary insurance and employment markets, which have become more personalized and portable in recent years.

If you think about all the other insurance coverage people have access to – auto, home, life – and combine that with the leading retirement savings programs – 401ks and IRAs – these are portable, individual plans and accounts that aren’t tied to where someone works. Why should health insurance be any different?

In the past, because employers were the purchasers of health insurance, they made all the decisions. With exchange technology enabling employers to offer retirees and employees more choice and control of their own health coverage decisions, it raises the question: Why can’t employees take the coverage they’ve chose for themselves when they move to another job? The law isn’t there yet but the consumer mindset is. If health reform catches up to that thinking, we will be there to provide the business model and technical solutions to enable it.

We always learn something new when we read these recommended blogs that focus on health care. 

 The Health Care Blog: In one place you can find fact, opinion, and free-wheeling discussion on all matters health care related, from a range of respected and knowledgable contributors. Case in point, a new post out this weekend from Robert Wachter, titled Why Berwick Matters, is an intelligent analysis of the political posturing that may prevent this eminently-qualified candidate from being confirmed as director of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Robert Wachter has his own blog, Wachter’s World, which is also well worth reading. According to his bio, “Robert M. Wachter, MD is Professor and Associate Chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, where he holds the Lynne and Marc Benioff Endowed Chair in Hospital Medicine.” He writes about health care reform and other health matters from the perspective of someone intimitely familiar with “the policy and practice issues that affect real docs and nurses – and real patients – in real hospitals and clinics.”

From the broker’s perspective, you can’t do much better than The Alan Katz Health Care Reform Blog. Alan Katz writes thoughtful, well-reasoned and informative pieces on all aspects of health care reform. For example, his recent post President Obama Endorses Earlier State Opt Out of PPACA provides an excellent guide to recent developments in the discussion between state governors and the administration around issues of state flexibility to control their own health care reform efforts.

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