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.

2015 is almost over, and it was another eventful year in health care. The most read blog posts on the OneExchange blog show the range of interests among readers of this blog.

Taken together, our series on Towers Watson exchange solutions leaders topped your list, with a post on the rise of account based health plans ranking a strong second. How employees are under-utilizing Employer Assistance Programs (EAPs) also landed near the top of the list.

A bit further down, the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic 6-3 decision in the case of King v. Burwell captured your attention. The decision reaffirmed allowing subsidies on both state and federal exchanges, ensuring that a key provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — one that is largely responsible for the gains in insuring the uninsured — would remain in place. Director of Policy Affairs for Towers Watson’s Exchange Solutions, John Barkett, explained the case’s implications in our blog post on the topic.

You also were interested in public sector adoption of private retiree exchanges, as evidenced by the popularity of posts on the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System OPERS and Alameda County in California announcements that they were transitioning their retirees to OneExchange. Towers Watson’s acquisition of Acclaris, a provider of software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based technology and services for consumer-driven health plan and reimbursement accounts, also garnered interest as did the news that Towers Watson was a founding member of the Association of Web-Based Health Insurance Brokers (AWHIB), formed to advocate for policies that would enhance the efficiency of web-based brokers when they enroll people in public exchange insurance plans.

2016 will be another busy year for health care, especially as the U.S. elects a new president. Aside from this major event, next year’s hot topics remain to be seen.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Cobb County in Georgia and the Alameda County Employees’ Retirement Association (ACERA) in California are public retirement systems that sought new ways to provide affordable, comprehensive health plans for their retirees in the face of high costs and growing concerns over the long-term liability of offering the benefit. Both turned to Towers Watson’s OneExchange for a Medicare solution.

OneExchange helped in several ways, including by offering a wide variety of plan options, providing one-on-one enrollment support to retirees, and delivering a suite of communication tools to educate retirees.

In fact, well-thought-out plans for communicating to retirees were a common theme in the success of both organizations. Communications are a key success factor for all employers transitioning retirees to a private Medicare exchange, regardless of whether they are public sector organizations or private companies.

Among the best practices for communications cited by the two counties include:

  • Educate staff. Medicare exchanges offer individual Medicare supplemental and Medicare Advantage plans, and most retirees are used to traditional group health plans. Staff must be equipped to help retirees understand the differences and what it means to them.
  • Prepare retirees. In addition to getting information on how the Medicare plans offered will change, retirees need specifics on how to enroll, where they can get help with decision-making and the timeline for the transition.
  • Allow plenty of time. Retirees might be geographically dispersed and some might not use email. Because most communication will go through regular mail, employers need to leave enough time in their transition plan to ensure that everyone is ready by the start of the enrollment period.
  • Leverage existing tools. Existing communications formats such as company newsletters or customized mailers have the added benefit of being familiar to retirees.

Although these suggestions are broadly applicable, it also is important to develop communication strategies that take into account the specific attributes of the region, industry, and organization.

To learn more about Cobb County and ACERA’s private Medicare exchange transitions, see the case study in Governing magazine.

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 are happy to report that we’ll be serving the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) in 2016. For more details about OPERS and the transition, click here for the full press release.

The state of Nevada will work with Extend Health to move Medicare-eligible retired government workers from group Medicare insurance to private coverage. In the process, the state expects to save $8 million and retirees will pay less for their Medicare gap insurance.

“By purchasing individual plans on a health insurance exchange, retirees will have more choice and control over their health care coverage, and the opportunity to select plans that are right for them,” according to James Wells, executive director of the Nevada Public Employees Benefit Program.

You can read more about the state’s decision in this Bloomberg Business Week article.