February 24, 2014
January 25, 2014
Jim Foreman to lead Exchange Solutions, Carl Hess to succeed Foreman as managing director of Americas Region
In a move designed to help employers better navigate the dynamic health care environment, global professional services company Towers Watson announced plans to unite the company-wide expertise and resources dedicated to health care exchanges and administration within its Exchange Solutions segment.
My thoughts: “Health insurance exchanges will play a significant role in how employers deliver health care benefits to their employees and families in the future. And as the marketplace evolves, I look forward to continuing to work with the Exchange Solutions team to deliver the best possible solutions to our clients.”
January 25, 2014
I joined a panel of experts on exchanges, health care reform and insurance to give insights on ACA plans going into effect. To The Point tweeted key comments from each of us, including:
- Bryce Williams, Towers Watson, @brycewatch:
The ACA could be major boost to entrepreneurship
- Sarah Kliff, Washington Post, @sarahkliff:
36 hrs into Obamacare, vast majority can signon & signup w/in an hr
- Susan Shargel, Shargel and Company
- David Nather. Politico, @DavidNather
- Gerald Kominski: UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, @UCLAFSPH
In the full podcast, you’ll hear comments on these points and more:
The New Year brought with it medical coverage for millions of Americans under the Affordable Care Act. On Jan 1, about two million people began to receive private health coverage through the state health exchanges or the federal website.
With one of the nation’s most sweeping changes to social policy in decades, no longer can insurers deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, or charge them more for their coverage than other customers. It’s also the first time they can’t legally charge women higher premiums for the same coverage as men, and the first time they can’t set a specific limit on the amount they spend on “essential health benefits” for individual policyholders.
But there are a lot of “if’s” in the implementation of Obamacare:
- Will people be able to find a doctor who accepts their new plan?
- Are the nation’s healthcare providers ready for the change in policy?
- How will Obamacare shape the political climate this election year?
November 30, 2013
I’m proud to share some recognition in the fields of health care business and consumerism.
Modern Healthcare: 2013 Healthcare’s Hottest Companies
The Exchange Solutions segment of Towers Watson, launched with the acquisition of Extend Health, was recognized by Modern Healthcare for being one of the fastest growing health care companies in the U.S. – named 4th among a great group of companies.
Institute for HealthCare Consumerism: 2013 Innovator > See pg 63
I’m honored to be named among some very esteemed industry figures by the Institute for HealthCare Consumerism. See page 63 to learn a little about the early days of Extend Health and what’s it’s meant to my team at work and at home to be in the leading wave of health insurance exchanges in our nation.
November 23, 2013
I spoke with several journals about what the Liazon acquisition means for Towers Watson and the exchange space. This coverage pulls in opinions from across the industry as well as my highlights.
Private Health-Exchange Market Consolidates, David McCann
My highlight: ”Towers Watson has plenty of good reasons for buying Liazon….The market is moving so rapidly, and there’s a sense that a tipping point is being achieved…It’s as if the music just stopped and we grabbed the last chair.”
Towers Watson expands private exchanges with $215M Liazon purchase, Jerry Geisel
My highlight: ”Liazon has “the most sophisticated insurance platform by a mile in this market.”
Towers Watson’s private exchange division leader details advantages of Liazon purchase, Kathleen Koster
My highlight: ”We want to be the leading player in private exchanges….A year and a half ago, they [Towers Watson] bought the leading retiree exchange in Extend Health. Today, they’re buying the leading active exchange technology company, Liazon….The acquisition gives Towers Watson the ability to hit the market very quickly with all the most sophisticated exchange technology out there.”
More on the acquisition
- Towers Watson’s announcement
- Wall Street Journal
- Huffington Post Business
- Bloomberg BusinessWeek
- Daily Finance, Motley Fool
- Insurance Networking News
- Employee Benefit Advisor
- Plan Sponsor
A closer look at Liazon
- New York Times, The Landscape of Small-Business Health Insurance
- FastCompany, This Buffalo Startup Built the Amazon of Health Care Buying
Towers Watson Acquires Liazon to Expand Private Benefit Exchange Offerings Through Multiple Channels
November 22, 2013
Transaction complements Towers Watson’s OneExchange with scalable, flexible solution
NEW YORK, November 22, 2013 — Towers Watson (NYSE, NASDAQ: TW), a global professional services company, announced today that it has acquired Liazon Corporation, a leader in developing and delivering private benefit exchanges for active employees. The acquisition, which follows the purchase of Extend Health in June 2012, solidifies Towers Watson’s strength in the private exchange market through its OneExchange solution. Going forward, Towers Watson will continue to enhance Liazon’s award-winning private exchange solution and serve the needs of Liazon’s leading broker, consultant and carrier partners, some of which offer the Liazon product under their own brands.
I joined a panel of experts on when the ACA will be ready for prime time. To The Point tweeted key comments from each of us, including:
- Bryce Williams, Towers Watson: Hard to penalize Americans for not buying what they can’t easily buy online says @brycewatch
- Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post White House correspondent: WH has stopped giving reporters like @eilperin hard #s about Obamacare web hits
- Jyoti Bansal, AppDynamics: Healthcare.gov glitches partly due to “old legacy systems” from state websites says @appdynamics
- Peter Suderman, Reason magazine: Whopping 7% polled say Obamacare roll-out has gone “quite well” says @petersuderman
- Tayse Haynes, Cabinet for Health and Family Services of Kentucky: One surprising state where Obamacare’s been less rocky: Kentucky. We hear from the health czar.
In the full podcast, you’ll hear comments on these points and more:
- What factors states had to consider in setting up their exchanges
- What could happen with those who get their coverage later due to state exchange glitches
- How options for young people’s coverage could impact state exchanges
- How this launch compares to the roll-out of Medicare Advantage and Part D nearly a decade ago
September 29, 2013
All the attention exchanges have been getting lately comes hand-in-hand with confusion and misconception.
Ever heard of “BushCare,” for example? While the move to private Medicare exchange has been hailed by many as a result of Obamacare, the legislation that paved the way for us to start the nation’s first private Medicare exchange was enacted by President George W. Bush in 2003. That law made the first wave of private exchanges possible and enabled the mass personalization of Medicare benefits for their users.
- Why the notion of exchanges stirs up so much angst
- Some common misconceptions about exchanges
- The different types of private insurance exchanges – for active employees, part-timers/seasonal workers and early retirees, and Medicare-eligible retirees
- The relationship between private and public exchanges
- The analogy between exchanges for retiree health benefits and 401ks for pension benefits
Care episode … bill … outrage – It’s a new pattern emerging in the health care industry that is going to go into overdrive next year as millions more Americans get health insurance.
Case-in-point, here are two recent eye-opening stories on outrageous hospital bills:
- $1,721.75 for treating a scraped knee – with the band aid costing more than the X-ray
- $4,500 for an MRI to assess a child’s tumor that was to have been paid completely out of pocket due to a $6,000 deductible
These come on the heels of a recent report on wild swings in hospital charges, not to mention Steven Brill’s chargemaster exposé earlier this year. My last blog post on transparency also came at a time when disparities in care costs for non-care-related reasons, like geography, were in the headlines.
Peeling back the layers of health care pricing certainly gives health care consumers reason to question costs. But it also has some big implications for employer-sponsored health care – especially given the trend toward account-based health plans in the workplace.
Outrageous health care pricing presents a special hurdle for employers in their quest to optimize health benefits for their employees and retirees.
Skin in the game is an important part of the consumerism concept – as employees use more of their own dollars to pay for health care, they tend to economize – leading to cost-savings for them, for their employer and for the health care system.
However, it’s hard to expect consumers to rationalize their health care usage when out of pocket costs can be so irrational and vary so wildly.
So while the trend toward account-based health plans increases, expect to see more of the care episode–bill–outrage pattern as more employees are hit with a larger share of costs through account-based plans.
This sightline is going to be important to rationalizing costs and care because economizing on care can cut both ways: If it’s not done effectively – for example medications are not taken as often as prescribed or chronic conditions are not managed closely – it could end up harming an individual’s health status and requiring more extensive intervention down the road.
And when such individuals are part of an employer’s overall health benefit population, employers are bound to end up paying more in rising health benefit costs down the road, too.
Offering cost-cutting measures alone doesn’t work without consumerism tools, such as up-front transparent access to the costs of care (i.e., before the bill arrives) and the ability to do apples-to-apples comparisons on health services and products that help employees be responsible health care consumers.
Jeanne Denz, director of Global Benefits for General Mills, said it well at an employee health care conference in New York this March. She shared General Mills’ highly effective health benefits program – one that offers employees innovations and convenience in managing their health along with increasing transparency to the costs of their care. Part of General Mills’ organizational philosophy is that, as it asks employees to take a more active role in managing their care, it should also provide employees with better tools for managing their health and their health care costs.
Exchanges can play a pivotal role in helping support health care consumerism for employees. Exchanges can also help employers optimize their health benefits and give them visibility into how those benefits are working, over time.
Towers Watson has found that consumerism tools are among a host of high-performing health benefit components that have allowed employers to get a handle on costs. These components include self-funding health benefits, high-quality wellness programs, care management for chronic conditions, incentives for positive health behaviors, offering Medicare-eligible retirees plan choice through our Medicare exchange (and other populations as exchanges become viable options for them), and more. Towers Watson’s clients who have performed best on managing health costs have implemented these types of programs.
Health exchanges have a ready-made environment for offering robust data-analysis tools and advice centers. In addition to helping employees and retirees become intelligent purchasers of health care benefits, the most effective exchanges will allow employers to continue to manage employee wellness by providing high-performing health plan features such as coordinated care, chronic disease management, narrow networks and so on, to maximize the value of their health care spend and ensure that they have a healthy and productive workforce.
The move forward into health care’s future is bound to get bumpy and noisy, but that’s not all bad. The bumps and noise may be what’s needed to help bring the rest of the system in line with the new health care consumer’s need for access to data, decision support and fair pricing.
March 18, 2013
When Towers Watson acquired Extend Health last year, there were many unknowns in the health care world: the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act was still ahead of us, as were the fall elections of 2012. Were we concerned about uncertainty for our companies and those we work with? Of course – but the combination of Extend Health, the nation’s leading Medicare exchange, and Towers Watson, a global leader in professional services, gave us the vision to chart a path into an uncertain future.
OneExchange is the culmination of that vision. It begins a new chapter in our company’s history at the same time that our nation takes a huge turn in its own health care history. Forged in the early winds of the pending reform storm, OneExchange is a single destination that offers many solutions.
As they were a year ago, many employers are looking at ACA’s potential impact on their health care benefits and asking: “What’s the right path?
In answer to this question, I can say two things:
- It’s complicated. You knew that – But did you know that’s a good thing? There are more options now than you, your employees and your retirees have ever had in the past. Some will work better for certain populations than others, but there’s a way to figure that out.
- You don’t have to do this all at once. You don’t have to pull the trigger on a massive set of health benefit changes right now. You can get there one step at a time.
With OneExchange, Towers Watson is using the Extend Health platform to deliver an exchange model that transcends a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s agile in the variation in delivers and nimble in its response to the evolving health care marketplace.
ACA changes things on many levels for employers. The parameters are neither simple nor clear, and the answer will not only be different for each company, it could be different within each company.
Figuring out the impact and how to respond strategically to it means taking into account many factors: how many employees, the hours they work, how much they earn, what benefits they get now, what competitors offer and more.
To increase the difficulty of solving this equation, key market-defining elements like final regs on essential health benefits and the costs of new health plans being designed for 2014 – all mission-critical to driving choice and value for employees on any exchange – are yet to be announced.
Not until these unknowns fill in over the course of 2013 will the value of an exchange become fully known.
Before making health benefits changes, employers should be able to look at scenarios modeled on known conditions. They need knowledgeable advice and insight that lets them make the right decisions at the right time.
That’s why OneExchange’s solutions will be triggered as these market-defining elements come into play. Not before. This will enable employers to leverage the seismic shift that’s just around the corner.
OneExchange gives employers a command central for analyzing and strategizing their health care benefits decisions now – and the advice and solutions they need to chart their course to tomorrow.
Rather than being a year of big, sudden change, we believe that 2013 will be the year that large employers take a good look but not a big leap.
At stake for employers is the trust of their workforce – the ability to recruit and retain employees – as well as sheer operational productivity and their reputation in the eyes of the public – all factors with bottom line impacts.
Fast forward a few years and corporate officers looking back on these next few years will want to be able to say, “We weathered the changes, came out whole and are in a better place. As important – so are our people.” By charting a course via OneExchange, we believe leaders of major employers today will also be able to say, “We did the right thing.”