By Todd Callahan, Editorial Director, The Institute for HealthCare Consumerism
In September 2009 when CDHC Solutions launched its conference series, the event was held in a sectioned-off portion of the ballroom at the Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta.
Fast-forward to less than three years later and the conference, dedicated 100 percent to innovative heath and benefit management, is hardly recognizable.
Branded The Institute for HealthCare Consumerism (IHC) FORUM East, the event has taken over the Galleria Centre's entire ballroom. The exhibit hall has expanded to more than 40 exhibitors, partners and sponsor, and the number of attendees has exploded to 423 in 30 months since the inaugural event.
However the one constant of the event has been the educational content employers, brokers, consultants, advisors, third party administrators and regional health plans have been able to take from attending the show.
“This is the only event I make a point on attending,” said Roy Ramthun, a keynote speaker at the last two IHC FORUMs and a featured speaker at FORUM West in Las Vegas on Sept. 6-7.
Ramthun, who shared the stage with legal expert and multiple FORUM keynote speaker John Hickman, a partner at Alston + Bird, revealed breaking news to the record number of attendees in Atlanta in regard to 2013 amounts for health savings accounts (HSA).
“I am pleased to be able to provide this information in advance of the official publication by the Internal Revenue Service," said Ramthun, during his general session appearance on the final day of IHC FORUM East. "The earlier notice will help banks, health plans, and plan administrators begin to lock in their program designs for next year. For the first time in three years, the minimum deductible for HSA-qualified plans will increase. Health plans that have been using the minimum deductible will need to update their plans for next year”
It is information offered by Ramthun, Hickman and opening keynote speakers Ron Bachman, chairman of The Institute’s Editorial Advisory Board, Dr. Wendy Lynch and FIS Healthcare Solutions’ Dr. John Reynolds that has aided in the growth of the event.
However the true star has been this megatrend called health care consumerism. With skyrocketing health care costs, employers can no longer afford to stand pat and keep the same traditional health plans.
Several employers with the foresight to venture on the road to health care consumerism have discovered this. Many of those companies also have been in attendance at FORUM Events. Companies like Southern Company, McKee Foods, Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Boeing, Wal-Mart, Newell Rubbermaid, Mercedes-Benz USA, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and Zeps have all attended the event and are on the journey to health care consumerism, thanks to the takeaway points they have received by attending the forums.
“I attended last year and I looked forward to coming back to get more information, and I’ve done just that,” said Marcy Malkin-Starnes, a senior HR specialist with Zep Inc. “I think my biggest takeaways were from the breakout sessions [workshops]. The information is more targeted and focused, and because the groups are smaller, I get more of an opportunity to ask questions and meet some of the presenters one on one, face to face. There’s a wealth of information. We are going to implement a 100 percent CDH [consumer-directed health] plan next year, so I need all the information I can get."
Malkin-Starnes was not alone, as there were a record number of employers attending IHC FORUM East. Some of the employers were actually part of the program. One of the more popular of the 24 breakout sessions, or workshops, was a total CDHP replacement case study conducted by Tony Holmes, a broker with Mercer Health and Benefits, and a member of the IHC League of Leaders. Holmes, a veteran participant at IHC FORUM, hosted Eddie Reeves, the director of HR for Shaw Industries, a 27,000-employee company specializing in carpet and other flooring manufacturing. Shaw recently moved from a traditional benefit program to full CDHP replacement.
Attendees of the breakout workshop listened as Reeves shared Shaw’s strategy to slowly phase out traditional health plans and move toward consumerism. Shaw discontinued two PPO options in 2011 and offered two health reimbursement arrangements (HRA). The next year Shaw introduced an HSA. The company plans to drop the PPO plan in 2013 and move forward with just HRA and HSA offerings.
“We really try to make our workshops an extension of our general sessions,” IHC CEO and Founder Doug Field said. “Case studies are the best approach and make for the best workshops. When you look at the number of attendees in our breakout sessions, the most successful workshops were those where a sponsor brought a client with them.”
One of the takeaways attendees of the Mercer/Shaw workshop received was the key to a successful full-replacement to a CDHP was communication. That was echoed by each member of the employer panel, which was featured in the closing general session of the event.
A session, which has become arguably the most popular and most valuable to attendees, has been the employer panel. At FORUM East, attendees got to hear points of view from employers of very diverse backgrounds.
Comprising the employer panel were: Kelly Keith, senior manager of health and welfare plans for Coca-Cola Refreshments, Trudie Nacin, division chief for State Health Benefit Plan Georgia Department of Community Health, David Ganick, benefits director for Vail Resorts and Kristine Hackbarth-Horn, chief operating officer of people for Goodwill of North Central Wisconsin.
Keith shared how Coca-Cola rolled out a CDHP plan two years ago and still offered a PPO. But with little communication, there was only an 8 percent participation rate among the estimated 60,000 employees. They retooled their communication strategy and had 500 C-suite executives sit in on a two-day conference on how to communicate to the employee population the benefits of a CDHP. There also was a two-day training session for the HR department for Coca-Cola Refreshments. The end result was 30 percent enrollment increase in a CDHP during the first year. Keith expects that number to increase, as they execute a multiple-year strategy and eventually move to full-replacement.
Ganick and Vail Resorts, a collection of seven mountain resorts in Colorado, Utah and California, which employees a total of 20,000 during the winter and around 7,000 full-time employees, implemented an HRA in 2011 and are eventually going to move to full-replacement in the future.
“We wanted to make the move to consumerism, and our concern was to do it well and not do it all at once,” said Ganick, who added communication through out the organization was crucial. “Engagement and support from senior leadership was the key. We wouldn’t have been as successful if it wasn’t for our senior leadership.”
In addition to senior leadership, Vail Resort created a website and a phone hotline employees could use to ask questions and get information about their new benefit plan. Vail also hosted focus groups at each of the resorts to address questions and concerns in person.
Not only did the four employers showcase strategies to implementing a CDHP and the importance of communication, they also shared the strategies they use when starting a wellness program.
Nacine, who is in charge of more than 685,000 lives, shared her employer has implemented a wellness program and has seen a 58 percent engagement rate, using a strategy where nonparticipants may face higher premiums.
“We started out focusing on members, now we are focusing more on the employers,” Nacine said.
While the employer panel did mention wellness programs, attendees were able to take advantage of expert advice in the population health management panel, which was one of the five general sessions at IHC FORUM East.
The content will be similar at FORUM West, however there will an expansion of employer participations. Three workshop sessions have been added, featuring three employers sharing about: taking the first steps toward health care consumerism; effectively communicating and engaging their employee population to participate in a wellness program, and educating and communicating the effectiveness and benefits of new plan designs.
"We're on the heels of a very successful FORUM East and we're definitely going to keep the momentum going for FORUM West in Vegas,” Field said. “There was a record turnout in Atlanta this year and we expect nothing less for September's conference. FORUM West will feature top-notch speakers and workshops on every consumerism topic you can think of. Our goal is to equip attendees with real-life solutions that they can use immediately in their businesses. We can't wait for FORUM West!"
It is truly the only conference that allows the attendees to LEARN, CONNECT and SHARE. See you in the desert.