In June, I became chair of the Council of Employee Benefits Executives; it has already proven to be a dynamic time to lead this group. 

Recent developments with the CEBE board reminded me of the importance of keeping our most experienced, seasoned colleagues (including yours truly) engaged in fulfilling work that leverages our acquired knowledge. We veterans are a bit fatigued by years with clients on the reform roller coaster. A deep frustration has bubbled up over the lack of progress we’ve made as a country solving the drivers of healthcare costs. We’re not a group that is acquainted with so many roadblocks. We’ve built our careers around getting things done, and we have a bias toward action.

Specifically, Council members have grown increasingly frustrated at the lack of attention paid during the never-ending ACA repeal-and-replace debate to the underlying problem—cost. Some CEBE board members have voiced a desire to drive initiatives that go far beyond our traditional scope at The Council. They passionately agree that, absent enhanced engagement, nothing of significance will change. Not only will this jeopardize our industry, but our country will continue to suffer the consequences of an unsustainable healthcare system.

At the risk of stating the obvious, this problem is much larger than we. We are just one of many important stakeholders, including patients, providers, payers and regulators. We cannot lose sight of the entire equation as we strive to improve the system for our clients.

In that vein, the CEBE board has established a task force to explore how The Council can acknowledge this core issue of cost and appropriately engage in a larger dialogue. We all know partisan politics is at a high point in Washington. Gaining consensus on any issue—much less the hot button healthcare conversation—is extremely difficult. We must find a way to balance our noble, aspirational goals with practicality and with the charter of the CEBE board.

Over the last few months, this task force has had a spirited debate about our mission and options for tackling this challenge. We’ve nailed that radical candor thing, by the way. I had the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations to augment our group discussions; after each interaction, I’d think of the old saying that goes something like, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

I learned something new each time I spoke with someone about this. And therein lies the nexus of our role. We have a great deal to add to the ongoing healthcare conversation in our country. And the more we can disseminate our ideas backed by real data and case studies, the more we can influence the outcomes of this debate.

With this in mind, we have decided to make our priority producing thought-provoking educational pieces from differing perspectives on the underlying problem, the price of health services (medical and Rx). We’ll focus on pricing transparency, “legitimate” pricing and alternative payment models. By highlighting the different components in the complicated “price of health services” equation, we’ll educate legislative stakeholders and inspire informed questions back to Council members.

The Council is in education mode on this issue versus actively lobbying at this time. A 360-degree dialogue is needed to understand the challenges from the perspective of all involved, and brokers are uniquely positioned to educate on this topic given their expertise in local healthcare markets.

Over the coming months, you will begin to see more focus on these topics in The Council’s content. In fact, I hope you will take a look at one of our first offerings in this area—the Vital Signs spotlight section in this issue. In it, you’ll find a deeper dive into the topic of reference-based pricing.

How can you help? I’m glad you asked. You and your colleagues are critical to content development. Please consider the approach we’ve outlined and think about who within your firms has expertise and/or passion for these topics. The Council is prepared to dedicate time and effort to this, but our collaboration is necessary for this to be successful.

You might be wondering how you and your colleagues can fit anything else into your often overscheduled workweek. While that struggle is real, I believe there is a way to run our businesses while devoting some time and energy to our macro environment. I’d like to thank all of the members who have been actively engaged and invested time in very thoughtful dialogue on this serious issue. And I look forward to more to come.

Walsh is SVP and partner at Woodruff, Sawyer & Co. jwalsh@wsandco.com

To take part in this work, please reach out to Cheryl Matochik. cheryl.matochik@ciab.com


CEBE Cost Task Force

Jenn Walsh (Woodruff-Sawyer)
Kerry Finnegan (Mercer)
Maria Harshbarger (Aon Hewitt)
Jon Trevisan (BB&T)
Nancy Mellard (CBIZ Benefits & Insurance Services Division)
Brad Plummer (Cottingham & Butler)
Austin Madison (The Crichton Group)
Brian Robertson (Fringe Benefit Group)
Den Bishop (Holmes Murphy)
John Kirke (IMA)
Rod Cruickshank (The Partners Group)
Mitch Andrews (Plexus)
Dan Gowen (Wells Fargo Insurance)