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Wellness is wave of the future, broker argues

Catching up with Mark Lacher, 2011 Broker of the Year
By Kathryn Mayer, May 15, 2012 •

Brandon Scarborough was named the 2012 Broker of the Year last week at the Benefits Selling Expo, so we thought it would be appropriate to check up on the 2011 Broker of the Year winner, Mark Lacher.

Lacher—partner of Lacher & Associates in Souderton, Penn.—talks about the past year, the coming year, health reform and wellness.

Here’s what he had to say.

BenefitsPro: How’s the last year been for you and business? I hope you milked your Broker of the Year status…

Mark Lacher: The last year has been great for our benefits division and our firm. Perhaps we are running a bit counter-cyclical to most benefits shops, but we’ve continued to have strong, positive growth. I really used the Broker of the Year award to tell our firm’s story—an important part of any individual achievement, in my opinion, is that it reflects the health of the team and the organization.

BP: What does 2012 hold in store for you?

ML: We’ve had a great start to 2012 and expect to continue our positive growth results in our benefits division.
Specifically, we’re spending a lot of time on health care reform analysis for our clients to help them better understand the potential impact of the law on them and their employees. We’ve developed a relatively robust approach to communication and are working diligently to help our clients better communicate about health care, benefits, wellness, etc. The focus on communication allows us to engage our clients in larger more strategic conversations about how they currently communicate and help them consider some areas of improvement.

BP: Do you have any expectations as far as how reform is going to go this year, and how it will affect you?

ML: Don’t we all wish we knew where health care reform was going and how it might impact our business?
But, alas, I don’t have a crystal ball either. As it relates to reform, our focus has been to actually do the analytical work for our clients. We’ve found that many benefits shops are communicating a lot about reform, but are not doing the analysis for the clients. Don’t get me wrong—the information is important—but we find clients asking questions like, “Am I going to be providing health care or not?” Fortunately or not, the bill provides enough detail that we can at least speculate for our clients what might happen if the bill maintains most of its’ current provisions.

BP: There have been reports coming out on how health reform is driving up costs for the employer—which in effect is costing the employee. Do you think compliance with the law will be a big cost driver?

ML: There is certainly additional cost associated with the law. Outside of the core costs, such as dependent to age 26, there is additional administrative burden on employers to comply with the mandates. We definitely hear similar discussions amongst our clients about who will “exit” the health care game first, but I believe this step for many companies is very complex.
When we do analysis for our clients on the impact of reform, many see a big gap between the dollar benefit employees receive currently via a health plan and what happens under the reform bill. Employers will need to make difficult decisions about dropping plans altogether and, at the same time, educating employees about their options.  These conversations alone will certainly burden HR teams.

In my opinion, the most important steps employers can take now is to simply do the math. The bill gives a window into what will happen, but we find that many benefits shops and employers are not looking through it and thus do not have a good handle on what the actual impact will be.

BP: You’ve talked about the importance of wellness in your business in the past. How has that focus been beneficial for your business?

ML: The conversations that we are having with our clients around health and wellbeing blend incredibly well with the macro issues we are facing as a country. Most studies confirm that only 5 percent of the population is responsible for more than 50 percent of health care spending and that a good portion of the spending is related to behavioral-related conditions. Having discussions about health and wellbeing at work—where we spend more than 50 percent of our lives—seems like a good place to start.

However, although we have two feet firmly planted in the wellness business (we own 50 percent of a wellness firm) we are critical of how the programs are often constructed. From our perspective, organizations either make the health and wellbeing of their employees a strategic initiative that has the ability to impact many areas of organizational health or they introduce wellness as a tactical way to lower health care spend. We believe strongly that organizations must adopt a wellness culture, starting with leadership, and then introduce a graduated, step-by-step process to make it a part of every day work-life for employees. Not an easy task, but as long employers are in the business of attracting and retaining talent or more generally investing in their human capital I believe it is a must.

We’ve also started to discuss wellness in a larger context and recently partnered with Blake Allison, CEO of Financial Education & Literacy Advisors based in D.C. Our organizations are developing a software platform and consulting model that will engage employers in a holistic approach to wellness. We believe that this model will allow for better engagement with employees around health and wellbeing in all areas of life.

BP: What trends are you seeing in the industry right now?

ML: [In addition to wellness], we are seeing more and more employers analyze self-funding strategies, focus on consumer-driven plans, and—at the very least—vet voluntary benefit plans.

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