Doug Hetherington “If you want meas your fully insured broker, you will hate me. My role is toeducate my clients as an advisor.” (Photo: Val Judy)

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Had Doug Hetherington loved resort management, Noel Gill mightnot have the health insurance plan that is making his employeeshealthier and giving him a competitive edge.

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Today, Hetherington works tirelessly to customize insuranceplans that meet not only the needs, but the aspirations of hisclients. He will take them where no benefits advisor has gonebefore—as long as they are willing to break from the pack.

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“I'm not there to take over their fully insured program,” hesays. “If you want me as your fully insured broker, you will hateme. My role is to educate my clients as an advisor.”

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That is exactly what Hetherington did for Northwest Real EstateCapital Corp. (NWRECC). Executive director Noel Gill chuckles whiledescribing Hetherington as the nonprofit's broker.

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“We use the term 'broker,' but I have to be honest; he is asolutions specialist. He was the educator and supporter behindwhere I wanted to go,” Gill says.


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Hetherington grew up in Twin Falls, Idaho, and had aspirationsof managing the resort at Sun Valley. He landed a job there aftercollege, but his dream didn't jive with reality.

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“The job was very cyclical, and most of the workforce wasmigratory. Just about the time you got them trained, they left. Ifinally realized I was just a glorified babysitter. That was notthe career I wanted.”

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Hetherington chose another path, the same one his mother hadtaken years before: as a benefits broker. “I was being groomed totake over the benefits division at her firm,” he says.Unfortunately, the clients were not always inclined towardinnovation. So he quit.

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He spent six years with Leavitt Group, where his innovativeideas began to take shape. Ironically, the recession spurred clientinterest in alternatives to the annual renewal rategasp-and-swallow-it approach to health insurance.

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Leavitt encouraged Hetherington to educate himself on emergingmodels, and he kept coming back to captive groups andreference-based pricing models. What evolved was a reference-basedpricing captive model.

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”I'm extremely proud of that. It has succeeded well beyond myexpectations. I'm thrilled with the results it's been getting forclients,” he says.

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So is Gill, who runs an affordable-housing nonprofit thatacquires and manages properties throughout the West. He recalls awholly owned subsidiary in Montana that was struggling a few yearago.

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“The Montana unit lost their insurance because they got pricedout of the market. They were looking at premiums of $1,000 permonth. They just could not afford to take on that burden.”

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Since NWRECC signed on in 2017 for Hetherington's captive groupplan, they've seen deductibles plummet from $3,500 to $2,000 in2019 and $1,500 proposed for 2020. Meanwhile, premiums haveremained unchanged. More importantly, Gill was able to add morepreventative features to encourage his employees to access primarycare and be proactive about their health.

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Hetherington says that much of the success of such plans dependson making a match with an employer who is willing to be a healthplan pioneer. Once he has a client “all in,” he keeps pushing themto look for more ways to lower cost and improve outcomes.

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“If it makes sense for their organization, I will continue toeducate them during our relationship. They can always say, 'OK Itried it your way, but I think I'll go back to fully insured.' Butno one has switched back yet.”

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What's next for Hetherington? After four years with Boise-basedEchelon Group, he's ready to launch his own venture, Health 2Business. The concept is to teach other brokers to be innovators,problem solvers and leaders.

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“I'm identifying brokers who want to solve the problem. We wantto shift them into a distinct role as teachers within the brokercommunity.”

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That's quintessential Hetherington, aspiring to a larger role. Agood thing for this industry that he decided to come down off thatmountain.

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Dan Cook

Dan Cook is a journalist and communications consultant based in Portland, OR. During his journalism career he has been a reporter and editor for a variety of media companies, including American Lawyer Media, BusinessWeek, Newhouse Newspapers, Knight-Ridder, Time Inc., and Reuters. He specializes in health care and insurance related coverage for BenefitsPRO.