“It's an exciting time—there'slots of new stuff going on. And the innovations taking place in themarket now can work for any group size.” (Photo: ChrisBergin)

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When Wanza Schweiger, founder and managing partner of BenefitInnovations, started her company, one of her goals was to bringmore creativity to the benefits brokerage scene. One of her aimswas to focus on smaller businesses that needed more-customizedsolutions.

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“I was very interested in taking what the jumbo accounts did andbringing that down to the midsize accounts. These smaller employerswanted to offer multiple plans and be self-insured, as well,” shesays.

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The passage of the ACA also brought some changes to the marketthat her firm took advantage of. “Post-ACA, a lot of brokers justwrote off all their business that was under 100 lives and let itfall away. But I saw that as a great opportunity; I loveself-insuring, and the market responded,” she says. “Today, we'reprobably at an average group size of 50 lives.”

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Not all of those companies are self-insured, but Schweiger'sfirm has been able to take advantage of market innovations such asreference-based pricing and direct primary care to bring theself-insured approach to many of its clients.Wanza Schweiger

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“It's an exciting time—there's lots of new stuff going on,” shesays. “And the innovations taking place in the market now can workfor any group size.”

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Part of BI's secret, Schweiger says, is paying close attentionto what's being tried by other firms. She credits industry groupslike Q4i and ASCEND with bringing valuable insights and experiencethat independent firms can learn from.

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“Being able to network nationally with other independentadvisors, so you're not just focused on what is happening in yourown marketplace, is very valuable,” she says. “The ability toinnovate comes from not being afraid to share information andcollaborate with other independent firms.”

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She notes that smaller firms are often more likely to try newthings, which pays off in a market that is rapidly evolving. “Thebig house firms have their own researchers and attorneys, butthey're kind of in a straight-jacket in having to do things the waycorporate wants it done. A smaller firm has the flexibility to dothings differently for different clients.”

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Schweiger's brokerage in Indianapolis is in a regional marketdominated by large insurers such as Anthem and UnitedHealth Group.Traditionally, she notes, those big players will offer discounts toemployers as an incentive to buy their plans. But such discountsaren't always a great deal.

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“It's hard to get employers to understand that even with thebiggest discounts of as much as 50 percent, in a market where thefacilities charge 600 percent of Medicare, it's still expensive,”she says.

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Direct-contracting with hospitals and clinics is something thather firm pioneered, and Schweiger says it's getting easier foragencies and their clients to find partners on the provider side.“Several hospitals in the suburbs here have joined together to dodirect contracting as a unit,” she says. “You see more of thattaking place. The biggest challenge is to get the employers tounderstand they do have some control over big-ticket items.”

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As is often the case in the benefits world, Schweiger has madeher small firm a family business—all of her children have workedthere, and her daughter Danielle started her own career there.

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“Danielle worked with BI from the time she was in high school.We had a great time working together and she had an opportunity towork at a bigger firm,” Schweiger says. “Now she's an up-and-comingbroker. I'm really pleased with how it's worked out for all ofus.”

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