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 In our first article, we discussed our belief thatdespite a lot of bluster about next gen benefits techniques andcost controls to lower health care costs, many advisors are notactually implementing what they are talking about.  Ifthey were employing and executing these strategies, rather thanjust talking about them to make a sale, the questions they'd askand the resources they'd be seeking would address the challengesthat arise from implementing high-performing health plans. Butthese questions aren't being asked, and as this industry changesand non-traditional competitors enter the health care space, thistalk-only approach will no longer work. We're worried about thisphenomenon and how it will affect our profession, which brings usto these questions:

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Does your team dread the day you return from industryconferences with countless ideas and excitement levels at anall-time high? Do you change gears each year, making plans toimplement dozens of ideas that ultimately confuse and overwhelmyour team?

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Related: Where do benefits brokers fit in Amazon's newhealth care venture?

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In order to succeed your firm needs a clear, consistentdirection and a plan for how to get there. The path shouldn'tzigzag like a pinball every time you're inspired by speakers atevents and conversations with colleagues.

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So after some careful and thoughtful analysis, you're ready totransform your business model and offer independent,high-performing health plans to your clients.  But firstit will take some preparation, especially to get your staff toembrace the changes with you.

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If you have tried and failed to implement big changes in thepast, you need to deliver a clear and strong message thatthis is not a flavor of the week or something you are going todabble in. Show everyone you are committed to this new directionand explain in clear concise terms how you will get theretogether.

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What holds teams back

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There are several obstacles you are likely to encounter as youstart to implement your new strategy of building independent,high-performing health plans. Look out for these possibleroadblocks:

  • Your team doesn't believe it will work.
  • Your team isn't familiar with the vendors you need to get itdone.
  • Your team believes the changes will leave them with a servicenightmare. (Look for the non-verbal clues on this one)

You may not see these as roadblocks, but you're the one on thefront line attending the conferences, meeting the vendors, etc. Toresolve some of these concerns, your support team and accountmanagers need to be included upfront, so that they know how tomanage these programs.

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Understanding the problem

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Does your team fully understand why your firm and your clientsshould take on a major shift toward independent, high-performinghealth plans? After all, traditional markets have producedwell-documented plan performance results. For some clients, thesemarkets are their only alternative. For others, these results areacceptable as they scramble year over year looking for a "less bad renewal."

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But still other clients who desire stability and predictabilityneed a different option. They want more control and better benefitsat a lower cost. The traditional models aren't working for them,and they'll keep getting the same lackluster results year afteryear unless they switch to a different model.

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Traditional markets are like buying a car. If you want leatherseats, you have to get the rear-seat DVD player and the sunroof aspart of the upgrade package, whether you want them or not. All wewant for our clients is the network and the access to the contractswith the providers, but carriers also make us buy the pharmacybenefit management, the medical management, administrativeservices, etc.

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To create an independent, high-performing health plan, you needa level of customization that's required in order to truly controlcosts. An independent plan has a traditional structure, butnon-traditional packaging. All of the parts are the same, but thepieces are built independently. They need to be packaged togetherto work as part of one system.

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Building consensus and buy-In

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Some members of your staff probably will dislike the changesbecause they don't believe that the cost controls you're proposingcan affect claims. They may be hearing from outside "experts" whodon't support it and you will need to be prepared to combat thenoise.  These techniques work. If someone doesn't believefrom the start, you'll never get the buy-in you need to moveforward.  Do not skip this step. If they don't buy in,they will always find a reason not to recommend or implement thesestrategies for your clients.

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Find a champion

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Who on your staff will be a champion of this transition? Whowill be resistant? Past experience can give you some clues, and youmay ask certain managers or supervisors to help you recognize wherethe resistance will be strongest. You should also considerassigning an internal champion or champions to assist you intransitioning this message from the conference circuit to your firmand your clients.

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Your team doesn't want to wind up carrying a heavy burden in theform of vendor problems. An independent plan is a custom program,and your account managers may assume customization means more workfor them.

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Find ways to include your team in professional learning,networking and conferences that will help them understand andaccept your firm's new direction. After all, a lack of knowledgeand a track record of searching for the "next quick fix" will leaveteams skeptical and hesitant to commit. But if they're included,they will also provide valuable feedback about which strategies andideas are achievable and which ones are conference bluster thatwill fall flat when implemented.

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Do you have the right intellectual capital to train your team,or do you need to outsource this training through events,professional organizations, etc.? As agency principal, do notassume that you have the time and patience to conduct this trainingyourself. Consider delegating it to an internal champion who isknowledgeable and on board with the changes.

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It's a mistake to sell a big dream and leave someone else toservice a nightmare situation. When it's done correctly, your teamwill understand that, compared to traditional insurance, the newdirection does not mean more challenges, just differentchallenges.

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Preparing for implementation

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How do you find the right vendors? Colleagues, networkinggroups, and conferences are all possible sources. Encourage yourstaff to provide feedback and take part in the decision-makingprocess. That way, they'll be more likely to be on board with theoverall transition when you move forward.

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You should pick your partners carefully, but if you spend 10months interviewing 12 third-party administrators, that's notmoving your firm in a new direction. Be decisive in your selection.Once you do, begin integrating your teams or at least the personyou have designated as your champion. Do not get stuckhere.  Many agency owners or management teams get boggeddown because they are the nonbelievers themselves and look forreasons not to use new vendors.

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If you create an environment that allows your account managersto build stronger relationships with vendors, it will pay dividendsmoving forward. They are used to the carriers your firm has used inthe past, so creating direct connections to the new partners willbuild the same rapport and comfort for your team. Loop the championin on communications about how and why the vendor was selected.Hearing that confirmation from a fellow team member isimportant.

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To support a smooth transition, we have found that the need fora clear strategic direction and a roadmap to execute it isimperative. It's not the type of change you can do in a loose,informal way. Take small, strategic steps to build credibility withyour staff and they believe and adopt the transition.

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The next four articles in this series will take you step-by-stepthrough the process and examine the challenges, so you will beready to tackle them head-on. The articles will focus on:

  •     Transitioning your firm: Converting fromcommissions to fees, performance-based   compensation, etc.
  •     Now that you are ready: Transitioningyour clients
  •     Now that you and your clients are ready:Managing your carrier relationships
  •     Conclusions and looking ahead

Mick Rodgers is the managing partner at Axial Benefits Group, which is based inBoston. Mick has been called a pioneer, a disrupter andhas always had a focus on disintermediation.

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Bob Gearhart Jr. is the third generation to lead DCW Groupand is responsible for helping clients manage the healthcare supplychain to improve benefits and increase their earnings.

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