Behind the Scenes, Health Insurers Use Cash and Gifts to Sway Which Benefits Employers Choose
The insurance industry gives lucrative commissions and bonuses — from six-figure payouts to a chance to bat against Mariano Rivera — to the independent brokers who advise employers. Critics call the payments a “classic conflict of interest” that drive up costs.
In 2017, David Contorno, the broker for Palmer Johnson Power Systems, a heavy-equipment distribution company in Madison, Wisconsin, saved the firm so much money while also improving coverage that Palmer Johnson took all 120 employees on an all-expenses paid trip to Vail, Colorado, where they rode four-wheelers and went whitewater rafting. In 2018, the company saved money again and rewarded each employee with a health care “dividend” of about $700.
Contorno is not being altruistic. He earned a flat fee, plus a bonus based on how much the plan saved, with the total equal to roughly what would have made otherwise.
Contorno also provided resources to help Palmer Johnson employees find high-quality, low-cost providers, and the company waived any out-of-pocket expense as an incentive to get employees to see those medical providers. If a patient needed an out-of-network procedure, the price was negotiated up front to avoid massive surprise bills to the plan or the patient. The company also contracted with a vendor for drug coverage that does not use the secret rebates and hidden pricing schemes that are common in the industry. Palmer Johnson’s yearly health care costs per employee dropped by more than 25 percent, from about $11,252 in 2015 to $8,288 in 2018. That’s lower than they’d been in 2011, Contorno said.
by Marshall Allen Feb. 20, 2019, 5 a.m. EST