Should You Not Give Employees the Benefit Design They Think They Want? With Lauren Vela—Summer Shorts 6
Relentless Health Value™August 24, 202309:038.28 MB

Should You Not Give Employees the Benefit Design They Think They Want? With Lauren Vela—Summer Shorts 6

Lauren Vela is back on the pod today with a summer short that originally was a section of episode 406 that, unfortunately, I had to cut. It was a little bit tangential to the “why with the employer inertia” theme that the original episode was about. But tangential does not mean unimportant. This clip has some really critical insights on a different topic that may or may not to a greater or lesser degree contribute to inertia. And I’m gonna call this other topic the benefit design that most employees might ultimately be the most satisfied with might not be the one that they are explicitly asking for.

Let’s start with three kinds of market research insights that Lauren Vela, my guest in this healthcare podcast, uncovered when interviewing friends and neighbors not in the healthcare industry about their benefits:

1. Nobody reads their benefit information.

2. They are unhappy with their benefits.

3. The most important thing for them is to have choice. They want to avoid the notion of “managed care.”

In thinking about this, I was reminded of a Henry Ford quote: “If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse.”

Or Steve Jobs famously said, “Some people say, ‘Give the customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.” Jobs’s whole thing, after all, was that true innovation often comes from anticipating customer needs and desires before they can articulate them themselves.

So, let me reconcile Lauren’s findings when she interviewed people about what they want in their benefits and what Henry Ford and Steve Jobs have to say about the matter.

First of all, patients/plan members—most people have never experienced a comprehensive primary care situation where they are assisted in finding the highest-quality specialists or sub-specialists and have their care coordinated. They have never had someone worrying about them in their “in-between spaces,” as Amy Scanlan, MD (EP402), put it, between appointments. This is all just a fantasy. It is a reputed Shangri-la that almost no one has ever seen with their own two eyes.

But what many have seen—I have; you have—are narrow networks in which cost containment is wielded like a brute-force weapon, where, for example, the NCI-designated cancer centers are out of network as a way to make sure that people with cancer don’t sign up for your plan … or don’t last long on your plan if they do. (Did I say that out loud?)

Do I sound like I suffer from a brutal lack of trust? Yes, I do—and I was just role-playing there an employee probably pretty accurately.

Most of us remember the HMO a-go-go years when your PCP was an administrative gatekeeper and you had to see them to get a specialist appointment—except you never could see them. Wait times were weeks or months, obviously by design, right?

But this way-too-expensive PPO model is the devil I know because, even if it totally sucks, it’s better than the conspiracy theories and/or accurate or exaggerated recollections of other options.

Here are my recommended next steps. Listen to the shows with Vivek Garg, MD, MBA (EP407), and Scott Conard, MD (EP391), and Douglas Eby, MD (EP312), as a start. All three make it really clear that advanced primary care—maybe even direct primary care—can not only save money, but it also can produce better health and patients are super happy and usually clinicians, too. It’s like a quadruple aim home run.

But none of this can happen if we say “integrated care or advanced primary care and you have to go there to get a referral” and then leave whatever that means up to employees’ or plan members’ imaginations. Communication is really required here, as it is when rolling out most new things—not just cars or cellular telephones.


You can learn more about Lauren’s work by connecting with her on LinkedIn.


Lauren Vela is a passionate advocate for a more rational and sustainable healthcare system and recognizes the influence had by employers and other commercial purchasers through their oversight of employer-sponsored insurance plans. As an independent consultant, she partners with entities that are committed to changing the ineffective status quo.

Previously, Lauren was the director of health care transformation with Walmart, where she partnered with the Walmart Benefits team to identify solutions concerning low-value care, site of care, and vendor evaluation. Prior to her tenure at Walmart, Lauren led market strategy and member initiatives for the Purchaser Business Group on Health, where she cumulatively spent two decades working within various healthcare sectors, including health information technology, provider organizations, and pharmacy benefit management. Lauren also served, for seven years, as the executive director of the Silicon Valley Employers Forum, a trade association of high-tech employers collaborating on innovative delivery of both domestic and international benefits.

The cartoon. The decisions commercially insured employees across the country are truly facing …

©Dan Piraro

05:15 Do employees really understand what it means to have integrated care?

06:57 Why employees want choice and avoid the notion of managed care.

07:15 “I’m not sure that Americans really know what would be better.”

07:19 What would be a better way to do integrated primary care in America?

08:04 How do you fix it without disrupting what everyone thinks would be better?


You can learn more about Lauren’s work by connecting with her on LinkedIn.


@laurenvela1 discusses #employeebenefitdesign on our #healthcarepodcast. #healthcare #podcast #digitalhealth #hcmkg #healthcarepricing #pricetransparency #healthcarefinance

Recent past interviews:

Click a guest’s name for their latest RHV episode!

Dr Jacob Asher (Summer Shorts 5), Eric Gallagher (Summer Shorts 4), Dan Serrano, Larry Bauer, Dr Vivek Garg (Summer Shorts 3), Dr Scott Conard (Summer Shorts 2), Brennan Bilberry (Summer Shorts 1), Stacey Richter (INBW38), Scott Haas, Chris Deacon


communication,comprehensive care,employee benefits,employer,insurance carriers,