ECCHIC: The Health Care Insurance Advocates

By Howard Danzig

Over the years, it has become evident that to effectively serve our clients, we must transcend the function as mere agent and add the responsibilities of also being a health care insurance advocate. As I always say, ECCHIC isn’t for everyone – if you just want an agent to call around and get you quotes on various plans once a year, then we’re not for you. We’re partners, diligently surveying and fighting the constant changes in the health care market so you can take care of your employees with the coverage you want at the discounted price you deserve.

Heather Ambro, our V.P. of Administrative Services, and myself went to Washington, D.C. recently as part of the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU) Capitol Conference. Here we interact with attendees in our industry from all over the country, from Alaska to Maine. More importantly, we have meetings and events with our Congressional Representatives and Senators, and other politicians who are involved in health care insurance policy.

Heather Day 2 at NAIU

ECCHIC VP Heather Ambro.

We advocated directly with the following lawmakers:

  • Senator Bill Cassidy (R) Louisiana, Co-sponsor of the Cassidy-Collins Bill – one of the proposals on the table to change the current ObamaCare program;
  • Senator Lamar Alexander (R) Tennessee, Chairman of the Senate Health Education and Labor Committee;
  • Former Senator Tom Daschle (D) South Dakota, Former Senate Majority Leader;
  • Congressman Chris Collins (R) New York;
  • Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (D) Arizona;
  • Congressman Mike Kelly (R) Pennsylvania; and a multitude of health insurance industry economists, government relations advisors, consultants and strategists involved in relevant congressional affairs.

This was in addition to scheduled meetings with our respective Senators, Congressmen and Congresswomen from Missouri, including Senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill, and Representative Ann Wagner. In all these meetings, we were explicit and firm in explaining that their actions or inactions in creating and perpetuating ObamaCare has caused more problems than it solves, and we offered candid, expert direction on what needs to be done to correct it.

The overriding issue that must be solved is the instability in the insurance marketplace that ObamaCare (aka Affordable Care Act) has caused. In many parts of the country there are only one or two carriers left offering insurance. In addition, the premiums are escalating to unprecedented levels with the deductibles rising to $5,000 and $6,000 for single coverage and $12,000 to $13,000 deductibles for married people or parents with dependent children. The priority issue is insurance market stability and insurance coverage affordability along with a benefit that has some useful value.

One of the next most important issues is the reduction and elimination of useless but expensive and time consuming regulations and reports. This is causing excessive unproductive expense to the average independent employer. If there is more flexibility in the structure of the policies like there used to be, and less mandates and requirements connected to them, with more choice, that would be a major part of the foundation.

Another area of debate is what to do about some of the taxes caused by the ACA, especially the “Cadillac Tax.” This is a 40 percent excise tax on all premiums that exceed $10,500 per year for an individual and $23,000 for a family or an employee with spouse. What is spent on benefits through HSA’s is included in these calculations. Right now, few if any small business owners even approach this level, but it will seriously impact a number of employers around the country because of the escalating premiums going on now. Related, also under debate is the H.I.T. (Health Insurance Tax) built in to premiums that we now have to pay. This all adds to our cost that is used to subsidize many ObamaCare recipients who pay little for their coverages. Nobody really knows where this will shake out, though we know where we don’t want it to go ….

In addition, the premiums are escalating to unprecedented levels with the deductibles rising to $5,000 and $6,000 for single coverage and $12,000 to $13,000 deductibles for married people, or with dependent children. And these are just a few of the issues we’re following and advocating on for on our clients’ behalf.

NAIU Day 2 Howard

ECCHIC President Howard Danzig.

These trips to events like the one NAHU held are made at our own expense, and only about a 1,000 health insurance professionals across the nation do it (just to put it in perspective, there are hundreds of thousands of health insurance agents across the country). But this is worth it because this directly enables us to serve our small business clients better, both in what we learn, and perhaps more importantly, in how we’re able to lobby and educate the politicians who are enacting laws that affect all of us on these issues.

I will say this: The more that I learn of what is going on around us, the more validation there is that the methods that we’ve employed for our clients are the correct ones. We don’t know what lies ahead, what Washington will (or won’t!) do, but we at ECCHIC know this: By empowering our clients to own their own plan like the big companies do is the surest bet to stability, access to quality health care, and insurance cost savings up to 40 percent. By working with ECCHIC to own your own health care plan, you will be shielded from past, present, and future government policies. We can say that, because we stay engaged and advocate on your behalf to make it so.

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Employers, Own it!

By Howard Danzigtake ownership

If you’re a small business employer, I don’t have to tell you that employers of all types are struggling with the problem of the increased cost of providing employee health benefits – you’re likely living it. I’m a small business owner myself and I’m certainly affected by it. So what do we do to solve this problem? Too often we go to insurance agents, insurance companies, and politicians.

What the heck do any of them know about healthcare?

We unwittingly give ownership of our medical dollars and medical resources to third parties who know nothing about medical services or healthcare. We’ve added layers of middlemen and bureaucratic gimmicks to the actual cost that employers become responsible for. The reality I see isHappy-Employees that medical services and healthcare itself is a fraction of the cost of insurance premiums – we are burning our money when we give up so much control to third party insurance companies who then spend it on administrative costs etc. that have nothing to do with keeping our employees healthy and happy.

When an employer takes ownership of his or her program and removes many of the irrelevant middlemen, they are amazed at how much their costs or reduced while their benefits remain the same or even increase. Then you are in control, because if you don’t own it, you can’t fix it!

We at ECCHIC have done this! We’ve shown employers how to own their own plan, have equity in it, and we’re showing more how to do that every day. It’s a method not a policy, and you can learn from our method as well. It’s not for everybody, but those we are able to help, appreciate it very much.

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Eureka Fire: Case Study #4

By Howard Danzig

We’ve had theEureka patch privilege of serving the Eureka (MO) Fire Protection District for over 20 years. This is a wonderful group of heroes who live and work just southwest of St. Louis who protect and serve those in their community (population 11,000). That we can help take care of their health care needs in a manner that doesn’t compromise on care but provides considerable cost savings is certainly an honor we take seriously.

Here is a two-minute video testimony from Brad Dickerson, and his kind words regarding what ECCHIC can provide are humbling. “When we looked at places like Blue Cross/Blue Shield and look at those rates, and compare it to the rates that [ECCHIC]” provides, “it works out well for us in controlling our costs.” As he says, our team of pro-active cost managers take care of providing the kind of discounts available to large companies, and he simply gets a bill from us once a week. Unlike others, this is an itemized bill – because how can you control cost if you don’t know what you’re spending? They can know where every penny is going, and can budget and prepare accordingly.

Like other firefighters and similar community municipalities, we have remained superior to private and public sector options. How? We provide them the opportunity to own their own plan. We understand that for taxpayer-funded organizations like this, it’s important to be accountable to the community. Finally, the last thing any of us want is for these heroes who put their lives on the line for us is to worry about drastically increased premiums or sudden surges in pharmaceutical cost.

Eureka Fire Protection District has been an ECCHIC client for over 20 years.

Eureka Fire Protection District has been an ECCHIC client for over 20 years.

We can do the same for your municipality, fire or police department, or similar group. After watching the Eureka Fire Protection Department story, give us a call for a free consultation and we’ll see how we can help you can tell a similar success story.

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Small Bank, Big Savings: Case Study # 3

By Howard Danzig

Recently at a client workshop, Candy Ginger of City National Bank of Metropolis, Ill, graciously sat down and gave a testimonial about the work we’ve been doing for her financial institution. The video is here, and if you have two minutes, please watch it. First of all – she’s delightful! We’ve become good friends over the years. Secondly, she eloquently describes what we’ve been able to do for the good, hardworking employees at City National.

ECCHIC President Howard Danzig Addresses the April Workshop.

ECCHIC President Howard Danzig Addresses the November Workshop.

We’ve been working with them for more than a decade, and in that period, we’ve been able to keep their benefits the same at virtually no increase over the last 10 years. As Candy says in her testimonial, they were previously with a big insurance company and the premiums just kept going higher and higher. That we’ve been able to maintain their benefits and keep costs down over the course of a decade might seem remarkable, but it’s what we do here at ECCHIC. We cut out the middle men that typically add unnecessary cos in traditional plans and give the power of choices and savings to the client.

At ECCHIC, we ensure that businesses OWN THEIR OWN PLAN. If you don’t own it, you can’t fix it!

Our team of pro-active cost managers, work with clients like City National Bank, and as Candy says, we do it in a way that easy and manageable. “When I have a question they get back to me the next day,” she says and we do.

We’ve had great success with small bank clients throughout the Midwest. That entire industry is based on validation and documentation, and yet too many don’t scrutinize the hidden or unidentified costs added to health care costs bundled into insurance company’s premiums. The real time per cost per employee for our banking clients can be up to a 40 percent savings compared to off-the-shelf plans.

We help small town banks throughout the Midwest.

We help small town banks throughout the Midwest.

If you’re a smaller or medium-sized financial institution, we’d like to sit down and learn about how you’re currently taking care of your employee’s health care needs. In this free consultation, we’ll provide a plan so that you too can own your own health insurance plan. Take it from Candy – we can do for you what we do for City National Bank.

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Helping Municipalities Save Money, Be Accountable

By Howard Danzig

ECCHIC approaches all clients the same: We configure ownership of their health insurance so that they can control the costs, get the same discounts that big companies get, and provide better access to care for their employees.  But in serving our many city and county government clients, there’s additional pressure: the money they spend is taxpayer money.  While every owner of a business wants to know exactly what his or her money is being spent on, for those managing, a public entity, the bar is raised and the stakes are higher.  They are not just accountable to themselves, but also to the community of hardworking citizens they serve and whose taxes pay for their operation.

Howard with customer betterRecently I attended an annual event I always look forward to – the Missouri Municipal League conference, which was held in September at St. Louis Union Station.  It’s great to see some of our Missouri clients face to face (which include Canton, Gerald, Salisbury, among many others), and also find solutions for new clients.

(In fact, we made a short two minute video at the conference – please look at it here.)

Howard runs into one of his many satisfied clients.

Howard runs into one of his many satisfied clients.

The reality of a typical health insurance agreement is this: big insurance companies classify premium structures relative to standard structures based on the organization.  Now big companies in effect own their plans, so they benefit from discounts and price allowances.  However smaller companies end up paying premium pricing for everything.  But small companies are at the mercy of not getting these advantages and in fact, pay at least a five to fifteen percent “surcharge” in addition to paying the standard premium.  Finally, there’s this “mystery” in surrounding that $10,000 check the insurance company writes about what it may or may not pay for every month.  Accountability?  Zero.

When we work with a municipality, we change the paradigm completely.  First, we implement ownership of the funding for their healthcare cost of their employees to the group.  Three important advantages happen when we become involved with a town, county or anyone else:

  • They spend less money providing for the health care of their employees with the medical professionals of their choice.
  • They can account for every penny spent, and government operating costs that is completely transparent is good government.
  • They cut out the “middleman” – and instead of sending their money all over the country through the big insurance companies, they keep it all in their community, paying their own doctors and pharmacist directly.

Managers of cities and counties have a precious resource – taxpayer dollars. Let’s treat those dollars spent on healthcare costs just as carefully as you do every other expense.

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PSC and the $34,000 Refund: Case Study Number 2

By Howard Danzig

“Oh yeah, I was skeptical from the beginning,” says Tom Balmer, owner of PSC Distribution, and who recently received a $34,000 refund from ECCHIC on his insurance plan with us. “[The ECCHIC plan] seemed pie-in-the-sky, and we wanted to kick the tires. But Howard and his team has delivered on containing expenses.”

PSC 1I first met Tom about five years ago when I was traveling through Iowa City. Formerly Plumber’s Supply Company, he is a fourth generation owner of the owned wholesale distributor of plumbing related products, HVAC, hydronics, countertops, cabinetry and lighting. “We sell to plumbers,” he explains. “We just been blessed to celebrate our 65th year in business, and I’ve been here since I was a kid.” The company serves mostly Eastern Iowa plumbers, and today he has around 50 employees.

Tom really represents completely the type of small town small business owner we can really help. Not that it was easy to land PSC Distribution as a client. As he says, “[ECCHIC] had a different approach to health insurance, so I listened, because if there’s a different way of doing something, I’m interested in hearing it.” He did listen, and boy, did he kick the tires. He asked a lot of questions, which we like. Going from a Blue Cross/Blue Shield type plan to a completely pro-active management plan does require the owner engaging in how it works, though certainly no more than successful owners who track all their company’s expenses in other aspects of their business.

“We were actually in a partially self-funded arrangement with a back-up plan with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, so there were some similarities between the two, though with ECCHIC it’s a lot less expensive,” Tom says, adding: “There are times I have to spend outside the standard statically average of the plan if there is a year where there are more claims than usual, but even then that’s not more than what I was paying under my old insurance plan.”

Just part of the PSC Team.

Just part of the PSC Team.

This is what we work hard for companies like PSC to hear: “The cost has been to our advantaged, and there have been no cuts to benefits, so ECCHIC has worked out really well for us,” Tom says. “And I say that both from a business owner perspective and an employee perspective.” The company’s and what the individual employee’s premiums are down. As he bluntly states: “It means that we’re no longer just giving money away – we’re not just sending the same amount off to some big insurance company every month for nothing. Many people who go through a [traditional] plan don’t actively think about it, they don’t realize that when they pay ‘x’ every month for a premium, they are paying for things that they are not using.” (I have to add to that that when they do pay, they are paying premium prices, and ECCHIC negotiates discounted wholesale prices.) “Every month I was paying $300 dollars in premiums and didn’t really get anything – now I’m paying $100 and if I do see a doctor, then I pay the extra amount then. From a business prospective, when you have control of all that, you can see where the money goes and what you’re getting for it instead of just giving away $1,000 in premium costs you won’t ever get back.”

Tom has a personal story about the pharmaceutical plan we created for him, too. “That is one of the most important pieces, because I can’t reiterate enough that 80 percent of drugs are maintenance-type drugs. I’ve been a Type 1 Diabetic since I was five years old, and while every year the cost of insulin itself doesn’t go up, the cost of the premium for it on my old plan would go up five, 10, even 20 percent. That’s just to live, because it’s not a temporary thing. But now by having direct control, I just pay for it and at a discounted price, and no longer has to pay jacked-up premium prices. That’s a big thing.”

It is a big thing. Add in the refund he received, and it’s a real big thing.

ECCHIC takes care of small businesses

ECCHIC takes care of small businesses

ECCHIC is all about helping small businesses control their cost and get the same deals the big companies get. Our methods allow you to insure for the unpredictable and unaffordable occurrences of healthcare problems at minimalized premium levels, while still accessing medical services and prescriptions at discounted price levels, which is what true insurance is really designed to do. We’re proud of our team and the work we do for good families like the Balmer’s and look forward to a discussion with you to see if we can get similar results for your company.



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Milbank Mills: Case Study No. 1

by Howard Danzig

It’s a great time of year at ECCHIC, because we’re giving our small business clients refunds on their health plans. Yes, health plan refunds – up to $35,000.

What? You pay an insurance broker a set amount, and never get even an itemized list of your expenses, and you’ve never gotten a refund? Well you should consider talking to ECCHIC, a team of pro-active cost managers who successfully stabilized rising employee benefit costs.

Milbank Mills of Chillicothe, Mo.

Milbank Mills of Chillicothe, Mo.

“We have been able to keep our premium costs steady for five years, which is really remarkable,” says Ed Milbank of Milbank Mills in Chillicothe, Mo.

Ed is pretty remarkable. His company has been around for almost 150 years. It started out as a flour mill a century and a half ago, and as they wheat middling (the middle of three grades into which flour and meal are classified). “At one time it was dumped, but then it was found to be good livestock feed, and in a case of the tail wagging the dog, we started exclusively producing that. It was food not suitable for human consumption, but excellent for a wide variety of animals, especially when we add vitamins to it.”

His business model of hard work, good products, and good service is from another era as well: “We’re a smaller company, a bit of a dinosaur today as we are one of the very few independent feed companies still in existence,” he says. “All the others have been bought up by big companies.”

A few years ago, he took a moment and a chance to listen to what I had to say, about how his insurance premiums didn’t have to necessarily keep going up, making the case for a managed care plan. I showed him how our methods could allow Milbank Mills to insure for the unpredictable and unaffordable occurrences of healthcare problems at minimalized premium levels, while still accessing medical services and prescriptions at discounted price levels, which is what true insurance is really designed to do. Frankly, he “got it.” He is getting the same discounts those big feed companies get.

ECCHIC takes care of small businesses - including farmers.

ECCHIC takes care of small businesses – including farmers.

“I’ve been very pleased with all the plans and service,” he says. And this month, he got a refund. Ed is not alone – so many clients are happy (and often surprised!) at what we can do for them. We would be grateful for the opportunity of talking to you about your business’s health care needs. Give us a call today!

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Keeping the Client Informed

ECCHIC President Howard Danzig Addresses the April Workshop.

ECCHIC President Howard Danzig Addresses the April Workshop.

Howard Danzig

Twice a year here at ECCHIC, we have a workshop for our clients that’s as rewarding for all as it is invigorating to us. In the Spring and in the Winter, we gather together somewhere, typically in the St. Louis area. There we discuss what our pro-active cost managers dedicated to positioning the smaller employer to be able to use insurance, medical, prescription, and administrative resources the same way large employers do are doing to provide the benefits our clients want at a significant cost savings.

Some of our team, L-R: Janene, Howard, Britny, Tom, and Bob.

Some of our team, L-R: Janene, Howard, Britny, Tom, and Bob.

We just have one last Friday, and it was a great experience. We are grateful to have such smart, savvy clients, all of whom are small– and medium-sized independent business owners. These are the type of entrepreneurs that make this country so great and drive our economy, and they understand they need to stay on top of every aspect of their business to thrive.

We had a great turnout – about 25 companies were represented. While we work year round  “behind the scenes” controlling and managing their health care costs, this is the time to get out front and explain in depth what we’re able to do. But more importantly, we get to hear from them as well. They are a challenging, fascinating group of professionals from all kinds of different businesses, and the more we learn about their challenges, the better we are able to serve them. Probably most importantly, they get to ask questions of us. This too is extremely helpful.

ECCHIC's VP Heather Ambro at the Podium, introducing the team.

ECCHIC’s VP Heather Ambro at the Podium, introducing the team.

In addition to our clients, often independent insurance brokers join the meeting to learn more of what we do, and that was certainly the case here. While our approach to company health care in general and managed care specifically is unique, we share our program and offer the opportunity of other agents to partner with us whenever and wherever possible.

At the end of the day, we believe in the men and women who run small business and want to “level” the playing field for them as much as possible, and wherever and whenever possible. These workshops are key to doing that, and we hope to see you at the next one in the Fall!

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The Case for a Managed Care Plan

by Howard Danzig

Imagine, that as a business owner, every month you get a delivery of office supplies from one of the national big box chains. The bill comes, and it’s just a number – and it’s a big number. There is no itemized list, so you don’t know what you got. Worse, you don’t know what you paid for each item. Then, every year, the cost for these office supplies goes up plus there seems to be cuts – “no more paperclips, you have to go out and get them elsewhere.”Strategy

Ridiculous? Of course it is. There’s not a sane business person on the planet that would put up with that. Yet that’s exactly how the vast majority of companies get health insurance for their employees. What we think is the better option is to understand the expense involved with healthcare and pharmacy needs and then control them. Then, just like business owners and association and nonprofit heads do on pretty much every single other expense, the final cost are negotiated.

But you’re thinking, “I’m not a big company, I can’t get the deals that businesses with thousands of employees get….” well that’s just not true. A good managed care provider gets in there and fights for you, works out deals, keeps costs down – all while making sure you have the benefits you want. This would be the opposite of a broker who simply gets on the phone once a year and calls around and offers you various plans from traditional sources.

It does require some additional understanding on the part of the small business owner, though:

  1. Healthcare is sold to medical networks at wholesale discounts.
  2. Prescriptions are sold to Pharmacy Benefit Management companies (PBM’s) at discounts.
  3. Insurance companies buy the above at the discounts and sell it to groups through premiums at a substantial mark-up.
  4. Major employer groups bypass the insurance companies and buy directly from medical networks and PBM’s at discounts; unbundling the medical, pharmacy and insurance components in order to do this.
  5. Small independent employers can and should do the same – you aren’t shown how. Insurance is meant to protect against the unforeseen. It was not meant to buy basic services.

To control your cost – you must:

  1. Be in a position to actually know your cost of services used.
  2. Make your cost efficient by only paying for what is used for basic healthcare and prescriptions; Plus position yourself to pay at the institutional wholesale rate, not the marked up premium rate.

The option to all of this? ObamaCare, and trust me, you don’t want to go there!

FamilyWhether it’s here in St. Louis, or in small town America, taking care of your employees is important, and the insurance industry is overwhelming by design — but a proactive team can save up to 40 percent and take care of all these issues for you. It’s worth looking into.

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Anthem Sues Express Scripts, Proves Managed Plans Better

By Howard Danzig

Let’s not read too much into it that the week “Batman v Superman” opens at the movie theater the Wall Street Journal reports that Anthem is Suing Express Scripts Over Drug Pricing. It is being alleged that the pharmacy-benefit manager is overcharging to the tune of $15 BILLION – the amount of the suit.

Managed Plans Save Money.

Managed Plans Save Money.

I am not surprised. As President of ECCHIC, I have known for years that the system is set up against many, particularly small town business owners trying to do right by their employees. I travel the Midwest speaking to  business, organizations, local government communities, and independent pharmacist explaining how they are paying premium prices – retail – while bigger companies in urban areas get discounts. The ECCHIC team has been advocating to “cut out the middle man” and get your pharmaceutical needs from a local, independent pharmacist (thus keeping the money in your community as opposed to sending it off to New York or LA or who knows where). It can be done, because we do it all the time for our cache of clients.

anthemThis lawsuit seeks damages tied to “unduly high pricing for drugs.” Anthem is also asking to terminate its deal with Express Scripts which at the moment they are bound to until 2019. Of course Express Scripts is saying this case is “without merit” but I am telling you, if you’re in a traditional insurance plan that is not a managed care situation, you are being way, way overcharged. To quote from the article:

The insurer said it believes the gap between current pricing and what it believes to be appropriate is about $13 billion over the rest o fits contract, plus $1.8 billion covering a post-termination wind-down period. Anthem has previously said it should be getting more savings partly because of lower generic-drug costs.  Anthem alleged that Express Scripts delayed negotiations, and the PBM‘s counteroffer in the talks was about $13 billion less than what the insurer sought … Anthem also alleges that Express Scripts had operational problems … “

So often I see small and medium independent companies watching their pennies on every invoice they pay out, yet have no idea what the real costs are when they write that big check to their insurance company every month. The ECCHIC Team gets in and find out, and save companies up to 40 percent doing it.  (For a video about this, go here.)Express

Let’s watch this case carefully because this could blow the lid off what we have believed for a long time is the biggest scam going. “Dawn of Justice” Indeed!


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