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September 14, 2018
I consult with employers to make sure that their health plans, employee needs, and budget requirements are all in alignment. That includes making sure they’re priced well in the market, driving up employee engagement, and identifying carrier options based on cultural needs.
Right out of school, I was hungry for work and wanted to dive right in. I went to school for dental hygiene, but realized I didn’t like spending all day digging around in someone else’s mouth. I took my schooling and worked in a dental laboratory, building dentures, nightguards, and crowns, stacking porcelain, and matching face shapes and color tones. It was a very artistic trade. It was almost like designing jewelry – there’s so much more that goes into a tooth than what you may otherwise think.
The experience allowed me to land a job in customer service with a regional insurance carrier that promised more career opportunity, better pay, and benefits. I was then recruited by a local brokerage firm and found my calling in working with employer groups to build and design employee benefits packages.
When I start consulting with a client, I don’t just take a look at their benefits plan structure. I look at the whole operation and make sure that each piece is functioning, while also understanding that they are part of a whole. There’s a lot more to employee benefits than just picking a plan. Companies need to make sure that their employees understand the plan well, it fits with the business culture and budget, and that all resources are being utilized (i.e. employee assistance programs, virtual care, etc.).
Even then, just offering a robust benefits plan to employees can be problematic if employee engagement/productivity doesn’t align with the business’s overall success. 401ks have traditionally been known as a powerful and sticky benefit, but do they have as much appeal for the entering young workforce facing mountains of student debt? These employees aren’t even thinking about retirement before paying off their debt. They’re spending day after day stressing out and eating ramen, and they’re coming into work with half of their lights on, which in turn affects the business’s overall productivity. In this situation, when you think about the picture as a whole, the traditionally attractive 401k becomes less appealing next to an alternate plan, such as tuition reimbursement or other debt relief. It’s important to be thoughtful and mindful while planning.
For me, things clicked when I put together that the work I was doing actually helped businesses succeed and thrive. It was this Captain Planet-like “with our powers combined” moment where I became aware that I could use all of my insurance savviness to solve problems, help employees feel better about coming to work, and do more when they are there. I remember thinking, “Oh, I have all of the power right in my hand! If I could inject this Disa passion for insurance into their everyday work life, just think of the things that we could do!”
People think that I’m so corny when I talk about this (laughs).
It started with my parents. Every summer when my dad was young, he’d go up to his grandparent’s gift shop on a lake in Upstate New York and go out sailing on the lake.
After high school, he hopped on his motorcycle, made his way out to Seattle, and started working on the waterfront. Meanwhile, my mom grew up in Anacortes, so she was on the same page and always loved being on or near the water.
Then my siblings and I came along, and that’s just how I grew up. I was always running around the boat yards all summer. Every weekend plan involved crab fishing, salmon fishing, clam digging, or something else similar. We were either on, next to, thinking about, or planning to go to the water. When I was in middle school, they sent me to summer camps at the Corinthian Yacht Club, where I really honed my sailing skills. In a lot of ways, I feel like I found my soul on the water.
People are beginning to demand more efficient ways to access healthcare, which I think is being driven in large part by younger people taking on leadership roles within organizations. They finally have weight to throw behind that need for technology support in the industry.
Some of the larger companies have been setting up on-site health clinics or pharmacies that vastly improve their participants’ access while also driving down costs by purchasing medications wholesale.
With smaller companies, just making sure that participants know about and have access set up for virtual care can make a huge difference. No one’s thinking about the fact they have a virtual clinic on hand when they’re rushing their child to urgent care with a raging ear infection. But, if they are aware ahead of time and have their app downloaded and ready to go, all of that panic can be avoided.
When my father was teaching me how to drive, he said don’t ever do anything abruptly, because that’s when mistakes happen. That knee-jerk reaction is what makes you crash your car.
Throughout my career I’ve found myself reflecting on that concept, that it’s better to think through something and consider all possible outcomes before arriving at a decision. Sleep on it, or take three days. If it’s important, don’t just react out of panic. Be strategic and plan things out. That philosophy has served me well in this role.
I’m currently engaging with a group called Open Doors for Multicultural Families. They help families from all walks of life who need help connect to the right resources for special needs individuals. They connect people with translators, and advocates host focus groups to build community support, and organize events that specifically accommodate special needs kids. I really admire that they’re all about inclusion and enabling people to live their fullest life, no matter their circumstances.
My brother had a brain tumor when he was five that severely impacted his learning ability for the rest of his life. I remember my mom was constantly struggling with how to participate in special education at his school, or what community programs were available to him. It made me painfully aware of the stigmas and resulting barriers that keep people with special needs from being able to lead the most fulfilling life possible.
Because I want to make the world a better place! The only way to do that is with like-minded companies. My role is to help keep employees happy while protecting a company’s balance sheet. When a company invests in their people and is in the industry for the right reasons, it aligns with my approach and opens up endless possibilities.
It’s because of this that I feel like I belong here at Parker, Smith & Feek. There’s this overwhelming sense in the office that we’re all in this together. We come to work every day to improve the world in some way. And, if something catastrophic does happen, we want to make sure it doesn’t ruin somebody’s life.
I used to live on a boat down at Shilshole Marina. It’s amazing how much more connected you are to the world through life on the water.
Provider reimbursements, hands down. There has been a huge push across the industry from carriers to change to an outcomes-based reimbursement model, and I agree this is absolutely what we need to do. Right now, we have a fee-for-reimbursement model, which just incentivizes more tests, procedures, and appointments, and isn’t the most effective model to improving health.
Every carrier is trying something different. Accountable care networks are popping up. Some networks are implementing capitation, which pays doctors on a fee-per-patient basis and includes trackable metrics.
Managed health is stigmatized because some don’t like the idea of being told what to do… but it can create a path to wellness and ensure appropriate care at the right time for many chronic and complex conditions. Regardless, I’m excited at the prospect of us as a nation getting smarter about how we deliver and reimburse medical care.
I’m very Pacific Northwestern. I like to sail, garden, hang out with my kids, and go hiking…I wear a lot of flannel when I am not at work (laughs).
I have two kids; my son, Eli, is 11, and such a good boy. He wants to figure out how everything works. He likes to take things apart and put them back together again.
My daughter, Rosie, is seven, and very theatrical. They’re both super creative, too. They’ll play Pokémon in the car by themselves, totally verbally. It’s all in their minds and they can remember an amazing amount of detail…whether she’s lost a fishing pole, what kind of environment they’re searching in, what kind of Poke balls to use, how many points they have…it’s insane.
I tell them to not ever stop doing stuff like this, because I love it and I want them to keep being this creative.
There’s just such incredible opportunity. At the end of the day, I’m a single mom and need to give my kids the best life possible. This industry has given me the opportunity to do good for the world and my community, and take care of my kids. Why wouldn’t I do this?