There’s an old adage that life can only be understood looking backwards and only lived moving forward. When Western Growers Assurance Trust (WGAT) was founded in 1957, it was the beginning of something unique—there was a large gap between the agriculture and health care industry that needed to be bridged. Little did our founders know that more than 60 years later, WGAT would become the largest provider of health benefits for the agriculture industry.
As with most companies, we started from humble beginnings. When our trust was established, our first benefit plan cost less than $10 a month. By the end of that first month, our plan covered 144 lives, and we doubled that number by the end of our second month in service, covering close to 400 lives. Less than 10 years later, in 1964, our trust expanded to include three different plans in its book of business – and by 1971, we saw that number increase to eight.
There were many things in motion during this time that required us to nimbly adapt to frequent changes within our industry and, as a result, advance our technology. To keep our operations as streamlined as possible, WGAT installed its first computer system in 1974. We have remained at the forefront of technology and innovation ever since.
It was a few years later in 1980 when WGAT became fully self-insured and self-funded, and it was in this very decade when I joined the company in 1985. By 1987, WGAT held more than 250 contracts and the number of providers grew to more than 2,000. We did see our fair share of growing pains during this period, as well as some high claims costs. To remedy the issue, we focused much of our efforts in the 1990s on strengthening operations, increasing measures of profitability and building up our surpluses and reserves. This was also the decade we began our partnership with Anthem Blue Cross, paving the way for many successful initiatives.
Focusing on diversification
In 1996, we formed Pinnacle Claims Management, Inc. (PCMI) a third-party administrator that enabled us to expand our offerings into a suite of health benefit services to assist self-funded participants. Diversifying ourselves and expanding our services also allowed us to avoid financial difficulties similar businesses were facing in the industry. We saw several health benefit trusts file for bankruptcy and default on enrollee benefit claims. WGAT stepped up and took on many of their clients, providing them with health care coverage.
In 2010, we rolled out our Cedar Health & Wellness Centers and associated Cedar Networks. This enabled us to provide affordable health care services with copays that cost less than standard plans, while further delivering exceptional care and controlling costs. A few years later, we successfully opened Pinnacle Rx Solutions (PRxS), a pharmacy benefits manager; Pinnacle Health Management (PHM), a care management and wellness company, to offer our participants comprehensive benefit solutions that their employees could easily adopt. We also launched our WGAT telemedicine program Doctor on Demand. This gave our participants, most of whom live in rural areas, the ability to virtually connect with licensed health care providers in the United States for live video health care visits. Most recently, we started two new entities Pinnacle Risk Management Services (PRMS), a stop-loss insurance company, and Pinnacle Print and Transaction Solutions (PPTS), a healthcare print and distribution company further enhancing our goal to be a one-stop shop for employers healthcare needs.
Today, I am pleased to say that WGAT and PCMI are responsible for managing an estimated $500 million in health care claims and have 60,000 employees covered. Additionally, our retail network of pharmacies totals more than 65,000 nationwide, and our mail order program fills more than one million prescriptions each year.
Looking back, it is clear we created an entire synergy to support agriculture. Since WGAT’s inception, we have worked tirelessly to develop robust health plans and offer customizable services that meet the needs of a diverse workforce in a unique, rapidly evolving industry. I am excited for our continued contributions and advancements in serving the agriculture community, and I’m particularly looking forward to the continued impact we have on our participants’ health and well-being.
(In addition to serving as executive vice president of Western Growers Assurance Trust, David Zanze is the president of Pinnacle Claims Management, Inc.)
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