March 4, 2015

Caring for Employees: A Health Plan Is Indicative of a Company’s Culture

If it’s time for you to make changes to your current benefits plan or implement a new plan altogether, there is a lot to consider.  Provider networks, employee contributions and a prescription benefits program are just a few decisions you need to make.

These components are usually straightforward and relatively simple to compare among the health insurance carriers, but I challenge you to look beyond the numbers.  Ask yourself if the carriers you are considering truly care about you and your employees, and then do a comparison of the top contenders.

Being an affiliated part of the Western Growers family of companies, I can tell you with certainty that Western Growers Assurance Trust (WGAT) is an organization that cares for its members as family.  To help you with your comparison, below are suggested questions to ask yourself (or your health insurance carriers) to see how each fare in the “caring” column and how we do it at WGAT.


Addressing Needs of Agriculture Industry

Does the carrier understand the diverse needs of business owners in the agriculture business?  Can they offer solutions that address your unique challenges such as covering field workers, seasonal employees and those who speak only Spanish?

WGAT was launched in 1957 for the sole purpose of giving WG members an affordable option for health care benefits by offering highly customizable benefit plans to meet their diverse needs.  This includes printing all member materials in both English and Spanish and setting up field offices throughout California and Arizona to be near our members.

Just ask John D’Arrigo, president/CEO of D’Arrigo Bros of California, which is celebrating 95 years as a successful California grower-shipper.  The company is not only a long-term WGAT member since the 1970s but has been a member of WG since 1937.  John has served on the WGAT Board of Trustees since 1997, a few years after his father retired from the board.  When asked how he felt about having WGAT as his health carrier, he shared, “WGAT really listens to what the ag industry needs.  They’ve been paying attention to those needs for decades, and are in a constant state of innovation.  If a business is interested in quality health care, flexibility and tailored services specific to the ag industry, WGAT has been very accommodating in providing these options.”  He added, “I would highly recommend both WGAT and Pinnacle to employers with self-funded businesses.”


What about other services that specifically address the needs of your workers?

For us at WGAT, we are proud of our Mexico Panel, which provides an option for WG members with employees who travel to SoCal and Arizona or are geo-varied. This program gives participants access to high-quality care and a robust provider network across the United States and Mexico border.  Our exclusive network has licensed facilities and bilingual providers in Tijuana, Mexicali, San Luis, Los Algodones, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros.


Customer Service

How does the carrier rank in customer service?

Because your employees will have questions and will need issues resolved, how a carrier handles its customer service is essential to how the health plan will be received by its participants.  When they call the toll-free number, will they have to go through a cumbersome process to speak to a “real person”?  Will the customer service representative be easy to understand and is he/she someone who works in their same region and not a contract worker from overseas?  Will there be bilingual representatives available?  Will the representative be committed to getting the problem resolved and know what to do if the problem needs to be escalated?  At WGAT, we have bilingual representatives on staff and our entire customer service team works from our corporate offices in California.

Moreover, our plan members know that when needed, they can contact me directly as WGAT senior vice president or anyone on my senior staff to get a big issue resolved.  Because WGAT is a not-for-profit, mutual-benefit organization, the shareholders we report to are not stockholders but our plan members.  Our staff is driven by serving each and every WGAT member to their fullest extent and they work together to provide the type of personal touch not usually seen in larger organizations.


What other value-added services are provided to help members with their health care and claims?

In addition to our customer service line, we offer a care management program that gives our participants access to a team of on-site nurses who work closely with them and their health care providers to help manage medical care for the best possible outcomes.  Through our HealthView online program, participants can get updates on their claims’ status, review their benefits summary or order a replacement ID card.



What wellness services are included in the core health plan?

Studies show that having healthier employees is a win-win for both employers and their workforce (see graphic).  WGAT believes that if a carrier really cares about its members’ employees, some wellness services need to be included as part of the health plan.  For example, at WGAT, once an employee has set up an account in HealthView, he or she can utilize two other services within the program: Health Advisor and Health Advocate.  Health Advisor works together with WebMD to answer questions participants may have about their health and issues they are experiencing.  Health Advocate offers discounts to coaching programs to help employees with weight management, smoking cessation and other health goals.  Health Advocate also offers discounts to popular weight-loss programs and gyms in a participant’s local area including Jenny Craig, Jazzercise and local gyms (availability varies depending on work or home location).


Does the health plan offer disease management programs?

Also known as population health management programs, a disease management program is implemented to help employees with certain health issues to manage them so their health does not decline.  At WGAT, we have nurses trained in disease management who are available to help employees specifically in the areas of hypertension, asthma, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking cessation and weight management.  The nurses work with employees to make sure they are taking appropriate medication prescribed by their doctor, help them with changing behaviors to improve their conditions and ensure that the proper steps are taken to maintain and improve their health.


What communications are available to send out to employees for health education?

WGAT believes strongly in sharing relevant information to help educate employees on wellness topics.  At our organization, we have partnered with the American Cancer Society to get the word out on ways employees can minimize their risk of disease and keep cancer away.  You can check out our WGAT website for more information.


Providing Health Care is Important

Whether you are making a change to your health care plan or offering health benefits for the first time, making this financial commitment shows your employees and job candidates that you care about their well-being.  D’Arrigo sums it up by saying, “We are a big proponent of providing health care.  It’s a very important part of our culture.  It helps endear our employees to us and motivates them to stay.  We have employees that have stayed with us for decades, generations even—grandparents, parents and children all working for our company.  We feel that if we can afford to offer them health care, then we should provide it.”

I’d add just be sure to ask the right questions and choose a company that cares as much about your employees as you do.


In addition to serving as senior vice president of Western Growers Assurance Trust, David Zanze is the president of Pinnacle Claims Management, Inc.