As we approach the new year, now is the right time to review the healthcare trends likely to impact your employee benefits. This can be daunting, so we’ve gathered the data for you.

Let’s dive right in.

The 2023 Global Medical Trends Survey reports that the cost of healthcare on a global level will increase at the highest rate in 15 years1. In North America, the Segal Group predicts that health insurance premiums will increase by 7% or 8% rather than the usual pace of 6% per year2. The survey cites inflation and increased healthcare utilization as the driving forces.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, insurers are concerned about consumers’ shifting relationships with healthcare. Many postponed care during the height of the pandemic, so utilization is higher than usual, as patients return to the doctor for more than just an annual checkup and face the consequences of delayed care.

Seventy-five percent of insurers polled said they are concerned about providers overreacting and recommending too many services. But that’s not all. Fifty-two percent worry about their members’ health habits, and 50% cited the underuse of preventive services as a cause of rising costs.1

A 10% increase in overall prescription drug costs is another troublesome circumstance facing employers, mainly driven by medical innovation. Expensive drugs like gene therapies and new HIV treatments emerged on the market this year (which our CEO Andrew Cavenagh predicted in his first blog post). These drugs provide life-altering benefits to those who receive them, but the release of generics, which would help to control market costs, has not kept pace2.

The Inflation Reduction Act will allow Medicare to negotiate the prices of ten common drugs, which will bring some relief to consumers. Still, this changes the economics of certain drug products, and insurers will look to any savings as opportunities to build in profit. In turn, you can expect pharmaceutical companies to hike prices for private insurance companies2.

Employers will have to balance increasing costs with salary demands—all in the midst of a possible recession. In addition, the labor market remains fairly tight, and rising healthcare costs may eat into the funds needed to offer competitive salaries.

Coverage gaps may impact employers’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, as certain gaps, such as fertility treatments, midwives, and HIV/AIDs treatments, tend to be more statistically prevalent among specific segments of the population. However, as noted in the survey report, “Employers have an opportunity to work with their consultants and brokers to bridge these coverage gaps and help deliver more equitable health outcomes across different employee groups.”2 Bridging coverage gaps always has an associated financial cost. Still, employers may have difficulties hiring and retaining employees when they ignore these gaps.

It is not all bad news. The No Surprises Act was enacted this year, and early indications are it effectively reduces unexpected out-of-network hospital charges2. Telehealth is also becoming increasingly valuable; it was ranked as the second-best cost management tool, gaining traction from last year1.

Other key findings are that cancer is the number one condition affecting medical costs, followed by musculoskeletal and cardiovascular disorders. Mental and behavioral health disorders are ranked the fourth most common by incidence and claims and are expected to keep climbing1.

So, what should employers do with this information?

If you’re worried that members are underutilizing their primary care and preventive services, find ways to incentivize the use of those benefits. Since mental and behavioral health claims are on the rise, make sure your benefits provide these resources at the best value to your employees. If there are gaps in your coverage, especially if they relate to DEI initiatives, address them to prevent future hiring issues and legal troubles. Overall, think about how to personalize your benefits to meet the specific needs of your employees.

Stop “just” buying insurance and start delivering great healthcare benefits and resources to your employees.

To mitigate increasing prices, employers should prioritize cost-containment solutions. Fortunately for you, cost containment has been our focus since ParetoHealth’s inception. We believe it’s crucial to know where your healthcare dollars are going and analyze trends to ensure that you are spending wisely while not compromising access or quality of care.

If you’re fully insured, and don’t have visibility into your claims data, now is the time to change that. Being self-insured and part of our captive allows you to make customized, long-term strategies to help weather the blows of inflation and medical trends.

Start the new year right. Learn more about making the essential switch here.


1. WTW. (2022). 2023 Global Medical Trends Survey. Retrieved from

2. Payne, D. (2022). What will happen with health costs in 2023? Kiplinger. Retrieved from

No matter where you are in the world, you probably know someone with diabetes. In fact, research suggests that in the United States alone, diabetes affects an estimated 114.4 million Americans, including those that are diagnosed, prediabetics, and undiagnosed diabetics.1 These numbers are expected to grow, with at least 15-30% of pre-diabetics developing type 2 diabetes within 5 years.8 If current trends continue, 1 in 3 Americans will develop diabetes in their lifetimes.2

The consequences continue well after the disease develops. Over a third of people with diabetes develop issues with their blood pressure and cholesterol.3 When left unmanaged, these patients can undergo more serious conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, lower limb amputations, and adult-onset blindness.4

The costs attached to the disease are also alarming. In 2017, the estimated cost of diabetes in the United States was $327 billion, including $237 billion for direct medical costs and $90 billion in indirect costs for disability, time off from work, and premature death.5 The contribution to overall healthcare costs is so significant that if health center patients with uncontrolled diabetes could reduce their HbA1c (glycated hemoglobin linked to sugar) by just 1.25%, the potential savings in medical costs could exceed $3.44 billion over three years.6

The truth is, diabetes can severely impact a person’s quality of life, and in some cases, cut It short altogether. With alarming numbers to back this up, you could consider diabetes as an expensive, worldwide epidemic.

Which means that the time to act is now.

Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to target this problem directly and indirectly. Raising awareness, providing actionable steps, and actively supporting employees in the workplace is an excellent place to start.

Here’s a list of various tools that your organization can implement to combat type 2 diabetes at work7. As you safeguard health, you also ease what is likely a significant burden on your overall healthcare spending and have a chance to dramatically improve quality of life.

1. Conducting internal health surveys

To form a baseline for your population of employees, use employee health surveys to identify the percentage of workers touched by the diagnosis or at risk of a diagnosis. The results of this survey can help you recognize those that have received appropriate screening for type 2 diabetes and educate individuals that may need direction towards counselling or follow up screenings like blood glucose testing.

If you include lifestyle concerns like physical activity, nutrition, and obesity as part of your survey, this will give you a holistic perspective of your employees’ health.

Overall, creating this baseline should aid in designing the necessary programs for your employees.

2. Developing employee wellness programs

Wellness programs in the workplace targeting lifestyle improvements like good nutrition, weight management, and increased physical activity can directly address type 2 diabetes by delaying the onset of the disease.

According to clinical trials from 2001 by the National Diabetes Prevention Program, “Modest weight loss and physical activity substantially reduced progression to type 2 diabetes among adults who were at very high risk.” Additionally, improved nutrition plays a significant role in helping people cut their risks. In fact, the American Diabetes Association recommends that even people with prediabetes should be counseled on the same lifestyle changes.

So, engaging your employees in these activities could substantially affect the outcomes of the disease.

3. Education

To truly target the disease, education is crucial. Consider self-management education, disease management awareness, or training–a principal step in improving diabetes care and quality of life.

By hosting educational opportunities for your employees on certain behaviors like healthy eating, movement, and monitoring blood sugar, you encourage a collaborative process in which educators help workers with diabetes or at risk for it gain the knowledge, problem-solving, and coping skills needed to deal with the disease and its related conditions.

4. Access to care and disease management

Whether by providing on site flu shots (diabetics have higher susceptibility to influenza), or making sure each individual is connected to the right team of experts, you should consider having a unique plan of action for diabetes-specific care.

For example, you can utilize a coordinated care team that educates and helps prevent complications and development of co-occurring conditions that may arise with the diagnosis.

In general, guidance, direction, and encouragement from the workplace has a significant impact on handling the disease.

More than likely, diabetes is already playing a significant role in your employees’ overall health. For just that reason alone, it is worth considering taking the extra mile to prevent and manage it. Not only does that improve your employees’ health, but it can also support significant savings.

Lifestyle diseases tend to have a duality to them—when left unchecked they lead to a plethora of other problems, but when prevented or managed correctly and aggressively, this is key to a happier and healthier world, both in and out of the workplace.


1. CDC. National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2017 – Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States. 2017. statistics/national-diabetes-statistics-report.pdf.
2. Boyle JP, Thompson TJ, Gregg EW, et al. Projection of the year 2050 burden of diabetes in the US adult population: dynamic modeling of incidence, mortality, and prediabetes prevalence. Popul Health Metr. 2010;8:29.
3. American Diabetes Association. Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes—2019 Abridged for Primary Care Providers. Clin Diabetes. 2019;37(1):11-34. doi:10.2337/cd18- 0105
4. 3. ODPHP. Diabetes | Healthy People 2020. Healthy People 2020. Accessed October 4, 2019.
5. American Diabetes Association. Economic Costs of Diabetes in the U.S. in 2017. Diabetes Care. 2018;42(10):dci180007. doi:10.2337/dci18-0007
6. Fitch A, Everling L, Fox C, et al. Health Care Guidelines – Prevention and Management of Obesity for Adults. Inst Clin Syst Improv. 2013;Sixth Edition. https://www. Accessed October 8, 2019.
8. CDC. National Diabetes Prevention Program: Working Together to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes. The Diabetes Prevention Program. prevention/pdf/NDPP_Infographic.pdf.

If you’re an employer and you don’t know what ‘leveraged trend’ is, you need to learn. It will impact the pricing of every type of health insurance, whether fully-insured, level funded, or self-insured in the coming years.

Leveraged trend, in simple terms, is the tendency for large claims to increase at a higher and faster rate than small claims. How this happens is slightly more complicated. Let’s get into it using an example.

First, though, some underwriting math. Exciting, I know but, as always, the devil is in the details.

An Example

Imagine you’re a self-funded employer with a $50,000 specific stop-loss deductible. In year 1, you have a claim for $100,000. On a $100,000 claim, you will pay $50,000 and the stop-loss carrier will pay $50,000. What happens if the same claim occurs again the following year (year two)?

Well, if medical trend continues, the cost of the year 2 claim will be higher (this is, after all, what the term “medical trend” refers to). Assuming that medical trend is 8%, the cost of the claim in year two will be $108,000. If your deductible has stayed the same, you will still pay the first $50,000, but the stop-loss carrier will pay $58,000.

In this way, a medical trend of 8% represents an increase of 16% for the carrier. When we look at third-year costs, the difference becomes even starker. A further 8% increase on $108,000 puts the total price at $116,640, or a 33.3% increase to the carrier as compared to year 1.

So, while the employer’s cost for the claim remained flat, the carrier’s cost has increased more by than 33% over two years. Carriers will naturally pass these increased costs along to the employer through increased premiums.

This example was for a self-insured employer using stop-loss, but the same phenomenon will impact fully-insured or level-funded employers in the form of increased pooling charges. The principle is the same: rising claims impact the carrier at a higher rate than they do the insured, and the carrier will seek to offset those costs.

Accelerating factors

Leveraged trend is a mathematical phenomenon that always exists, but several other things amplify overall costs, particularly the cost of large claims.

The two major factors that will further accelerate the underlying medical trend are inflation and high-cost claims.

The first is inflation. Our current economic situation is unusual in that we have a combination of high inflation, negative growth in the overall economy, and a highly competitive labor market. Approximately half of a hospital’s overall expenses are related to labor, according to the American Hospital Association. As competition increases for talent in nursing, medicine, and hospital administration, the cost of attracting and retaining medical employees is sure to increase.  Wage inflation drives medical inflation, which is amplified by leveraged trend.

The second driver of medical trend is the increasing frequency of high-cost, multi-year claims. As we covered in our very first article in The Contrarian, we are likely to see new gene therapies approved for conditions ranging from refractory follicular lymphoma, hemophilia A and B, and diabetic peripheral neuropathy. These are medically exciting treatments for devastating conditions, but they come with staggering financial costs.  This will disproportionately increase the cost of large claims.

As we often say, it is no longer a question of whether you are likely to face a million-dollar claim, it is a question of when. Between interventions for cancer, new gene therapies, hemophilia, or end-stage renal disease (“ESRD”), employers can no longer afford to ignore the prevalence of this type of claim.

What to Do

The first priority for an employer us to take air out of the proverbial balloon by trying to reduce medical costs.  The smaller the denominator, the smaller the impact of inflation and leveraged trend.  You probably cannot do that if you’re fully-insured or level-funded, as you cannot pull the appropriate levers.

After that, an employer should protect themselves from the volatility of these large/increasing claims.  If you are fully-insured or level funded, you’ll feel the impact of greater medical inflation and leveraged trend and a further multiplier in the form of administrative expenses and profit loads.

If you are self-insured, a bare-bones stop-loss policy does not adequately protect employers from the impact of high-cost claims. A ParetoHealth captive provides far more insurance and protection against these large and ongoing claims. The first part of this protection is our 30% cap on stop-loss premium increases. 30% seems like a lot but considering that this premium is such a low percentage of your overall costs, it only leads, on average, to a 7.5% increase in spending. That’s your worst-case scenario, and it doesn’t happen often.

The second is our “No New Lasers” guarantee. Many stop-loss policies include a provision like this, however, they only last the next 12 months. Ours stays in effect for the entire lifetime of your Membership. In all the time we’ve been in business, we have issued exactly zero new lasers.

As always, we need to emphasize one fact: fully-insured employers face a significantly worse situation when medical trend increases than do self-insured employers. Stop-loss premium is a much lower percentage of overall spending for the former than fully-insured premium is for the latter. Additionally, self-insured employers can control the types of benefits they offer, eliminating unnecessary and unused benefits and identifying strategies and implementing high-value programs that address the unique needs of their employees. Fully-insured plans also place more of your healthcare spending in the purview of the carrier, meaning that they have more opportunities to extract profit from various levels of transaction. The cherry on top comes from higher taxes for fully-insured programs.

This begs the question: how do you reconcile the inadequacy of bare-bones stop-loss with the manifest unworkability of the fully-insured model?

The solution is to add a layer of protection, that insulates the employer and, to a certain extent, the carrier. The only way to ensure that the model continues to work is to reduce the volatility of pricing, to flatten the spikes in overall costs.

ParetoHealth offers that solution, and if you are interested in learning more about how we get this done, I invite you to read our analysis of how a group benefits captive controls volatility here:

We are quickly approaching everyone’s least favorite time of the year – open enrollment.

If you’re fully insured, you’re on pins and needles, waiting to know if you’re going to get a good renewal or a bad renewal. You cannot do much to prepare for open enrollment, because until you get your renewal, you don’t know what your rates will be or who your carrier will be (since you might change carriers based on renewal and competing prices).

If you’re self-insured, you’re in a much better spot. You are still waiting on a stop loss renewal quote, but that quote is unlikely to prompt a change in TPAs or networks – so you can finalize plan design and schedule open enrollment with confidence.

Many employers and their brokers think that they need to wait to see their stop loss quote before setting accrual rates and scheduling open enrollment – but this couldn’t be further from the truth, at least if you’re in one of ParetoHealth’s captive programs. Let me explain why.

Assume a hypothetical ParetoHealth Member (“XYZ Manufacturing”) with 200 employees has an expiring stop loss premium of $400,000 at a $50,000 specific deductible, and an aggregate attachment point of $1.6m. With their consultant’s help, they should be able to estimate the renewal with enough certainty to determine accrual rates and hold open enrollment – and they can worry about the stop loss renewal later.

In this blog post, I will be going over the process you can use to make this estimation, as well as examining the various factors that go toward making it up. First, I’ll go over aggregate claims, then move onto specific premium, then look at expenses. Add these together, and we can get a good estimate of our total.

If you’ve already gotten your quote, or if you already know how to calculate it, then check out these tips on making open enrollment a success.

Aggregate Claims

To calculate accrual rates, start with the biggest component, the aggregate claims. The industry would have you believe that calculating aggregate claims is as complicated as going to the moon, but that’s just not true. It is very easy to produce an estimate that is directionally correct. At the core of most calculations, you take the monthly aggregate claims (meaning you cap all claims at the level of the specific deductible) over the last 24 months. Next, convert to a PEPM to eliminate fluctuations in enrollment, average them, and then add a factor for medical inflation from the midpoint of the data. You then apply this figure to your anticipated enrollment. I’d suggest assuming an overall medical trend of about 6-8% (this number might go higher in future years given all the pressure on medical wages).

Let’s use some numbers to make this a bit more concrete. These are purely hypothetical, but I’ll assume that the 24-month average claims on a PEPM basis were $490. If we take the $490 and multiply it by 1.08, we get a $530 PEPM rate for expected aggregate claims. We multiple that by 200 employees and by 12 and get an annual estimate of $1.270m. This is the first part of our renewal estimate.

Remember that the stop loss carrier’s aggregate factors don’t determine your claims – your population and their health conditions determine your claims – so don’t fall into the trap of assuming that 80% of their renewal aggregate factors is some magic number. If you want to listen to us make fun of people who do that, listen to our podcast.

Specific Premium

Our hypothetical expiring premium is $400,000 for a $50,000 specific stop loss. Stop loss premiums increase faster than the underlying medical inflation rate due to leveraged trend (you could cite the other podcast here but that might be too much). The industry average for levered trend for a $50,000 specific stop loss is probably 15-17% – but we’ll use 15% to make for easier math. Our employer can therefore assume a 15% increase and calculate a renewal stop loss premium of $460,000. This is the second part of our renewal estimate.


If you’re self-insured, you’re paying a TPA (and maybe your consultant) on a PEPM basis. Let’s assume this is $50 PEPM, or a total $120,000. You can probably assume TPA expenses will increase about 3% a year, giving a renewal cost of $124,000. This is the third and final part of our renewal estimate.


We now add all three parts together – aggregate claims (not aggregate factors), specific premium, and expenses – and get a total $1.854m. This can be used to set accrual rates and you can hold open enrollment without waiting for your stop loss renewal.

When I explain this to people, the first reaction I typically get is, “But what happens if the specific increase is a lot higher than 15%”? The answer is “not much.” If the stop loss increase had been 25% instead of 15%, the premium would have been $40,000 higher. The overall cost only increases by 2.2% – not enough to worry about (and the same thing is obviously true with a lower increase). The one caveat I’d put here is that I’m assuming you’re in one of our captives, meaning that your maximum stop loss increase is 30%. If you aren’t in one of our captives, it’s possible you could have a massive increase in your stop loss premium – either directly or using lasers – but that just highlights why you want to be in our captives.

The bulk of the estimate is in the aggregate claims, so that is where the variance is likely to come from, not the specific premium. If you have anything unexpected going on with your aggregate claims, ask for help – from your broker, an actuary, or someone at Pareto.

But remember that no matter where you set your estimate losses, aggregate factors, and accrual rates, they are all just estimates. They will be tested over the next 12-18 months, and it is very unlikely you’ll be spot on – some years you’ll overshoot and some years you’ll undershoot – but the amounts are small and easily adjusted in your financial statements.

So yes, open enrollment sucks – but if you’re in one of our captives, it doesn’t have to be a last second mad dash. It can be scheduled months in advance, and you can spend your time worrying about what is driving costs and what do to about it – not the small variability in a stop loss renewal.

Once you calculate your self-insured costs to plan for open enrollment – or get your renewal quote – then the time has come to communicate what you’ve found out about your benefits package to employees.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro who has managed open enrollment many times before or a relative newcomer to this particular task, there are certain things you can do to make it a success.

Open enrollment is a perfect chance to engage your employees about their health benefits. It gives them an opportunity to understand their benefits plan better and ensure they use them effectively. It also helps them get a look behind the scenes at the costs, administrative work, and future perspective of these plans, allowing them to plan for the future with more confidence. All of this is an excellent way of retaining high-quality talent.

1. Provide in-person sit-down enrollment sessions or open office hours for them to ask questions. If you deliver the information with a personal touch, they will receive and retain it better. Plus, you will be better positioned to answer questions and allay any concerns that they might have about the specifics of their programs.

2. Make sure employees understand payroll contribution frequency, when contributions start, and anything else that may impact their paycheck. This eliminates unpleasant surprises when plans kick in.

3. Related to the previous point, give employees a tool to calculate exactly how much their benefits package will cost before they make the choice. It can be as simple as an Excel table to show them a variety of different costs: the annual election cost, the cost of copays or deductible, and their personal out-of-pocket maximum. This helps them decide based on the specifics of the situation, not just one factor taken in isolation.

4. If there are any significant changes to your benefits package, present them to the entire company in-person or on video. Personal messaging fosters an environment that shows you care about your employees, rather than making changes without public explanation or warning. Whenever possible, include an interactive portion to this presentation to let your employees ask questions, as well. Transparency is always the best policy.

5. Provide the appropriate time for employees to consider their options before making a final decision. However, it’s important to get the timing of this issue right – give them enough time, but not too much. In my experience, give them two weeks to think about it, but no more. If you wait too long, people might forget, but if you don’t afford them enough time, adoption rates may suffer because people don’t have enough time to ask questions or properly evaluate selections.

6. Invite eligible family members to attend open enrollment meetings along with the employees. Spouses may offer important ideas and contributions that aid in the decision-making process, and they also deserve a comprehensive understanding of the package of services. If they will be using them (and many do), then they have a right to get a fuller picture of what is going on.

7. Be as open as possible about how much the company spends on benefits. Transparency helps employees appreciate the actual costs involved and gives them a fuller picture of their entire compensation package. People feel more valued if they know that their total compensation is greater than just their salary, it includes additional costs as well. Letting people know how much you value their contributions is a great way of retaining them.

8. Require employees to actively opt out of benefits. This helps ensure that they have viewed their options. Encouraging conscious decision-making is always better if you want them to make their decisions thoughtfully and weigh all of their options.

9. Provide paper copies of your enrollment materials. Not everyone likes digital versions and giving people information in a variety of formats makes it easier for everyone. A variety of media considers various learning styles and helps your employees retain the information better.

10. Make sure employees know when they will get ID cards (or how to access them digitally) and when benefits become effective. Clarity on these points prevents costly misunderstandings, and it also helps people plan appropriately. Additionally, people appreciate knowing that you have planned out their benefits program wisely and in advance. Getting early notice of when they are going to get ID cards is just one way of making this happen.

11. Ensure employees always know where they can access summaries of benefits and coverage, as well as what resources are provided along with the benefits (telemedicine, health guides, etc.) so that they can always easily review benefit features. Make sure these are as clear as possible since many people do not think about their benefits until they have a health problem. When they are in a stressful situation such as this, it is more difficult to recall information.

12. Give employees a designated time during the day to review their options rather than requiring them to do it outside of work hours. Nobody likes homework, after all.

With these tips, you’ll be sure to have a successful open enrollment season this year. Clear, effective communication is the lifeblood of any organization, and your business is no different. We have to do everything we can to make sure that people can make the best decisions for themselves if we want a well-functioning, contented group of people working with us.

One of the most significant hurdles faced by self-insured employers – especially those new to self-funding – is how to interpret the information and feedback you receive now that they have access to plan data. Even “blinded” data offers a tremendous opportunity to reveal claims trends and identify actionable strategies.

For those of us who have been immersed in the sphere for more years than we care to admit, gleaning insight and shaping strategies can seem obvious. But the things that are intuitive and obvious to us are often the result of our experience, and if you don’t have that same degree of experience, these things can be opaque, confusing, or seem contrary to common sense.

As stewards of self-insured benefits plans, how can we bridge this knowledge gap? How can we lend our expertise to improve the experience of employers using our funding methods? And how can we carry the burden of maintaining these strategies, so employers don’t have to?

One of the ways that we get this done involves our use of data, our flexible cost-containment measures, and good old-fashioned industry expertise to guide the owners of our captives – the Members.

We deliver this guidance through ParetoHealth Playbooks.

To explain what these do and their role in our benefits strategies, we have to go right back to the beginning.

We started ParetoHealth in 2011 and cost containment was central to our mission from day one. The approach was simple. Members implemented health risk assessments, conducted biometric screenings, and encouraged tobacco cessation. These basic strategies helped employers support the health and well-being of their employees.

These remain good foundational measures, but things have evolved dramatically. Today, a variety of strategically significant cost-saving measures are united under a single umbrella, ParetoHealth’s Integrated Cost Management (“ICM”) program. The ICM program is an optional solution for ParetoHealth Members, who are also welcome to opt out if they decide it’s not right for their group.

Launched in January of 2020, ICM analyzes employer-specific data and produces a customized, actionable plan for that group based on their unique data. Too often, “strategies” are based on the data of an entire industry or captive. Landing on an effective strategy is much like swinging away at a pinata while blindfolded – sure, there’s a chance you hit it, but there’s a better chance that you miss the mark completely. ICM is based on more than hope and luck – the strategies succeed because they respond to the specific needs of the group. Through a careful analysis of the data, we identify the most effective cost-management options for that group and eliminate programs that aren’t likely to offer much impact.

When it comes to programs, ICM expands the measures of earlier days to include a variety of fully integrated services, emergency interventions, and retrospective data analysis that helps our Members chart a course into the future. These things work in tandem to deliver a long-term solution to control costs while safeguarding the well-being of the people who work for them.

So, in other words, these playbooks are deep analyses of existing health plan data, which we deliver to everyone on our ICM platform. We eliminate the guesswork and maximize the ROI. After identifying the right strategies, we provide straightforward – often turnkey – advice on how to implement these strategies and optimize them for the future. We continually reanalyze the data and propose adjustments based on the latest data and trends.

Gone are the days when employers could only reduce healthcare spending by cutting their benefits. By implementing a data-driven, actionable plan, ICM allows ParetoHealth Members to embrace a true cost-management strategy that will serve them well into the future.

Employers must have a sound strategy to combat rising costs

You’ve heard the grim statistic – Americans pay more for healthcare than any other nation but receive less treatment and poorer outcomes. Spending on drugs and medication makes up a large portion of these costs. According to The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, U.S. healthcare spending averages $12,500 per person. By comparison, countries such as Canada, Austria, and France only pay about one-third as much1.

The Congressional Budget Office has calculated that the share of US healthcare spending on prescription drugs has risen from 5% of the total in 1980 to almost 10% in 2018. Both the number of prescriptions written and their overall costs have increased.

But why do drugs cost so much? Among the reasons:

1. The cost of drug research and development (R&D) is massive

This factor is the primary driver of the high cost of drugs. The process of turning raw materials – whether natural or synthetic – into drugs safe for consumption is extremely costly. The National Academy of Sciences revealed that it costs anywhere between hundreds of millions of dollars to $2 billion to bring a drug to the market2. Also, consider that nearly 9 out of every 10 drugs developed never make it past clinical trials3. The price of a prescription drug includes all the research and development costs of failed drugs, plus the cost to manufacture your prescription drug, plus a layer of profit for the drug company. Add all of these things together and you face a whopping price tag.

2. A lack of market competition and drug-specific monopolies

In the prescription drug industry, a single company often has a monopoly on the rights to a drug. Thanks to patent exclusivity, they get to produce, distribute, and sell it without any competition.

Also, since drugs are necessities and not luxury goods (despite some drugs being priced as high as luxury goods), drugmakers can set prices that they know people – and insurers – will have no choice but to pay.

3. “Pay for delay” agreements

Generic alternatives help to decrease the costs of drugs. When the patent exclusivity of a drug expires, other companies can develop generic drugs – ones that function the same but aren’t branded.

To stall this, pharmaceutical companies who own the patents to the drug may engage their competitors in “pay for delay” agreements, whereby they pay their competitors to delay producing and launching generic versions.

As a result, a single drug company may continue to hold a significant market share of a drug well after expiration of patent exclusivity.

4. Patent evergreening

Going back to patent exclusivity, drugmakers sometimes engage in “evergreening” to extend their exclusive rights to a drug. There are a few ways they can do this, such as repurposing or altering the drug.

For example, if the medication was formerly distributed in pill form, pharmaceutical companies may revamp the drug by turning it into a powder. They rename the drug and apply for new patents, giving them extended rights to expiring patents.

5. Lobbying from Big Pharma

The power of pharmaceutical companies is massive, with the lobbying group for the pharmaceutical industry spending about $27.5 million on lobbying activities in 2018 alone4. They’ve managed to achieve this through a vicious cycle of leveraging money to secure power to continuously grow financially. It’s a loop that leads to more profits for drugmakers and the intermediaries involved.

As prescription drug costs rise at a rate of 2 to 3 times that of inflation, Congress has responded with bills to curtail costs2. But given the mammoth lobbying machine of big pharma, the likelihood of successful legislative reform is dubious, at best.

6. Drugs don’t have price regulations

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates how new drugs are tested, marketed, and released on the market. What they don’t regulate (and control) are prescription drug prices and enforceable mechanisms for value-based pricing5. That role goes to drug companies who very clearly have an interest to price drugs as high as possible.

7. There is no price ceiling on drugs

According to a report by Healthline, the U.S. government does not set ceiling prices like in other countries6. Because of this, the price for an annual supply of certain drugs can cost as much as a single-family home.

8. The cost of marketing and advertising drugs

Did you know that in many pharmaceutical companies, the cost of marketing and advertising can go as high as – if not even higher than – a drug’s R&D costs8? Marketing and advertising drugs is a hot business, especially between drug companies and healthcare professionals, to influence the medical choices of patients.

9. A lack of transparency in the chain, with intermediaries that complicate the whole process

Intermediaries such as insurance companies and Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) play a key role in getting drugs from the makers to the payers – but they can also contribute to the expense of drugs. It’s a complicated multi-player system where many entities are each taking a margin, and the employers and individuals who pay for healthcare plans suffer the brunt of the cost.

The maddening reality for employer-sponsored health plans (and consumers) is these particular factors are largely beyond their control, and absent widespread reform within the industry, costs will continue to climb. However, there are strategies and resources for employers that very effectively help employers to manage the costs. Contact ParetoHealth to learn more.


Did you ever wonder why cost containment is one of our core differentiators at ParetoHealth? Do you want to know what ideas and beliefs fuel our passion for this important part of our mission?

In this ongoing series, I’m going to break down a few fundamental concepts related to the U.S. healthcare delivery system and the associated impact to how we consume and pay for care. Since it’s such a relevant and intricate topic, it’s going to take more than one article.

By the way, if you’re interested in the historical context – how we came to be a nation that spends more per capita on healthcare than any other industrialized country while ranking poorly in quality, access, and outcomes – I recommend this article from the Kaiser Family Foundation, as well as this CNBC treatment. They aren’t strictly necessary to understand the ideas I am going to put forward here, but they do provide a nice amount of context.

One of the most important aspects of the healthcare market is that it doesn’t function the way other markets do. Notably, it lacks price transparency.

What is price transparency? You may have heard about it on the news or during a Presidential debate in the last few years, but it is just a fancy way of talking about something that we do everywhere else for goods or services we consume — shopping around, or “consumer choice.” I’m going to use a simplified series of examples to demonstrate why such a simple idea is so powerful.

To put this into some perspective: let’s say you want to get an oil change for your car. At one place it costs $185, and at another one just down the street the same oil change costs $30.

Not exactly a difficult choice, right? But it’s a choice that most traditional health plans actively discourage people from making.

Think about it: you go to the pharmacy, provide your last name and date of birth, pay your $10 co-pay, and walk out with a tiny bottle of pills in a giant paper sack. What nobody has told you is that not only does the actual cost of the drug exceed the $10 you’ve paid, but it also costs $185 to fill the script at this pharmacy while down the street the exact same drug costs $30. Without actively seeking out this information (which by the way, is no small feat either), you would never know this variance exists.

Now, I can already hear the cynics reading this asking: why should I care if someone soaks my insurance for an extra $155? Isn’t that why I have insurance? Don’t they already make enough money?

A fair question. Also, one with varying answers based on who is footing the bill for that $155 difference. Let me explain.

Let’s assume you are covered by a plan that is financed through a traditional “fully insured” arrangement.  This means that your employer has entered into a contract with an insurance carrier whereby they pay a specific amount in premium each month (some of that premium is passed along to employees) and in exchange, that insurer will pick up the costs for all covered services, even if they exceed the amount of premium received. Now let’s go back to the prescription example. Do you think the insurance carrier won’t find a way to make that $155 back? Do you think they won’t find a way to pass those costs along to you, or to someone else?

Do you think they aren’t already passing on someone else’s costs to you?

As most of you probably know, insurance is risk-sharing. Everyone who takes out a policy from a particular insurer shares risks with every other person who has a policy. With most commercial health plans, policyholders don’t know the names, risk profiles, or buying behaviors of the other policyholders with whom they are sharing risk.

But you share risk anyway. It doesn’t matter how responsible you are individually – whether as a single employer offering a benefit plan to their employees or an individual covered under a group or individual policy – you are swimming in a risk pool with a bunch of unknowns compounded by a perverse incentive system for providers that rewards the wrong behavior.

Let’s go back to our example of the $155 dollar difference. Multiply it over millions of people sharing risk with you – meaning the anonymous sea of other policyholders – and you’ll begin to understand why this lack of transparency in pricing is such a massive problem.

Price transparency leads to market competition which ultimately leads to lower prices. If one provider is selling a product for $185 and the other is selling an identical product for $30, the first provider has a choice between lowering it and going out of business.

But that only works if the consumer knows this difference exists and they are compelled to care.

Now, from the perspective of pure risk management, wouldn’t it be great if you knew something about the pool of other people whose risk you’re sharing? Wouldn’t it be great to know that they’re doing something to stop spending $185 when they had the opportunity to pay only $30?

That’s another one of those easy questions.

I mentioned that there were varying answers to the “why should I care” question posed earlier. Well, let’s consider an employer who has chosen to self-insure their benefits.  In this model, the $155 overspend would be at the cost of the employer, not the insurance carrier.  It’s human nature to care a lot more when we have more skin in the game, right? Let’s also consider that said employer is an equity owner of their own insurance company, where they are sharing risk with hundreds of other employers who have also elected to take on the risk of their health plan. Like-mindedness just got a bit more important, right?

Employers who choose to self-fund their benefits with ParetoHealth have access to a suite of tools and solutions, including those in the area of price transparency and patient advocacy, to ensure that their health care dollars are being spent wisely and effectively by informed consumers. They are joined by a group of peers who have the same approach to managing costs. And all of this is protected by a risk financing vehicle that makes it all possible.

Stay tuned for upcoming articles in our series on cost containment where we share additional strategies and solutions that members of our community are using to preserve and improve benefits while also controlling costs.

If you haven’t yet, please use the form below to subscribe to new issues of The Contrarian so you never miss an update.

Hi. I’m Maureen Becker, Chief People Officer at ParetoHealth.

This series will discuss ways to attract, assess, and retain talented people.

In fact, these are the same strategies that make companies 5.1 times more likely to engage and retain employees.

Let’s get right down to it, starting with employee experience.

Employee Experience

It would be nice if there were an easy way to fix large organizational problems. The good news is the best way to approach this is simple. The bad news is that “simple” doesn’t mean easy – it just means not overly complicated.

It isn’t easy to cultivate an environment where people grow, thrive, and contribute their best work. But it IS incredibly rewarding – both personally and professionally and a holistic approach to human resources management will give you a talent advantage.

You can do a few things today that will bring positive impacts, ranging from engagement at work to innovation for the future.

What Makes up the Employee Experience?

Employee experience is often defined as the interactions an employee has with the people, systems, policies, and the physical and virtual workplace starting from the application process through termination.

Consider the way the employee:

And then think about the overall effect of those feelings and perceptions on their well-being.

Let’s make this a little bit more concrete:

Geraldine works in your IT department. She comes into work every morning with a good attitude, she’s patient when your computer just needs to be turned off and on again, she set up that one system that everybody uses, and she’s the only one who can talk to the big, blinking server box in the corner.

In other words, she’s an exemplary employee. But she could be having a poor employee experience and feeling disengaged from the company.

Ask some questions, and don’t be afraid of hearing the answers:

Does Geraldine know what role she plays in your company’s mission? If her friends and family ask her what she does, can she explain how she fits into your general efforts? What story does she tell herself about her job and her company?

Does she have everything she needs to do her job? Is success in her role clearly defined? Do the people she works with know what her success looks like, and does everyone help each other achieve it? Does she feel like the leadership understands this the same way she does?

These are just some of the questions you need to be asking.

This brings me to the cornerstone of an effective approach: communication.


When most of us think of communication, we think of the things we send out: our internal value proposition, our employer brand, and our important messages.

That’s human nature: we focus on what we do. But it’s less than half of the whole issue.

Communication goes two ways. You need to ask questions, but far more importantly, you need to make it okay for employees to answer and you must truly listen to the responses.

Why is that?

Because a strong employee value proposition must be aligned with what people value, and you may not fully understand what your people value unless you listen to them when they share their perspectives.

Start now. Ask people if everything is working well for them. Make the responses anonymous if possible, and act on those responses.

In the next part of this series, I’m going to review the existing research on what people want from the employee experience.

I’ll be talking about 24 factors that influence the employee experience, with particular attention to the four things that people quoted as the most important to them.

If you aren’t already subscribed to The Contrarian, you won’t want to miss this.

Most people think of volatility as a bad thing. Prices go up, the stock market goes down, and your pockets feel distinctly lighter at the end of the day than they did at the beginning.

But what if I told you this was only one of the aspects of volatility?

…In other words, what if there was an advantage to volatile prices that you could tap into, if you only had the proper structure to do it in?

Well, you’re in luck. That’s exactly what I’m about to tell you.

You see, your costs can swing both ways – up or down.

The goal for any risk-management solution is to give you as much positive exposure as possible, while sheltering you from the downsides. What you want to do is get as much as you can from good years, while stopping the bad years from taking you out of the game completely.

Let’s look at an example to make it clearer.

Big insurance companies like it when people use old-fashioned insurance products – when you pay large, fixed costs every year. They call it fully insured, but that’s just a marketing term.

If you pay $1,000,000 dollars to insure your employees, but their costs come to only $400,000, what happens?

Well, you’re rewarded with next year’s renewal quote: $1,100,000. “They” pat you on the back and tell you this is a great deal for you.

In other words, you don’t get the benefits of positive volatility.

On the other hand, if your employee claims are $1,600,000, then your carrier makes a serious face and tells you that with claims like those, you ought to be grateful that your renewal is “only” $1,800,000…

…Even if the vast majority of these are one-time claims. You know – not likely to arise again.

With your new-found knowledge of positive and negative volatility, you should see what’s going on here:

You aren’t exposed to positive volatility, but you’ll pay dearly for negative volatility. The system is literally rigged against you. There’s no winning.

Now, let’s say you are self-insured. Here’s the situation:

In a good year, you pay only for the $400,000 of claims actually incurred. You gained some positive exposure to volatility. In the bad year, you pay the full $1,600,000, because you also have full exposure to negative volatility.

If you have the cash on hand to absorb the costs of a bad claims year, then you have a shot at reaping the benefits of this type of insurance. But it’s not as simple as that.

We’ve talked on The Contrarian before about the biggest risks for self-insured employers in 2022. These have one big thing in common:

The claims are mostly low-incidence and high-cost. This means that most of your years will be good – the problem is that the bad years can be so costly that they take you out of the game.

This brings us to the five ways that our captives shield you from negative volatility while also allowing you the benefits of positive volatility:

1. Risk-sharing

When you join a benefits captive, you share risk with the other members. This means that you accept a small portion of their risk and they accept a small portion of yours.

This means that in a good claims year, you might pay a small amount more than you would otherwise – continuing our example from above, this might be around $410,000. However, it also means that in a bad year, you’ll only pay $900,000 – you aren’t socked with the extra $700,000 that you saw above.

Better than that, your renewals won’t be ruinously expensive.

After good claims years, they can even be negative. As in, you pay less for next year.

Wild, right?

Another important aspect of how this can work is the following:

2. Vetting of new members

We don’t just let anyone become a captive member.

It requires a process of vetting and education. Let’s break that down:

The vetting process makes sure that an employer is financially viable. You don’t want to share risks with someone whose house isn’t in order, and chasing short-term gains risks weakening the captives.

Second, we need people who understand the nature of our solutions. Unlike old-fashioned insurance products, these require engagement and initiative. The last thing we want is to let people in before they’re ready.

By the way, this is a perfect time to shout out to our benefits Consultants. Without their expert guidance, that education effort would be much more difficult.

So that means we’re exclusive – not by industry or the flashiness of your sports car, but instead by whether you share the proper mindset. It’s part of our responsibility to ensure that our community of like-minded employers stays that way.

Our next way that the benefits captive manages volatility is related to this one:

3. Cost Management Efforts

During the vetting process, we make sure that every employer is serious about implementing cost management efforts (stay tuned for more articles on our approach regarding this: it’s too big a topic to cover fully here).

This means one thing: every Member gets the benefits of all of these cost-management efforts.

Want to hear a secret?

When you use other insurance products, you’re also sharing risks…

…But it’s with an anonymous mass of strangers. You don’t know if they’re pursuing the best care at the lowest cost, whether they have a wellness program, if they pay for gym memberships for their employees…

You don’t know anything about them. Knowing the people that you share risk with should be the rule, not the exception. But it almost never is.

This transparency is a key reason that our benefits captives are the largest in the country. People like to know that their risk-sharing is in good hands.

Our growth has led us to another key part of our strategy:

4. Size and buying power

Our captives manage almost three billion dollars in healthcare spending.

Let that sink in.

To put it in context, in terms of pure healthcare spend, these captives are bigger than a couple of well-known companies:

…Well, you get the idea.

And with that size, we can negotiate terms from our stop-loss providers that are among the best anywhere.

That’s a major part of our mission: delivering enterprise-level healthcare solutions to small and medium businesses. When we act together, we can do things that were impossible when we all acted separately.

Look, if you want to take on the big insurance companies, you need to be big as well. And if you’re not big, you need to belong to a big club.

By acting together, you can work for yourself much better. You can understand what you’re doing, share ideas with everyone else, and learn from everyone’s mistakes and victories.

That brings us to my last point:

5. Transparency

If you have access to your own healthcare data, you can make the right interventions.

Think about it:

If you know that a lot of your claims are coming from people with end-stage renal disease or diabetes, you can tailor your wellness program to answer those needs specifically.

If you don’t know what’s going on, then you’re forced to fly blind and address problems that your people may not even have.

By making things transparent, by introducing skin in the game, and by respecting local knowledge and expertise, we can take a long-term approach to healthcare.

Isn’t that the entire point of strategic leadership? I think so.

That’s something that you’re not going to get with the dinosaurs who are still pushing old-fashioned, one-size-fits-nobody policies. If you have no healthcare data, you can’t apply the Pareto Principle – focusing on the 20% of problems that are causing 80% of your expenses.

No, it’s not named after us. But people always ask.

Check out our resources if you’re ready to learn about captive insurance and what it can do for your healthcare spend.

And, as always, don’t forget to subscribe to future posts from The Contrarian using the form below.

We’re excited to launch our new podcast, 80/20 with ParetoHealth. It’s a bi-weekly chance for Pareto’s leaders to discuss the ins and outs of the health insurance industry, sharing their insights (and occasional hot takes) about the ways that the world is changing. Our two Andrews – Cavenagh and Clayton (CEO and President of ParetoHealth) – are the show’s hosts, but there’s a lot more on the docket. 

We’re also excited to give our Members, Consultant partners, and other thought-leaders a chance to tell their stories: every one of them has had a unique journey and we want to hear about it. 


We talk a lot about our mission to change the world of employee health benefits, and that’s always been our main focus. But the people who have joined us in that mission, who have made the whole thing possible, they also deserve time to shine, and that’s exactly what they do on every one of these episodes. 

So, check out our pilot episode here. Cavenagh and Clayton talked about fully insured healthcare and why it’s probably the worst choice for small and medium businesses – deferred, not insured is the main takeaway from that one. 

Then they had a chat with Austin Madison from Hub International.  He shared what led him to becoming a key player in the health benefit space. The discussion includes baseball, having too much fun in college, and something that must have been a misunderstanding about GPA.

To wrap it up, they shared some insights about how you can tell if an insurance broker is… a little bit off the ball? Lacking in insight? How to put this diplomatically… fine, a knucklehead. 

80/20 with ParetoHealth is the perfect podcast for insurance industry deep dives, Consultant partner stories, and a little bit of gentle roasting. 

You’re going to want to subscribe

Nothing kills the vibe of a cocktail party faster than a monologue about health insurance. At least, that’s what people keep telling me. At cocktail parties, mostly.

But what am I supposed to do, just not talk about health insurance?


That’s why we’re setting this blog up. I need a place to share the information I keep coming across and my commentary on it, and my friends and neighbors need some peace and quiet.

I’ve had some things on my mind recently. Four things, to be precise. These are the biggest factors that are going to affect self-insured employers for at least the next year, and too many people are ignoring them at their own risk.

1. Talent Pool

Almost every employer is struggling to attract new talent, and the fierce competition among them has shifted the focus of benefits. Today, the need to both attract and retain outweighs conventional cost considerations. As an employer, you have to double down on what your employees really want: mental health, virtual care, flexible schedules, maternity benefits, infertility treatments, and the list goes on.

If you think you can offer a health plan “benefit” with a $50,000 deductible, $500,000 out-of-pocket maximum, and minimal employer contribution, then you have a serious shock waiting for you sometime in the next year. Probably not just one, either. These luxe benefits aren’t going anywhere, either. Still, you have to focus on the basic economics of the situation.

As employers are expected to deliver enhanced benefits and higher salaries, they need to look for ways to offset the increase in costs. Expect many organizations – especially the fully insured – to start looking for greater efficiency in paying for health benefits. This is going to spur demand for creative solutions like employee benefit captives, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), and level funding.

2. 2023 pricing

Just as no conversation with a Philly sports fan can go on too long without mentioning Santa, no discussion of healthcare or health insurance can afford to ignore upcoming price increases. I can say with certainty that health insurance costs will rise. What makes me so sure? Basic mathematics and a pair of open eyes.

There are two big issues facing us right now that are going to have a material impact on 2023 prices, whether you’re fully insured or self-insured.

The first one is inflation. Healthcare inflation has been clicking along at 5-8% over the last decade, with stop loss increasing two to three times due to leveraged trend (the phenomenon where large claims grow exponentially faster than the underlying claims). If we see increases in the underlying costs in healthcare, such as for medical devices, durable medical goods, and labor, then we can expect healthcare costs to increase.

The second one is emerging gene therapy. We may see as many as ten new gene or CAR-T cell therapies hit the market in 2022 alone. They have incredible medical potential that may reduce costs in the long term, but the ironic part is that life-saving therapies come at heart-attack prices.

3. The Long Shadow of COVID-19

As the virus recedes, healthcare will gradually return to normal. But that means the costs of deferred elective medical procedures have to be absorbed into the healthcare system. (I don’t know about you, but I would have preferred it if my recent colonoscopy had actually been “elective.” I wasn’t the one making the choices there.) While there will be an increase in these more minor claims, we expect them to be offset by fewer catastrophic COVID-19 claims.

4. Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) of 2021

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 requires that brokers and consultants disclose any direct and indirect compensation they receive that is directly related to a health plan. The self-insured space is already so transparent that we aren’t expecting a dramatic impact. The ones who do have to worry are those in the fully insured market, especially when many brokers receive additional compensation (“overrides”) from insurance carriers.

The CAA will hit a group I call the “knucklehead” insurance brokers. They’re the ones who are reading this and shedding a single tear over the fact that they won’t be able to collect two fees for the enormous task of updating a spreadsheet once a year, quoting exactly the same companies that all their competitors sell. Let me get you a tissue.

Don’t get me wrong: if you have expertise, strategy, an ability to see the field, and are driving value, then you deserve to be well-compensated for it. You’re not the one I’m talking about. But if you’re just a glorified country club golf buddy with a spreadsheet in one hand and a bill in the other, then your time has come and gone. Smart employers want a thoughtful partner who is ready to roll up their sleeves and fight the good fight – and they are more than happy to pay for it.


Phew. Thanks. I needed that. My next cocktail party is safe.

I’ll be back soon.