It seems the paperwork associated with healthcare insurance is intentionally overwhelming — perhaps — to keep so many of us in the dark. Perhaps not. But it doesn’t change the fact that many of us are indeed overwhelmed by the nuances associated with medical coverage. But one thing is certain: healthcare costs are always on the rise. In addition, the passing of the Affordable Healthcare Act brings about more questions, particularly from small business owners who now shoulder a greater financial responsibility.

“We can’t just throw up our arms,” says Bill Lacy, president and CEO of the Association for Corporate Health Risk Management, a collaborative employer-exclusive organization focused on containing healthcare costs while maintaining employee well-being and productivity (www.achrm.org).

Lacy will address the Human Resources Management Association of Princeton at the Princeton Hyatt Regency, Monday, January 12, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. HRMA provides education and information for those in human resources, and serves professionals in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The association is offering one general recertification credit hour for Lacy’s presentation. For more information, visit hrma-nj.shrm.org

“These presentations take significant planning,” Lacy says, “but there are a lot of perspectives at the table, and the audience walks away with more information on how to keep their healthcare costs in check.”

“No one knows the real price of healthcare,” Lacy says, “and carriers like the chaos.” ACHRM’s services are most useful to businesses with 50 to 100 employees. “These groups have been the hardest hit. Often they don’t have human resources people, they’ve received poor advice, and they have no help,” he says. “Many of them are foundations and non-profits, and some are even 50 years old or more. An increase in costs can be lights out for them. So many heads are spinning right now.”

So how does ACHRM help? First, they’re employer-centric, providing a forum for business leaders — primarily CEOs, CFOs, and HR executives — to brainstorm solutions to keep a company’s healthcare costs in check. “Employers’ voices aren’t heard, so we create a collaborative exchange,” says Lacy. “And we really develop solutions, through four-hour workshops, educational programs, and moderated round table discussions.”

The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act that took effect in 2014 has caused a flurry of questions. But, Lacy explains, “The rising costs of healthcare are employers’ biggest concerns, and employers faced those concerns before the new law took effect.”

New Jersey experiences the highest costs for healthcare in the nation, and with the financial burden shifting from carrier to employer, Lacy urges small to mid-sized businesses to get educated. “There are benefits to keeping control in-house. Employers want to keep their arms around this,” Lacy says.

Because companies are so different, there aren’t “one size fits all” solutions, but the dialogue is useful. “Employee wellness programs are helpful,” Lacy says, “and direct contracts [which bypass insurance carriers] with medical providers are great. Medical travel is a popular touch point as well,” he says.

“I read an article a few years ago that said insurance carriers would be gone by 2020, and I didn’t think that was possible,” Lacy says. But “after the last few years, the landscape has changed so much, and it will continue to change. Carriers might disappear in the next few years.” That’s not a bad thing, Lacy says. “Employers are writing the check, and employers are getting screwed. Every employer should listen to us.”

Lacy said he always wanted to be an entrepreneur, inspired by his parents and maternal grandfather. His father was an investment banker; his mother was (and still is) a seamstress. His grandfather and his grandfather’s brothers ran a tool and die shop, an operation that is still running today.

Lacy’s interest in the healthcare angle of business took shape thanks in part to not one, but two, near-death experiences while he was in teenager in his hometown of Haddonfield. His first powerful introduction to the medical system was in 1978. “I had a mo-ped accident in high school,” Lacy says. “I wasn’t wearing a helmet and hit the back of a pickup truck. I was in a coma for 11 days.”

As if that weren’t enough, on his first night of work as a lifeguard in 1980 he swam to the bottom of the pool to clean the drain. “The pump turned on and sucked my hand in. I drowned.” Three people tied a rope around him and pulled him out. His heart had stopped beating, but he was revived. “I needed life sustaining equipment and was in the hospital for seven days,” he said.

His brushes with death and return to health motivated him to take a pre-medical track at Ursinus College, but he eventually switched to math and economics, graduating in 1985. He earned his MBA in 1993 by taking night courses at Drexel, where he double majored in finance and marketing. Today Lacy, who has two college-aged children, lives in Cherry Hill.

Lacy says ACRHM runs “lean and mean,” in part by limiting the amount of sponsors and vendors at their activities; Lacy says they have one sponsor per event. “Often there are more vendors than attendees at conferences,” he says. Fewer sponsors can mean a limited budget, but the relationship building is vital. “We have a couple of big contributors that I talk to at least once a week, as well as some key employers. The idea exchange is so valuable, and I can lean on their staffs, so we have great partnerships,” Lacy says. In addition, he has one full-timer and several part-time employees on staff.

Audiences are receptive, Lacy says; they want more. “We have an event planned for every week in 2015,” he says. “For every event we put on, we get invited to two more.” The work is gratifying, though. “Employers tackle problems collaboratively. It’s very productive, and there is good strategizing. Everyone gets excited for the next step.”

Lacy says a few groups similar to ACHRM are popping up across the nation, which is exciting to him. He is intrigued, too, at the notion that each state can take a different approach to working out its healthcare issues. “Cross fertilization,” Lacy says. “An idea introduced in Dallas, for instance, can take root in Newark.”

“Many issues are national; but each area will have its own challenges,” Lacy says. “Insurance carriers can be slow to make change, and in New Jersey, we’re sitting on the caboose, but we have a high concentration of employers here, so change will come.”

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