Traci Mills knows her way around employee benefits.
Her career has taken her from small companies all the way up to the Fortune 100, where she supported benefits for union affiliate populations across the U.S.. She even worked on the broker side briefly.
Today, Traci is the Director of Global Benefits at Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search and leadership consulting firm headquartered in Chicago, with employees across North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia.
We sat down with Traci this week to discuss her vision for healthcare consumerism, why convenience is key to utilization, and Heidrick's upcoming launch of Amino for their U.S. population.
Tell us a little bit about yourself — who are you as an individual and a professional?
I've been working in the benefits space for approximately 20 years. I started my career as a generalist and ended up filling in for a colleague who was on maternity leave. I never went back to the generalist world.
Benefits was a lot of fun. It's challenging. Each day is different. It requires a passion for benefits as well as a love of information and data and helping people understand a language that's very foreign to them.
After 30 years of marriage, I'm still explaining how benefits work to my husband. I always use him as an example of the classic employee, because he still doesn't get it after all these years of living with me!
You mentioned understanding benefits and being a good consumer. Are those your biggest challenges right now?
Absolutely. I think that employees just don't understand how their benefits work, particularly medical.
Medical is where employees incur the most out-of-pocket costs. They pay premiums from their paychecks and struggle to understand why they need to pay more when they use services that trigger the deductible or co-insurance. And they’re very frustrated when they don’t understand the impact to their pocket.
We're great consumers of how we spend our money in our personal lives. The example I always use is buying a car. We don't go out to buy a car and walk onto a dealer's lot and go, "Oh, I like that blue one. How much is that one?"
We just don't do that. We shop around, look for the right model, and then we do some price comparison. When we're shopping online for example, we're looking for the best quality and price. We want to make sure we're making the best use of our dollars in every purchase that we make.
Employees just don't have that same mindset when it comes to healthcare. Honestly, that's where Amino stood out to me as being a little different from the crowd.
You haven't launched Amino quite yet. What key features drove you to select it as a benefit for your employees in 2019?
I think you guys have the right mindset. You're giving people information that allows them to understand — for any provider they're choosing or procedure they might be researching — who the best, lowest cost providers are, how many procedures they've done, and how much that procedure will cost.
Then, you're pulling in information that shows where that employee is at in meeting their deductible. That's what I love about Amino — it's not static. It's not saying, "Traci is in the PPO plan. She has family coverage, and her deductible is $1,000 for her family or $500 per person. So Traci, here's what you might spend.”
Instead, Amino actively pulls in information and says, "Traci, here's how far along you are in your deductible. Based on that, here's what you have left in your deductible, and here's what your coinsurance will be after that deductible is met, and here's what the average cost of this provider is in terms of charges for that procedure. Here's what we expect your out-of-pocket cost to be, and here's what we expect your plan to pay."
That Amino also provides an estimate of the employer’s cost, that’s HUGE! Employees feel the impact to their pocket but don’t appreciate how much of the cost is picked up by the plan. And let’s face it, how many people actually read an explanation of benefits? Not many!
For someone in my role, trying to get employees to understand what they might pay, how to be a better consumer, and how to value what their employers pay for that plan is really difficult. What I love about your tool is that you give them that full spectrum — that full view of what those costs are.
Are there any other features that resonated with your team?
When I look at a tool — and I really do consider myself an average consumer — I will tell you this: if I have to really do a lot of searching for information, I'm going to be frustrated and I'm just not going to do it.
It needs to be easy to use for employees to actually use it. That's what I like about Amino. Being able to click on an icon that says "urgent care" and put in the city where I live to identify nearby urgent care centers quickly and easily is a system functionality that I want for my employees.
“It needs to be easy for employees to actually use it. That's what I like about Amino.”
Global Benefits Director
We're going to spend over $20 million on employee benefits for less than 1,000 U.S. employees in 2019. If my employees are better consumers of healthcare and we can decrease our costs, we'll have dollars that can be spent differently. We have an opportunity to introduce new benefits without adding costs to our bottom line.
It sounds like convenience is really important for your employees. Could you tell us more about why convenience is key?
I worked for a financial technology company before coming to Heidrick & Struggles, and our developers used to say, "Three clicks. If they can't get to where they want to go in three clicks, you've lost them."
I would say that that pretty much aligns with employee benefits. Employees need to get to what they're interested in in three clicks, or they're done.
Speaking of convenience... how do you see employees using Amino's appointment booking feature?
It was something that I called out when we were doing our Open Enrollment meetings.
I would say, "Have you ever been on the phone with a doctor trying to book an appointment, and they say they can't see you for months? Or better still, they say they have one appointment remaining this week but it's at 11:15 am or 2:30 pm. And when you say you can’t do it, the reply you get is 'Let’s look at next week, or the following week.' And so it goes. And you’re on the line thinking 'Hello, I work for a living!'" Every time it got a chuckle from employees.
I love the convenience of that feature — to be able to identify times that will work and book appointments on your behalf. I think it really resonated with our folks.
How do you think Amino will impact your employees?
I think Amino is going to drive awareness of healthcare costs. I think it's going to drive an understanding of why it's important to be a smart consumer and look for in-network care.
It's so important that Amino engages our employees’ families, too. Oftentimes it's a spouse who's staying at home raising a family or families who are juggling back and forth who have these decisions they have to make. I want to make sure they have the right tools to do that.
My hope is that when we get through one year, we've accomplished these three things:
- I've increased engagement.
- I've increased understanding.
- I've got employees valuing the $13 million per year we spend on our medical plan. It's a lot of money for less than 700 employees enrolled in the plan (about 1,500 with dependents).
I want people to be great consumers of those dollars. If we can reduce our healthcare costs and do other things with that money, that's a win for everyone.
Do you think Amino will make your job easier?
I wouldn't say easier — but I think Amino fills a void that exists today: employee education.
When you’re managing benefits as an individual contributor or with a small team there's only so much bandwidth that you have. The thing that falls through the cracks is employee education. I simply just don't have the bandwidth to do as much as I'd like to do.
I think Amino will help me educate our employees. As they use the tool, and understand more about how their plan works, they have the opportunity to decrease their out of pocket costs. That’s a big win for people. Getting more, spending less, understanding the costs under their plan and being prepared for the financial impact before they use services.