Walter Winter, vice president and technology practice leader at Parker, Smith & Feek, is driving down the cost of employee benefits without diminishing the value of the health plan.

With 70% of the cost of healthcare being related to lifestyle disease, “if we can make people healthier then we can reduce cost,” Winter says, referring to heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity and arthritis. “If we can make investments in peoples’ health by encouraging their behavior or suggesting plan designs to have them make the right decisions and take care of themselves, then it’s good for the plan.”

At 32-years-old and six years in the employee benefits industry, Winter has acquired more than $700,000 in his book of business with companies ranging from 100 to 1,000 employees in the Seattle area. Because of his focus in disease prevention and a three year continual increase of 25% growth in his technology practice as well as a 100% client retention rate, Winter is recognized as one of EBA’s Rising Stars in Benefit Advising.

He has negotiated deals with pharmacy benefit managers to offer cheaper generic drugs than what the employer can receive through a traditional insurance plan by having his clients pay the full cost of the drug and then waiving the copay for the employee when purchasing the medication.

“If you have someone who is diabetic and for some reason they are not adhering to their medication, it could be related to cost,” he says. “If the reason is cost, then we’ll waive the cost for them so they can get their drugs for free because the small cost of waiving a $10 copay outweighs the risk of having someone go into a diabetic event, going to the hospital and costing the plan thousands of dollars.”

Another area of prevention Winter navigates is the complex healthcare system that tends to overwhelm clients. In the Seattle region, he says there is major price disparity when it comes to particular medical procedures such as a knee replacement.

“There is no correlation between cost and quality,” Winter says. “If we can [inspire] members to seek care at high quality providers first, which can also be found at low cost, then we can prevent employees from going to a low quality provider who is more likely to cause fatalities, infections or malpractice.”

Winter motivates employees to seek out high quality providers by offering an enhanced network above the traditional plan option and rewards enrollees by offering no out-of-pocket cost.

“If someone is going to a high quality provider for a knee replacement that costs $20,000 it is a lot better than someone going to a medium quality provider that will cost $80,000,” he says.

Being a technology practice leader

While Winter has a deep investment in disease prevention, the core focus of his position revolves around the technology aspect of benefits. His responsibilities involve knowing what the value proposition is for technology companies in the Northwest region of the U.S. and how Parker, Smith & Feek can go to market with these companies while differentiating themselves from the competition.

“Seattle is probably the no. 2 city in terms of the tech business,” Winter says. “It’s more than just Amazon and Microsoft because as a result of those companies, there are a ton of middle market businesses that we work with.”

Winter distinguishes himself from the competition by committing to work with start-ups while having the depth and resources necessary to work with publicly traded businesses.

Prior to Winter taking over the technology practice, Cliff Rudolph, principal and account executive at Parker, Smith & Feek, was originally in charge of the technology practice. Rudolph says offering Winter this position was a way to test his leadership abilities.

“He came in at a time where our individual producers were still responsible for their individual growth,” Rudolph says. “Finding ways to learn both about the business and the resources they have at their disposal; Walt did most of that on his own.”

During Winter’s introduction into the technology space, Rudolph says Winter helped clients evaluate IT solutions and payroll suggestions that would work well with employee benefits.

“Technology companies were going through significant growth and needed a resource,” Rudolph says. “He wasn’t just a specialist on the healthcare side, he was also very knowledgeable of the payroll providers and the HRIS systems that were being implemented.”

Rudolph adds that Winter is a self-starter who understands his end goals in his position. “His appetite to learn and continue to serve on the Seattle SHRM Board of Directors, is amazing” Rudolph says. “It’s not like he had 20 years of experience in employee benefits or human resources when he took that role. His goal was to ultimately self-improve.”

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