With an education focused on business and computer science, Marty Webb joined AT&T (then Southwestern Bell) straight out of college 35 years ago and hasn’t looked back. His long tenure with the same company makes him a bit of an anomaly in an era of job-hopping millennials but his deep institutional knowledge made him well-positioned to take over the job of vice president of benefits at AT&T seven years ago.

And since then, Webb has created new health and wellness programs, boosted participation in the company’s 401(k) plan, implemented a financial wellness program, launched a health care transparency initiative and oversaw the largest Medicare private exchange transition in the country.

All of these efforts have earned Webb the honor of EBN’s 2015 Benefits Professional of the Year.

He is humble about his accomplishments, preferring to highlight the hard work of the 70 people in his department.

“In this job, at least initially, I leaned on some really smart people in benefits who had deep history in some functional areas. They’re a great group of people,” he says. “The best staff in the U.S., in my opinion, and that helped me be effective in the benefits space.”

Also see: Who are EBN’s 2015 Benny Award winners?

Webb led his team in the development of Your Health Matters, a comprehensive health and wellness initiative that provides AT&T employees with a single connection point for proactive health information. The site has garnered widespread attention and adoption at all levels — from the chairman and CEO to business unit leaders, and even to the vast majority of AT&T’s management team. More than 20,000 AT&T employees, including Webb himself, entered AT&T’s most recent challenge to get in shape and share their goals and results with their colleagues.

And recognizing that a healthy and productive workforce goes beyond physical wellness, Webb also recently expanded the program with Your Money Matters, which started as an awareness campaign about AT&T’s 401(k) program and has expanded to include education targeted at specific AT&T populations of employees such as women and millennials.

Also see: Register for the 2015 Benefits Forum & Expo

Since launching Your Money Matters, participation in the 401(k) plan has increased from an already health 82% to 89% and the number of participants who maximize the company jumped from 60% to 73%.

Transparency matters

Webb is a strong champion of medical cost transparency for employees and implemented a program in partnership with Castlight Health earlier this year to enable management-level employees to search for doctors and health care facilities based on factors such as price and quality. Over 20,000 employees have signed up and are researching everything from primary care physicians to medical specialists. The tool incorporates AT&T’s plan design with the search function so employees will get a truer picture of their total costs for a particular visit or procedure.

“There are very few markets in this country where you can’t go shop for goods and services based on both cost and quality,” he says. “Even buying a car these days, you can go to lots of places and get information on cost and quality. But in health care, there just aren’t good tools out there.”

Also see: Cost transparency tools grow in scope

When he couldn’t get a satisfactory answer about the cost of an MRI, Webb challenged the status quo by engaging with AT&T’s carriers and seeking help in providing greater cost transparency with respect to the company’s health care claims. He secured two agreements with leading carriers to provide true costs of facilities, doctors and procedures based on actual claims – not the averages or ranges carriers generally provide.

“People are so accustomed – both for facilities and for specialists – to taking the recommendation of a doctor. If you can take that into your own hands and shop around a little bit – and you may end up where your doctor recommends that you go – think of the power of that on the health care infrastructure,” says Webb. “It’s really pretty amazing. It should allow employees to get higher quality procedures at a cost that makes more sense for them.”

Webb also garnered the support and signatures of HR executives from more than 30 other Fortune 100 companies to demonstrate a united front and expand his quest for transparency beyond AT&T’s walls.

Also see: Health care cost transparency: Are we making progress?

“Health care transparency is important for AT&T and our employees but it’s our belief it’s also important for the health care industry across the country,” says Webb. “This is an area where we can have an impact on the [health care] industry as well.”

Retiree exchange

The company also recently moved more than 200,000 retirees and dependents into a private health exchange, a move that was over two years in the making.

“We had some people who, for many, many years and in some cases their entire lives, had never chosen health care before,” says Webb. “They took what AT&T presented them and there was very little choice. And now all of a sudden, we’re allowing them to make a choice through an exchange and that was hard for them. They had to shop for the health care that best fit them. To have a choice is great but to actually make a choice can be a difficult thing.”

Also see: Simplifying retiree benefits: When less is more

Webb and his team allayed retirees’ concerns through a massive communications campaign that began more than a year before the transition to Aon Hewitt’s fully insured Medicare exchange. The campaign included a multicity tour, more than 125 informational sessions and 20 webinars, reaching more than 28,000 people and over 280,000 one-on-one appointments with over 360,000 retirees.

And while AT&T isn’t releasing details about any cost savings related to the move, Webb says “it made sense financially for AT&T but it also made sense for the retirees. It actually became a better financial choice [for them] to make.”

It was Webb’s strong personal connection to AT&T’s retirees and their families that really stood out for Kristi Savacool, CEO of Aon Hewitt, and Greg Case, CEO of Aon plc. “Marty’s clear vision and his steady, consistent leadership style were the keys to a successful transition for AT&T’s Medicare-eligible retirees,” they wrote in support of Webb’s nomination for the Benefits Professional of the Year honor. “Marty’s approach was high-touch, and he led or participated in many of the retiree education forums that were held across the country. He was a champion for personally ensuring that each retiree was satisfied with his or her experience.”

Also see: Public entities, voluntary benefits next up in retiree exchange market

More than 80% of retirees covered under the old program enrolled in the exchange, including almost one-third who did not originally have group medical coverage under AT&T. Moreover, 85% of retirees said they were satisfied with their overall experience.

And while there has been competition in the Medicare-eligible retiree exchange space for years, it wasn’t until 2015 that it made sense for AT&T to move in that direction, says Webb.

“Due to our sheer size and scale, it just didn’t make sense” to move retirees to a private exchange prior to 2015, he says. “But in 2015, our modeling showed that the market was mature, that there was lots of choice out there, that the financials made sense [and] that Aon had the right process to give retirees the types of things they needed to make their choice. And so for all those reasons, it made sense.”

Also see: Self-insured employers wary of private exchanges

AT&T isn’t releasing details about any cost savings related to the move, but Webb says “it made sense financially for AT&T but it also made sense for the retirees. It actually became a better financial choice [for them] to make.”

And in keeping with his “making sense” philosophy, Webb continues to monitor trends in the private exchange space as they relate to active employees.

“We would move in that direction if it made sense for the employees and for AT&T. It’s got to make sense,” he says. “The choices have to be out there, the process for doing that would have to be the right environment. It has to be something the employees would be happy with. And if that’s not the case then we’re just not going to move in that direction. With our size and scale I think we’re a far [ways] away from that happening. … But we continue to monitor the marketplace.”

Opportunities and challenges

Including employees, their dependents and retirees, AT&T’s health plans alone affect about 1.1 million people, says Webb. “We have a big opportunity to have a big impact on a lot of people.”

When asked what keeps him up at night, Webb says it varies, depending on what’s going on. But for now, it’s the integration of AT&T and DirectTV and while the company has gone through many mergers, this one’s different, says Webb, because “it’s about the future of the entertainment space and bringing together mobility and entertainment in a whole new way. It’s a big deal.”

Also see: Aetna, Humana merger offers positives and negatives for employers

From a benefits perspective, that means “ensuring we have the right support structure for the employees and their families as we move forward with this. We have to look at the benefits AT&T provides, the benefits that DirectTV provides and we’ve got to determine what are the right benefits going forward – not just for employees but their families as well – and balance that with the cost impact on combined entity.”

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