Tech Adviser of the Year uses technology to improve healthcare price transparency
At 31, Chelsey Koster already has a decade of experience as a benefits consultant, and is the youngest female consultant at Advantage Benefits Group. While she’s often the least senior person in the room, her youth belies the skills and maturity of EBA’s Technology Adviser of the Year.
Koster was only 21 years old when she got her job at ABG, “fresh out of college with zero benefits expertise,” she says. Clients have assumed that she is not the consultant but rather an account executive or manager.
“I've had to grow up quickly,” Koster says. “I've overcome that challenge by surrounding myself with people who are much smarter than I am, which is very easy to do with the firm that I work with, but also by just constantly learning, reading all things employee benefits, watching how other consultants succeed.”
Today, Koster has paved the way for other consultants at ABG to rely on data when presenting healthcare benefits, costs and risk analysis. She was a part of a team that created a COVID-19 risk model that helped ABG’s clients understand which of their employees were most at risk for contracting the virus, coaching her clients through safe return-to-work strategies. She also used the model to estimate costs associated with employees getting tested, treated and hospitalized.
“Chelsey is passionate about the business and helping every employee fully understand and value the benefits their employers offer,” says Kurt Swardenski, her direct supervisor and co-partner of Advantage Benefits Group. “No one loves insurance, but she has a way of making it more tolerable and dare I say ‘fun’.”
Her current role is a change from her early years at the firm, when Koster would go to other consultants and sit through both renewal and open enrollment employee meetings to see what the consultants did well.
“I would write down notes on the benefits jokes that they told, and what things that they said that really resonated with employees,” she says. “Going to many of those meetings helped me develop my own style and rhythm, and helped me grow in my own presentations.”
Ten years later, Koster has carved out her own space at her firm, where she specializes in employee education to increase benefit utilization and healthcare insurance to make sure employees get it at the best quality and price. She’s turned to technology as a pivotal tool in helping clients understand healthcare cost transparency, which she calls “the biggest challenge” in the benefits industry.
“There's still a ton of misinformation,” she says. “The fact that you can get an MRI at one facility and five miles down the road, you get that same [service] and it costs 500% more — employees don't know that. When you talk about health insurance or prescription benefits, there's so much hidden information. Our firm is huge on transparency, and how we can give employees actionable information through data is crucial.”
Technology plays a key role in increasing transparency by providing both employees and employers with data and information, Koster says. To boost utilization and educate clients on their options, she’s hosted several training events like a pancake breakfast for Healthcare Bluebook, a cost estimator tool that allows employees to compare costs of common procedures including MRIs, X-rays and surgeries. Clients were tasked with downloading and understanding the app before eating pancakes. Koster also created several employer scavenger hunts using the tools to encourage employees to use and get comfortable with the apps.
Adding an element of fun is what helps her consulting resonate with clients, Swardenski says. Koster has taken on the role of consultant and teacher when helping clients adapt to digital tools such as ALEX, a virtual benefits counselor that ABG uses to help educate employees on which plan to choose when they are presented with more than one option, says Swardenski.
“It’s easy for her, but she knows it’s not easy for everyone, so she coaches and partners with them along the way,” he says. “She’s a benefits expert, so she knows the answers and solutions, but then is also able to leverage technology to do this process more efficiently and effectively.”
Technology tools like the Healthcare Bluebook and ALEX have helped simplify a number of benefits processes, and the use and adoption of it will only continue to grow.
“New tools can help employees decide which plan is best for them, and where they can go to get the highest quality, lowest cost care for both procedures and prescriptions,” she says. “From an employer standpoint, technology means they have to have the data to better manage their spend, including costs and underlying conditions.”
As a mother of four young children, Koster relies on the power of technology in her personal life. She was an early adopter of virtual doctor visits, which gave her the comfort of knowing that her family can have access to a healthcare physician 24/7, and outside office hours when she can’t get to a physician’s office.
“Chelsey candidly shares stories with employees on ways these tools have helped her personal family save time and money,” Swardenski says. “The testimony shared has encouraged many of our clients’ employees to use this type of technology.”
Over her 10 years of working as a benefits consultant, Koster has expanded her book of business organically, maintaining a client retention ratio of over 95%. She says she will continue to walk employees through difficult healthcare insurance decisions and total benefit packages.
“I don't ever get tired of hearing the client stories of how they got started in the business, what their challenges are with their benefits and their employees, and how I can help create the perfect benefit package to solve those,” she says.