Top adviser combines her passion for law and benefits to combat COVID-19

Josie Martinez AOY 2020
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When the coronavirus reached the U.S. and organizations were watching and waiting to make a decision about what to do, Josie Martinez, senior partner and general counsel at EBS Insurance Brokers, sprung into action.

Martinez pushed hard for remote work, well before it became everyone’s new normal. Drawing on her background as a lawyer and years of public service, she made the argument and convinced her fellow executive leaders that the best way to protect their employees and clients would be to switch to a remote workforce by February, weeks before a mandatory state work-from-home order went into effect.

The decision reflected just one quality that colleagues and clients have known about her for years. Her dedication and advice to clients has helped companies such as Gulf Oil, one of the world’s largest petroleum companies, and Kayem Foods, a craft meat supplier, revamp healthcare plans and lower their healthcare costs. Outside the office, her work and public service for the Latino community also earned her accolades from two governors, her peers and Employee Benefit Adviser’s 2020 Adviser of the Year honor.

“Josie always seems to be one step ahead,” says colleague Marah Funder, director of marketing and communications at EBS. “She has always been the one to identify a need or a deficit before anyone else does.”

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Martinez has a particular ability to think quickly, assess a situation and figure out a resolution that will work for everyone, Funder says. That broad view is something that her colleagues, clients, and elected officials admire about her.

“Josie was there telling everybody to go home, let's not contribute to the spread,” Funder says. “She has this unique perspective, based on her legal background, her advisory background, and then as a mother to say, let's all take a step back and focus on helping our clients, while keeping everybody within this organization safe.”

Colleagues credit Martinez for being one step ahead during the pandemic. “She has always been the one to identify a need or a deficit before anyone else does,” says Marah Funder, director of marketing and communications at EBS.

Martinez served as executive director of the Judicial Nominating Council for Massachusetts Gov. Argeo Paul Cellucci from 1997 to 2000. The administration of current Gov. Charles Baker was aware of her work history and her passion for public service. They reached out to Martinez on several occasions with opportunities and ultimately, after meeting with Gov. Baker, she decided that the Latino Advisory Commission and later, the State Ethics Commissions were roles she was passionate about taking on.

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In 2017 Martinez was appointed as chair to Baker's Latino Advisory Commission, where she co-leads initiatives that promote economic opportunities, prosperity and well-being in Massachusetts.

“It’s an incredibly important time to be doing that because the Latino community has been very impacted by COVID-19,” she says. “It's one of the hardest hit communities, so we ask, what are your challenges? Is it small business loans, is it educational resources for your kids, something to do with immigration? Then we advise the governor on the most pressing issues in the Latino community and what we think can be done about it.”

In 2018 she was appointed by Baker to the State Ethics Commission, which works to foster integrity in public service in state, county, and local government, and to promote the public's trust and confidence in that service and to prevent conflicts between private interests and public duties.

Martinez stands out as a top adviser thanks in part to her legal background, which allows her to view benefits in a different way than some of her adviser colleagues. When she first started working at EBS, the Affordable Care Act had become law. A big part of her job was to get up to speed on all aspects of the ACA and educate clients on the nuances that pertained to them and help them with compliance issues. She would meet with clients and advise them through webinars and video calls.

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“My experience in interpreting the law gave me a unique ability to understand the act and then simplify it for our clients,” Martinez says. “This experience holds true with any legislation that is passed that impacts the benefits world. For example, with COVID-19, I have been interpreting the guidelines set by the government in these areas and helping each of our clients use the information for their own particular situation.”

Martinez brings that same problem-solving quality to her role at EBS, where she’s worked with clients like Gulf Oil and Kayem Foods, to implement a pharmacy carveout plan and put into place cost efficient healthcare benefits that don’t skimp on quality.

“One of my responsibilities is making sure that your relationship with your client is strong,” Martinez says.

As the vice president of human resources at Gulf Oil, the most important thing Frank Morrone says he looks at is quality healthcare and costs.

One of the things Gulf Oil had been talking about for a few years was self-funding, but Morrone was skeptical because of the risks involved. Martinez was able to alleviate his concerns.

“One of the most interesting things [Martinez] did, because I could not take that risk, was come back with something as simple as HRA funding where we took part of the risk and we put the cash into an HRA,” he says. “We implemented that and our people love it. My premiums dropped substantially, and I'm in the positive going into year three.”

While Martinez has typically fostered these strong relationships with clients through a face-to-face office meeting, or over lunch or coffee, or even at a Red Sox game, those connections can be hard to maintain virtually. So Martinez and EBS created a resource on their website to provide employers with the most relevant and up-to-date information relating to the crisis and their employees’ needs.

But as the pandemic continued, Martinez found that what employers really needed was wellness resources and lifestyle benefits. The pandemic presented an opportunity to highlight the need for greater investments in wellness programs that can improve the employer/employee relationship.

Martinez predicts that benefits such as mindfulness programs will become a core part of employer wellness offerings. She also sees the coverage of specialty drugs, which treat rare diseases, as becoming a big area of growth.

“Wellness programs to relieve stress are really big and will continue to be big, including things like virtual meditation sessions,” Martinez says. “It's in everyone's interest to have an effective wellness program that at the end of the day will help employees with their health and lifestyle.”

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Adviser of the Year Employee benefits COVID-19