Twenty-one years ago, Michael Ventrone came to Honeywell International to do what he had been trained to do: finance. Fifteen years later, the company offered him a role in its benefits department, a transition that could seem like an unusual choice—a finance guy dealing with healthcare. Ventrone says he didn’t know that much about the benefits landscape when he entered the space. Previously, he had supported HR and legal teams, but from the outside. “As an employee I used the benefits plan, but that was about it,” he says.
Now, as Honeywell’s vice president of global benefits, Ventrone can see that the choice to blend finance expertise with benefits is an obvious one. With a more than $500 million annual spend for employee medical benefits, Honeywell’s decision to put someone with a finance background in charge of the team makes sense. Although Ventrone had some learning to do around healthcare specifics, he was already versed in analyzing data to understand outcomes and steer decisions.
With an eye on the company’s budget and a dedication to keeping care as affordable as possible, Ventrone and his team have had several wins. In 2012, they shifted to a single-option, high-deductible plan with a tiered premium structure, where employees who earn more pay a higher premium. Since then, plan deductibles and copays have remained flat, though there have been some adjustments around vision and dental coverage. For the past four years, Ventrone has kept medical premiums steady.
While still applying his finance background, Ventrone says he now sits further upstream in decision-making. From that vantage point, he is dedicated to the great challenge of keeping costs steady, providing his members with great programs to help them navigate the complex medical system.
“For large employers, the current medical trend upward is unsustainable, and it’s a big pill for employees to swallow,” Ventrone says. He and his team, however, use data mining and analytics around per-employee, per-month pricing, as well as tactics aimed at vendor management, contracts, and working with partners on program design to maintain costs. “I didn’t realize the level of work that went into keeping rates in line,” says Ventrone.
He also embraces the shifting nature of his field. Unlike his previous work, Ventrone’s role is one of constant reaction. “Before, everything was scheduled. You knew when the books were going to close. In the medical space, you still have deliverable dates, but a new piece of legislation, a news article, or a report comes out that can change everything,” he says. This means Ventrone and his team must process new information and find solutions quickly.
“I am part of the decision-making. I’m not just the finance guy in the room who is brought in afterwards,” says Ventrone. This, however, does not mean that he controls everything. Normal medical trend means constant flux. If vendor costs shift, Ventrone is responsible for offsetting, at times, huge costs. To do this, he works closely with Honeywell’s procurement, finance, and legal organizations to understand bottom lines and negotiate with vendors.
“You are like the general manager of a business, with a very large budget to manage,” Ventrone says of his position. In the US, 40,000 employees are enrolled in the health plan, and it covers 90,000 members.
Ventrone is very clear, however, that he does not work alone. When talking about his lean, effective team, he says, “They are rock stars. They deserve as much credit as I do.” Along with collaboration and passion, Mike O’Keefe, director of health care finance and analytics, explains their success saying, “We are at the forefront of companies controlling healthcare costs. I believe we do this by making smarter business decisions and not chasing the latest fad.”
One of those smart business decisions is implementing programs designed to help members make informed decisions about care. In 2017, Honeywell, in partnership with ConsumerMedical, launched a cancer support program designed to provide high-touch advocacy and help patients to understand their diagnosis and treatment options. This program currently sees about 20 percent enrollment and a fair amount of success. Melissa Fitzgerald, senior manager of integrated health programs, who, among other things, oversees vendor management and member communication for the program, says that, “one-in-four participants have made a provider change or sought a second opinion.” The program also helped three members catch a misdiagnosis.
For many programs, “Honeywell uses the stick approach” to drive member engagement, Ventrone explains. Instead of relying on the proverbial carrot to motivate employees to act in a particular way, Ventrone designs legally compliant negative incentives (i.e., “sticks”) to induce desired behaviors. This “stick rather than carrot” approach, which is grounded in numerous studies of human nature and behavioral psychology, has proven to be overwhelmingly effective at driving up employee engagement over a broad array of healthcare programs, Ventrone notes.
For example, Honeywell offers a surgery decision-support program, also through ConsumerMedical, for five common surgeries with more than one effective treatment option. The program educates participants so they can make the treatment decision that is right for them. Originally an incentivized program with 20 percent engagement, members are now penalized $1,000 if they do not engage. After this program’s implementation, participation improved to 92 percent, Ventrone says. He also says that 25 percent of participants decided to not get an unnecessary surgery but pursue other options.
Having significantly improved enrollment, Ventrone faces a different challenge with Honeywell’s benefits programs. “Enrollment and engagement are two separate things. Everyone struggles with engagement,” says Ventrone.
Though there are frustrations, Ventrone is excited to be creating and implementing meaningful programs. He remains optimistic as he and his team address the challenge to ensure employees know about programs when they need them. Steven Jacobs, director of international benefits and labor, explains the leadership team’s optimism. “We are successful due to our open communication style, ease of collaboration, an availability of tools and resources that keep us organized, great leadership, and, most importantly, an enjoyment in working together.”
Ventrone adds, “The benefits space is complex but exciting. We are providing support and knowledge so that people can make better decisions and, at some point, this will make someone’s life better.”
Workplace benefits are the foundation of many families’ financial futures, and Securian Financial can help protect those futures. Securian Financial brings decades of specialized expertise to the creation of successful employee benefit programs. We are proud to work with Honeywell to bring their employees financial security through group life insurance.
ConsumerMedical is a medical ally that empowers employees and their families to make better decisions along their healthcare journey. Our comprehensive solution integrates medical decision support, expert medical opinion, and claims advocacy to guide individuals throughout their healthcare journey, reducing unnecessary elective surgeries and driving patients to the highest quality providers.