“I love benefits,” says Candace Shaffer, senior director of benefits at Purdue University. Her foray into human resources came somewhat as a surprise, after she spent more than a decade in early child development and education.
It turns out, Shaffer’s former career has proved a great training ground for the challenges of managing benefits for the giant university—she’s well versed in using data to understand how things will affect individuals and families, and she understands the numerous factors that impact a family’s well-being.
Shaffer first jumped into the HR world about six years ago when she was hired by Purdue University—her alma mater—to develop, promote, and maintain its family-friendly practices. By 2017, she had been promoted to benefits director, followed by a promotion in early 2020 to her current role as senior director of benefits. “I became fascinated with benefits when I learned about how they’re analyzed not only from a financial standpoint but also in terms of their impact on employees and their families,” she says.
A Rand Corp. study in 2019 found that Indiana has higher healthcare costs compared with most states. Shaffer’s main goal is to buck that trend at Purdue while also improving care and convenience for its employees. “We’ve had a challenge on our hands to bend our trend curve and be creative in figuring out how to provide healthcare in a different way,” Shaffer says.
That’s no easy feat, considering the sheer size of Purdue’s population—the university has twelve thousand benefits-eligible employees and about twenty-five thousand members on its medical plan. This number includes just about every type of family you can think of.
“My challenge is creating a benefit package that works for all of them,” Shaffer says. “We want to make sure the benefits the university provides are family-friendly and accommodating and inclusive for everyone.”
To that end, Purdue recently opted in to Anthem’s HealthSync network, a curated list of providers that Anthem’s algorithms have identified as providing high-quality, comprehensive care at a cost-efficient price. “By choosing a doctor in this network, our employees know they’re going to get quality care at the best possible cost. It can make navigating the healthcare system easier,” Shaffer says.
In 2020, Purdue also added concierge programs for prescription drugs and cancer treatments. Like the HealthSync network, both programs are designed to make navigating the healthcare system a little easier. The prescription program identifies where prescriptions can be purchased for the lowest cost. For cancer patients, the concierge program guarantees they can be seen by a physician within one day. Purdue employees and their families are not obligated to continue care with the program’s physicians; but if they do, they’ll essentially get a quarterback on their team, helping them coordinate appointments, Shaffer says.
“We’ve had a challenge on our hands to bend our trend curve and be creative in figuring out how to provide healthcare in a different way.”
Of course, any changes or additions to Purdue’s benefits go through a meticulous, data-heavy vetting process, spearheaded by Shaffer and her team. “We’re big on data, so whether you’re a new vendor or an established vendor offering a new program, I want to see where you’ve been successful and I want to see the data proving it,” she says. Any proposals for benefits also go in front of a large stakeholder group at the university.
The cost for the university and individuals, the impact to employees and whether it makes their lives easier are all important considerations. “For instance, a couple percentage points of our population gets diagnosed with cancer each year, and it’s a big spend for them and for us,” Shaffer says. “With the cancer concierge program, there was an opportunity to significantly impact that group by making treatment less costly and less overwhelming to navigate.”
“Purdue’s use of data has also transformed how they talk with employees about benefits,” says Melissa Cotterill, executive vice president of Westcomm, which partners with Purdue on benefits communication. “It has allowed them to engage specific audiences with information that is relevant and personalized. It is an effective approach to help employees better understand and use their benefits.”
Shaffer’s next big project is revamping Purdue’s Center for Healthy Living, the campus health clinic, by replacing the existing structure with a whole new facility. The last three years have seen a doubling of patients at the Center, which in addition to treating illnesses and chronic conditions also offers no-cost wellness programs. Data shows that patients who are established at the clinic have lower risk and lower costs by about $2,500 per year, Shaffer says. In other words, a win for all.
“We have to replace the clinic’s physical building, and we’re looking at expanding services,” Shaffer says. At the moment, everything from adding a larger imaging center and lab to adding a pharmacy and bringing in specialists is on the table. “This could be a magnet to really control and contain costs and make things easier for our population, too,” Shaffer says, noting that hospitals and most local providers are about thirty minutes from campus, which means a doctor’s appointment can take nearly a half day. “I want to create a solution on campus that’s convenient and offers quality care,” Shaffer says.
Regardless of how the Center for Healthy Living changes, Shaffer’s goal remains the same: for benefits at Purdue to be relevant, cost-effective, data-driven, and—most importantly—outcome-based.
“When you’re spending the type of money we do on healthcare, it should be outcome-based,” she says. “I don’t want to tell our diabetic population, for example, to engage in a program if it’s not going to be helpful for them or make their life better in some way.”