After a decade-long run as director of benefits at Prime Healthcare, Tammy Valle had to make a very difficult decision: continue her work at a company where she was already well-accomplished or leave and take the risk of venturing somewhere new. In the midst of this uncertainty, Valle received a text message from a friend and former coworker.
“She sent a position for the Meruelo Group, who was looking for a benefits administrator,” Valle recalls. “She told me to apply for the position, although she was unaware of the tentative situation at Prime.” Later that same day, Valle received a LinkedIn message from the Meruelo Group’s recruiter.
“He invited me to interview for the position, and that really resonated with me. It almost felt as if the pieces were just falling into place,” Valle says, laughing.
Valle considered the invitation to interview for about a week before engaging in further conversation. Meruelo Group was recruiting for a junior role compared to the leadership position Valle served in at Prime. Starting at less than half of her previous salary and with a different title, Valle wasn’t sure it was going to be a good fit—but she was open to discussion.
After researching the company and its founder, Alex Meruelo, she was thrilled to find similarities between Prime’s founder, Dr. Prem Reddy, and Meruelo: both works tirelessly in their chosen fields, each are passionate about saving jobs and rescuing struggling companies, and both generously give back to their communities.
Valle was inspired by Meruelo’s background and entrepreneurial spirit. “This position is my opportunity to give back—albeit indirectly—by decreasing the cost of the health plan, substantially reducing the company’s cost, and also improving the plan design for employees,” she says.
Valle was hired shortly after interviewing. “Meruelo was wonderful and really bent over backwards to bring me on board. They restructured the job description and title to align with my experience and also matched my salary and vacation days,” she says.
“This position is my opportunity to give back—albeit indirectly—by decreasing the cost of the health plan, substantially reducing the company’s cost, and also improving the plan design for employees.”
Now director of human resources and benefit operations at the Meruelo Group, Valle believes that it was her unique skill set, impeccable track record, and career of more than twenty years in the benefits field that encouraged the company to up the ante and push for her to join its team.
The benefits program that Valle essentially built from the ground up at Prime, the partnerships developed with key experts from Keenan, an AssuredPartners company, and Worksite Communications, and the successful implementation of multiple cost-savings measures, which Valle estimates collectively saved Prime over $100 million in ten years, shaped Valle into a desirable candidate.
The Meruelo Group is a privately held management company that boasts a portfolio of diversified clients across seven different industries, and it is continuously expanding. After a number of recent acquisitions, the Meruelo Group may be gearing up for an explosion of growth, and Valle will be essential for its anticipated business expansion. “It’s going to take work and I will come across challenges, but this is my job—I’m a problem-solver,” Valle says.
One large cost-saving initiative that Valle will focus on at the Meruelo Group is to conduct a full dependent audit, which is a process that she was able to develop and perfect while at Prime. Considering there were forty-eight locations for Prime, and only one of Valle, she enlisted the help of over fifty benefit counselors through Worksite Communications.
“Worksite Communications is a firm I engaged to both employ and deploy on-site benefit counselors during open enrollment,” Valle explains. “The counselors become an extension of my team and assist by providing one-to-one employee education—they answer any and all benefit related questions while walking through plan options and the dependent verification process. They’ve been extremely helpful.”
To achieve this initiative and cut unnecessary spending, Valle believes it is necessary to standardize the dependent verification process and implement it system wide. “Currently, employees upload dependent documentation to the benefit admin system for verification,” she says. “Although this is a common process for many companies, it is also flawed.”
So, during this next open enrollment, each employee covering a dependent will need to provide official, original documents to substantiate their dependents. “It will be a bit tedious, but overall, necessary and financially beneficial for everyone involved,” the director says.
In addition to cutting company costs, Valle is adamant about reducing the pharmacy spend associated with the rising cost of specialty drugs and building in financial incentive to drive members toward lower cost alternatives—another big initiative she carried over from her time at Prime. With these adjustments, Valle is not only freeing up the resources to enable the Meruelo Group to reach its goals for growth, she’s also enabling employees the same liberty.
Keenan, an AssuredPartners company:
“The Keenan team worked with Tammy throughout her tenure with Prime. She was an innovative thinker who was fearless in her management approach to improve Prime’s benefits programs and processes. The end result of her efforts was a greater employee appreciation of their benefits plans, while generating large savings for Prime.”
–James J. Kreig, Senior Vice President