Oklahoma Employers Healthcare Alliance
Attorney Q&A with Brandon Long
What began as a roundtable discussion to share ideas and best practices has now become a movement. Earlier this year, McAfee & Taft played a key role in establishing a first-of-its-kind coalition of Oklahoma employers. The mission: To act in the collective best interests of employers to promote healthcare quality, cost-effectiveness, transparency and accountability.
In this LINC Q&A video, McAfee & Taft employee benefits lawyer Brandon Long discusses the catalyst of this emerging movement, its purpose and vision, who comprises the coalition, what has already been accomplished, and next steps for those companies that are interested in being a part of the Oklahoma Employers Healthcare Alliance.
Q: What is the Oklahoma Employers Healthcare Alliance?
A: There is a new coalition here in Oklahoma, a healthcare coalition that we created for our employer clients. It really started a few years back with a network — a health network was in a dispute with the provider over their network provider contracts. And so the idea was, let’s get some employers together and talk about what we can do to improve the position for employers. And then we’ve had several other state law initiatives come down the pike — state laws laws that were being considered — that employers got together and we had kind of a lunch-and-learn where we talked about and then we decided to create a more formal coalition. And so we created the Oklahoma Employers Healthcare Alliance.
Q: What employers can be a part of this coalition?
A: Strictly for Oklahoma employers, employers of all shapes and sizes. We have small, medium and large. We have employers that only have employees here in Oklahoma. We have employer with employees all over the country, but they have to have some sort of a connection to Oklahoma in terms of employees. We have unions, Indian tribal governments, we have kind of a nice cross-section of employers that are part of the coalition. It’s for fully insured or self-funded employers. So we have fully insured members, and we have self-funded. I think we tend to think of only self-funded employers as being interested in something like this, and I don’t think that’s true. There are a number of fully insured employers who participated in our luncheons and could benefit from this.
Q: What is the purpose of the coalition?
A: Really just to share ideas and kind of learn from each other. I mean, the idea is, that if I have a company and you have a company and you’re doing something cool with healthcare to manage your health costs and provide great healthcare for your employees, maybe I could learn about that. And we can learn from each other. Coalitions, there are large coalitions in other states like Dallas, for example, Dallas-Fort Worth. I think it’s called the Dallas-Fort Worth Business Group on Health. They have a pretty good- sized coalition, and they have conferences. I think there are other coalitions — like there’s one in Ohio that will get together and they’ll purchase things together, use their collective size to kind of leverage good pricing. And so there’s a lot of things that we could do with it. But really the idea for now is just to share ideas, learn from each other as employers, and see what we can do to improve healthcare for our employees.
Q: Has this alliance accomplished anything so far?
A: Yes, there have been several accomplishments even before we got going. We had some good success influencing some state laws that were being considered. Or there’s a couple of state laws that come to mind that as a group, we got together and were able to give our feedback to legislators — not lobbying, just sharing ideas and information about the employer’s perspective. And so we had some positive outcomes there. And then also we’ve had, you know, part of this coalition caused us to get involved with the state pharmacy benefit manager law which we’ve been very active on. There more than 40 states in the country that have state laws that would regulate the pharmacy benefit manager piece of employer health plans, even self-funded employers. And so part of what our coalition has done is getting together and trying to influence that discussion because if you have a multi-state benefit plan, for example, it’s very hard to run a benefit plan in 50 states if you have 50 state laws you have to comply with. And so part of our coalition early on, we’ve had a lot of discussions about the state pharmacy laws and, you know, that culminated anyway with us recently filing this U.S. Supreme Court brief in the Arkansas matter, because Arkansas has a similar state law.
Q: If an Oklahoma employer wants to be a part of the coalition, what are the next steps?
A: If an employer is interested in the coalition for now, don’t, you know, there’s… I think some people are worried especially in this environment of low costs, about signing up for something and worrying that there’s some sort of a membership fee or something, and coalitions typically will charge a fee for employers to join. I think for this initial period, we just want to know who’s interested in it. And so if you’re interested in being a part of the coalition, just send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org, and just say, “Hey, I’m interested in learning more,” and I’ll put your name on the list along with all your other friends. And then we’ll invite you to our events and you can decide later if it’s something you’re interested in.
One of our first topics that we’ve considered recently — and maybe as our next lunch-and-learn — this really kind of evolved or grew out of a series of lunch-and-learns with other employers is some sort of a discussion about how technology is impacting healthcare specifically as it relates to employer plans. And so how is smartphone technology being utilized to help employees make better decisions and get more information? And so just how is technology being utilized now, and how may it be utilized in the future to improve healthcare delivery for employees?
Q: What is the long-term vision for this coalition?
A: If the employers in Oklahoma collectively were involved proactively on the front end at helping to shape policy and helping to influence positive change for their employees instead of trying to react all the time, I feel like as employers, a lot of times we are just trying to react and trying to figure out, okay, we’ve got this one person who’s got a bad claim situation going on and how are we going to manage the cost of that, rather than what can we do before those kinds of things happen as employers, to kind of work together to put in place good structures to help employees and also to save us money. But I think in a nutshell, if I could just… If we had employers who were involved in the front end at trying to shape policy, I think that would be a very positive thing.