Industry News

There’s a New Way to Test Americans’ Financial Health and It’s the Most Comprehensive Yet


by Chris Byrd


Our friends at the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) have been contributing incredible work to the cause of both understanding and improving the financial health of Americans. Now, in new groundbreaking research on the financial lives of Americans, they explore this critically important issue more deeply than ever before. The report, called the U.S. Financial Health Pulse, argues that though facts are readily available on how millions of Americans are struggling with everything from credit card debit to student loans to insufficient retirement savings, it’s not enough to look at these individual markers to measure their financial health.


Instead, CFSI recommends looking at a bigger picture that considers the totality of an individual’s financial life: “Unlike abstract figures like GDP, financial health is a nuanced metric that assesses whether Americans are spending, saving, borrowing and planning in a way that will set them up to be resilient and pursue opportunities over time.” To assess financial health, CFSI has created a framework called the CFSI Financial Health Score that leverages consumer surveys and transactional data for demographic characteristics, financial behaviors and socioeconomic trends. The score sorts Americans into three financial health tiers: Financially Healthy (28 percent of Americans); Financially Coping (55 percent of Americans); and Financially Vulnerable (17 percent of Americans).


The entire report is worth a close read, but we pulled out some kernels that we think are the most relevant for WEX Health Partners:


Nearly half of Americans say their spending equaled or exceeded their income in the last 12 months.


Among respondents who said this, 43 percent said it’s because their spending was unusually high, their income was unusually low, or both. We know from other research that unplanned medical expenses are a leading cause; this squares with what 20 percent of the consumers (across the socioeconomic spectrum) who participated in our Clear Insights report earlier this year told us—that they would have to put a $1,000 unexpected medical bill on their credit card.


Low savings balances obscure the fact that many Americans are saving when and where they can.


CFSI points out that 79 percent of respondents said they are saving regularly or whenever possible in savings accounts, while 76 percent said are saving regularly or whenever possible in cash. Further, 70 percent of respondents said they are saving regularly or whenever possible in personal savings vehicles like mutual funds, money market accounts, stocks, certificates of deposit and annuities. Financially Healthy individuals reported liquid savings balances approximately four times higher than Financially Coping individuals and 30 times higher than Financially Vulnerable individuals. While many Americans lack sufficient liquid savings, it’s interesting and encouraging to learn that a full 28 percent of Americans (those in the Financially Healthy category) have money to save into tax-favored accounts that can be carried over and invested—i.e., health savings accounts (HSAs).


Forty-two percent of Financially Vulnerable individuals said debt has delayed or prevented them from seeking or receiving medical care.


With respect to the effect of health insurance on these decisions, 71 percent of Financially Vulnerable individuals and 88 percent of Financially Coping individuals have health insurance, compared with 98 percent of Financially Healthy individuals. This is key, as it shows the value of what many of us do to provide employees with an increasingly greater number of options that help employers balance and manage costs while providing safety-net coverage for employees.


Americans who experience workplace instability are falling behind as they strive for financial health.


Employees who have unpredictable schedules and volatile wages are less likely to be Financially Healthy than those who have predictable schedules and steady wages. Lower-income Americans are most affected by instability in the workplace; this group also stands to gain the most from employee-provided benefits, such as healthcare and paid leave. In so many ways, this underscores the importance of our work at WEX Health to deliver products that help minimize the volatility of unexpected healthcare spending on overall financial challenges.


For more insights on Americans’ financial health, read CFSI’s U.S. Financial Health Pulse in full here.


Chris Byrd

Executive Vice President, WEX Health Operations & Corporate Development Officer

Chris Byrd brings more than 25 years of experience in employee benefits and banking to his role at WEX Health. A founder of Evolution Benefits in 2000, Chris played a key role in designing the proprietary architecture for the company’s prepaid benefits card.

Chris oversees the daily execution of WEX Health’s business and leads the company’s operations and service delivery, corporate development, merger and acquisition activity, and legal, industry, and government relations efforts.

He began his career in commercial banking, and prior to 2000, he focused on finance, strategy, and business development for Value Health and two start-up healthcare companies. He joined WEX Health in July 2014.

Chris, who serves on numerous industry boards, is a frequent speaker on emerging trends in financial services and benefits and is active in industry and government relations. He earned a degree in economics from Brown University.  

4 Tips for Women Managing Their Family’s Healthcare Costs


by Lisa Goldkamp


It’s safe to say that, in 2018, more women are tuned in and standing up to try to make a difference in healthcare and beyond. On the heels of a U.S. midterm election where a historic number of women ran for office and won and where healthcare was the top issue for voters (per exit polls), all signs point to women taking an active role on issues that are not only important to their family’s financial and physical health, but to the healthcare issues that impact our country.

As the primary coordinator of healthcare for my family, I understand why this issue is on the minds of Americans. What I didn’t realize was that healthcare expenses are disproportionately weighing on women. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey earlier this year found that mothers are considerably more likely to manage their children’s health than fathers, and our own 2018 Clear Insights report found that women are more concerned than men about unexpected out-of-pocket healthcare costs as well as family finances overall. I always assumed that my interest in our family’s healthcare coverage and in ensuring we have available funds in our HSA account to pay our medical bills was uniquely related to my career experiences, not my gender.

In light of this and since we’re now actively in open enrollment, and the cost of healthcare is on everybody’s mind, I have a few tips to share with other women who are also managing or influencing their family’s healthcare decisions.


1. Give yourself plenty of time to evaluate the benefits plans your employer offers.

It’s very likely that your employer is offering at least one plan that would save you money on taxes by allowing you to pay for healthcare with pre-tax expenses. During open enrollment, we’ve found that 75 percent of consumers spend less than an hour evaluating their employer’s different healthcare options, but I recommend that you take all the time you need (likely more than an hour) to do your research on what’s best for your family in the year ahead.


2. Be realistic about what your family’s upcoming healthcare needs are.

It’s easy to want to just look away from medical expenses that are on the horizon, but oftentimes we do have some advance idea of what’s coming. A couple of years ago, I knew that both I and one of my children needed a surgery, and was comforted by the fact that the funds we’d been accruing in our health savings account (HSA) were there to cover both surgeries. For that reason, our family didn’t have to feel the pain of these two substantial medical expenses—to the extent where my husband didn’t even realize, until I let him know, that we had spent thousands of dollars out of pocket on the surgeries. It’s important to estimate what you know, or suspect, your family might realistically spend on medical bills in 2019, and arm yourself with that info as you’re selecting a plan during open enrollment.


3. Leverage accounts that set aside money incrementally so you don’t have to grapple with a big medical expense all at once.

Women are significantly more likely than men (43 percent vs. 20 percent) to use their HSA account to pay unexpected healthcare bills greater than $1,000, according to the Clear Insights survey. Men, meanwhile, are more likely to put unexpected medical bills on a credit card, indicating that more women have already realized the value of an HSA for setting away and accumulating money in smaller chunks so that they’re fully prepared when larger expenses arrive. HSAs are also valuable because the funds roll over indefinitely from year to year, so that you can either use them for immediate healthcare expenses or even on into retirement.


4. Imagine having to choose low cost over the best care for your family.

My kids are avid consumers of healthcare, and last month my three-year-old took a dive into the corner of our bedframe and was bleeding profusely from a gash in his forehead. Because our HSA funds had been quietly accumulating and were there when we needed them, I was able to take a moment in the midst of the chaos to decide whether we should take him to an urgent care facility, where the cost would be less but the quality of care might also be less, or to the children’s emergency room I knew and trusted. Since it was a facial laceration, I wanted to be sure he got stitches from someone highly experienced treating small (and adorable) faces. Fortunately, based on the cushion we’d built up, I was able to make a conscious decision to take him to the ER and I didn’t have to have to panic about how are we going to be able to afford this? Instead, I was able to focus on my son.


At WEX Health, we’re proud to see women take an active role in the issues and concerns related to healthcare at home and in public policy, and we’re excited to have a role in solutions that can assist families with their unique needs. We encourage women to seize this moment, during open enrollment, to ensure that you’re taking advantage of the spending accounts that can help save you money and give you peace of mind you need to keep on making the best decisions for yourself and your family in 2019.


Lisa Goldkamp

Lisa Goldkamp

Vice President of Partner Development and Sales Solutions at WEX Health

As the Vice President of Partner Development and Sales Solutions, Lisa leads the Pre-sales Enablement and Partner Development teams. Lisa strives to ensure every Partner, whether sales distribution or administrative, has the tools to succeed and grow their business through their partnership with WEX Health. Lisa and her team members consult with prospective and current partners as deep technology and solutions experts regarding how the WEX Health offerings match up with their specific needs. Since joining our team in 2005, Lisa has worked with hundreds of partners as they have evaluated our solutions. She is a passionate member of our community who frequently presents at industry events and has used her technology and healthcare expertise to help WEX Health and our partners optimize their growth potential.

Prior to joining WEX Health, Lisa was a sales executive for a national IT training company, which is where she developed a passion for utilizing technology to solve problems and create new business opportunities.

Why an HSA Is a Better Retirement Savings Vehicle Than a 401(k)

Why an HSA Is a Better Retirement Savings Vehicle Than a 401(k)


by Jeff Bakke


For some of you it can seem like a long way off, but healthcare expenses in retirement are no joke. Healthcare costs impact everyone in the U.S., and I always try to consider it “in macro,” but recently it hit close to home for me, when my 74-year-old father had to make a hard choice between his heart and his teeth. Let me explain.


Not long ago, I found myself sitting in a dentist’s office with my dad because he was having some serious problems with his teeth. The dentist came in and told him, “I don’t know how else to put this, but your best bet right now is for us to pull all of your teeth and get you in dentures.”


The dentist could tell I was in shock. He turned to my dad, who has had relatively good retiree benefits from his successful 42-year career as an engineer, and asked him how things had gotten so out of hand. He said, “You know, for the last six or seven years, I have had to make some tough financial choices between my heart medications, which are very expensive, and my teeth.”


This was all overwhelming, and certainly brought all of those macro-economic facts about retiree medical costs right to my own family’s very personal life.


When most of us think about planning for retirement, we are usually imagining where we will live. Will we spend our days in Florida or at a cabin in the north woods? Better yet, let’s do both.


Choosing between your teeth and your heart is not the kind of thing you think about when you plan for retirement. And though Medicare helps pay for the healthcare needs of 59 million people, the average recipient still spends thousands a year on out-of-pocket expenses. By 2030, it’s estimated that out-of-pocket healthcare costs for Medicare beneficiaries are likely to take up half of their average social security income. That’s a huge figure for a program that was originally built to pay for all health costs in retirement.


In my work with consumer-directed healthcare plans at WEX Health, I do a lot of thinking about how Americans can thrive in their golden years, and I’ve long been aware that the future, for many aging Americans, is going to be full of these sorts of touch choices. But this experience with my dad reinforced for me that many people are not on a solid financial track, and reminded me why I want to be part of helping Americans to achieve greater financial health—now and in retirement.


According to Census Bureau data, the typical household that earns less than $67,200 a year has no retirement savings. And across all income levels, at least 50 percent of Americans are at risk of not having enough money to maintain their living standards in retirement. Much of this can be attributed to the cost of healthcare during retirement years: The average 65-year-old couple retiring today will need $280,000 to cover healthcare and medical costs in retirement. Very, very few people have that kind of money, or ever will.


One of the best solutions to the problem of saving this sum of money is right in front of our faces: the health savings account (HSA). The triple-tax benefit of these accounts is that contributions are not subject to federal income taxes; earnings from interest and investments are tax-free; and distributions from an HSA to pay for qualified medical expenses are tax-free.


Yet, when I meet with teams of brokers and financial advisors, they’re too often surprised by how appealing HSAs are from a retirement health savings angle. Because many of them are behind in their own knowledge of HSAs, they’re not educating their customers about them and are still steering their clients toward 401(k) plans and IRAs rather than HSAs. However, the retirement community is being slowly awakened to the merits of an HSA. We’re starting to see a lot of companies that offer retirement solutions getting in the game.


That’s because more people are realizing that a HSA is superior to a 401(k) when it comes to saving for retirement. It has all the same advantages of a 401(k), but it additionally allows people to take their money out tax free to pay for healthcare costs in the future or in the past. Which means that I can contribute money (pre-tax!) to my HSA up to the point I am on Medicare, and then use that money at any point for healthcare expenses, and unlike a 401(k), I’ll pay no taxes on the withdrawals. If for some reason I do not need that money for healthcare, I can still withdraw it for non-healthcare expenses and pay income taxes on it exactly like my 401(k). In other words, after age 65, if I decide to use my HSA money to take a vacation instead of for healthcare, I am no worse off than if I used my 401(k) dollars to do it.


Saving for a retirement home on the beach is a lot more fun than saving for healthcare costs. Everyone agrees that having your health is the most important thing, but no one wants to pay for healthcare, much less save for it.


The fact is that you do have some control over your lifestyle in retirement, but you can’t predict what your healthcare expenses are going to be. Even the most frugal among us aren’t planning to adjust their lifestyle to satisfy their healthcare costs. So I encourage people, when thinking about saving for retirement, to consider setting aside some dollars you’d prefer to spend on something today for fun, and instead invest them in an HSA. Someday you, and maybe your son or daughter, will be very glad you did.


Read about how healthcare expenses are putting American workers’ retirement in peril.


Jeff Bakke WEX Health

Jeff Bakke

Chief Strategy Officer at WEX Health

At WEX Health, Jeff oversees corporate strategy, distribution strategy, and strategic partnerships. A specialist at identifying and capturing business opportunities, Jeff has built and led innovative high-performance teams, developed new products and markets, and developed large strategic clients with exceptional recurring revenue results. He has been instrumental in WEX Health’s focus on the emerging exchange market as well as a continued emphasis on HSA market opportunities.

Jeff’s career includes working at SafeNet, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Medica Health Plans, Allianz and American Express. He earned a degree in electrical engineering from University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

6 Best Practices for Engaging Employers and Members with CDHP Plans


by guest blogger Kathy Anderson, senior manager CDHP operations, HealthPartners


I recently worked with Jeff Bakke, WEX Health’s chief strategy officer, to cohost an America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) webinar on consumer-directed healthcare plans (CDHPs) and how they can be used to improve employer partnership and member engagement. In addition to sharing the full webinar with WEX Health Partners (access it here), I’m highlighting some of the best practices that Jeff and I have come across in our work at our respective companies.


As uncertain out-of-pocket expenses and rising deductibles combine to put financial strain on more Americans, Jeff and I have both become passionate about the role that CDHPs can play in reducing financial stress and empowering employees to successfully manage their healthcare expenses. But first the challenge is to educate both employers and employees about the plans and to engage them with the accounts before and after open enrollment. Here are six of the chief learnings that Jeff and I shared in our webinar about maximizing engagement with CDHPs:


  1. Get involved as early as possible with a new employer. Getting on the same page with an employer is a must. If possible, review their existing plan documentation early on, and gain an understanding of their employee populations and how to best reach them. Not only will this inform your recommendations going forward, but it will allow you to inject account-based plans into the conversation from the beginning.


  1. Don’t overwhelm employees with information during open enrollment. Instead, give them the personalized experiences and communications they need when they need it. People can consume only what’s relatable to them in the present. Consider how you can deliver individual employee guided tours, and when certain tips and resources will be best received. Learn more about what consumers care about during open enrollment.


  1. Maintain personal touches with employees post-enrollment. Look for ways to continue to create in-person touchpoints with employees, whether with an outreach call after they experience their first medical claim with an HRA account or by hosting a brown-bag session where employees can have their individual questions about their CDHP answered. Here are some more examples of effective uses of personalization in healthcare benefits.


  1. When person-to-person isn’t feasible, email is the next best way to communicate. Some employees prefer paper, depending on industry and demographics, but overall, email is the preferred method for employees to receive information about their CDHP accounts. We’ve also learned that, for quick updates, people prefer text messages or automated notifications—e.g., “Your HSA available cash balance is below $250.00.”


  1. Help employees track and measure their healthcare goals online. Beyond just working with employees to establish an HSA or HRA savings goal at open enrollment, it’s important to provide tools for employees to be able to measure and track their progress toward that goal and to make changes as needed. Learn more about consumer-driven health and mobile technology.


  1. Give employees ongoing access to online tools and resources. Employees need to be able to have their account information at their fingertips when they want it. Dashboard views can give employees a consolidated snapshot of their experience and how their plan is working. People generally don’t spend a lot of time making decisions about their healthcare benefits, but if we can give them the data in an easy-to-use, accessible way, they’re more inclined to make better decisions as they move forward with their plans.


We invite you to watch our webinar in full here. And learn more about how personalizing is a key strategy for simplifying the business of healthcare.


Kathy Anderson

Senior Manager, CDHP Operations at HealthPartners

At HealthPartners, Kathy Anderson oversees the successful implementation of all Health Reimbursement Account and Flexible Spending Account plans. She partners with Sales to build and maintain strong client relationships and manages the daily administration of these products. She was also the Business Project Manager for the implementation of the WEX Health platform in 2016.

Prior to joining HealthPartners in 2001, Kathy worked as Manager of Health Plan Accounting at United Health Group and was an auditor at KPMG. Mrs. Anderson earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Management and Accounting from Drake University.

Trump Administration Proposes Plan for Employers to Use HRAs to Pay for Premiums


by Chris Byrd


The Trump administration proposed a new regulation this morning that would expand the use of health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), giving employers of all sizes additional flexibility to provide greater choice to their employees. The proposed regulations issued by the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Treasury, allow employers to offer HRAs for reimbursement of individual health insurance premiums. In addition, employers who offer group health insurance would be able to offer HRAs of up to $1,800 (indexed for inflation) to reimburse certain excepted benefits, such as standalone dental benefits and premiums for a short-term health insurance plan.


HRAs are employer-funded plans that reimburse employees for medical expenses not covered by company-sponsored insurance, but the Obama administration had forbidden the use of them to pay for premiums on the individual market.


Building on President Trump’s executive order from October 2017, which called for expanded availability and permitted use of HRAs, the newly proposed rule would seek to “expand opportunities for working men and women and their families to access affordable, quality healthcare” through changes to regulations under various provisions of the Public Health Service Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and the Internal Revenue Code.


The proposed regulations will be open for comment for 60 days from the date of publication. The proposed effective date is for plans beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2020.


At a high level, the proposed regulations build on the Qualified Small Employer HRAs (QSEHRAs) that were created by the 20th Century Cures Act in 2016. QSEHRAs allow small employers (1-49 employees) to offer HRAs to reimburse individual insurance premiums and/or out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. The proposed regulations expand the use of HRAs for premiums to all employers, regardless of size.


Whether this will lead mid-sized and large employers to get out of the business of offering group health insurance remains to be seen and will depend in large part on such factors as relative costs in the individual and group markets (current big advantage to group health) and tax advantages associated with the employee-paid portion of group health premiums.


Another possible trend would be for employers to offer the HRA as an option on a menu alongside group health, so that the employee has a wider choice of insurance plans and, for lower-income workers, access to subsidies on the public exchanges.


The excepted-benefit HRA represents a new product that provides employers with another way to provide benefits beyond traditional health insurance. Keep in mind that, to offer this HRA, the employer must also offer group health insurance.


One thing is certain: The proposed regulations open up new product opportunities for administrators to provide to employers, and they would benefit those employers by enabling them to offer a wider choice of benefit options to their employees. This is consistent with other recent moves by the current administration, such as the expansion of short-term health insurance plans.


WEX Health will be studying the regulations carefully, commenting on them to regulators, working with our colleagues in the industry and making any platform changes required to accommodate these new and expanded products.


Learn more about HRAs on our blog, and follow us on Twitter to keep up with the latest changes impacting consumer-directed healthcare in the United States.


Chris Byrd

Executive Vice President, WEX Health Operations & Corporate Development Officer

Chris Byrd brings more than 25 years of experience in employee benefits and banking to his role at WEX Health. A founder of Evolution Benefits in 2000, Chris played a key role in designing the proprietary architecture for the company’s prepaid benefits card.

Chris oversees the daily execution of WEX Health’s business and leads the company’s operations and service delivery, corporate development, merger and acquisition activity, and legal, industry, and government relations efforts.

He began his career in commercial banking, and prior to 2000, he focused on finance, strategy, and business development for Value Health and two start-up healthcare companies. He joined WEX Health in July 2014.

Chris, who serves on numerous industry boards, is a frequent speaker on emerging trends in financial services and benefits and is active in industry and government relations. He earned a degree in economics from Brown University.  

Sudden Health Expense Anxiety Syndrome

Sudden Health Expense Anxiety Syndrome: Why Americans Have It and How to Cure It


by Jeff Bakke


Are you familiar with Sudden Health Expense Anxiety Syndrome (“SHEA Syndrome”)? Unless you attended Partner Conference, where I spoke about it alongside Chris Byrd, the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) and Gartner Group, you likely haven’t heard of it. That’s because I made the name up, and I apologize to you and everyone in the health and wellbeing industry for the lousy acronym.


Despite the acronym, this is a real problem. I am sure that you’re already familiar with the syndrome. SHEA has everything to do with how Americans’ declining financial health is impacting their actual health. It’s enough to make them sick: One worker study found that employees with high financial stress are twice as likely to report poor health overall and are more than four times as likely to suffer from fatigue, headache, depression or other ailments.


SHEA Syndrome has grown into an epidemic, and escalating out-of-pocket maximums and healthcare deductibles are one of the prime culprits, having risen quickly from a few hundred bucks on average less than a decade ago to around $1,500 today—even more than that if you work for a small employer. That’s meaningful in a country where more than half of people have less than $1,000 stashed in a savings account. Consider that there are now just as many people who lie awake at night worrying about the cost of a future healthcare expense ruining them (“I have a $1,500 deductible, but only $300 in the bank”) as there are those who are worried about a future healthcare event impacting their wellbeing (“I hope I don’t get cancer”). That’s truly astounding.


Fear of medical bankruptcy is starting to have a real impact on Americans’ psyche. Nearly one in three workers reports that financial stress has been a distraction at work. This, of course, leads to lost productivity, absenteeism and the rise of something called “presenteeism,” whereby an employee is physically present but is performing suboptimally because of stress, illness or both. Unsurprisingly, out-of-pocket expenses hit low-to-moderate income households hardest, but even high-income workers report significant financial health struggles.


Consumer-driven healthcare: A cure for consumers’ ailing financial health?


According to CFSI, “Employers who address the financial health of their workforce can see stronger business results through higher productivity, increased employee loyalty and an improved reputation.”


One of the products that’s proven to be an antidote for SHEAS is the consumer-driven healthcare (CDH) account, which allows consumers to set aside money at each pay period, earmarking it explicitly for healthcare expenses. Though health savings accounts (HSAs) are talked about most often in the market today and are the best long-term healthcare savings vehicle, there are actually more FSA account holders in the U.S. Both types of accounts are important and interesting, and both are excellent at helping Americans brace for a financial shock related to medical bills.


CDH accounts benefit all stakeholders—employees, employers and providers


The benefits of CDH accounts extend to all stakeholders. For employers, who have struggled to create a stronger level of personal responsibility for their workers’ health while they also try to help them deal with rising deductibles and other financial stress, CDH accounts allow them to present a solution that will both give their employees more skin in the game for their physical health and financial health, as well as provide a retirement savings vehicle that includes all the positives of a 401k plan plus the option to take tax-free withdrawals at any time for healthcare expenses. And, by reducing employees’ financial stress, employers get more productive, focused employees.


For the providers, which were once paid primarily by third parties and are now paid—or in many cases, not paid—directly by consumers, CDH accounts are helping solve the massive medical debt problem. The solution they offer up is ideal: a debit card that the consumer hands to a provider on the spot so that the provider is paid instantly instead of many months later or not at all. With the WEX Health Cloud platform, consumers can log in, click a button and pay providers right out of their CDH account.


The biggest barriers to CDH account adoption? Education and resistance to change.


No one has ever said that selecting health and financial benefits was fun. When it comes time for benefits enrollment, consumers are oftentimes not doing the work to review their healthcare and financial options, and are likely to pick whatever plan they had last year or the plan that’s cheapest. This plan usually has the highest deductible. Rather than thinking about their risk over time and setting aside the savings in a healthcare account, they’re setting themselves up for failure by thinking about having another $100 left in their paycheck at the end of the month versus $1,200 at the end of the year that would create a buffer for medical expenses. This behavior can quickly develop into SHEA Syndrome.


To encourage more opt-in thinking versus opt-out thinking and actually reduce financial stress, the CFSI says that employers’ financial education efforts need to be coupled with products and services that encourage behavior change and help employees better plan, save, spend and borrow to optimize their physical and financial health.


The WEX Health Cloud platform is unique to other solutions in the marketplace in that we power HSAs, FSAs, health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) and other tax-advantaged benefit accounts well whereas our competitors generally excel at only one. Another differentiator: We distribute through health plans, third-party administrators and banks, which know precisely how to pair CDH accounts to health plans to put all stakeholders in the best possible position for achieving financial health. Learn more about the WEX Health Cloud platform.


Jeff Bakke WEX Health

Jeff Bakke

Chief Strategy Officer at WEX Health

At WEX Health, Jeff oversees corporate strategy, distribution strategy, and strategic partnerships. A specialist at identifying and capturing business opportunities, Jeff has built and led innovative high-performance teams, developed new products and markets, and developed large strategic clients with exceptional recurring revenue results. He has been instrumental in WEX Health’s focus on the emerging exchange market as well as a continued emphasis on HSA market opportunities.

Jeff’s career includes working at SafeNet, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Medica Health Plans, Allianz and American Express. He earned a degree in electrical engineering from University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

Personalizing: A Key Strategy to Simplifying the Business of Healthcare

Personalizing: A Key Strategy to Simplifying the Business of Healthcare


by Jeff Young


You’ve likely read the articles and seen the studies touting the power of personalization in engaging consumers. When it comes to their healthcare benefits, the same applies—U.S. workers have an overwhelming preference for personalized communications, online tools and resources, as demonstrated by our own Clear Insights Report earlier this year.

As we gear up for open enrollment, we want to share examples of personalization that we hope inspire you—whether you’re an employer, benefits broker or third-party administrator—to get personal in ways that help both you and consumers meet their goals this year.


A Competitive Advantage, Especially with Millennials

When you personalize healthcare benefits communications, you provide a highly targeted, relevant consumer experience that’s been shown to drive increased enrollment, contributions and rates of saving, as well as increased consumer value and engagement. You’re also simply meeting consumer demand, as 74 percent of polled workers say they feel frustrated when web content isn’t personalized, and 63 percent say they’d think more positively of a brand if it gave them content that was more valuable, interesting or relevant.

It’s worth noting that millennials, which became the largest generation in the labor force as of 2016, appear to be the most discerning when it comes to personalization, or more specifically, the lack thereof: Their adoption rates for online portals, mobile apps and email are lower than most people expect. If it’s not personalized or customized, millennials are most likely ignoring communications and hitting delete.

Today’s focus on personalization is also driven by the massive amounts of consumer data that most employers and benefits administrators find themselves sitting on. You’re being presented with unprecedented opportunities to sort this information in ways that helps consumers be more engaged, educated and prepared.


Tell Them What Matters Today

Rather than blast out a one-size-fits-all message to consumers, build rules-based messages to target them based on specific criteria, for example:

  • Custom messages on hero banners, portal homepages and/or post-login prompts can be configured around demographics such as a consumer’s age, state of residence, if he/she has a dependent and more.
  • Text can be targeted around account specifics like whether or not consumers have set a health savings account (HSA) savings goal or have HSA dollars to invest, what type of plan they’re enrolled in, how much money is in their cash account and/or their investment account, and the amount and type of transactions on their HSA debit card.


Help Consumers Maximize Their Dollars

Employers and benefits administrators today are most often introducing custom content that creates consumer awareness regarding expected out-of-pocket costs. Here are some examples of how data can be turned into actionable content:

  • Because younger audiences typically have the benefit of time, employers can target messaging to them about the importance of starting healthcare savings accounts early.
  • Workers age 55 and over with an HSA can be targeted with messaging reminding them that they have a higher maximum contribution.
  • A banner image can remind flexible spending account (FSA) participants to spend their money before runout is over.
  • Cost-saving tools can be tailored to family size, account balance or spending activity, and links or displays can be filtered around specific state regulations or transit authority messages with features and functionality provided through WEX Health Cloud.
  • A text can be sent reminding HSA participants who have dependents that they can use their HSA dollars for things like contact solution, sunscreen, first aid kits, blood pressure monitors, glucose monitors, thermometers and more. (The WEX Health Cloud mobile app also now allows users to scan an item to see if it qualifies as an HSA-eligible expense.)


To measure the power of personalization, the WEX Health Cloud Administrator Dashboard helps benefits administrators see the state of your CDH account-based business, allowing you to better manage and monitor growth, efficiency and engagement across your organization.

Personalization leads to better consumer engagement and efficiency, which leads to helping consumers maximize their health benefit accounts, and ultimately, that’s what it’s all about: simplifying the business of healthcare.


For more information and ideas on personalizing communications and experiences for consumers, check out our Clear Insights Report. And be sure to read our blog post and to follow us on Twitter to keep up with WEX Health happenings.


Jeff Young

President, Health | WEX Inc.

Jeff joined WEX in 2014 when the company acquired Evolution1 to expand its healthcare payments business. He spearheads the company’s efforts to simplify the business of consumer-driven healthcare and is responsible for WEX’s growing healthcare business, with a focus on industry-leading technology and a strong partner network. Before joining Evolution 1 as CEO and chairman in 2008, Jeff was the vice president of business applications at Microsoft Corporation in the U.S., and prior to that, he held senior leadership positions at Great Plains Software, helping lead Great Plains through its successful IPO and eventual sale to Microsoft for more than $1 billion. A graduate of the University of Jamestown (N.D.), Jeff serves on the boards of Bell Bank in Fargo and West Fargo (N.D.) Baseball.

The Impact of Sleep on Productivity—and Other Health-Wealth Considerations Employers Need to Know

The Impact of Sleep on Productivity—and Other Health-Wealth Considerations Employers Need to Know


by Phil Kading



Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos tries to get at least eight hours of sleep a night because it helps him make far better decisions, while Elon Musk’s reported 120-hour workweek is taking a toll on his health and on the soundness of his business decisions. The respective sleeping habits of these two prominent leaders is something I heard referenced several times earlier this month at the 2018 Human Resource Executive Technology Conference & Exposition (HR Tech). This got me thinking about how, early in my career, working an all-nighter meant you put in super long hours to meet a deadline. It also meant you moved up a few notches on your company’s unofficial respect ranking. But today, an all-nighter means sleeping for at least eight hours so you can be your best self. Alas, most Americans get only 6.9 hours on a typical work night.

Where is all this talk of sleep (or the lack thereof) coming from? Its growing place in conversations among HR professionals has everything to do with the industry’s focus on holistic employee wellness, with many HR Tech sessions and conversations centering on the “health-wealth connection” and how employers can use technology—and even highly lo-fi solutions such as allowing your employees to nap on the job—to build wellness in both areas.

In a Thursday morning keynote, speakers Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post and Jennifer Morgan of SAP shared that roughly 70 percent of U.S. employees feel burned out.

With nearly 8 of 10 companies identifying stress as a top workforce health risk, there is widespread recognition that something needs to change. There’s where technology comes into play. Companies are looking for technology to help their leaders and employees make better decisions and lifestyle choices.


Here are four more top wellness-related technology solutions that companies today are considering:

Artificial intelligence (AI) is being used to enhance decision-making and self-service. Because the low unemployment rate is making it more difficult to recruit the best talent, companies are looking to AI to apply advanced logic to find and screen potential candidates based on role-specific criteria.

Companies are stretching the definition of talent management to include ongoing talent engagement. Knowing that healthy employees are more likely to be productive and innovative contributors, companies are seeking technology solutions that help keep employees engaged from recruitment through performance management and beyond.

Leading players in payroll/professional employer organizations are moving into the human capital management space by expanding their offerings beyond payroll. Companies like Paychex and Paylocity are adding functionality in the areas of talent acquisition, recruitment and engagement.

More employers see HSAs as a “health and wealth” planning and savings tool for employees. Embedded in the many sessions and conversations about the evolving landscape of employee benefits were examples of the ways tax-free HSA dollars help employees save on healthcare costs while easing anxieties surrounding planning for out-of-pocket and unexpected medical costs. Several speakers and solution providers at HR Tech made the connection between reducing worries over financial challenges and thriving talent engagement programs.


For the many employer Partners WEX Health serves, I see these trends further emphasizing the importance of having deep, data-driven insight about their employees. Then comes the part where employers have to put those insights to use to deliver flexible and innovative benefit plans that encourage wellness, deeper levels of engagement and more “all-nighters” of worry-free sleep.

Want to learn more about Americans’ financial wellness? Read our posts about how excessive healthcare costs are reducing retirement contributions and how more than half of employers now offer HSAs to help with recruitment and retention.


Phil Kading WEX Health

Phil Kading

Senior Director, Strategic Business Development at WEX Health

Phil leads the Business Development Team in driving enterprise business development campaigns and strategic partnerships that deliver innovative and incremental growth of consumer driven health solutions.  Phil has over 15 years’ experience in the healthcare and IT arenas spanning multiple sales, marketing and business development leadership roles.  Prior to his tenure at WEX Health, Phil spent 10 plus years at UnitedHealth Group where he had progressively enhanced leadership roles focused in commercial health insurance, wellness and data analytics highlighted by running client engagement for Optum Health’s Innovation Lab.  In addition, Phil spent 2 years in health insurance and pharmacy benefit management consulting delivering analytical consultation to large employers. Phil received his BA in Business Administration- Human Resource Management and his MBA in Finance from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN.

Get Inside Their Heads: What Consumers Care About During Open Enrollment

Get Inside Their Heads: What Consumers Care About During Open Enrollment


by Angela Greenhalgh

Originally posted on


Americans are frustrated with the cost and complexity of health care. And since employers provide health insurance coverage for the majority of the population (roughly 56 percent of Americans), disenchanted consumers are increasingly looking to their employers for help managing health care expenses and weighing their benefits options. In turn, employers are calling on benefit brokers to help educate their employees and to supply tools to engage them with their benefits. The ultimate goal: to empower employees to make smarter health care decisions.

To enhance your approach with trusted clients and forge relationships with new employer groups, it’s helpful to begin with an understanding of what their employees value most and are most concerned with today. Here are four insights to guide you as we move into open enrollment season:


1)   Employees enroll in high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) to save for future needs.

In 2018, WEX Health surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. workers with employer-provided health insurance. Among the most interesting of the findings, published in the 2018 WEX Health Clear Insights report: Even though more than three-quarters of those who participate in HDHPs think that managing their health care spending account helps them make smarter health decisions, there’s still a knowledge gap that needs to be addressed. In fact, although survey participants primarily intend to use health savings accounts (HSAs) as a savings vehicle, many aren’t aware of their full savings potential and aren’t aware that they can invest their HSA funds in stocks, mutual funds and other investment vehicles. During open enrollment this year, it’s important to not only educate employees on the benefits of engaging with their HSA but to provide tips and tricks on how to make the most out of it.


2)   Employees’ satisfaction with benefits can be enhanced through personalized experiences.

By tailoring educational tools and experiences to employees’ specific needs, brokers and employers are better able to make every minute with employees count. The Vitals for Change Scorecard, a guide for employers from Mercer and Catalyst for Payment Reform, found that one-third of senior leaders are now making efforts to understand what their different workforce segments or demographic groups value in terms of benefits, programs and policies. Understanding the employee population and working closely with employers to tailor benefits design can lead to more employees enrolled in programs that fit their needs, ultimately leading to better satisfaction.


3)   They prefer online and mobile tools for education and engagement.

Most senior leaders believe that programs encouraging employee engagement with health and well-being are an important means of achieving their overall HR and business objectives, according to the Vitals for Change Scorecard. But what’s the best way to engage employees, especially when they’re inundated daily with information from several sources and devices? Knowing which online and mobile tools and resources work best for different groups of employees can make a big difference in the effectiveness of education and engagement programs. When asked to select all the tools and resources they would find most helpful, employees who participated in the WEX Health survey ranked highest those personalized online tools that compare plans, estimate costs and calculate savings. In particular, employees say they need help figuring out how much money to set aside to cover deductibles and to put in their HDHP account. Post-enrollment, providing personalized messaging can help employees stick to their savings goals.


4) But don’t disregard the value of an in-person presentation or consultation.

While it may be tempting to discard all of the more traditional ways of relaying benefits information to employees, it’s important to recognize the diverse settings and needs of employee populations and to consider those factors when delivering educational content. If, for example, you’re delivering a benefits presentation in an industrial setting like a manufacturing plant floor versus in a large auditorium, some of the “old-school” methods and tools—i.e., handouts and discussion—remain the most helpful. And in the WEX Health survey, respondents selected fact sheets as the most useful of all educational resources. In-person presentations during which employees can get immediate answers from human resources and benefits administration representatives also ranked high, with more passive videos and webinars ranking lower.


Armed with this information, benefits administrators and brokers can help employers develop personalized engagement strategies that will result in higher plan satisfaction, retention and overall increased revenue—beginning with open enrollment education and lasting throughout the year.


Angela Greenhalgh

Angela Greenhalgh

Vice President of Vertical Sales at WEX Health

Angela Greenhalgh has over 25 years working in health care and supporting the needs of employers, health plans, consumers, and members. She has been with WEX Health for almost 2 years where she focuses on educating and nurturing relationships with brokers and consultants. Previously, Angela spent nearly 9 years at Truven Health Analytics (now part of IBM Watson Health) where she worked to solve the data analytic, consumer engagement, and data warehousing needs of those same constituents. Her varied positions and collaborations with many brokers and consultants has fostered an understanding of the powerful role trusted confidants and relationship building plays when assisting employers with their benefits designs.

How Healthcare Expenses Are Putting American Workers’ Retirement in Peril

How Healthcare Expenses Are Putting American Workers’ Retirement in Peril



The old and faded American Dream version of retirement calls up sun-drenched images of fun and leisure, and perhaps even ideals about reinvention and new beginnings. But the reality today is much more ominous: Looming retirement is more likely to evoke Americans’ anxiety and/or to serve as an indicator of our naivety (numerous studies show that most of us are terribly unequipped for retirement, but not necessarily aware of it).

In the last couple of weeks, WEX Health has been tracking two new reports, each of which unpack the ways in which healthcare’s rising costs in particular are imperiling retirement for so many Americans. “Health Care USA: A Cancer on the American Dream,” co-released by Willis Towers Watson and the Council for Affordable Health Coverage, and “Preparing for Tomorrow by Fixing Today—Helping Low- and Moderate-Income Americans Thrive in Retirement,” released by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), both contained some key takeaways for WEX Health Partners:



Excessive healthcare costs are reducing employers’ contributions to retirement benefits.

According to the Health Care USA report, compensation for most workers grew between 2000 and 2010, but during that same time period health premiums and the cost of retirement benefits grew 2.25 and 3.25 times the 1990s rates, respectively.

In this report, Willis Towers Watson estimates that employer allocations to health and retirement benefits in 2001 were 41.9 percent for health and 58.1 percent for retirement. By 2015, the split was in the other direction: 63.5 percent for health benefits and 36.5 percent for retirement benefits. As a result, between 2010 and 2015, employers’ average hourly contributions to retirement plans declined by $0.22 compared to the prior decade.



The situation is worse for people with low and moderate incomes.

The United States is home to 6.4 million seniors who live below the poverty line. The new report from CFSI takes a look at the challenges faced by Americans living at, or even right above, the poverty line. According to Census Bureau data, the typical household that earns less than $67,200 a year has no retirement savings. And only 19 percent of Americans with low and moderate incomes (LMI) say they could make ends meet for at least six months, much less long enough to sustain them during retirement.


It’s not necessarily that Americans are less prepared than we once were for retirement; rather, it’s that we once didn’t have to be so prepared for it.


We used to be able to count on employer-sponsored defined benefit plans to supply most of our income during retirement, along with income streams from Social Security and our accumulated individual savings. That’s certainly not the case anymore. CFSI data shows that 27 percent of Americans report having less than $1,000 saved for retirement.



Financial services innovators are needed to educate and empower Americans to prepare for retirement.

CFSI calls on financial services providers to help LMI retirees enjoy a financially healthier retirement by developing ideas and solutions that rethink the user experience, customer service, marketing and distribution from the consumer’s point of view.

 WEX Health’s guiding purpose to “simplify the business of healthcare” is far more than a tagline. As a proud member of the CFSI Financial Health Network, we are partnering with CFSI to find more ways to make it easier for individuals to better prepare for healthcare expenses and retirement. Learn more about CFSI and the CFSI Financial Health Network here.