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Industry Outlook & Leadership Lessons

Season 1 Episode 10

Industry Outlook & Leadership Lessons with Eugene Starks

Season 1 Episode 10


[00:00:00] Intro/Outro: Welcome to the Insurance Leadership Podcast, the podcast designed to bring new perspectives and principles from leaders in the life and health insurance industry. We trust you will enjoy today's episode.

[00:00:25] Ryan Eaton: I'm Ryan Eaton your host for today, and honored to have you listening in for our first episode of 2022. We have an excellent guest and friend on the show this morning, but before we get kicked off, let me say that if you are listening to these episodes and you find them helpful, we would ask that you write a review on whatever platform you listen to the content, it would help us get the word out there and continue to grow our audience.

[00:00:45] With that said, let's jump into the leadership principles today with the president of the national association of health underwriters, Eugene Starks. For those of you who don't know Eugene or haven't heard from him through some of the NAHU channels, he has been in the employee benefits and consulting arena for over 30 years.

[00:01:01] He's a partner in benefit administrative services, which provides level funded and self-funded administration. He's held multiple roles throughout NAHU and has received several different outstanding leadership awards with his service. He's been married for 35 years, has two daughters, and is a stud at CrossFit. It is fantastic to have you on the show this morning. How are you doing, buddy?

[00:01:22] Eugene Starks: I'm good, Ryan. Thank you. I'm excited to be here. Excited to spend time, we're all so busy this time of year. It's a good to just slow down and catch up a little bit. 

[00:01:31] Ryan Eaton: I would ask you something about what CrossFit regimen you did this morning, but with the shoulder surgery, I, I doubt that happened. 

[00:01:37] Eugene Starks: I'm recovering well.

[00:01:38] Yeah, for some people who don't know, I got a little aggressive doing some workouts a couple months ago and tore my rotator cuff. And so that puts a real impediment to the workout routine I usually follow. So I'm literally a couple of weeks away from even starting PT. I had done a pretty good job, I believe in doing things well if you're going to do them, just might as well do them all the way.

[00:02:00] So anyway, it's coming back, but you know, I'll be back in the gym after the first of the year and not taking it slowly, and I'll be back up there. I mean, it's my goal always, you know, to achieve the highest level of fitness my body can. And what I find is people, particularly as old as I am, think their bodies can't perform and do the things they want it to do.

[00:02:21] And you just have to be dedicated, committed, and consistent. And you'll find that you will enjoy great strength, great health, great fitness, and that equips us to do the things we need to do, like taking care of our business, taking care of our family. So I always say fitness is a lifestyle. And so it's just a high priority to me to live that lifestyle and model it for others.

[00:02:45] Ryan Eaton: I love it. If any of you follow Eugene on LinkedIn, I love it when he posts his different post CrossFit workouts and you even do it with your daughter some, and that's always fun to see. So, well, Eugene, let's hop on in, tell us a little bit about being the president of NAHU, what does that look like?

[00:03:02] Kind of, what does your role contain? How's it changed for you over the past few months? Just gives a little overview if you don't mind. 

[00:03:08] Eugene Starks: Oh, well obviously I love to talk about NAHU, and yeah, I've been serving at some level at NAHU for a number of years. I'm a past chair of our pack, which is vital. I mean, we've really grown that pack and it really makes a difference with all of the lobbying and legislative work we do in DC.

[00:03:27] But you know, you think, you know what you're getting into when you get into this and the process to become NAHU president, you run for secretary. And once you're elected secretary, you move up the chairs. You're actually reelected every year. And I always say, once you're elected to secretary, your job is not to screw up enough for somebody to want to run against you.

[00:03:51] You know? So you're, you're voted on every year until you become president elect. And each year, the responsibility starting with secretary and then, you know, moving up to treasurer. Each year, the duties become more heavy. I mean, you have more responsibility. I'd always said really the toughest year's being treasurer, but that was before I became president because, you know, treasurer, you have to put together the budget.

[00:04:18] And that, that is a challenging process for, you know, the millions of dollars that run through and the, the fiduciary responsibility we have because we're collecting member dollars, whether through the membership fees or if it's through the programs they participate in. We're collecting all these dollars from members.

[00:04:35] So it's, it's huge responsibility, but I was telling our treasurer this year Alicia Reedle like, you know, remember I said, I thought that treasure was the hardest job? And I looked at her and said, it's not. So big demand on your time. Everything that you do is worth it because you know you're making a difference.

[00:04:53] Ryan Eaton: That's right. 

[00:04:54] Well look, there's a lot of things coming down the pipeline right now, from the surprise billing regulations to commission disclosure, kind of give us your opinion on how this is going to affect those in the industry. 

[00:05:04] Eugene Starks: Well, it's gonna have a huge effect across the industry. You know, I'll go, I think two of the things that are going to have the biggest effect is the balanced billing.

[00:05:15] You know, I mean, there's, you know, there's a whole lot of moving parts to getting plans ready for transparency, but the balanced billing is sort of where the rubber meets the road. All right. That's when a members had an engagement, somebody on a plans had an engagement for a service. And for some reason, you know, there's an outstanding charge, you know, and I'm not, I'm not talking about your, your deductible or your co-insurance liability, which is part of your plan and it's your, your responsibility.

[00:05:42] Ryan Eaton: Right. 

[00:05:42] Eugene Starks: But other charges, particularly for non-network experiences, which you know, and I know in this business, you can be at an in network provider and have a procedure done by an out of network anesthesiologist, you know which you don't get to pick your anesthesiologists and you just hoping they show up.

[00:06:00] They're good at what they're doing, right. And so you're not negotiating when you're laying there about to be put under, but that's going to have an immediate impact because we as brokers and consultants, agents, whatever you want to call us, we're going to have to help respond to our members getting these balance bills and help them be their guide to get them through the process of, you know, how you fight that balance bill.

[00:06:27] So that's going to have an immediate impact and it's something we need to understand and be prepared for. The other thing. Well, on the balance beam, I will say that we really worked very hard from a legislative standpoint. And you know, the, the process for resolving a balance bill dispute, the department of labor chose or HHS chose to use arbitration.

[00:06:48] We were not in favor of arbitration because it essentially sets people up to lawyer up and, and get into a contentious battle. And we wanted to use our, our end goal in our negotiations was to get them to use a median pricing for these procedures. Well, we kind of lost that front end battle, but we stayed at it and continue to work with the administration.

[00:07:14] And so now the rules for arbitration is that it's going to be a simple up or down decision on what the plan says it should pay versus what the provider says it should pay, but they're going to use a median pricing in the arbitration process. So we didn't get it on the front end, but we really got it on the back end.

[00:07:36] So that was huge for us. And, and if anybody's been around trying to fight, you know, legislation and regulatory actions, I mean, you are in a lot of battles and you really don't win a lot. A lot of times the best case scenario is a stalemate where they do nothing. And we'll take that anytime. But this was really a huge win.

[00:07:56] So everybody needs to understand that. That's gonna really give us as consultants and our clients, a very firm footing when we go into these arbitrations. So that was an important win and I wanted to make sure everybody understood. On the transparency piece on broker transparency, I would say for some brokers, it's going to be scary because they've done mostly fully insured and they're not doing anything wrong, but there's really been no disclosure requirements on fully insured.

[00:08:25] For consultants that have worked historically or to large extent in the self-funding space, this really isn't much different because under self-funding, under a Rissa rules, we've always had to disclose every line item of fees, including commission fees, you know, whatever you call it. So I think it's going to be important.

[00:08:47] It's going to have an impact, but if we, as consultants and brokers, just understand what the rules are, it's a little bit more sophisticated than the 5,500 reporting at the end of the year, because it's going to be prospective reporting. But most of the good consultants that I've worked with over the years already do disclosure.

[00:09:09] We've been disclosing our fees for years, probably because of our TPA experience. And we like to give our clients the opportunity to vote up or down on the value of what we're delivering. 

[00:09:22] Ryan Eaton: Now I like that. Well, so let me ask you this: with hundreds of thousands of agents in the employee benefits based across the country, there's a lot of different perspectives on kind of the future of the industry. Obviously we had ACA years ago and you know, people talked about a single payer system and the other different things. What's your perspective on kind of the future? What do you think it looks like? 

[00:09:42] Eugene Starks: Yeah, well, and you know, you know my opinion and about that... About $3.50 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks, right.

[00:09:51] But I will say I'm optimistic about the future, you know, based on the work that we're doing, based on what we see, you know, this, you know, single payer, you know, while it's talked about a lot in the more liberal segments of parties you know, political parties, there's really not a consensus in DC to move that forward.

[00:10:14] I often say that we, some of the regulations that have been put on us is because we, as the benefits professionals and we, as the providers, haven't been far enough ahead. You know, we could have created, you know, all providers could have been posting their prices for years and they just haven't. So now there's federal regulation that you have to provide it.

[00:10:38] Same thing with all brokers disclosing their fees, you know, so there's federal regulation about it, but you know, based on the lack of consensus for single payer, I think it gives us a window of opportunity to do the things we need to be doing. Continue to lobby. Each person, each person in this business take personal responsibility to create the best customer experience.

[00:11:04] And you know, this is one of the values of NAHU. I mean, all the things I learn and do, I've learned from other people in NAHU and, you know, go to those meetings, whether you're local meetings or the national meetings and take time, the most valuable thing that happens, there's great learning and teaching going on.

[00:11:22] But the value, all the takeaways, when we talk about what we heard and how we're applying it, and we do that and just an exchange of ideas around the bar, you know, the coffee shop. So in that respect, I'm optimistic, but we have to be the centuries on the wall. We have to be vigilant. 

[00:11:41] Ryan Eaton: I, you know, I like something you said about disclosure there, you know, you go to Starbucks, as you mentioned earlier, the pricing's up there. You go to the movie theater, the pricing's up there. You go to any restaurant, you go to the stores, pricing's up there. 

[00:11:52] But really when you get to when you get to the doctor's office or to the hospital, this is one of the only industries that pricing's not listed when you walk in. And I get, there's a thousand variables that can happen when you get in there. But I agree. I think the disclosure side of it, and kind of seeing some of these median prices for, for all the different services and disclosing that will be a huge thing down the road.

[00:12:13] So, let me hit with you on this. What opportunities with some of these changes, do you see opening up different doors maybe for brokers in the industry, with stuff coming down the pipeline. Maybe it's brokers, maybe it's a carrier perspective or TPA. What opportunities do you see opening up there? 

[00:12:28] Eugene Starks: Well, actually I think that's one of the things that excites me the most and that is it... 

[00:12:34] You know, we have our fully insured carers out there that the *unknown*, the United's, the Blue Cross's... Exactly, all the big boys and they serve a valuable role. You know, there are some clients that a fully insured platform is where they need to be. They transfer a hundred percent of that risk by paying that premium and they let, you know, those insurance carriers worry about the cost mitigation piece. 

[00:13:00] You know, it's, you know, they're small enough, they don't have the resource, whatever. But the, the growing use of self-funding in its various iterations that have evolved, the level of funding. New contract and protections. We can move smaller groups to quote "traditional self-funded platform".

[00:13:20] And when I say traditional self-funding platform, there's really nothing traditional about it anymore because of all the tools we can apply now to help expose costs and mitigate costs. So I'm very excited. I think any consultant broker out there needs to be studying self-funded. And NAHU does a self-funding certification course and an advanced self-funding certification course.

[00:13:47] I've been through both of them and I've been, you know, a partner and operating a TPA for 20 years and I still learn new things from going through those programs. 

[00:13:58] Ryan Eaton: So tell me this: certification course on, on the self-funded aspect. The changes, like you said happening all the time, something new coming out, you know, maybe it's different PBMs or PBMs start doing things differently.

[00:14:09] Maybe it's the technology, the tools, maybe it's the claims processing. Maybe just the way to evaluate stop loss, whatever the case may be. Has NAHU done a good job on its certification course of keeping up with those changes and updating the material where, where it does provide value today like 10 years ago?

[00:14:25] Eugene Starks: Yes. They really have, and look any association. I mean, we're all a bunch of volunteers that come together that try to, you know, look ahead and pave the way for all the members to have a better experience in their business. And, you know, are there areas where maybe we'd gotten behind sometime in the past? Yeah.

[00:14:44] It can happen particularly with the issues that are not as high priority, but I'll tell you in the Medicare arena and in the self-funding arena, I would put up our teaching against anybody. We have a new Medicare certification program where agents can take that and a number of the carriers now recognize that certification and it allows them to write with those carriers.

[00:15:08] We've got a couple of holdouts, but we think those are going to fall this year. So, you know, in those two arenas and they're, they're changing so quickly and you know, you turn on the TV, you can't help but to see a Medicare insurance commercial this time of year, right. Yeah, I'm really proud. And I know that we're well ahead of any other competition, if you will, out there in terms of association and really pushing out the right information.

[00:15:34] So, you know, the challenge is people taking time to engage with those certifications programs and to learn. 

[00:15:41] Ryan Eaton: Now that's so true. Well, look, let's flip it from NAHU. Let's get over a little bit into your business side of it and kind of hit some of the more personal leadership questions and I know, just from speaking with you, that you visited probably half the country in the last, the last six months been running all over the place.

[00:15:58] How has it been managing your business, kind of your, your personal life as well while trying to help with the NAHU stuff and kind of keeping that all on track. What have you learned from it? What's what's been some valuable points that you wanna share? 

[00:16:10] Eugene Starks: Yeah. One of the things I learned and you know, I I've been doing this a long time and I'd like to say that I'm good.

[00:16:18] You know that are now what I'm doing. I am just going to say, it's kind of a, I'm just going to call it a gift from God that, you know, I really woke up the day I was president and realized that in a given week, I've got two or three days to accomplish what I need to accomplish for my business. And so I've really been able to be very focused on the priorities for my business and take care of that first and then focus on the priorities for NAHU. 

[00:16:49] So, you know, the realization that time is limited. That that's a good realization for most of us to have. Yeah, we were talking about kids earlier. I mean, you know, one of the things that's made this doable for me now, if my kids were at home and they were 14 and 10, I couldn't be gone like I am now. 

[00:17:08] You know, but you know, everything in its season and, you know, so for my, for my family, that's really not a barrier, you know. On the business, what really makes it work is our team. Our team knows that, you know, four business partners, you know, that are engaged with our TPA and our agency side, and always said they were very excited for me that I'm NAHU president.

[00:17:36] They know it's good for me. It's good for NAHU and it's good for our business. They also reminded me that I still have to make my production goals. They didn't forget that, but I'm able to do that because we have such a great team I'm doing the work I need to do on the front end, but you know, when there's help needed, when we're putting together proposals, my teams, they are taking care of that. 

[00:18:00] Ryan Eaton: So speaking of, kind of your team, how do you continue to inspire your team while you're out of the office? Mentioning working two or three days a week and then kind of doing NAHU stuff the other two days and a lot of travel probably in there. I'm sure sometimes you're going a week at a time.

[00:18:14] How do you touch base, maintain that motivation, inspiration while you're out of pocket? 

[00:18:19] Eugene Starks: Well, a lot of ways. Interestingly, COVID sorta created a culture that said we don't have to be face to face for you to know I value you and what you're doing. Now, it's a lot of engagement. It's maybe face-to-face over a computer or a lot more time talking on our cell phones, but it is predicated on continued engagement and continued assurance of the value that they're contributing.

[00:18:50] And, you know, I mentioned I have partners. I mean, it's not just me delivering that message. It's our partners too. So when I'm out, you know, David or Robin or John or Kelly, somebody else's also speaking an encouragement into our team members and thanking them for the contributions they're making.

[00:19:09] Ryan Eaton: It sounds like you got a great team there helping out with, with all your busy stuff as well. That's, that's fantastic. So what has been the biggest, I would say Eugene, from your standpoint, from running your business, life lesson, business principles. What's been the most value to you, maybe that you've used in your own personal business, maybe that you've been able to use with NAHU, whatever the case may be.

[00:19:32] What would you say has been the best lesson? 

[00:19:34] Eugene Starks: Oh, golly. There's there's a ton in here. 

[00:19:37] Ryan Eaton: Yeah! 

[00:19:38] Eugene Starks: Yeah. I really want to go back to when I was checking out groceries at Del Chance in Biloxi, where I grew up. High school, I'm probably 17 years old and I had a store manager, Mr. Talbert and I was good at what I was doing. I mean, I was good.

[00:19:54] And I can say that now. I couldn't say it then. And we were shutting down the store 11 o'clock one night and you're counting out all the registers and everything. And Mr. Talbert looked at me and said, you know, you're doing a great job. You really are. And we all should have always a sense of humility.

[00:20:14] You know, my wife tells me that she's she's with me to keep me humble. You know, it's, you know, just sidebar, I'll finish this point, but you know, my wife I'd get, you know, with COVID and doing all these virtual meetings, I would literally get dressed up, put on a bow tie and a jacket and everything fully dressed for zoom meetings.

[00:20:33] And my wife says, so you're going to be virtually important today. So so she said, she's always there to remind me.. Exactly, that I'm virtually important, but you need to have humility, but you also need to be able to accept praise and recognition for the work that you do. And Mr. Tabert was complimenting me and I was really not as confident at that time.

[00:20:56] And I, I tried to slough it off and, you know, a few times, if you will, he served the ball over and I would just knock it out, you know? And he stopped me and said, you know, Eugene, I'm giving you a compliment. You need to learn how to accept a compliment. So, you know what I took away from that is: one, we all of us can do very good things and we should be recognized for it.

[00:21:22] And so it was important to have the humility, not just to slough it off but accept the praise of someone for a job well done.

[00:21:32] Ryan Eaton: That's good. 

[00:21:32] Eugene Starks: And you know, so I've just carried that forward and I've had the opportunity on many occasions where somebody wanted to downplay their contribution to say, no, you deserve these words of praise. You're doing a great job and you need to learn to accept a compliment on your work. 

[00:21:51] Ryan Eaton: I like that. That's really good. Eugene, man, I can't tell you how much I've appreciated you giving us these lessons, but I did something unique for our podcast today. So we haven't done this yet, but with you being the NAHU president, I know there's always different people who'd love to ask you different things and probably don't get the chance to. 

[00:22:07] So I polled a few different brokers from different places. One of them knew you and I kind of sorted through the questions to be able to see what to ask you. So the first one was, and I'm reading this word for word for what they wrote,

[00:22:19] "Technology has shot through the roof in the last 20 years from online CE, zoom meetings, online enrollment, online administration. How do you see the role of technology currently plays changing our industry in the future?" 

[00:22:33] Eugene Starks: Well, it's already happening. 

[00:22:35] Ryan Eaton: Yeah, I agree. I agree. 

[00:22:37] Eugene Starks: Everything we do on the TPA side is done electronically.

[00:22:41] I mean, I remember the days where we would have EOB stuffing parties at the end of the day where we're stuffing EOB's into envelopes and mailing it out. And all of this is electronic. Now it pushes out electronically. But the thing about technology, and we know this, I mean, look at your iPhone, right? So we've got more computing power in our iPhone than the Apollo rockets had to the moon and back. 

[00:23:04] Ryan Eaton: Wow. 

[00:23:05] Eugene Starks: You know? Yeah. It's crazy when you think of it like that, but everything, this transparency rule, I mean the, the money we've invested in the time we've invested on the TPA side to create the transparency, to build the data and to put it, you know, on a website, on an app. So, you know, honestly, this is just, we're just crawling into this transparency stuff.

[00:23:30] This is going to evolve in my opinion, to very real time data, because it's going to be kind of static to begin with. And we talked about before, some providers are going to be reluctant to put that cost out there, and those numbers are going to be kind of, you know, a shell game in the beginning. 

[00:23:48] Over time, we'll see those really honing in and be more true. Yeah. So, you know, technology's making all of that available, so it's not changing. I mean, you know, what I see is everybody wants all of their payroll, their benefits eligible, everything has to integrate, you know, so no more manual processes of updating payrolls and updating carriers and those kinds of things.

[00:24:13] So, you know, I'd say eight years ago, when we recognized that we had to be a technology leader and we started making the investment, then, you know, we're still probably making the same investments now in terms of time and dollars that we did eight years ago, it's just a more sophisticated technology. 

[00:24:34] Ryan Eaton: I remember in, I think it was 2007 or 2008, our president said, that's it we're going all electronic. And we got rid of all of our, our storage cabinets and everything else and made ourselves convert everything electronically, everything that came in house electronic, it was big. It was going to.. What's going to happen? What if the computer shut down? What if the server room blows up?

[00:24:55] I mean, I remember that fear, but it's.. You're right. You gotta stay up with technology and it's always evolving. So you gotta, you really gotta invest in that side of the company. If you don't, you're going to be left behind.

[00:25:08] Eugene Starks: And look, there are some huge broker shops, right? So they've got the resources. As smaller, independent brokers, you don't have to own the resources. You have to know where they are and, you know, have to know how to leverage them for your clients. Right. You know, so that's what I encourage the brokers to do. We don't have to have a programming team on our staff to do everything we need to do for our clients and to stay ahead, but you need to know where those resources are.

[00:25:34] And again, I learned about most of them from just collaboration with, with other brokers. 

[00:25:41] Ryan Eaton: TPA, et cetera. That's right. Yeah. The value of relationship. Right? 

[00:25:44] Eugene Starks: Absolutely. 

[00:25:45] Ryan Eaton: All right. So the next question was, and we'll let this will be the last one because of our time today, but it says, and there's some questions along with this and a statement too, but it says: 

[00:25:54] "Eugene is a great guy. And a man of character, I would be interested to know his motivation and what made him want to take on the role of NAHU president since it is such a large commitment of his time. It obviously provides great value to insurance agents nationally, but doesn't provide income." You mentioned a minute ago, talk about taking a compliment.

[00:26:13] This person was complimenting at the same time and asked a fair question. I'm sure that some people wonder when you talk about such a demanding role that doesn't provide income necessarily, might maybe from a by-product standpoint of relationships. Right. What's your thoughts? 

[00:26:28] Eugene Starks: Yeah. So, well, I do appreciate the question and I certainly appreciate the compliment.

[00:26:32] You know, I would say this, that for the longest time, I would, you know... It was kinda like, you can relate to this. When I go to church, I don't want to see my friends and think I'm about to hit them up to do business with. Right. And I really took that same attitude into my work with NAHU and it really took some of my friends in the industry.

[00:26:56] You know, members of NAHU to say, Eugene y'all are doing some cool and innovative things. You need to talk about that more and you need to let people know what you're doing because you can provide some resources to them that they're looking for. So I'd say for the longest time, I really never talked about my business and really because of friends and the association I have, and we have seen some residual from that where people are contacting us.

[00:27:24] Producers are contacting us to help them with some self-funded clients. And that's great, but you know, my motivation to jump into this role was not bad at all. I remember when I first started to open my business was in 2000. I had this conviction. Yeah, I was working for a carrier and then a PPO and just, and all the brokers I worked with, not all of them, but there were many, and I thought, golly, if this person can do it, I know I can do it and do it better than he or she is doing it.

[00:27:57] So why not? And it is a huge leap of faith, but one of my counselors in that was a guy named Burl Keiser who had an agency in Hattiesburg. He was my very first insurance agent that I knew because I was with the chamber of commerce in Hattiesburg. And he was the health broker for the chamber of commerce in Harrisburg.

[00:28:18] And so that's where I really first start learning about that. So when I, when I wanted to open my own agency, I counseled with him and he gave me all the encouragement in the world and said, absolutely, Eugene, you can do this. And he did me a huge favor because he could have said, look, come to work for me.

[00:28:35] But he didn't. He told me, you can do this. And he said, here's the deal. You're going to work on. You're going to take your lumps, all these things. But I said, at some point you're going to have the opportunity to give back and, and, you know, you're getting where you're going because people like me are helping you.

[00:28:53] There's going to be a season where you're going to be able to give back. And, you know, from 2000, when I had that conversation with Burrell, I've always thought, you know, when is that opportunity to give back? And NAHU gave me that plan. 

[00:29:08] Ryan Eaton: Well, I can tell you speaking on behalf of the agents nationally, we sure do appreciate you stepping up and taking that role and all that you've committed to the association.

[00:29:15] It's just been huge and a blessing to a lot of people. So thank you for that, Eugene. 

[00:29:19] Eugene Starks: Thank you, Ryan. 

[00:29:20] Ryan Eaton: And yeah. Well, look, honored to have you again, Eugene. Thank you for being with us today. That will wrap up another episode of the insurance leadership podcast, where a good plan today is better than a great plan months from now.

[00:29:31] Thank you very much.

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