Louis Bernardi is the original Benefit Optimization Officer.
Lou has been in the benefits arena for 30 years and he’s seen it all. The displacement of indemnity plans by Managed Care, Community Rating, The Affordable Care Act, and the deterioration of employer sponsored health plans. But things are looking up and a healthcare revolution is under way!
Lou is proud to be among the first 150 advisors accepted into Health Rosetta; an eco-system of forward-thinking advisors and solution partners that share his passion for helping people and businesses customize health plans that enhance benefits, improve outcomes, and reduce costs. In addition to the Health Rosetta, Lou is a member of Aspirational Healthcare, the Talent Champions Council, the Forbes Business Council and recently became a member Free Market Medical Association.
Lou is the innovator behind BritePath, the benefit strategy that helps employers Build Healthplans with Heart that Elevates People and Empowers Business. BritePath helps benefit decision makers reset their expectations with advanced analytics & insights that make them and their members more informed health care consumers capable of changing the trajectory of the cost and quality of their employer sponsored health insurance plan. Pay More, Get Less is replaced by a High-Performance Health Care Plan that allows them to finally start winning.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Louis Bernardi: Hi Jed, my name is Louis Bernardi but many people in my industry call me BOO. BOO is my personal brand that stands for Benefit Optimization Officer. Brokers, advisors and consultants are outsiders that people hire to sell them insurance, that doesn’t describe what I feel my role is. I think of myself as an essential part of their team, kind of like an outsourced CFO. I do the hard work to support the CHRO and CXO’s that helps them eliminate the waste that artificially drives health care costs upwards.
I am the Founder and President of a boutique insurance agency that focuses on employee benefits located in Long Island, New York. Our specialty is employer sponsored health plans for employers with 100 to 1,000 employees, but we help employers of any size because we enjoy helping people. The one thing an employer of 2 and an employer of 500 have is its people and every company can benefit by becoming an informed healthcare and insurance consumer. We help employers build Health Plans with Heart that Empower their People and Elevate their Business.
While running my own agency, I simultaneously helped hundreds of brokers place benefits for thousands of their clients as a general agent from 1992 to 2016. At the end of 2016 my father, Lou Sr. and I decided to walk away from our GA roles to focus exclusively on our own agency and since then there has been a transformation in what we do and how we do it. While thinking about who our ideal prospect would be, we stumbled on some insights and data that we were never supposed to see and it changed our approach to benefit and insurance.
You see, the healthcare and health insurance industries profit significantly by selling to underinformed and misinformed employers and benefit brokers. We were not meant to see data under the hood of healthcare and insurance that show how both industries hide profits and artificially inflate prices that result in skyrocketing premiums and exorbitant out-of-pocket costs.
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Louis Bernardi: There is no question the global pandemic challenged business and people since 2020 and continues to today. As a benefits agency, we were very concerned that our clients would be forced to terminate employees and their benefits Can you imagine if there were suddenly millions more Americans without insurance when they needed it most?
Of course, our agency would have suffered greatly as well and perhaps would have been forced to close.
What happened next reinforced my faith in people. Calls came in daily from clients asking if they could keep benefits in force even if employees weren’t actively working. Active employment is a main criteria of eligibility under normal circumstances, but that wasn’t the case during COVID. Of course, support for employers in the form of PPP loans started a short time later and employers and their people were given a life line. At the end of the day, only one client termed their benefits during COVID and my team and I never skipped a beat helping our great clients and their people during their time of need.
To steal a line from Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park, “Life will find a way”. In this case, I learned that in the most challenging times people come together to support one another and that being purposeful is very important.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Louis Bernardi: Employer sponsored health insurance is a top 2 or 3 expense for most business, yet they treat it differently than almost all other expenses. The reason for this is the deliberate complexity of healthcare and health insurance. In the past 3-5 years, data that supports how insurers and healthcare systems artificially inflate prices that drive up premiums is substantial.
So why haven’t employers been introduced to this data and been able to establish new benefit strategies?
The primary reason is likely the misaligned incentives of those that employers trust to help them make benefit decisions. You see, every other party involved in the benefit decisions (providers, insurers and benefit brokers) all earn more when premiums increase. So what incentive do they have to initiate change?
Compounding the problem is that these parties are also selling to the expectations of an uninformed consumer that aren’t asking for better results and new solutions. The C-Suite stepped away from the benefit conversation long ago due to a lack of actionable data and HR are already overwhelmed with responsibility.
HR is neck deep in the battle for talent and doesn’t have time for the complex conversation necessary to initiate change, unless they make the connection between enhancing benefits, improving health outcomes, increasing compensation and as a result of the new benefit strategies, lowering the cost to insure by 20% or more.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Louis Bernardi: Health care and insurance were at the forefront of the pandemic. The ramification of 2 decades of Pay More, Get Less on group health plans were never more apparent. For far too many, the single digit copays of the early 90’s have morphed into high-deductible health plans with family out-pocket costs in excess of $14,000. The fundamentally uninsured is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the US.
Our agency didn’t sell during the pandemic, we served. The time gained was instrumental in allowing us to focus on new partnerships, technology and analytics that enable our team to present new solutions that help our clients Build Health Plans with Heart. The outcomes have been astonishing!
We are now able to serve our clients, especially the most vulnerable of members when they need us and their benefits the most. We can provide much needed support and guidance to the best care and eliminate the members out of pocket cost, while at the same time saving the employer thousands of dollars.
Our role is no longer to sell insurance to our clients but rather help them and their members become informed healthcare consumers better prepared to navigate a deliberately complex healthcare system.
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Louis Bernardi: When the pandemic started I wish we would have been able to foresee the difficulty employers would have staying in touch and communicating with their employees. Keeping people engaged, focused and mentally and physically healthy was a challenge. One of our primary objectives is to help our clients deliver new technology to their people that keeps them engaged while at the same time help them become better advocate for themselves as it pertains to their health and health care.
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Louis Bernardi: There is no question online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, telehealth and telemedicine will be paramount in 2022 and beyond. In many ways, these things were straggling behind for far too long. While not every industry is necessary conducive to this format, a majority may be and can thrive if they find ways to adopt this approach to meet the personal and professional expectations of the new workforce.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Louis Bernardi: I spend many more hours than I’d like to admit in front of a screen being it a PC or hand-held devise. Between 9am and 5pm Monday through Friday I am in front of a screen 95% of the day. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change dramatically on weeknights or weekends as I am very active on LinkedIn and use the off-time to promote my agency and personal brand.
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Louis Bernardi: Our team is small but powerful. We are in-person at least 3 -4 days per week and always collaborating on clients and prospects. We often discuss success stories with each other. An example of a success story would be how we helped a member recently with multiple sclerosis that would otherwise have been subject to their deductible, coinsurance and out-of-pocket cost for an injectable medication that costs $80k.
In the past, this member would have had their treatment, and found out three weeks later when they received their explanation of benefits (EOB) that they owed $7,500. Our worst nightmare is that in the three weeks after the treatment and prior to receiving the invoice their quality of life skyrockets allowing them to have a higher quality of life, be a better partner, father and just feel wonderful; and then after receiving the bill they decide to never have the treatment again.
That was the old way, the new way allows us to provide treatments like this at no cost to the patient and lower the cost of care by $50k for the employer that helps lower the cost to insure this member and many others.
This type of scenario plays out weekly at our office and fuels us with the energy to keep moving forward, growing awareness and breaking barriers.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Louis Bernardi: For our business, the greatest obstacle is the mindset and low expectations of the consumer. The consumer, or employer has come to expect Pay More, Get Less results. In many ways, health insurance increases feel as certain as death and taxes. There are only two that are certain. In fact, many of our clients are experiencing significant decreases to insure the healthcare risk of their members. We see our primary role being to help plan sponsors properly set expectations from their advisors, insurers and the health care systems that serve their communities. As Sy Syms, founder of the Syms clothing stores once said, “An educated consumer is our best customer”.
We are attracting employers that understand that health care and insurance aren’t broken at all despite the results and trajectory of premiums and out-of-pocket costs. In fact, they are working exactly as planned to the benefit of shareholders and board members.
We ask our clients to help us educate them so we can achieve better results together. The greatest thing they can share with us is extra time to learn and discuss the actionable data that shows where the waste, greed and hidden profits are that we can eliminate together. This is how Health Plans with Heart start.
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Louis Bernardi: Professionally, the skill that I’d like to learn in 2022 is how to generate more in bound leads with our message. Two decades of grooming the health care and insurance consumer have made it very difficult to make them realize that there is a better way. There is a reason for the CXO’s to become engaged in the benefits conversation again. In most situations, the savings we can help employers generate from the health plan is many times greater than even their best salesperson can generate in new revenue.
If we can help an employer lower their health care spend by $1million, what does that equate to in new sales?
While savings isn’t our motivation, it is the result of the new approach that puts people before profits. It just so happens that when you focus on keeping people well, the savings if substantial.
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Louis Bernardi: I think the #1 change that is necessary so leaders can lead the new workforce is that the head of HR needs a true seat at the leadership table.
Their insights into the culture are invaluable but often go unheard at the highest levels of business. Vayner Media understands this more than most companies. Gary V often tells his audience that his #2 person is his CHRO Claude Silver. People hears this message loud and clear, it needs to be shouted from the rooftop, and it needs to be sincere.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Louis Bernardi: If I had a business superpower it would be to envision the growth of our company 5 years from now and make all the right decisions to get us there flawlessly.
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Louis Bernardi: Success in 2022 for me means catching ever opportunity to help our insureds navigate to the best care and achieve the best results. Unfortunately, the healthcare systems are very predatorial sending patients to the settings that maximize profits, not outcomes.
This is very sad, as it takes its toll not only on patients and their families but also on the practitioners that are equally as underinformed and have now become pawns in the game of health care.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Louis Bernardi for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Louis Bernardi or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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