Industry Watch

Looking ahead: John Chabot, vice president of operations at Hanratty & Associates

A healthy adjustment

How Plymouth-based Hanratty & Associates is helping companies rethink health

By Tom Johnson

Health care reform means most companies will need to make adjustments in how they go about their business. A shift in attitude might be required as well. Hanratty & Associates - an insurance and wellness broker, benefits administrator, HR consulting firm, and financial planning operation based in Plymouth - is helping clients adjust to the changing landscape. Founded in 1976, the firm is also making some adjustments of its own, as we learned when we sat down with John Chabot, its vice president of operations. Chabot is nudging clients to look beyond health care costs and think more in terms of the whole health picture. He's also ensuring that they're ready for a rapidly approaching future when employees no longer are so easy to attract.

How has your industry changed over the years?

Chabot: When we started 40 years ago, this industry was very relationship-focused. A lot of benefits consulting was simply bringing a schedule of benefits to the employer and giving them access to a certain number of carriers. The broker's goal was just to make the transaction, get paid on commission, and maintain a generally good relationship with his or her client.

Now it's getting difficult to only work as a vendor without any additional services. Our focus in the last five years has changed from only trying to save companies as much money as possible, to working with companies who are trying to attract and retain talent by helping them to create healthy workplaces. It's meant that our business has gotten away from brokerage and more to a pure business consulting firm - helping to guide clients through the health care reform transition.

In what ways has health care reform legislation affected the way that Hanratty & Associates does business?

That is probably one of the top things we spend time on at the moment. It is a little overwhelming guiding clients through all of the new regulations of health care reform. There's not a real good proactive approach to this issue right now in our industry - everyone's reacting - so what we're trying to do is get a little bit ahead of the curve by thinking about what's coming next, and we think it's the development of a healthy culture in businesses.

How has this holistic approach been successful for your clients?

The unfortunate thing about wellness is that a lot of people associate it to health care costs, and I usually say that, yes, this will help you just in a cost-per-plan way, but there are so many other variables. Keeping people healthy and productive is a huge benefit that's not always immediately seen on the bottom line. It's the biggest impact of what we do.

The goal for us is communicating to businesses that if you do these things and focus on your most valuable asset, your employees, you're going to have a better, more successful company. It causes all of these valuable after-effects like long-term savings on health insurance and general personal health.

Wellness programs, when they're implemented successfully, really go a long way. We've heard stories about saving lives and marriages, and making employees really want to come to work again. I've had an employer say to me that after one of our health screenings, one of their high-valued employees was rushed to the emergency room for a condition that hadn't been screened for in years.

From that standpoint, an employer will say, the health savings are great, but you just saved this guy's life and saved me a large hassle and cost of having to replace him.

Why should businesses focus on retention in the current environment?

Once the economic recovery starts to have more of an effect, there's going to be a lot of competition for high-quality workers. If you look at the number of people who are turning 65 in the next decade in Minnesota, it's just astronomical. We've got this huge segment of the workforce on the way out and not enough skilled, younger workers coming in to match those losses.

What we're trying to do with these companies is to prepare them for this near future when these challenges will be much greater than they are today. The companies that aren't focused on that are in for a rude awakening sooner than they think.