As more employers consider moving to corporate healthcare trusts, Health Insurance editor David Sawers meets the sales director of a specialist provider and discovers an organisation that offers much more than just that
“The question is,” Richard Saunders tells me as we stand in the middle of Healix’s impressive new HQ in Esher, Surrey, “‘is this place big enough?’”
It’s a question which seems to sum his company up. Some Health Insurance readers may very well not be too aware of Healix. After all, it’s not the biggest brand in the market. But its reach across various strands of the healthcare and insurance sectors – as well as travel, medical repatriation and other industries – is far greater than many would imagine.
And, by the look of its new offices, it is clear that the organisation is not going to hide its light under a bushel any longer. But, how did Saunders, who spent 12 years working as a corporate health adviser, find himself at Healix? In any case, what does Healix actually do?
THE MOVE TO HEALIX
After spells at NatWest Insurance Services and then Marsh & McLennan and then Medisure, the provider of corporate self-funded healthcare schemes, Saunders spent time in a business development role at Gissings Advisory Services, the employee benefits consultancy now known as Enrich. It was a role he enjoyed.
“Gissings was a great company,” he explains. “I got very good training, lots of support and the opportunities were there. It was a very good name in the City as well and I was enjoying myself.”
It was during his time at Gissings that Saunders came to know Healix. Founded in 1992 by Dr Peter Mason and Dr Paul Beven, two clinicians who still own the company, Healix initially offered medical repatriation services. Since then, it has grown to offer a range of services, from claims management to wholesale insurance broking and from medical risk assessments to self-funded corporate healthcare trusts. During his time at Gissings, Saunders had worked closely with Healix and he says he was both delighted and excited to receive a telephone call asking him if he would be interested in joining the organisation.
“The opportunity to go and set up the new business sales and marketing function of the company was a great one,” he says. “It was one of those things where, even though I was very happy at Gissings, you don’t get those opportunities that often.”
Until Saunders joined, most of the growth that Healix was enjoying was organic, coming from existing clients. Saunders was given the remit of taking the organisation to the next level.
INSURERS AND INTERMEDIARIES
Health Insurance readers that are familiar with Healix will most likely know it as a provider of self-funded corporate healthcare trusts, the popular alternative for companies of a certain scale looking for more flexibility and to make savings on traditional private medical insurance (PMI).
What they may not know is that Healix also carries out some key functions for both domestic and international PMI providers.
Healix, for example, looks after all of the medical claims for National Friendly, whose book is currently closed to new business but which nonetheless has a sizeable population of members who all need to be looked after. Healix also carries out the medical claims management for CS Healthcare, “mostly on the complex side”, Saunders says. It also looks after all the international and UK cost containment for Freedom Healthnet and works with a number of international PMI providers including Aetna. It also developed the system that is used by many big name travel insurers.
It is in the field of corporate healthcare trusts, however, that Healix is really making its mark with Health Insurance readers. While Saunders acknowledges that there is very much a place for traditional PMI, he points out that a key difference between most insurers and Healix is that his organisation is founded very much on medical and clinical principles.
“Since 1992 we’ve had a medical company owned and run by doctors, we gained all that knowledge and experience before we even went to market and that’s why we’ve been so successful,” he says.
Key to the Healix proposition, Saunders explains, is the fact that nurses – there are 120 across the organisation – are on the front line in terms of handling claims and guiding patients and members through their clinical pathway. That can help both with members’ relationships and with cost containment.
“With Healix the nurse is actually on the first call,” he says. “What does that do? Well, it navigates that person to the most appropriate care plan immediately.”
Nurses can also give advice, reassurance and so on that claims assessors typically used by traditional medical insurers are unable to offer, Saunders continues.
Healix has also, Saunders argues, given him more freedom to develop creative solutions for employers than he would have had at a traditional medical insurer – and it is proving to be professionally satisfying on a personal level too.
“Healix gave me the opportunity to be innovative and creative and they deliver unique propositions,” he says. “If you go into a meeting with a brand name behind you, almost 50% of the sales function is done for you.”
Saunders says he would not have been so keen had an insurer, as opposed to Healix, approach him while he was at Gissings.
“I would probably be a little bit bored,” he says. “You don’t have the same freedoms with a big insurance company, they are much more restrictive. Here it’s much more dynamic and innovative. If you’ve got good ideas they’ll run with it and back you.”
There can be a “huge bureaucracy” in big insurance companies which “just slows everything down”, he continues.
“You can’t move so quickly in a lot of the big companies,” he says. “You can have some really good ideas but you can’t move quickly enough with them.”
But, I point out, a number of traditional PMI providers – Bupa, AXA PPP healthcare, Aviva UK Health and the like – all provide corporate healthcare trust facilities themselves. Why would an employer not choose them, given the power of brand, over Healix?
Mainstream insurers that offer corporate healthcare trust propositions, Saunders, argues, tend to “apply insurers’ disciplines to case management”.
“That means there are less nurses, there are more restrictive shortfalls and less tailoring of provision,” he says, adding that some insurers’ systems also struggle to handle bespoke arrangements.
Saunders is keen to stress again, though, that traditional PMI has its place and Healix is flexible enough to offer support services to providers in that space.
“When we are working for an insurer or provider we follow their set of rules,” he says. “We will become that provider. It’s a ring-fenced, different department, so the propositions are still different. If you want a Healix proposition it’s very much tailored to the company. If we are working for an insurer we are reflecting the insurer’s procedures and policy.”
In terms of operating as an administrator of healthcare trusts in its own right and under its own brand, though, Healix has been working with a relatively small number of intermediary firms since “putting its head above the parapet” in that sector around three years ago. In fact, in the beginning it was quite clear that it only wanted to work with around 20 of the top brokers in the country.
“Are we going to be selective going forward? We probably still will be,” Saunders says. “We want to supply the best service to our clients and we are not necessarily a price-driven sort of facility. It’s more the consultancy side of broking than just the broking side of the market. There’s a little bit more dialogue with the client.”
The Healix corporate healthcare trust proposition “is not best represented” if a broker is simply carrying out a run-of-the-mill market review, he believes.
“If there is a broker that’s just doing market reviews and they recommend only on price they don’t understand what Healix can do for you [their client] as a company,” Saunders argues, adding that Healix’s clients “aren’t the type that you [a broker] may win for a year and then you are going to be undercut a year later and they are going to move away”.
Saunders points out that Healix has only lost one client in five years “and that’s because they moved into an affinity deal”.However, he remains realistic and appreciates that as Healix grows – it has doubled its corporate healthcare trust portfolio in the past two years – there will, inevitably, be some clients that do move.
Healix, though, has ambitions to be the largest independent provider of healthcare trusts in the UK. It has certainly developed a good reputation across the intermediary community, picking up the Health Insurance Award for Best Healthcare Trust Provider in 2011. Saunders believes his own experience as a consultant goes a long way with intermediaries in today’s market and his recent appointment of Bruce Eaton from Enrich as business development manager at Healix should also appeal to advisers.
More appointments, meanwhile, are expected during 2012. “Our group mission is to be the most innovative provider of healthcare in the UK and we want to be the first choice for any provider or insurer if they want to outsource their medical claims,” he explains.
What, though, is the end game? Given the fact that Healix is privately owned, will it not most likely be sold to another provider – Simplyhealth perhaps? – at some point down the line? As Healix settles into its brand new offices in Surrey and embarks on what looks like being a successful 2012, Saunders says it seems unthinkable.
“We never want to be acquired by another company – and that’s from Peter’s [Beven] mouth, not mine,” he says. “It’s part of his passion, it’s what he lives for, it’s about making the difference.”
RICHARD SAUNDERS – BIOGRAPHY
Richard Saunders joined Healix in June 2006 as business development director to market, develop and acquire new clients for Healix Health Services Ltd as well as the other companies within the Healix Group. He was promoted to the position of sales director of Healix Health Services in January 2011. Saunders has worked in the general insurance industry for over 26 years and for the last 12 years in the healthcare sector in a number of roles encompassing business development and sales, including positions within Marsh & McLennan and Medisure. Responsibilities have included the development of key accounts in self-funded healthcare trusts for FTSE100 companies, outsourced medical claims services,absence risk management programmes, as well as the development of field sales teams for affinity, intermediary and introducer corporate & individual healthcare products. Saunders has also held a business development consultant role at Gissings Healthcare Consultancy Services Ltd, where his remit was to acquire new health, risk, flexible benefits, early intervention and occupational health clients. His career started in 1985 for NatWest Insurance Services Ltd, specialising in public, product and employers liability insurance as well as professional indemnity, group income and other commercial risks.
LIFE OUTSIDE INSURANCE
Richard Saunders is married with two children and lives in Bristol. He is a keen hill walker and is often “somewhere in the Cotswolds at the weekend, walking with his mad Springer spaniel [and family if it is not raining]”. His DIY projects have included a fireplace restoration and loft conversion.