Knowledge Benefits CEO Donna Marshall is a long-time trailblazer in the Colorado healthcare marketplace.
In 1996, she successfully founded the Colorado Business Group on Health (CBGH) and served as its executive director until stepping down last year. During her tenure she participated in numerous boards, committees, and coalitions. Prior to CBGH, she served as the manager of Managed Care Services at the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. As a nurse with an MBA, her focus has always been getting people high-quality healthcare at a lower cost.
And she’s not done. Her latest venture is founding education start up Knowledge Benefits. Knowledge Benefits uses fact-based, accredited online courses to educate employers about the healthcare industry and promote purchasing high-value care.
After 37 years and a brief retirement, Marshall continues to advocate for improving health through smarter healthcare purchasing.
Here’s what Donna has to say about the industry, her new company, and how she hopes to change the way employers purchase and administer healthcare benefits.
What are the biggest issues facing the industry right now?
Our research has shown that most health benefits administrators and executives learn on the job. But when you do this, you simply learn how your predecessor did the work. Healthcare costs have seriously escalated while healthcare products have become “skinnier” with higher deductibles and co-pays. And the cycle continues. The healthcare industry is failing us — and it’s time we take it back into our own hands.
Many benefits executives need education to build and bolster their own knowledge arsenal. Who’s really steering the ship — and writing the checks — on this health benefit strategy?
How does Knowledge Benefits help empower people in their career?
The opportunities for human resource specialists and executives are quite large; recently, there were 36,000 available positions on one job site alone. Yet, classes for HR executives have a more generalist focus, and the foundation and skills needed for people who are experts at health benefits administration are not easily found. It’s essential to offer specialized education on the issues of health benefits.
People should take these online courses so they can really understand the block-and-tackle tactics that healthcare companies apply, how to design benefits for their employees, and how to be more strategic in purchasing high-value benefits.
This is a plus not only for the career benefits administrators themselves, but for their coworkers and company. It will help them secure jobs with Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 companies — companies that are looking for people who understand what the marketplace is all about. It will teach them how to be more analytic in benefit procurement and administration, and more strategic in benefit design.
What happens after someone completes all the courses?
As health benefits administrators and executives become experts in their field, they can negotiate much stronger contracts on behalf of their employees and companies. They’re also more valuable in the job market because they know how to employ the latest market strategies, including value-based purchasing, price and quality transparency, and bundled pricing.
Healthcare is complicated. Most companies aren’t effective purchasers. Even jumbos like Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and Chase are joining forces. We hope that small-and middle-market employers will realize the same thing and join business coalitions, identify independent sources of information like our partners Leapfrog for quality and all payor claims databases for pricing, and then share best practices in their communities.
We’re hoping to build a cadre of experts who grasp the essentials of the healthcare marketplace and know how to be better purchasers.
Was there a light bulb moment for you before taking on this new role?
I was still the executive director of the Colorado Business Group on Health when I realized that it was extremely difficult to find benefits executives who had a wide range of knowledge in topics such as contract procurement, population health, waste in the healthcare system, how to get better quality of services, and better transparency in cost and quality. This work is a logical extension of my passion to see stronger action by health benefits administrators.
What’s surprised you most about taking the helm at Knowledge Benefits?
I am finding that driving a virtual company with online access and presence is so different from the world that I know. It’s been a steep learning curve. I’ve always been a proponent of continuing education so learning about the online world has also been one of the most stimulating aspects of Knowledge Benefits.
What are you most excited about when it comes to Knowledge Benefits’ future?
Knowledge Benefits has never been more important to the health benefits professional field. Healthcare benefits continues to be a very dynamic field with changes in everything from delivery systems, to electronic access, to better cost and quality data, as well as federal rules and regulations that started with the Affordable Care Act.
I’m excited to know that we’re filling a niche in terms of being able to help build that bench of people who love the analytics and love population health — people who are willing to negotiate for better health and better healthcare for their employees.
I find it disappointing that most employers in the U.S. don’t demand a better quality of healthcare or negotiate benefits more forcefully for themselves or their families or their coworkers. But education and knowing what healthcare could look like is the first step and that’s why we’re here. It’s why we’ve made the Knowledge Benefits courses reasonably priced, accessible anytime, and designed for those who need credits for their SHRM recertification.