Navigating the Unknown

Jennifer Kinley helped TIS Insurance create a new line of business and adapt to the Affordable Care Act. But what comes next might be an even bigger challenge.

A young Jennifer Kinley did not see herself as an insurance professional, let alone as the person who would single-handedly establish TIS Insurance Services’ Employee Benefits (Health Care Services) division. She originally intended to pursue a career in social work and become a school guidance counselor. But during summers and vacations from college, she worked at a local insurance agency that offered her a full-time position when she graduated.

As she learned more about the business, Kinley was surprised by the similarities between insurance and social work. “I was still doing needs assessments, presenting plans of action, and teaching people about resources available through their benefits package,” Kinley says. “I really enjoyed that I was helping them maintain their health.”

tnAchieves Mentoring

Jennifer Kinley mentors high school students through tnAchieves, which works to eliminate barriers to higher education. She follows in the footsteps of her mother, who devoted her professional life to tutoring students after school. In a twist of fate, one of the nurses who cared for her mother during her battle with cancer had been one of the children Kinley’s mother tutored. “I volunteer in my mother’s memory and to honor what she achieved,” Kinley says.

Eventually, she was recruited by TIS, the largest independently owned insurance agency in Tennessee. Her primary objective was to create a new internal division to sell and service the company’s nursing home-focused healthcare business. The line had previously been run through the company’s general benefits business unit.

The nursing home market presented one particular challenge prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The majority of client company executives, administrative staff, and licensed clinical staff wanted full health coverage, including catastrophic benefits. But the remaining employees typically only wanted coverage for a small number of annual physician visits. The gap between those differing demands usually resulted in low participation rates and carriers either choosing not to underwrite plans or offering expensive, noncompetitive rates.

During her early years of assessing the market and getting acquainted with prospective clients and their needs, Kinley took advantage of TIS’s participation in the Benefits Advisors Network, an industry networking organization that shares solutions and best practices. Through that network and carrier relationships, Kinley learned about creating market carve-outs through limited medical plans.

“Once we thoroughly defined management and other employee groups, carriers were willing to underwrite, and the limited medical plans were popular and successful,” Kinley says. “Rates were competitive, which drove participation rates much higher than they had been in the past.”

That approach set the Health Care Services division on a trajectory of steady growth. In 2006, it generated about $200,000 in revenue, primarily from local area clients. Although Kinley was handling all prospecting, enrollment, and orientation on her own, revenue quickly increased, which enabled her to hire a marketing specialist and, eventually, an enrollment specialist. When revenue reached $1.5 million and the ACA was about to be implemented, Kinley tapped an old friend, Matt Wolverton, a financial analyst, to join the team. Together, they became ACA experts and worked to double the division’s business between 2012 and 2016.

The division has expanded its client base to thirty-eight states and revenue has reached $3.3 million annually. Kinley is quick to point out that the division experienced 50 percent growth and 19 percent profit in 2016, surpassing MarshBerry’s recommended averages of 20 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

After successfully navigating the implementation of the ACA, Kinley finds that she is frequently called on to provide expertise beyond her knowledge in insurance. That often involves making recommendations for benefits administration systems to help clients streamline plan management and ensure regulatory compliance.

“We’re more than insurance professionals. We’re consultants who can customize technology recommendations so that they’re ideally suited to clients’ needs. A cookie-cutter approach isn’t good enough.”

To address this need and to offer more comprehensive service, Kinley and TIS partner with Benefit Technology Resources, which enables the team to offer guidance on details such as integrating applications with clients’ benefits administration and payroll systems. TIS also works with enrollment partners, such as Prepare Benefits and EFP, to develop a platform for communicating benefits.

Through the Benefits Advisors Network, TIS also offers Lead 2 Health, a product that supports smaller clients that provide coverage for up to one thousand employees. The solution provides tools to improve general health and wellness, to boost member engagement, and to increase positive clinical outcomes. Features include direct contact with personal care coordinators, who help clarify processes and procedures and ensure correct diagnoses, and Go Green To Get Green, a program that directs individuals to—and rewards them for using—the most cost-effective sources for care.

Kinley believes Lead 2 Health helps improve both service and outcomes, and also addresses her passion for giving each person access to affordable healthcare. “We’re more than insurance professionals,” she says. “We’re consultants who can customize technology recommendations so that they’re ideally suited to clients’ needs. A cookie-cutter approach isn’t good enough.”

Kinley’s greatest current challenge is responding appropriately and effectively to the ongoing evolution of US health insurance. “We learned to grow with changes that came with the ACA and spent a year educating clients on its regulations and compliance,” she says. “No matter what the future holds, I am confident we will successfully adapt to the new environment and give clients the best possible advice on the right path to take.”