Fox Valley Tool & Die’s Efforts Keep the Company Strong
There’s a lot of talk about “consumerism” in health care, of taking the same approach to buying health care as one would for any other large expense, like a car:
- Compare prices
- Compare customer service
- Compare quality of product
- Compare value added options
- Compare buying experience
Clearly, it’s about comparisons. Car buying used to be defined by incessant negotiation interrupted by dubious instances of “Let me check with my manager” and periods of waiting, offers of must-haves like rustproofing and dent insurance, paper signing, and then more waiting.
The internet changed all that. Do your homework, find the best deal, show up at the lot and drive off in half an hour. Still takes effort, but it’s a new day.
The experience of shopping for health care hasn’t been on the same trajectory. While expectations are placed on those seeking care to be good shoppers of health care, the truth is a search for the “best deal” requires the guile of Ulysses, the strength of Hercules and the patience of Penelope. The mythological references are apt, because health care can still feel like it’s in the stone age.
But companies are finding ways to bring it into the 21st century.
One is Fox Valley Tool & Die (FVTD), the Kaukauna, Wis.-based contract manufacturing job shop specializing in precision machining. FVTD employs more than 180 workers and, like many small and mid-sized employers, faced yearly increases in their medical spend.
How they flipped their health care script is tied to educating employees and convincing them that utilizing a mindset of consumerism can have as much to do with company health as it does with their own personal health care outcomes.
Several of the steps FVTD took to bend the curve and reign in health care costs to a sustainable level are part of a well-documented menu of strategies companies have deployed that can include:
- Moving to a self-funded insurance plan
- Shopping for lower-cost, high-quality health care options
- Offering incentives to employees who choose providers based on savings and outcomes
- Enhancing employee communication and education to help them become better health care consumers
- Promoting care navigation to employees for convenience and an improved experience
- Finding a best-in-class pharmacy solution
- Developing strong primary care relationships for early ID & treatment of issues
- Demanding price transparency
- Energizing the workforce by making them active participants in health care initiatives
Regaining a measure of control when it comes to health care spend is significant, as those dollars previously earmarked to the expected premium increases can be directed back into a company like FVTD, which supplies critical machined components for a range of customers from Fortune 100 companies to local paper mills.
And that is precisely what’s happening.
Achieving better health care for employees at a lower cost is a journey that requires effort and commitment, with reverberations that are felt company wide.
And best illustrated by focusing on the individual.
The Charlier Story
Scott Charlier begins the discussion with the extra challenges placed on a basketball coach (Charlier) and a team of ten-year-olds (his daughter being one of them) by a global pandemic.
“During this time, we haven’t been able to do everything we’d like, so we focus on learning new things and keeping it fun,” said Charlier, a machinist at FVTD.
The active Kaukauna native has no difficulty keeping up with a gym full of 4th grade girls — well maybe a little but consider the group — yet he would have been in world of hurt just a few years prior, when he was in his thirties.
Back problems plagued Charlier for many years, and the course they were taking was decidedly negative. As with many who suffer from issues with the back and spine, Charlier diligently sought relief through a number of interventions. Some were more successful than others, though none provided lasting relief.
Increasing sciatic pain reduced Charlier’s ability to engage in the activities that defined him, a sportsman who could no longer hunt or fish for extended periods, able only to endure in abbreviated fashion the things he most loved to do. His job requirements as a machinist, with long hours of standing, only increased the discomfort.
“It affected everything I did — all day, every day,” said Charlier.
That day came in early February of 2017, after Charlier learned about NOVO Health at work.
An option for employees of FVTD included in their benefits plan, NOVO Health had upsides that appealed to Charlier: a panel of highly-rated providers — including surgical spine — vetted for quality and who voluntarily met extra quality standards, as well as an employer-paid incentive (Charlier would receive $1,000 for his procedure) for using NOVO Health.
One other benefit proved to be the kicker for the self-described planner and numbers guy.
“Instead of getting a bunch of bills at a bunch of different times, they bundle everything, and you just get one bill,” said Charlier. “Financially I could plan for it, I knew what to expect. It was seamless and so much easier.”
Charlier described his discectomy (to repair a bulging disc) with Dr. Karl Greene of NeuroSpine Center of Wisconsin this way:
“I was on pain meds for three years before my surgery was scheduled. When that day came, I was barely able to walk into the facility. Six hours later, I was pain-free.”
Four years later to the month Charlier remains on top of the world, enjoying the activities he so loves.
Which includes coaching a gaggle of basketball-obsessed girls and all they can dish out.
The Heiting Story
Scott Heiting is only a few weeks out from his surgery in January of 2021. Off of crutches and in a walking boot, Heiting continues his recovery and looks to be back to doing pretty much whatever he wants by the time the snow has melted.
And that will be a welcome change from the way things had been.
Foot pain had progressed over the last few years from a sporadic twinge to something persistent and sharp, capable of keeping him up at night. An X-ray revealed a bone spur which had fragmented. Heiting’s treatment options: a cortisone shot which could provide near-term relief, possibly longer, or surgery to clean up the damage.
An avid sportsman and inveterate hiker, Heiting didn’t take long to ponder the choices. Someone used to throwing on a backpack and heading out to the woods to bow hunt, Heiting found himself in new territory: a person whose activity was now restricted, as pain prevented him from comfortably hoofing it for distances to which he had been accustomed.
Heiting embraced the idea of tackling the issue through surgery, where he had experience and success.
“I chose NOVO Health two years ago for a procedure on my knee,” said Heiting. “I had a phenomenal experience.”
So, what led Heiting to NOVO Health in the first place? He credits his wife Mary, who has been an employee at Fox Valley Tool & Die for 35 years.
Mary attended the yearly benefits meetings at FVTD, understood the quality ratings NOVO providers and facilities achieved, knew the cost savings available to the company through price bundling and appreciated that FVTD provided incentives for employees choosing high-quality, lower cost providers.
Adding to this, said Mary, were the stories from co-workers about their positive experiences with NOVO Health.
Heiting liked what he heard, especially about the quality.
“That’s what sealed the deal for me,” said Heiting.
If all goes as expected with the recovery, Heiting looks forward to spending time with Mary at their cabin up north, upping the frequency of nature hikes and getting into the fishing boat way more than they have in the past.
Should be achievable goals, as they both are retiring in April.
One final note on the Heitings: Scott isn’t the most recent recipient of a bundled surgical procedure through NOVO Health.
Mary just had surgery in February.
“I thought I’d let Scott get his done first, then it was my turn,” said Mary.
The Tetzlaff Story
Mark Tetzlaff has 51 years in at Fox Valley Tool & Die.
“I took the first year off to learn to walk,” said Tetzlaff.
He grew up at FVTD, a business started by his father. He’s climbed every beam in the shop, stamped Happy Mother’s Day cards for mom from metal he found in the scrap bin.
Like many growing up in a family-owned enterprise, Tetzlaff has assumed many roles, worn many hats — still does. One of the CEO’s roles was overseeing company insurance, something he’s been engaged with for more than 20 years.
“My mom kind of got me started in that,” said Tetzlaff.
Early on in his tenure Tetzlaff was underwhelmed by the performance of the team that worked with FVTD to deliver health care to employees, relationships light on communication. At the end of the day, Tetzlaff felt the company wasn’t getting the conversations, the coverage, the value it needed.
Tetzlaff drove hard to find a “slew of choices” for employees, making sure they had great benefits at sustainable costs. And for years health insurance costs were kept down, until they spiked once again about a decade ago.
“It’s taken us a few years to get it under control again,” said Tetzlaff.
Education of employees (and their spouses) is vital to the success achieved at FVTD, with meetings providing the tools needed to make the best decisions.
“We ask our employees to do their homework, to do some studying, but that all pays off in the long run,” said Tetzlaff. “We’ve kept our employee share of health care premiums to under 15%.
Compare that to the numbers reported in the Kaiser Family Foundation 2020 Employer Health Benefits Survey: premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage reached $21,342, with workers on average paying $5,588 — just over 26% — toward the cost of their coverage.
Understanding the costs of health care is key, said Tetzlaff, although arriving at that takes some doing: digging into your claims data, discovering the numbers and putting them to work for you, and making the purchase of health care like any other in the business supply chain.
When Tetzlaff was initially introduced to NOVO Health through his broker, he thought it was just another provider network.
“Yada, yada, yada, I thought,” said Tetzlaff. “It took me awhile to realize just what we had with them.”
Packaging 100+ surgical procedures into “bundles” with a price known up front and delivered in one bill, NOVO Health offered FVTD employees the option to choose from their network of high-quality providers, receive priority access to services at lower cost centers of excellence and share in the health care savings realized by the company through employer-paid incentives of up to $2,000 per procedure.
Tetzlaff understood the savings potential and what that could mean to the organization. Soon he would find out what it meant to the individual, as nagging hip issues would lead Tetzlaff to test the waters as a patient.
“I chose NOVO Health and experienced firsthand the process and how it worked,” he said. “That sold me even more.”
In describing the process, Tetzlaff utilized a Disney World analogy.
To be a successful company, Tetzlaff said, FVTD needs the help of its employees to be good consumers and to make the choices that keep health costs down.
No question the FVTD workforce has stepped up. By making consumer-driven choices for their medical procedures, employees opting for better care and a better experience have directly contributed to health care savings and improved the company’s bottom line.
The Bottom Line
Since 2019, the use of NOVO Health’s bundled program has saved FVTD more than $130,000.