2018 Optimas Award Winners for Benefits

By Andie Burjek

Oct. 22, 2018


The Benefits award recognizes organizations that designed, developed or implemented innovative benefit programs that achieved organizational goals. Here are the winners for 2018:

Gold: Cherokee County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners

Cherokee County, the seventh largest county in Georgia, wanted to revamp its employee benefits program.

Such a lofty goal — reducing the cost of the health plan without reducing coverage or increasing employee premiums — would be daunting for any organization, and the county had the special challenge of needing to do just that for 1,600 public employees in 30 separate agencies.Workforce 2018 Optimas Awards Logo

Coinciding with the hiring of a new chief people officer in February 2016, the county began designing its health management strategy. In May, it also hired a new benefits consultant. With this new team and new strategy in place, the county assessed the health plan areas where there was room for improvement. The components of the new health management strategy included addressing pharmacy costs, telemedicine and preferred networks.

Rising costs and lack of transparency for pharmacy costs was a major concern of Cherokee County, which addressed this by choosing a new, fiduciary pharmacy benefits manager whose incentives are aligned to its own. At this PBM, there’s no spread pricing and all rebates and manufacturer’s incentives are returned to the county.

Plan members also have no deductibles or copays for telemedicine, which has helped lower overall spend by reducing urgent and emergency care spending.

Optimas Awards 2018

Other components of this improved health management strategy included unbundling certain services for the carrier and implementing six new vendors who could improve spend, for example an imaging vendor at which members can get CAT scans, mammograms and MRIs at no cost.  Also, Cherokee County needed to make a significant education and communication effort to let plan members know about these major changes.

The county officially launched the new health management strategy Jan. 1, 2017, and has seen positive results so far. Pharmacy spend decreased by 38 percent, or $1.3 million year-over-year; inpatient hospital costs decreased by 50.8 percent; and the adoption of telemedicine led to savings of $144,243. In addition, compared to 24 large claims costing $4,790,879 last plan year, the current plan year has only seen nine large claims totaling $1,554,785.

For its efforts to develop and implement a health management strategy for the 2017 plan year, Cherokee County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners is the Optimas Award Gold winner for Benefits.

Silver: Banfield Pet Hospital

The veterinary profession is going through a dramatic demographic shift, and as the workforce becomes younger and more female, workforce concerns like high student loan debt and common mental health issues that often plague young doctors impact organizations like Washington-based veterinary practice Banfield Pet Hospital.

To address the wellness challenges — such as cyberbullying, poor work-life balance and increased risk for suicide — that exist in the profession, whose industry turnover is 20 percent, Banfield launched a new health and well-being initiative in 2017. The initiative focuses on five areas of well-being including mind, body, finances, career and community.

Some components of this holistic approach were discounted gym memberships, the veterinary student debt relief pilot program, continuing education reimbursement programs and a hurricane relief program for pets and owners after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.

Though the program is new, it has still had some measurable results, with 46 percent of the doctor population participating in the student debt relief program and a 30 percent reduction in the dropout rate of candidates.

For its efforts to gradually increase employee well-being on a holistic level, Banfield Pet Hospital is the Optimas Award Silver winner for Benefits.

Optimas Awards 2018Bronze: Panda Restaurant Group

For its efforts to use the Panda Associate Assistance Fund to financially assist employees going through crises including death, illness and natural disasters, Panda Restaurant Group is the Optimas Award Bronze winner for Benefits.

Go here to read about the rest of the Optimas winners for 2018.

Andie Burjek is an associate editor at

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