As we wrap up Mental Health Awareness Month, it was only fitting that the New England Employee Benefits Council (NEEBC) hosted their Annual Summit just a couple of weeks ago. Mental health awareness and wellbeing resources are top of mind for employers and HR teams across the nation, and, as we saw at NEEBC, specifically a focus in New England. Some additional hot button topics during the conference included:

1) Inflation/cost control strategies

Maneuvering around inflation and costly claims are top priorities for benefits professionals nationwide and was a constant topic of discussion by both presenters and attendees. The first keynote panel focused on the “Current Economic, Political and Cultural Landscape:  Where We Are. Where We’re Going. Why It Matters.” They explored typical cost drivers, workplace trends (hybrid, remote, and on-site), and how HR teams can help preserve New England’s unique culture within their workforce.

2) Understanding the needs of your workforce

As many employers have shifted to remote and hybrid models, communication and understanding the needs of the workforce has been challenging for many. One session that really resonated with me included two benefits specialists from ZOLL Medical; they reviewed how benchmarking and survey data helped give their workforce a voice when it comes to their benefits. On the other side, they also looked at pitfalls and obstacles they faced initially and how they overcame them, and steps they took to optimize their survey process.

3) Promoting wellbeing and mental health

Finally, mental health and employee wellbeing continue to be top-of-mind at HR and benefits conferences across the nation. As mental health resources have become a mainstream benefit area, employers are now looking at alternative and new programs to stand out and retain/attract talent. A professor from Northeastern University’s Department of Health Sciences presented on social determinants and their impact on employee health and wellbeing. He leveraged his research to outline best practices and how HR teams can alter their offerings to fit the needs of a diverse workforce.

As a pharmacy consultant, I was excited to see the interest people had in Rx cost control tactics, PBM logistics, and specialty drug strategies. The costly and challenging landscape of pharmacy benefits should motivate employers to implement program changes; we can help. Here are some considerations and tools employers can utilize to address employee wellness, which, in turn has a direct impact on pharmacy costs. Thank you to NEEBC for another insightful event and we look forward to the next one.


With terms like “quiet quitting”, the “great resignation”, and “burnout” becoming regularly intertwined in our vernacular, attracting and retaining key talent has never been more nuanced. Since benefits priorities and expectations are constantly shifting, validating the benefit offerings through competitive benchmarking may be the most important tool in an employer’s arsenal.

At its core, benchmarking is a process of measuring or comparing against certain indicators, industry standards, or best practices. It is used to evaluate various aspects of the program and develop plans to improve upon the current state. Benchmarking can yield actionable insights, enhance your metrics standards (e.g., what constitutes success), enable you to build a business case for change, or defend the current process and programs available.

Types of Benchmarking

Performance benchmarking, one of two main types of benchmarking, uses quantitative data and measures to inform decision-making and business cases for change. Practice benchmarking, the other main type, is more qualitative in nature. It focuses on how an activity is conducted through people, processes and technology and provides insight into gaps and best practices that could be applied. Both play a critical role in comparing employee benefit programs and should be used in tandem.

Each of these can involve internal benchmarking, where the comparison is made against your own data over time, either in the aggregate or by different business units, product lines, departments, programs, geographies, and the like. They can also entail external benchmarking, where metrics or practices of your company are compared to one or many other companies. This involves external sources or custom surveys and provides an objective understanding of current state. External benchmarks are necessary to validate your offering remains competitive in the market; however, internal benchmarks are imperative to track against previously set metrics and targets.

Your vendor partners, including insurers, coalitions, trade organizations and benefit advisors (i.e., Spring / Alera), can typically support the demand for external benchmarking.

Getting Started

The good news is that you may be better positioned to begin benchmarking than you think.
We recommend the following roadmap for effective benchmarking:

  1. Define Your Objectives
    1. Roles and responsibilities
    2. Timeliness
    3. Metrics for success
  2. Determine Your Data Gathering Strategy
    1. Understand definitions and what you are trying to measure
  3. Identify Data and Tools You Have Available
    1. What tracking tools are at your disposal in-house or through partners
    2. What data is available internally
    3. Consider supplemental sources of information
      • Insurance carriers
      • Third party administrators
      • Brokers, Consultants and Advisors
      • Benefit associations
      • Research firms
  4. Organize Results Into Actionable Reports
    1. Identify areas where change is needed
    2. Use results to provide support in business case to C-suite / upper management
  5. Continually Monitor
    1. Benchmarking is most successful when it is not a one-and-done activity, but rather a regular business activity, as the benefits landscape is always changing. Further, if your benchmarking results bring about a change in policy or protocol, you want to be sure you are prepared to measure whether that change yields the intended result.

There are many different areas of benefits an organization can benchmark, from health plan design to retirement benefits and disability insurance. If you are unclear about where to start, consider where your biggest pain points exist and consider those the highest priorities. If significant pain points do not exist, benefit plan design is usually an optimal place to begin benchmarking as process details hinge on plan design.

As employers fight for top talent and work to deliver equitable benefits, family-first benefits have risen to the top of the priority list for most progressive employers, but the definition of family first continues to evolve. An increase in parental and caregiving leave, use of lifestyle accounts, coverage for family planning and infertility including at times travel reimbursement demonstrates an employers’ commitment to their diverse population and the constantly changing definition of family friendly. Women’s health, however, during and beyond childbearing years, is beginning to take center stage.

In recent years, the stigma around infertility and reproductive health issues has lessened. The CDC reports that around 19% of American women struggle to get pregnant. In vitro fertilization (IVF) can cost between $15,000 – $30,000 per cycle without insurance, and surrogacy costs range from a staggering $100,000 – $200,000.1 Given the expense as well as the physical and mental toll of reproductive challenges, employers and lawmakers responded, with almost half of U.S. states requiring fertility insurance coverage. Most of these laws require benefits be provided for the diagnosis and treatment of infertility, as defined by the state. Many require IVF to be a covered benefit for plans that provide pregnancy-related benefits, while others may only mandate that insurers offer coverage options related to infertility for employers to select.

Under these fully insured plans, some restrictions apply and requirements must be made for coverage. For example, coverage may be restricted by various clauses such as the definition of infertility (i.e., 2-year history of infertility, infertility associated with certain conditions such as endometriosis, etc.), lifetime maximums (e.g., $15,000), and approved treating providers. Further, laws may only apply to certain plans, such as those with more than 100 lives.

In Massachusetts, for example, all insurers who provide pregnancy-related benefits must provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of infertility, including artificial insemination, IVF, Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer (GIFT), egg banking, and more. Infertility is defined by being unable to conceive during a period of 1 year if the female is 35 or younger, or during a period of 6 months if the female is over 35. There is no legal limit on a number of treatments, however, insurers may set limits based on clinical guidelines and patient medical history.2

Although states with fertility insurance laws often provide a minimum level of coverage, many employers are not subject to those state requirements (i.e., self-insured plans). Therefore, employers must make critical decisions surrounding plan design for infertility or alternative family planning benefits. This analysis should include benchmarking against peer groups to ensure the offering is competitive as well as a cost-benefit analysis to account for the additional spend.

The healthcare system for women’s health is fragmented. The healthcare lifecycle for women is centered around one life stage – childbearing – during which years healthcare spend is considerably higher than for male counterparts (i.e., ages 19-44).3 However, women are experiencing poor outcomes across many health metrics.4 In addition, many women do not feel heard by their healthcare provider, especially women of color who experience considerable disparities in care and health outcomes. 

Spring would encourage employers to think about women’s health as a priority and begin to track metrics against standards (i.e., preventive services, primary care, etc.). Thinking about women’s health without infertility at the center is important. Consider creative services around birthing (i.e., doula services), support postpartum (i.e., breast milk storage and shipping), and movement into menopause support. Perhaps most critical is working to support women seeking care and ensuring their voices are heard, a pivotal component in bettering health metrics for women.


The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world without a federally mandated paid parental leave policy. This gap has motivated many states to take matters into their own hands, creating their own statewide paid family and medical leave (PFML) laws, which typically include parental leave (bonding with a new child) but also additional absences from work due to common life events such as a serious illness or to care for a sick family member. Similarly, individual companies often have their own parental leave offerings, knowing that it is critical to a successful employee attraction and retention strategy. 

In years past, the focus was on the mother’s access to maternity leave, and any paternity leave offered was perceived as a “bonus.” However, modern assessments of equity and discrimination should have employers reassessing how their parental leave programs are framed, especially given guidance recently released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

What You Need to Know

Parental leave is a key example of how employers can ensure they are putting their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) values to work. Recent guidance, legislation, and general buzz around this topic make it a prime time to ensure that your programs are compliant. Please get in touch if you should have any questions about leave laws or best practices in this area.

As we progress through 2023, maneuvering changing regulations and compliance updates have been challenging for HR professionals across the nation. Many COVID-19 provisions are expiring soon, states are constantly shifting paid leave policies and managing hybrid/remote workforces are just a few hurdles employers are facing when it comes establishing effective and compliant leave programs. Every year the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) hosts their Compliance Conference, where experts from around the nation discuss current trends in compliance, best practices for employers, and the future of the industry. This year I traveled to the beautiful (and warm) Orlando, Florida, to attend this year’s conference. As per usual, the conference provided a great platform for networking and ensuring attendees are tuned into the most pressing compliance matters.

This year, my colleague, Jennifer Campagna and I presented on Navigating Ancillary Paid Leave Options to Support Employee Well-Being, but with a unique twist. We included an interactive game to help attendees understand the benefits of ancillary leave options and how they can intertwine with your current offerings. During the session we handed out “Leave Bingo”, a Bingo-style game where attendees listened for key works and concepts throughout the presentation, to see if they have the words on their Bingo board. Winners received prizes and we all got a little pick-me-up from the chocolate provided. I was impressed with the leave offerings employers across the nation have adopted, some of which we covered in our presentation, like leave related to domestic violence, bereavement, mental health, and more. Although all these ancillary options sound great, they can be costly and difficult to manage from a compliance standpoint.

Aside from the game, we reviewed federal and state laws influencing corporate leave policies and how successful companies are managing their policies. Our presentation included case studies on organizations that implemented alternative leave programs and how it impacted their workforce. Many employers have realized one key to retaining/recruiting talent and combating productivity loss is by revaluating their leave policies and addressing pain points.

Some less traditional types of leave include:

As a board member of DMEC and an advocate for equitable paid leave programs, I am delighted to see where the future of the industry is headed. It is unlikely that we will see a nation-wide Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) program introduced in 2023, but we are consistently seeing updates and clarifications to regulations such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), in addition to the uptick in state PFML programs and adjustments to existing state plans. Spring and I will continue to keep you up to date with updates in the absence management space and provide our clients with industry-leading programs that best match the needs of their specific workforce.

*Additionally, all Spring/Alera clients receive complimentary access to AleraHR and Alera Dashboard, which provide digital tools that help employers and HR teams manage employee benefits compliance deadlines and updates. It also provides users with a robust compliance library with insightful guides, comprehensive checklists, tools and calculators to create forms, job descriptions, explore salary comparisons.


According to Pharmacy Times, between July 2021 and July 2022, more than 1,200 medications had a price increase that surpassed the inflation rate during that time of 8.5%, with the average increase across these drugs coming to a staggering 31.6%. Overall prescription drug spending is projected to rise at an average annual rate of 6.1% through 2027.

Why are we seeing this uptick? An aging population, healthcare services costs, and administrative costs (e.g., financial transactions and patient services) are likely partly to blame. There are a range of strategies and tactics to help combat rising pharmacy costs within your benefits program, but it is important to understand what is driving these costs both globally and specifically within your organization. There is much talk about the skyrocketing costs of specialty medications. Specialty medications are now responsible for over 50% of total pharmacy costs, yet only about 2% of the population is using them.1 Unfortunately, a significant portion of pharmacy spend is going towards innovative and/or targeted therapies that treat rare, complex, genetic or inherited diseases, and cancer – all of which are usually beyond our control.

Preventing the Preventable

On the other hand, however, there are several behaviors that have a strong influence on health outcomes: tobacco use, alcohol consumption, physical activity, and diet.6 A direct correlation between cigarette smoking and the risk of heart disease has been shown and it is in fact the single most important modifiable risk factor for heart disease. Cigarette smoking has also been linked to certain cancers, which is the second leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, 16 million Americans have at least one disease caused by smoking, costing over $240 billion in healthcare costs annually.1 

Obesity has been linked to multiple chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and musculoskeletal conditions impacting bone health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that obesity adds another $173 billion worth of burden on the healthcare system per year because of resulting complications. Several studies have documented the adverse cardiovascular health effects that plague overweight adults. This is partly because obesity adds increased demands on the heart to supply blood to the body.  Excess body weight and obesity are linked with an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Losing as little as 5 to 10 pounds can make a significant difference in your risks. Even if weight control has been a lifelong challenge, taking small steps today can go a long way.2

Diet and physical activity are behaviors that directly influence weight. However, they may also have direct effects on diseases.

Wellness interventions provide an opportunity for us to have some control over the healthiness of our workforce. These interventions play an important role in moving the needle by working to solve for the root causes at play. Employers should be incentivized to implement these preventative programs not only because wellness programs are considered as “nice perks” that increase employee morale and productivity, but also and more importantly, they are tangible solutions that can reduce the burden of health and pharmacy costs. If less employees need prescription drugs in the first place, pharmacy spending could decrease dramatically. Seems easy, right?  

Let’s Get Tangible: Wellness for Outcomes

The higher the risk factor prevalence within a population, the greater healthcare costs are likely to be, both within the pharmacy realm and overall. Therefore, wellness initiatives targeted towards combatting, reducing, or preventing these risk factors will have a more tangible impact on reducing costs and improving health outcomes.

A Targeted Approach

There are six key lifestyle behaviors that promote a long and heathy life3:

The goal is to reduce the need for prescription medication by stopping problems before they even exist. In a study of 55,000 people, those who made healthy lifestyle choices such as avoiding smoking, eating healthy, and exercising lowered their heart disease risk by about 50%.4 In fact, unhealthy lifestyle behaviors such as those that oppose those listed above cause approximately 70-90% of chronic diseases, which yield up to 75% of total healthcare spend in the U.S.5 As such, when it comes to medical and pharmacy costs, the most successful wellness programs  will be those aimed at those six pillars and affecting long-lasting behavioral changes.

Wellness Point Solutions

The good news is, the wellness industry awakened with this realization a decade or so ago, in the midst of out-of-control healthcare costs, and now there are a plethora of wellness companies and tools available for employers to leverage. In fact, in the U.S., the wellness industry represents $1.2 trillion in revenue6. Homing in on the six behaviors above, employers might consider the following*:

A range of wellness point solutions are out there, and the all-encompassing ones will have tools pointed toward all six of our wellness pillars. Additionally, larger employers have started to introduce onsite health clinics and resources to make employee engagement in their health more convenient. Some incentivize through walking or step challenges. Health plans build in wellness incentives such as reimbursements for gym memberships. Whatever it looks like, introducing preventative measures that lessen the prevalence of disease and poor health outcomes; reduce the need for prescription drugs, lost work days, and absence from work; and improve mental health; can lessen overall healthcare costs and prove advantageous for your workforce.

Before you make any decisions around wellness solutions, be sure to understand what is driving your pharmacy spend within your own organization. We recommend working with a consultant or actuary to take an unbiased and robust view of your data. Better yet, consider taking the next step to…

Work With a Clinical Pharmacist

Even the best wellness programs cannot prevent or reverse existing and/or genetic health problems within a workforce population, and there are times when prescription medications are necessary. Typically, a clinical pharmacist is not part of your health benefits team, weighing in on strategy and dissecting the needs of your workforce population. I firmly believe this is both a gap and an opportunity.

An experienced clinical pharmacist can look at the full array of options available through a different lens, putting all the pieces together (medical, Rx, wellness, etc.) and provide targeted recommendations to improve outcomes while controlling costs.

Another important role of a clinical pharmacist is the ability to recognize signs of medication non-adherence, which can cause disease progression and adverse outcomes. If your organization is spending money on prescription drugs that are not being taken correctly and therefore cannot have the intended effect(s), a pharmacist can flag that up.

Get in Touch

When it comes to healthcare and pharmacy costs, many of the factors involved are out of our hands. However, we do have some power to affect change and take control through preventative, wellness, and innovative and targeted pharmacy solutions. Given the current climate, why wouldn’t we aim to do so?

If you need assistance assessing your current wellness programs, navigating the marketplace of vendor solutions, conducting a Request for Proposal (RFP), auditing your pharmacy benefits contract terms and utilization data, or are interested in leveraging a clinical pharmacist to yield customized and impactful results, our team would love to chat with you.

*Please note, Spring’s intent is neither to promote nor recommend any of these specific solutions, but rather to portray a snapshot of what is available in the market.



Director of Client Services/Brokerage Practice Leader.

Joined Spring:

I joined Spring in 2015, before Spring was acquired by Alera Group.


I am a New Englander through and through! I was born and grew up in Boston and lived in Jamaica Plain and Roslindale.

At Work Responsibilities:

As Spring’s Brokerage Practice Leader, I work directly with employers and carriers to implement top-tier employee benefits programs for employers of all sizes. Some of most common areas include group health plans, dental, life insurance, disability, and FSAs, HRAs & HSAs.

Outside of Work Hobbies/Interests:

I love being outdoors (when the New England weather allows!). Some of my favorite things to do outside of the office are hiking, fishing, boating, and sports.

Fun Fact:

Many people don’t know this, but I was actually an extra in the movie, “Blown Away”.

Describe Spring in 3 Words:

It’s very tough simplifying my nearly decade at Spring into just 3 words. But I guess I’d have to go with professional, caring, and reliable.

Favorite Movie/TV Show:

I enjoy the classics, my favorite movies are To Kill a Mockingbird and Casablanca.

Do You Have Any Children?:

Yes, I have two children, Ryan and Kaleigh, they’re both in their 20s now.

Favorite Food:

Italian and Japanese!

Favorite Place Visited:

Although these two places are almost polar opposites, my favorites are Italy and Alaska.

Favorite Band:

I love my 80s music, so I’ll have to go with U2.

Bucket List:

I really want to visit the Pyramids in Egypt.

If You Won the Lottery, What Would You Do With the Money?:

I would start a scholarship program for disadvantaged children, to help give them a full ride through college.

As we transition past the pandemic, we are seeing shifts in remote, hybrid, and onsite practices across the US. Below are some of the top trends impacting workforces nationwide.

1Zippia. “25 Trending Remote Work Statistics [2023]: Facts, Trends, And Projections” Oct. 16, 2022
2Alera’s EB Market Outlook

During The Captive Insurance Companies Association (CICA)’s 2023 annual conference, our SVP, Prabal Lakhanpal presented on behalf of our Managing Partner, Karin Landry, during which he present on what next-gen professionals value most in in a job. You can find Captive International’s recap here.