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Kevin Robertson of HSA Bank: In Light Of The Pandemic, Here Are The 5 Things We Need To Do To Improve The US Healthcare System

An Interview With Luke Kervin

The second change is that we need to increase transparency from our healthcare system and providers. We need to give people the tools to become better healthcare consumers, but to do that they need to understand what services cost, why they cost that way and the quality of the service or product.

The COVID-19 Pandemic taught all of us many things. One of the sectors that the pandemic put a spotlight on was the healthcare industry. The pandemic showed the resilience of the US healthcare system, but it also pointed out some important areas in need of improvement.

In our interview series called “In Light Of The Pandemic, Here Are The 5 Things We Need To Do To Improve The US Healthcare System”, we are interviewing doctors, hospital administrators, nursing home administrators, and healthcare leaders who can share lessons they learned from the pandemic about how we need to improve the US Healthcare System.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure to interview Kevin Robertson.

Kevin Robertson serves as Senior Vice President, Chief Revenue Officer, where he is responsible for leading the growth strategy and organization at HSA Bank. Kevin has worked for HSA Bank since 2015, and has more than 20 years of experience in banking, insurance, and financial services. Kevin helped HSA Bank surpass more than $5 billion in assets and 2 million members by 2016. His background covers a variety of sales, business development, and operational roles and spans a diverse spectrum of employee benefit services. In addition to his tenure as a banking executive, Kevin was also a self-employed business owner for 12 years, managing a large insurance operation with more than 25 separate agency locations, and he was a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Registered Representative and Principal for eight years. Kevin is a recognized expert and well-known figure in the consumer-directed healthcare industry, especially for his legislative and regulatory efforts as Compliance Committee Chairman of the American Bankers Association HSA Council. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Marquette University.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into our interview, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and a bit about what brought you to this specific career path?

Prior to starting at HSA Bank, I worked in multi-line insurance and financial services, focusing primarily on the commercial market and health insurance products. In the early days of health savings accounts (HSAs), there was clearly a need for the product, but a lack of understanding paired with a systemic lack of empowerment of individuals made the industry a slow starter. The opportunity to be on the ground floor so to speak of a new industry that was providing a groundbreaking product and empowering individuals in their healthcare decisions was the perfect opportunity for me, and here I’ve been ever since.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The most interesting thing that has happened to me since I began my career is the birth of my children and watching them grow, but from a career perspective, it has been fascinating being a part of the industry as it has grown and changed. In the beginning, I was always explaining what an HSA was, but now most Americans know what they are and in general how to use one — it’s a dramatic shift that I have been lucky to witness. It is intriguing to see how far the industry and our business have come in less than a few decades.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first got into insurance and financial services I was fairly recently out of college, 22 years old, trying to talk people considerably older and wiser into buying hundreds of thousands of dollar’s worth of my products. I felt I wouldn’t have credibility unless I could share anything and everything about my products, so I made myself the consummate expert on everything I sold. The funny thing was I am pretty sure I talked myself out of many sales because I communicated too much.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is from the American author and educator Henry van Dyke, “Some succeed because they are destined to, but most succeed because they are determined to.” This quote has always served as a reminder to me that belief in yourself, commitment, and hard work are the ways to achieve success in all aspects of your life.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Today, the industry is centered around our core business of HSAs and is focused on the notions of spending and savings. HSAs are an important tool both for paying for current medical expenses and saving for healthcare costs in retirement, but as we look towards the future, I am excited by the opportunity to become more involved with overall health and financial decision making and support. It is the next step in empowerment; helping people navigate through healthcare decisions, by providing insights that increase understanding and the tools or products to enact and drive those decisions is the future of our industry.

How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?

To me, an excellent healthcare provider is someone that is invested in the outcome of their patients. A lot of healthcare can feel transactional — for example, I need an MRI, my doctor sends me to the hospital, I have the procedure done, and I pay for it — but the more that healthcare providers can be invested in both the immediate and long-term outcome for their patients the more excellent that service is, and the better both individuals come out of the interaction. We’re human…so the more “humanized” we can make healthcare interactions feel, the better the experience and outcome.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put intense pressure on the American healthcare system. Some healthcare systems were at a complete loss as to how to handle this crisis. Can you share with our readers a few examples of where we’ve seen the U.S. healthcare system struggle? How do you think we can correct these specific issues moving forward?

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, we have seen two opposite issues related to capacity happening in our healthcare system. On the one hand, hospitals and care systems were under extreme pressure to provide for those who are sick and need help.

On the other hand, Americans largely could not or did not feel comfortable taking advantage of normal preventative care. According to the 4th annual HSA Bank Health & Wealth Index℠, 30 percent of Americans delayed or skipped medical care procedures due to the pandemic and there was an overall 14 percent drop in annual health exams.

Now we still have hospital systems that are trying to recover from being stretched so thin throughout the pandemic, but we also have a public who are still not taking care of normal preventative care, which does not set us up well for the future.

Moving forward we need to correct the capacity issues on both sides by providing better planning on how to continue to engage people through preventative care. That’s where HSAs can help individuals — they are designed to help you save for long-term healthcare needs through investment options and for helping to pay for any healthcare costs in the present, all while offering a triple tax break. Contributions are tax-deductible, or pretax if made through payroll deduction, money grows tax-deferred, and withdrawals used to pay medical expenses are tax-free.

Of course, the story was not entirely negative. Healthcare professionals were true heroes on the front lines of the crisis. The COVID vaccines are saving millions of lives. Can you share a few ways that our healthcare system really did well? If you can, please share a story or example.

To me, there is not a more powerful example of a true hero than how our healthcare professionals stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic. Every day they put their lives on the line and this selflessness does not get recognized nearly enough. And it is not only the danger of sickness that is the reason they are heroes, but also the psychological impact of the extreme work environment and the pain and suffering they have had to endure. The courage displayed, the efforts delivered and the tireless tenacity to help others all exemplify their hero status in my eyes.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. As a healthcare leader can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.

The first change I would recommend is that we need to drive education and understanding around health plan coverage and costs. Americans just don’t invest enough in their familiarity and understanding of their coverage or healthcare in general. In our annual HSA Bank Health & Wealth Index℠ report, we found a continued lack of understanding and engagement across Americans. For example, only 11 percent of Gen Z consumers reported they knew what their health plan deductible was, and overall knowledge of out-of-pocket maximums was found to be low at only 22 percent. Educating individuals on their plan options and healthcare costs is key so they can make smart healthcare decisions and know how much to save for future medical expenses.

The second change is that we need to increase transparency from our healthcare system and providers. We need to give people the tools to become better healthcare consumers, but to do that they need to understand what services cost, why they cost that way and the quality of the service or product.

Third and fourth, we need to see a continued and broader push for preventative care as well as continued encouragement to pursue healthy lifestyle choices and changes. We all simply need to think and act differently in our approach to health and well-being; from little decisions to large, we need to understand the ramifications of unhealthy choices, but more importantly encouraged to engage in health decisions with a more deliberate approach.

The best way to treat someone is to prevent them from getting sick. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 6 in 10 Americans live with a chronic condition, like heart disease and stroke, cancer, or diabetes, and these chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability in America. While some of these diseases and conditions are not preventable, many risk factors can be eliminated or avoided through healthy lifestyle decisions.

These kinds of diseases and conditions are also a leading driver of healthcare costs. The CDC estimates that 90 percent of the nation’s $3.8 trillion annual healthcare expenditures are for people with chronic and mental health conditions.

Finally, a big change we can make to the industry and as consumers is through resourcing and decision support.

Healthcare is expensive, regardless of whether we pursue legislation that expands access; Americans need to better understand and think about their healthcare needs and costs, especially in retirement. Decision support tools, such as this comparison tool from HSA Bank, can help individuals “do the math” to decide what health plan is right for their needs from a total cost perspective, whether it is a high deductible healthcare plan (HDHP) with a health savings account (HSA), a preferred provider organization (PPO) or a health maintenance organization (HMO)

Let’s zoom in on this a bit deeper. How do you think we can address the problem of physician shortages? How do you think we can address the issue of physician diversity? How do you think we can address the issue of physician burnout?

To me, it goes back to the change drivers above. If you can encourage people to engage differently with their physicians through more honest and open conversations, live overall healthier lives, and understand and be able to save for their healthcare costs, then the overall toll on our physicians and healthcare professionals would be less, resulting in less burnout and fewer shortages. As it is right now, our healthcare system is designed to treat the sick, not engage the health, but if that was flipped on its head, it would not only impact patients but healthcare professionals as well. Additionally, because of the reality of service delivery in the 21st century, I believe that technology can play a pivotal role in the solution here. From telehealth services to transparency facilitation to engagement tools, the delivery of healthcare services in a seamless, convenient experience will help drive understanding, utilization, and ultimately improved outcomes.

What concrete steps would have to be done to actually manifest these changes? What can a) individuals b) corporations c) communities d) leaders do to help?

The biggest and best thing we as individuals can do to manifest these kinds of changes in our healthcare system is to engage with our health and healthcare. There is an unwritten idea in American culture that “if I’m not sick, why should I go to the doctor?” But if we can get people to instead engage with their healthcare before they are sick, it would have a huge impact. Corporations can help by offering incentives for their employees to engage with their health before being sick. One example is offering an incentive like $100 into an employee’s HSA for having an annual physician appointment. Leaders and our community can help by continuing to promote efforts that demystify our health and healthcare system. The system is complex and thinking about your health or mortality can be scary and overwhelming. As leaders in the space, our role needs to be continuing to help make these things more accessible and understandable, and if we do that it will drive long-term change.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

If I could inspire a movement it would be the “do something” movement. We can admire problems all day — from personal financial issues to large-scale systemic problems — but if we never take action and only discuss or think about action, change will never happen. The “do something” movement would be all about taking action, even small actions, every day to make a change. You’ll never reach the summit of the mountain unless you take individual steps, and the first one is the hardest.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can read more on our website, hsabank.com, or engage with us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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