Executive Insights into Employee Benefits: An Interview with Angela Dowling, President, Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon

In this article, Woodruff Sawyer's Tracy Allen, former Employee Benefits practice leader, asks Angela Dowling, President of Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon several key questions to reveal her unique perspective as the guide of the overall performance of the Oregon health plan, including sales, provider contracting, government affairs, and community relations.

As an employee benefit advisor, one of the main goals I have for employers is to help them attract and retain top talent. This is an important topic for most organizations, but especially those that want to be leading edge in their industry. As noted in our 2020 Employee Benefits Looking Ahead Guide, a few key areas I find are critical to discuss include cost saving strategies, family friendly benefits as well as ensuring that this decade's multi-generational workforce's needs are addressed.

As employers are continually challenged by these social and economic factors, we must search the market for innovative solutions to meet these challenges. Our clients depend on us to look for market programs that provide practical, cost-saving options. It's our job to find innovations that fit both employers' and employees' changing healthcare needs.

Path winding through green park

Carriers as solution partners

As part of our strategic planning process, we must explore diverse topics with our customers to ensure we are bringing them the right solutions at the right time. A key part of delivering resources to our clients is exploring and vetting tools that are offered by insurance companies, technology, and health care vendors.

These solution partners have unique insights on the evolving challenges of the employee benefits landscape. We recently visited with Regence BlueCross BlueShield to discuss solutions they are offering in 2020 and beyond.

In this article, we asked one of the leaders in the Pacific Northwest to share her insights with our readers. Angela Dowling has helped position Regence as a trusted advisor to many of Oregon's most respected companies at a time when sound strategic healthcare decisions are more critical than ever.

In her role as Oregon market President, Angela directs and guides the overall performance of the Oregon health plan, including sales, provider contracting, government affairs, and community relations. Her deep experience as a leader in this market gives her unique insights on the benefits landscape. I asked Angela several key questions that reveal her unique perspective.

Health Care Cost and Affordability

Tracey: Front of mind for employers, business owners and consumers in general is cost and affordability. What steps and strategies is Regence taking to help your members manage health care costs?

Angela: Affordability is far and away the number one health care concern I hear. We're doing several things in this arena to address cost, but first and foremost our technology investments focus on bringing better, simpler and more affordable care to our members.

Today, Regence members are saving, on average, $100 per visit when using telehealth rather than in-person office, urgent care or emergency room visits. This amount represents not only provider savings in overhead, but also time savings for patients who don't have to commute or wait in a provider's office. Telehealth solutions are now embedded across our plans for all lines of business.

We're also long term proponents of transparency solutions that provide consumers with more information about how much a service or medication will cost, which they can access through We also support efforts in the public policy arena for provider pricing to be more easily accessible to the public.

And we're evolving the way we partner with providers. Historically, we've engaged in fee-for-service arrangements that pay providers based on the number of services they provide to patients. Today, we're committed to value-based arrangements that incentivize providers based on how effectively they improve the health of our members. Working together, we're much stronger in support of our members, and able to bend the cost curve as a result of this deeper collaboration.

Tracey: I agree. We frequently hear that affordability is of primary concern to employers. Telehealth and price transparency tools are two of many tools we have in our toolkit to help employers navigate the healthcare maze.

Rising Pharmaceutical Costs

Tracey: What efforts are you pursuing in the pharmacy space? The percentage of overall healthcare spend on prescription drug cost is rising annually for employers and this will continue to be a pain point where we seek creative strategies.

Angela: That is absolutely a source of frustration, and one we've spent a lot of time and energy working to address. Regence currently partners with MedSavvy® on a solution that is helping our members save on medication costs and improve outcomes. MedSavvy® provides report-card-style grades from licensed pharmacists so you can quickly compare options and look for a more effective or affordable alternative. You can view customized price comparisons at your local pharmacies and download coupons for extra savings. After you fill your prescription, pharmacists keep you in the know with alerts about the safety, effectiveness and cost of your medications.

Our members continue to provide proof of the effectiveness of this program. Recently a member used MedSavvy® to analyze the medication she takes for adult ADHD. She quickly realized she could be saving hundreds of dollars by switching to an alternative with a similar effectiveness rating. After talking with her doctor and making the switch, her six-week supply went from $235 to just $63. We also helped a Southern Oregon provider save an average of more than 50% on high cholesterol medications through a targeted employee outreach campaign.

Americans spend about $1,200 each year on medications. With a solution like MedSavvy®, they can be confident they are getting more value for these dollars.

Tracey: Those are great savings. We hear many stories that if employees know better, they choose better when it comes to choosing effective medications. It's important to arm employers and employees with up-to-date information and decision tools.

Attracting Top Talent with Health Benefits

Tracey: We continue to be at or near record low unemployment levels. In today's hyper-competitive job market and as a large employer, how does Regence view the role that health benefits play?

Angela: I firmly believe employee benefits are more important than ever. There is more competition for top talent, especially here in Oregon, than at any time in over 40 years. Offering a strong benefits package is a vital way for employers to attract and retain their employees.

Recent surveys show that seven out of 10 Americans are satisfied with their current employer-sponsored coverage, and approximately six out of 10 Americans cited their employer-sponsored health benefits as a key reason for sticking with their present job.

Our role as insurers and brokers is to help employers and employees understand and engage with their benefits. It makes navigating a serious health issue easier by understanding benefits in advance. For those who are interested in improving their health, Regence members can save 25% or more on a gym membership with their ID card. From health and wellness to serious conditions, we need to not only offer plans, but keep people engaged. That's what keeps them loyal to their employers.

Internal communication to today's multigenerational workforce requires that you meet the employee where they are. Not everyone wants to use a mobile app. Some users prefer chat to phone while other employees still value paper communications. Personalized communications through multiple media is the only way to effectively drive awareness and engagement.

Tracey: We agree and see first-hand with our clients that employee benefits play a key role in retaining talent. Understanding generational preferences and being creative in how we communicate and engage employees is an important part of how employees perceive the value of their benefits program.

Innovative Employee Benefits Solutions

Tracey: I'm curious, what is the most unique employee benefit you offer? How did the idea originate, and what problem does it solve?

Angela: Point solutions remain the name of the game in healthcare today. There are literally thousands of health-related mobile apps in the market requiring users to navigate many interfaces and passwords. Centralizing point solutions will give consumers an experience that is simple, informative and actionable and help employers bend the cost curve and drive engagement.

We're focused on bringing an all-in-one place solution to help make health care easier to navigate for consumers. By bringing together intuitive technology and a team of experts to support, we will be able to help people navigate care options, provide a consolidated health history for employees and their dependents, manage healthcare bills, and save money on medications.

Bringing all of this functionality into one package will be a game changer. We're looking forward to talking in more detail about this solution in the coming months.

Tracey: We'll have to circle back so you can tell us more about your program. We know that administrative overhead is a reason why some employers don't adopt beneficial programs, so we like to provide options on how employers can streamline their benefit administration.

Early Adopters of New Benefits

Tracey: There are many new options on the market, but sometimes employers wait to take advantage of them. What characteristics do you look for to identify potential early adopters in the employer space?

Angela: Great question. Typically, more tech-savvy companies have a greater appetite for beta testing a solution or taking a chance on a new technology that doesn't yet have a proven ROI. Technology companies tend to have younger employees, which means that they live and breathe the Amazon Prime and gig economy, with expectations of personalization and instant accountability in their shopping experiences. Those are the kind of consumers who are especially hungry for more transparency and simplicity in their healthcare experience.

Tracey: Employers have a lot on their plates, so the easier we can make it for them, the better. They put their trust in us as professionals to find them solutions that work for their business.

Final Thoughts

Tracey: What are you looking forward to in the future?

Angela: If we can drive true collaboration across healthcare stakeholders, the payer, provider, and employer/employee, that's when we can truly impact care for our members. It's not necessarily enough to offer a strong new benefit package or transparency tool. You need a partner to educate and socialize new innovations in order to truly drive change. That kind of partnership is what turns employers, leaders, and early adopters into trail blazers. Together, we can make a difference in healthcare.

Tracey: I see that too. To be successful, we must be collaborators and solution-providers for employers. They have a tough job and we want to make it easier for them.

Woodruff Sawyer identifies new trends for 2020

I'd like to thank Angela for providing us with her unique market insights and look forward to more innovations from Regence and their impact on the marketplace. Woodruff Sawyer looks to their carrier partners to provide solutions and insights for employers that they might not find elsewhere.

Make sure you check out Woodruff Sawyer's Looking Ahead 2020: Considerations for the Employee Benefits Landscape to help you identify key trends to focus on in the coming year. As Angela outlined above, it's important to have a suite of benefits that lower costs, attract top talent, and adopt innovative solutions. At Woodruff Sawyer, our benefit advisors can help you develop an employee benefits plan that meets your business goals while incorporating key market trends.

More about Angela Dowling

President, Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon, and Chief Revenue Officer

Over the course of her career, Angela Dowling has designed and implemented creative solutions that align business strategies with consumers' health needs. As chief revenue officer, Angela drives revenue strategies across brands, products and markets by bringing greater integration and accountability and directing the organization to create better health care experiences for consumers.

She is a member of several industry organizations, including the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, and serves on the Oregon Healthcare Leadership Council, the Implementation Committee for Oregon's Sustainable Health Care Cost Growth Target, and on the Board of the Oregon Food Bank. You can find out more about Angela at


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