Strong Start

by Don Rodriguez

Think of the one thing that an organization ideally wants more than anything to complete its biggest project. Most would say “plenty of time” is that precious must-have.

So, when a team charged with launching the Arizona Technology Council’s new association health plan (AHP) — the first health program specifically designed for small technology employers in the state — received the Council’s board of directors’ green light to proceed last August, the real work began. That included surveying the market, evaluating product partners, building an entire product suite, and meeting with the Arizona broker community to train and educate them on features and advantages of the new offering.

All of this in about two months to be ready to quote employer groups for a Jan. 1 effective date. In this case, they had just enough time.

To help get the job done, Steven G. Zylstra, the Council’s president and CEO, turned to Mike Monroe, the executive leader of one of the most successful technology AHP in the country that serves technology employers domiciled in Washington.

Although he had the track record of success by guiding creation of the nation’s first AHP, Monroe could hear the clock ticking as the Arizona version was built. He uses an analogy to describe the situation. “We decided that we were going to fly a plane,” Monroe says. “We went to the hangar, got in the cockpit, got off the ground and we looked at each other and said, “Do we have pilots and a crew onboard?’”

This breakneck chain of events followed the approval of House Bill 1085 by the Arizona Legislature after bipartisan support and endorsement by groups such as the Council along with employer groups and insurance carriers. The 2019 action made Arizona the second state after Washington to recognize and legislate AHPs.

Zylstra and Monroe recognized a technology-focused AHP here could address a real underserved opportunity in the market due to the inability to purchase a comprehensive health bundle through one source and reduce administrative duties. “The small technology business owner cares about convenience because they are focused on growing their business and launching new products,” Monroe says. “Quite honestly, the administration is really the key in these programs.”

For Arizona, the “sweet spot” for the AHP is the employer with two to 50 employees. The AHP also is a viable solution for groups with more than 50 employees because it provides employers relief from painful administrative responsibilities.

Despite the tight turnaround for the launch, Monroe says there are some major wins to report. While the total number of participating members — “lives” as he puts it — needs to exceed 50 within a year of launch to satisfy Arizona’s regulatory requirements, there are 150 lives in the Council’s plan after just its    first month.

Another positive sign experienced by Monroe and others involved in promoting the AHP was receiving 120 quotes from employer groups for the 2020 effective date. “I think that speaks to the support of the broker community and belief they have in the Council, and the commitment the Council has to serving the technology ecosystem in Arizona,” he says. “The key message here is that the broker community is critical to our success and they will be more supportive as they understand and experience the value proposition of this new program.”

Monroe adds, “If you were to examine any other launch of an association health plan — which there are not many but certainly in our state of Washington and the few other states where AHP’s have existed in some form — there has been no such performance right out of the gate.”

Although Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, the AHP’s medical and dental carrier, is relatively new to AHPs, it has brought its great brand and reputation to the table to help the plan take off, Monroe says. “We are building a very deep relationship with that organization and their leadership,” he says. “They understand how important the tech sector is to a thriving Arizona economy, and their commitment to the Council’s success goes all the way to the top.”

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona is just a part of the Council’s AHP. Other features are life and disability products from MetLife, vision plans from VSP, and the Wellspring Employee Assistance Program, as well COBRA administration and health saving and flexible spending accounts from Navia.

Monroe compares the early successes in Arizona as an indicator of the potential for what has been realized with his AHP in Washington. “We never planned to serve technology employers outside of Washington,” he says. “After performing a two-month exhaustive exercise where we met with over 40 leaders of Councils throughout the U.S., it was clear to us that Arizona had all of the necessary elements in place to support a thriving AHP.”

To learn more about the Arizona Technology Council’s Association Health Plan, go to

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