The Wichita Independent Business Association will face a challenging year because its health insurance business is changing radically.
But having Brian Powers as its new chairman of the board will likely help.
Powers sold his Home Healthcare Connection in December after 17 years and is focusing his attention WIBA this year.
Powers, 55, is married to Lisa and has five children. He grew up in suburban Chicago and had a career in graphic arts and law enforcement before buying into the family firm in Wichita.
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What are you doing now?
We own commercial property, so getting into commercial real estate is in its infancy. It’s the legacy of owning a health care company and actually owning the building the company was in, at 32nd Street North off of Rock Road.
Why did you sell?
There is not one answer. After almost two decades of caring for others, there were personal reasons and there were some regulatory reasons. My business partner. Dr. Clarice Powers and I have been positioning the company for a sale. It’s a family-owned company. We saw a lot of changes in the health care industry, and saw a lot of consolidation coming for even from the largest – the hospital systems are all consolidating – and that is the future of home health and hospice as we saw it, consolidating, becoming part of a larger entity, efficiencies of scale.
Will the Affordable Care really raise the cost of business?
Yes. It will increase the cost of being in business, there’s no question about it. ... The prices rise every year and faster than the CPI (rate of inflation) and greater than increases in your margins. Any business will be impacted. Consolidation, not just in the health care industry, but generally, is being driven by those increased costs. I don’t know if there is a way a company that is fairly successful, but not large enough to self-insure, will be able to absorb those costs without making cuts elsewhere in their organization.
What are you going to do now?
Let’s see where this year takes me. I haven’t committed to anything long term. I have some ideas. There is more we can do on the policy side of things. We’ve seen a lot of regulation, a lot of law written for universal health care system and I think I can be of more service to my former patients, my employees – all of whom retained their jobs by the way, that’s very important – to be somehow involved in the construction of policy. Not really going there, I’m not sure I going to do that yet.
What will we see from WIBA this year?
This is an important year for WIBA. We’ve been an insurance provider for many years. A considerable part of the organization’s income comes from the sale and management of those policies offering small, independent businesses an avenue to obtain those insurance products. With the Affordable Care Act, that goes away. We can still sell insurance. We have a person on staff who is licensed to do that. ... We have been trying to form a health co-op. That would give us an avenue to participate in health insurance exchanges.
But you haven’t been approved for the loans you need?
Yes. This is a year for this organization to really implement a new strategic vision. We have all our members – WIBA is very much a membership driving organization – to share what direction do we want to go. They said a co-op is good, let’s go that direction. That didn’t go as planned. With the fiscal cliff negotiations, that was on the table. A lot of the co-ops weren’t funded.
Is the WIBA co-op dead?
No. It’s still out there, and we’re still moving in the direction. Through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, under HHS – that’s Kathleen Sebelius – they accepted quite a few applications, but not as many I would like to see, and not one from this organization. We made it through the first round and applied again at the end of the year, they asked us to apply twice.
So, if you don’t get approved will that hurt WIBA?
I think as an organization we have to look at other member benefits that will drive growth. There are members who joined only for the insurance products, probably less than half, but there are members who joined for a lot of reasons, who join for the networking, trading on the basis of goods and services.
Will you spend more time marketing the organization?
Sure, and any other organization is doing the same thing. This organization is coming off four or five years of some economic difficulty, businesses have to look at the wisest use of their funds. I think the investment in organizations like this is very small (and) is probably one of the best investments they could make to touch other businesses, to expand service, create new product lines, create new service lines with other business. It really is an opportunity for growth.
Do you see WIBA shrinking?
I think we are stable. Our new members and our ability to show new businesses the advantage of joining the organization . My personal intent is growth. I have been able grow my own business and I think I can apply what I know and I can tap into the expertise of all my predecessors in this position. I really anticipate growth, despite the problems and despite the regulatory changes that have been imposed on us.