Health Insurance

Insurance Expert Q&A: Wellthie CEO and Founder Sally Poblete

Shopping for insurance is difficult, but Sally Poblete, CEO and founder of Wellthie, is dedicated to modernizing the industry for small businesses. With more than 20 years of experience, she has watched the health insurance industry develop and is keen to shake things up.
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sally poblete wellthie Source: Getty Images

Small-business owners are deeply involved in decisions about employee insurance plans. That's why innovators like Sally Poblete want to streamline the health insurance experience and allow small-business owners to focus on other aspects of the business.

Wellthie's platform enables small-business owners to compare medical, dental and vision plans in various budget ranges. Then, at any point in the searching and shopping process, business owners can seamlessly connect with a licensed health insurance broker, who can expertly guide them through purchasing and enrolling in the plan(s) of their choice.

ValuePenguin checked in with Poblete about what inspired her to found Wellthie in 2013 and to learn more about her vision for the future. She sees small businesses in the United States as the lifeblood of our economy. They drive the highest job growth and keep innovation alive and well. Small businesses are diverse and optimistic about the future — yet tremendously underserved when it comes to health insurance options.

Many small-business owners don't know the first thing about health insurance or whether they can even afford it. They have to use lengthy, outdated processes when signing up. Wellthie comprises a team of insurance, technology and data experts who want to disrupt this norm to make health insurance more accessible to small-businesses across the country.

Why is it currently so hard for small-business owners to compare insurance services?

The current processes require a lot of time — several in-person client appointments, emailing Excel spreadsheets back and forth and a whole lot of phone tag.

However, in this digital age, consumers are not only accustomed to shopping online but often prefer it to other means of shopping. There is research that suggests that millennials are twice as likely to buy insurance online. Thanks to the technology provided by online health insurance marketplaces, agents and brokers can deliver a modern digital experience to their small-group clients who favor digital experiences. This means offering their clients the freedom to browse and compare their own options on their own schedule.

How do you anticipate legislation changing the way the health insurance market currently works? What will that mean for small-business owners?

The current legislation provides some flexibility for business owners with fewer than 50 employees. However, these business owners can still choose to sponsor coverage and purchase fully insured Affordable Care Act–compliant plans.

Small businesses can also belong to professional employment organizations (PEOs) that offer payroll and HR services (in exchange for an administrative fee) in addition to health insurance. In certain states, there is also an option to participate in association health plans if you belong to a trade/industry group.

In addition to the above options, small businesses that are not ready to offer health insurance today can still encourage their employees to purchase individual health insurance.

What do you see as the biggest hurdle facing small-business owners when it comes to health care?

While small-business entrepreneurs are very knowledgeable in their line of work, they are not usually experts in insurance. It's a complex subject and can be stress inducing for these business owners, as they are often pressed for time and have tight budgets. Here are what I see as the two biggest hurdles facing small-business owners when it comes to health care.

Knowing where to begin: For companies going through this process for the first time, it can be tough to know where to start.

Creating a budget for health insurance: On average, the premium cost of a small-group plan (depending on the region of the country) is anywhere between $400 and $500 per employee, per month, which can really add up on an annual basis for a small company. Employers typically cover 50% or more of the total premium, while the employees cover the rest.

To keep pace with other innovative companies, how do you see health insurance and small-business behavior evolving in the future? What will Wellthie do to continue to be at the forefront of innovation?

There is a lot of opportunity in building partnerships with companies, established or upstart, that are serving the same customers or offering related services and technologies. For example, we are working with other startups that are selling other types of insurance to small businesses and seeing how we can collaborate. And we are finding a lot of similar challenges and opportunities, ­so we can learn from others' experiences.

In the coming year, our focus is to continue to refine the way we are marrying the digital experience with human experts. We are most excited about the partnerships we'll be building, working with insurance players in the ecosystem but also cultivating partnerships outside of the industry.

Wellthie is actively pursuing partnerships with organizations that have a base of small businesses — payroll and coworking companies, for example — and want to help their small businesses extend their vision into insurance and help their customers have an easier time finding insurance. We want to be that partner with them, so we can scale more quickly.

What is the one health insurance concern that keeps you up at night?

I believe that most small businesses deeply care about their employees and want to support covering health insurance but are not yet able to do so because of cost. As an industry, we need to find more ways to create options for small-business owners at different price/value points.