Lotus Life

A proprietary computer program saves time and money.

Managing benefits for a private or public employer is straight forward enough; the challenge is when the company grows. As more clients are added to an administrator’s portfolio, complexity scales rapidly.

Take Group Associates Inc. in Bingham Farms, which was founded in 1986 with a handful of clients. In the company’s early days, the business was routine yet labor-intensive, given computer programs were just entering the mainstream. But as more clients were added, especially those with multiple facilities spread across several states or countries, the operation required sizeable investments in technology and services.

“At the start, we were working for a large insurance firm and assisted them with consolidated billings, but then we started noticing some major hiccups,” says David Zick, founder and president of Group Associates. “Enrollment errors were popping up, with some workers receiving duplicative coverage — meaning the company was paying twice.”

To overcome the anomalies, Zick developed a computer program he dubbed Lotus. While it once took weeks or months before an employer properly recorded employment activity — new hires, promotions, transfers, or retirement — now the process is handled in less than a week.

“Our largest client has 60,000 employees with more than 1,000 locations, and 500 different benefit variations in terms of union, hourly, and salaried workers,” says Kent Grathwohl, a vice president at Group Associates. “With our computer system, all they have is four people running their benefits department. Before computers, it would easily have been dozens of workers.”

As the Affordable Care Act rolls out, Zick and Grathwohl believe medical visits, examinations, and testing will become more standardized.

“The act requires that everyone have a health care plan, or pay a penalty,” Zick says. “That’s a good thing. If you don’t have insurance and you have a medical problem, it’s like you have a home and there is a fire and you don’t have insurance, and now you want insurance and, by the way, it better cover the fire. Well, life doesn’t work that way.”

He adds that because electronic medical records can be shared and viewed online, the act will encourage doctors and other medical personnel to reduce duplicative testing.

Nevertheless, not everything can be shared over the Internet. As a result, Group Associates operates a large copy operation at its offices. “We set up the printing fulfillment center because we couldn’t find a printer to do a large job overnight, plus there’s the privacy issue. Whatever the job requires, we’ll do it.” db