Gary Fenner Test Drives the Healthcare Services He Helped Bring to His Company

by Scott Hutchinson
March 06, 2018

Eau Claire's Gary Fenner found it prudent to come to Appleton for his second hip replacement.

Unsustainable healthcare costs set Corporate VP Gary Fenner on the road to finding a solution for Plank Enterprises.

The family owned, Eau Claire-based holding company had seen a 168% increase in employee healthcare costs over a five-year period. 

Employers are the biggest single payer of health insurance claims, said Fenner, and the Eau Claire market has some of the highest costs in the nation. That, in and of itself, forced Plank to seek alternative ways to offer healthcare to its employees.

“We knew we had take control of our own healthcare,” said Fenner.

At the time, Plank was on a fully insured plan. The stipulations in the company’s existing preferred provider organization created challenges for its 150 employees to find a primary care physician. Expensive emergency room or specialty care visits were the result.

In 2013, Plank made the move to change their healthcare model and go to a self-funded plan. An onsite primary clinic was added, and the company established a relationship with the Orthopedic & Sports Institute (OSI) to provide orthopedic services.

Since the changeover, employees of Plank have not seen premium increases.

After securing the “direct contract” with OSI for elective types of orthopedic surgery, Fenner foresaw a closer connection with the Appleton-based group. Fenner required a left hip replacement in 2012; he knew a replacement of his right hip, though not imminent, wasn’t far off.

Fenner put off the second surgery, as many prospective patients do, until the pain was such that it never abated. Due to his position at Plank, he was familiar with OSI and understood, as did all company employees, that it was an available option.

It was his turn to go through the steps of the OSI experience.

As someone whose job it is to have firsthand knowledge of employer healthcare costs, Fenner knew, even without the cost comparing transparency tool available to all Plank employees, that going with OSI was going to save the company money.

“Compared to the hip I had done five years earlier here in Eau Claire, “ said Fenner,”my OSI hip was about a third less.”

Plank’s program rewards its employees for choosing low cost, high quality healthcare options. By going to Appleton for his joint replacement, Fenner’s travel expenses – mileage, meals, and a hotel near OSI for his wife – were paid by Plank Enterprises. 

Additionally, Plank provides a cash bonus for choosing a healthcare Center of Excellence like OSI.

Despite the three-hour drive for Plank employees, Fenner referred to the OSI option as a “no-brainer.”

Reducing cost for the employer is one thing, however. For the employee going through the procedure, the experience of being a patient is quite another.

For Fenner, the expectations were exceeded.

“The hotel accommodations for my wife were right across the street from OSI,” he said. “I had my procedure at their surgery center and recovered right next door at Recovery Inn, their skilled nursing facility.”

And would Fenner recommend OSI to others?

“Definitely,” he said. “Already have. Always do.” 

With a spring in his step and his VP hat back on, Fenner extols the virtues of making better choices in healthcare, both as employer and employee. 

It’s all about being good consumers, he says.

“When we made the decision to actively manage our healthcare spend at Plank Enterprises, we knew we needed to educate our employees, because the systems over time have trained all of us to just use our insurance and not worry about cost,” Fenner said. “Those days are over.”