Cutting staff, reducing hours, or passing increased costs on to employees and customers are some of the unfortunate by-products of health care reform (HCR) in the restaurant industry. Many restaurant operators are grappling with how to comply with HCR mandates and manage rising health care costs but Wahoo's Fish Taco found the "secret sauce" with the help of HUB International Insurance Services. 

Established in 1988 by three brothers, Wahoo's Fish Taco has expanded to over 60 corporate and franchise locations in six states and overseas, providing quick serve dining and catering services.  The company's 30 corporate locations in southern California have a loyal workforce of over 600 employees.

"For over 15 years, we've offered benefits to our full-time corporate employees who worked 30+ hours per week," said Renato "Mingo" Lee, Co-Founder of Wahoo's Fish Taco. "Recently, our biggest challenge has been dealing with the uncertainty and ongoing changes of HCR along with rising health care costs.  We knew we needed to make significant adjustments to the benefit plan we've had in place for many years."

With the help of Randy Rider and Kim Grayson of HUB International, Wahoo's offered their corporate workforce access to new, affordable insurance options, met their obligations under HCR, and experienced the added benefit of heightened employee understanding and satisfaction with their benefits.

"HUB strategized with us to develop a new benefit offering that would be affordable to us and to our employees," according to Cecilia Carbajal, Head of Human Resources. The new benefit plan offerings for 2014 open enrollment included:

  • An HCR-compatible minimum essential coverage (MEC) plan that provides wellness and limited benefits coverage.  Because the plan provides affordable coverage for employees that still meets their individual HCR coverage obligations, the company was able to offer a low-cost solution to employees and achieved more than double the minimum participation required.
  • Three voluntary benefit plan options were offered - accident, cancer, and hospital - to fill the gaps in the MEC plan.  Over one-third of employees signed up for at least one plan in the first year.

Given the unique nature of the MEC plan and voluntary offerings, Wahoo's knew that they needed to deliver a 1:1 benefits counseling experience to their workforce across southern California. "We were offering a new benefit plan and we wanted employees to clearly understand what the plan is and what it is not," Cecilia said. "We wanted to make sure that they understood their responsibility.  We also needed to provide counseling services in both English and Spanish."

According to Randy Rider, "Employees want to know what benefits options are best for their particular situation but they often aren't comfortable asking personal questions about benefits in a formal group setting.  If they can spend 10 to 20 minutes with a trained benefits counselor and talk about their wants and needs, then they come away with a much better understanding of their options."

HUB oversaw the entire enrollment process, choosing certified benefit enrollers who were experienced with medical, dental and voluntary benefits.  To ensure good quality control, the HUB team debriefed with HR staff each day to review feedback from employees. "The counselors we select understand that our goal is to increase employee satisfaction and understanding of their benefits, not to maximize enrollment in voluntary products," said Randy. "Our goal is to offer solutions, not products. The enrollers recognize that they need to work within each employee's budget to help deliver the best solution." 

How did Wahoo's employees react?  

"We're in a new world now with benefits and, after this open enrollment, our employees have a better understanding of their obligations under health care reform and the value of the benefits we offer them," said Mingo. "Our employees appreciate that we care enough to give them the opportunity to sit and talk with someone about benefits.  Enrollment was double what we had initially projected." 

"HUB did a great job taking care of the details," said Cecilia. "We learned that as a business we needed to fully utilize the partnership and resources of our insurance broker.  HUB did a great job coordinating and taking care of all of the details - as usual, the team was available whenever we needed them."