Treating their people well: Abarca Health's Cornerstone

Sometimes, employment benefits, beyond contributing to a sense of belonging and well-being for employees within an organization, can be turned into a concrete business strategy. Few companies better exemplify this philosophy than the Puerto Rican company Abarca Health, which in recent years has positioned itself as a leader in the pharmacy benefit management segment in Puerto Rico, with a growing presence in the U.S. market.

The compensation and benefits package that Abarca provides to its 416 employees or “Abarcans” — among the most complete on the island, and perhaps the hemisphere — has made the company debut this year as one of the Mejores Patronos of PR, as well as achieving the Best Employers Kincentric global certification. However, Abarca’s President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Jason Borschow, offers a pragmatic perspective on this recognition.

“Abarca may not benefit directly but having a work environment in Puerto Rico where we develop the best talent is beneficial to everyone,” he said. “It has a network effect where other employers, in order to compete and retain their employees, improve their benefits, and create an environment where we attract more talent to Puerto Rico, and where more Puerto Ricans stay. It sounds very altruistic and that we are good people, but we are strategic.”

Abarca Health_Best Employers 2020
Abarca Health’s President and CEO, Jason Borschow, fellow Abarcans, and Chester the dog, the company’s Senior Happiness Specialist.

Aside from benefits like 401k retirement and health insurance plans, Abarca has what’s called “unlimited personal time off.” “It’s not the traditional concept of vacation time, but is based on coordination with the team,” explained Mercibel González, Vice President of Talent Strategy. “This benefit of not necessarily being tied to a number of vacation days provides significant flexibility within a person’s personal and professional life.”

During conferences, the executive has received many questions from attendees about the possible abuse of this benefit, she replied: “It was interesting to me because on the contrary, we want our employees to be productive and to know that we trust them. Actually, we have seen the opposite, we want people to take more days off,” she added.

The company also provides a twelve-week maternity leave. “We have offered it for years because we understand that eight weeks is simply not enough, and we are evaluating the possibility of extending it,” Borschow said. Meanwhile, paternity leave was recently extended to two weeks, with a possible extension in the future, the president added. “If we give more parenting time, that helps mothers handle going back to work faster.”

Opportunity despite the crisis

For many companies, the current COVID-19 pandemic has represented great challenges, but not for Abarca. Thanks to a high degree of planning and a small dose of luck, the company has been able to overcome difficulties without much damage and has even experienced growth in its business, without compromising its vision of providing better health services to the population.

“We made the decision to work remotely before going into shutdown, so we were prepared,” said González. “We have a workforce that is already working remotely outside of Puerto Rico, so it was a pretty smooth transition. Of all our employees, only two or three are going to the office, almost 100% are remote.”

“About half of the populations we serve are off the island. Puerto Rico was far ahead of other states in handling the lockdown,” added the CEO. “Later, when there were struggles in respective states, we were already prepared.”

In the months before the pandemic and in partnership with one of the largest insurers in Puerto Rico, Abarca was developing a product almost tailor-made to meet one of the most pressing needs in the era of COVID. This product is the Triple-S en Casa platform, a pharmacy home delivery program designed to expand access to medicines throughout the island.

“We had been planning the launch of Triple-S en Casa for more than a year, with technology mainly from Abarca together with other partners,” said Borschow. “We were piloting with Triple-S and Abarca employees, but when the pandemic came, we decided to make it available for everyone.”

To the company’s surprise, the majority users of the platform has been Triple-S Medicare Advantage subscribers, made up mostly of the elderly. “It was not what we expected because you get the idea that the most technological people are young professionals, but we see elderly and disabled people downloading the application and using it much more frequently than anticipated,” said Borschow. “That notion that in Puerto Rico older people are not technological is not necessarily true.”

Continuous growth

One adjustment Abarca, which has an office in Miami, has made due to the pandemic, is to rethink its expansion strategy in the United States market. “Approximately 20% of our employees live in the United States or outside of Puerto Rico. We have some who live in other countries and already work from their homes,” Borschow said. “We were thinking if we were going to expand, and the pandemic has validated the theory that it is better not to have a huge physical presence, to get the best talent no matter where you are.”

“We thought that the business development process was going to slow down a bit, but it has been the opposite. It’s ironic, but the pandemic has helped us grow our business,” the executive emphasized. Currently, the company manages more than $ 3.5 billion in drug costs for 3.2 million people in Puerto Rico and the U.S., and those numbers are on the rise. “This year we have grown 18% in employees,” revealed González. “We have many open positions and continue to recruit. Each week we are receiving between four to five people, and each one brings a different perspective and knowledge that contributes to our culture.”

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*NOTE: This article was translated from Spanish by Abarca Health personnel. Read the original article written by Dennis Costa published in El Nuevo Día, October 3, 2020.

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