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Kristen Russell

Kristen Russell

Kristen founded Fall River Employee Benefits as the culmination of her insurance industry career as an actuary, underwriting executive & consultant. As an Assistant Vice President at Great-West Healthcare (now part of CIGNA), she managed a $1 Billion block of health insurance. She also worked as a Senior Consultant at Reden & Anders, consulting to insurance companies and large employers throughout the country. Ms. Russell received a Bachelor of Science, Business Administration in Actuarial Science, is a member of the American Academy of Actuaries and achieved Fellowship in the Society of Actuaries through a rigorous nine-year series of exams.

Kristen grew up in Iowa but has lived in Colorado since 1993, currently living near our office in the Lower Highlands neighborhood near downtown Denver.  She enjoys bicycling, hiking, traveling and has a special passion for non-profit volunteering. She is married to an incredibly talented photojournalist, has two adult stepdaughters and an adorable Border Collie/Lab mix named Chaco.

Thursday, 25 September 2014 08:13

What is your Healthcare Strategy Score?

The Affordable Care Act aside, employers everywhere are struggling with the rising cost of healthcare.  Even though annual trend levels have tapered off, the costs were already so high that adding even one extra dime to healthcare costs can feel like the straw that broke the camel’s back.

There are some factors affecting your healthcare costs that you don’t control.  But what about those you CAN control?  Are you taking advantage of all of the potential ways you can engage your employees as consumers, help them get healthy, and then use creative funding strategies to capture the resulting savings? 

First of all, you’ll want to check out our Tackling Healthcare Costs webinar next Tuesday, October 7th, at 10 am.  But also, you’ll want to take advantage of Fall River’s new Healthcare Strategy Score system, where we meet with you to benchmark how proactive and creative your current strategies are on a scale of zero to 100%, then lay out a game plan of how you can up your score and save on your costs as a result.


Request your Healthcare Strategy Score now!

As a company grows and wants to attract the best workforce, their benefits strategy needs to change with them.  While a smaller start-up company may offer the bare-bones benefits, a larger company may need to offer a very comprehensive benefits package to suit the needs of all employees, along with a creative strategy to make it affordable. We thought we’d share a case study to demonstrate how active the evolution of benefits needs to be.


Fall River has worked with a rapidly-growing Denver software consulting firm for about eight years.  They started with us with just three employees on the benefits, and offered a fully-insured traditional medical plan, as well as dental, vision, and basic life insurance.  


Within just a few years they had grown to have dozens of employees all over the country, and discovered that they needed a richer benefits package to attract the specialized talent they were looking for.  They also found themselves at the mercy of their small group renewals, even though their demographics were better than average.


We started by implementing a creative plan design strategy, allowing the company to offer richer benefits at a lower cost.  Since they had almost as many locations as employees, we helped them conduct all their enrollment meetings via Web Conference. At this point we suggested adding more extensive Life insurance coverage and Disability policies that fit the needs of their high-end, growing workforce. We also helped them identify global benefit resources for their employees outside the United States.


By moving the group to a partially self-funded plan a few years later, we were able to take advantage of their good demographics and save them even more money.  Under this strategy, they also received claims data that they never had before, allowing us to help them to target their employee education and wellness incentives.  This laser-sharp focus enabled them to keep their renewals under control, thus allowing for the continuation of their extremely rich benefit plan.  As this company continues to grow and is now approximately 100 employees, their robust benefits package continues to be a significant part of their recruiting success.


This year, this dynamic firm has successfully completed a sale to a private equity firm that will enable them to make significant equity payouts to the employee owners of the company, and to enter into a new phase of growth.  We’re in the strange position of being both humbled by the amazing accomplishments of these leaders, who have become our friends, yet also feeling like proud parents sending their kids off to college as we wish this fabulous client success in the next stage of their journey!


There are many other considerations for companies that are growing quickly.  If this is your situation, we’d be happy to provide additional guidance as you navigate the rapids of change. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Sunday, 20 July 2014 18:00

Take Charge of Your Healthcare Costs

Tired of watching your healthcare benefits deteriorate while premiums skyrocket?  Take charge of what you CAN impact and put your health plan on a better path for the future.

Join Kristen as she presents at two seminars in September, one live and one by convenient webinar, about the strategies you can use to take a more aggressive approach to your healthcare costs:


              Wednesday, September 10th, 11:30 am  - 1:00 pm

              Mile High SHRM Chapter Meeting  

              Marriott Courtyard, 1475 S. Colorado Boulevard, Denver 


             Tuesday, September 16th, 10:00 am – 11:15 am

             Webinar  - Web conference link sent to all registrants the day before

             Register at www.fallriverbenefits.com/newsandevents/events


Those of you who are clients are getting all of this info in your mid-year strategy sessions and your pre-renewal meetings we conduct approximately 120 days in advance of your renewal.  

We encourage the rest of you to register for one of these events today!  See you there!

There are many reasons for choosing a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), especially the ability to outsource your most tedious HR and benefits tasks altogether, freeing the HR function up to be more strategic. While this should always be the main reason for choosing a PEO approach, for some groups there may also be significant healthcare cost savings.

Now that community rating is a reality in 2014 for small groups up to 50 employees, those with favorable demographics and employee health can receive favorable treatment from a PEO that the small group market is no longer able to provide. In addition, PEOs typically offer richer benefits than those available in the small group market.

Wednesday, 05 March 2014 10:00

Create Great Healthcare Consumers


One of the many reasons that healthcare costs are so high in the United States is the third-party payer system disconnects so many of us from the true cost of healthcare.  Just as a teenager with unlimited access to the parents’ credit card may not make the most economical decisions, many of your employees are ill-equipped and poorly incented to make wise choices with your healthcare dollars.
The first step in solving this problem is to create incentives to be wise spenders, through consumer-directed plan designs, higher cost sharing on elective procedures, high performance physician networks, and other features we can recommend.  These features are completely separate from your wellness initiatives, and are designed to help employees choose efficient and high value levels of care.
Once the appropriate plan design is in place, the most important next step is education.  Because of the copay system that historically insulated your employees from their own healthcare spending, they need to be taught how to be good consumers of care.  We recommend the following topics be covered in open enrollment meetings, at staff meetings throughout the year, and summarized in the Benefit Guides your broker prepares for your employees.
Here are a few topics to be sure to cover:
Question Your Doctor
  • Prepare for doctor visits by bringing a list of questions and taking notes during the appointment
  • Bring someone else with you to take notes, especially when discussing complex conditions or treatment plans with your doctor
  • Research your condition or surgery prior your appointment so you come informed
Smart Prescription Use
  • Take prescription medications as directed and don’t stop without the instructions of your physician
  • Ask for generic prescriptions whenever possible and use the prescription mail order program for maintenance medications you take every day
Get Care in the Right Setting (non-emergency issues only)
  • Use your insurer’s online cost and quality data to determine where the best outcomes happen for the surgery or procedure you need
  • Avoid hospital or other high cost settings by asking your doctor for alternative locations where you could have a procedure or complex imaging performed
In the event of an emergency:
  • Call the 24/7 Nurse line if one is provided by your carrier
  • Make a doctor’s visit for the next day if it’s not serious
  • Visit your nearest covered Urgent Care facility (research ahead of time the nearest one to your home and your workplace)
  • Use the Emergency Room as a last resort for treatment
Let us know if you have other ideas of topics to cover. If you would like some ideas to help you create this type of education campaign, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!
Tuesday, 11 February 2014 10:00

Mandate Delays for Large Employers

On February 10, 2014, the Federal government released the final regulations for the Employer Shared responsibility provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  These final regulations brought some welcome transition relief to large employers in two different size categories. Employers with 50-99 Full Time Equivalents:

  • The Shared Responsibility Mandate does not apply until 2016
  • Employer does not need to comply until the first day of their 2016 plan year, which means employers may wish to change their anniversary date to later in the year
  • In order to qualify for this delay, employers must not reduce their coverage, contribution, or eligibility below specified levels
  • Also, reducing their workforce below 100 employees other than for a “bona fide business reason” may disqualify an employer from using the transition relief

Employers with 100 or more Full Time Equivalents:

  • Now in 2015, employers in this category will not be subject to a shared responsibility penalty, as long as they offer coverage to 70% of their full time employees (the original requirement was 95%)
  • After 2015, coverage must be offered to 95% of employees to avoid the penalty.  The coverage offered in 2015 and beyond must be “affordable” and offer “minimum coverage”

Recall that the calculation of Full Time Equivalents is defined by the law.  This calculation and other details of the new guidance are summarized in the FAQs recently released. This new transition relief offers new opportunities to employers to create strategies for managing the impact of the ACA on their business. For more information, join our webinar on the topic on March 4th, or just This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with questions. 

Tuesday, 28 January 2014 10:00

Strategies to Manage the Affordable Care Act

 The Affordable Care Act (ACA) will continue to keep business owners and HR and benefits professionals on their toes in 2014. . Employers of all sizes need to game plan their strategies to manage the impact of the ACA on their businesses.  Whether you are a large employer trying to find the best way to cope with the Pay-or-Play mandate next year, or a small employer looking for alternatives to the community rating that may wreak havoc on your 2014 renewal (2016 for groups with 50-99 employees), we can help! . We are conducting a webinar at 10 am on March 4th on behalf of Mountain States Employers Council. Join us and start formulating your strategy now! Click here now to register.

Wednesday, 01 January 2014 10:00

Kicking Off 2014

Welcome to 2014! We are looking forward to another fantastic year of continued growth and taking great care of our clients.  Our clients are also growing and experiencing success, which gives us high hopes for the economy and business climate for the coming year. Be sure to stay tuned to our blog to keep up on ACA regulations that impact you, and other key trends in the benefits world. May your 2014 be filled with love, prosperity, and adventure! 

Thursday, 25 April 2013 10:05

Are You on Pace for a Cadillac Tax?

While most employers are busy figuring out the 2014 impacts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there’s an important tax coming down the road in 2018 to plan for now.

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