KING OF PRUSSIA -- Internet firms more often than not are going bust these days, but America's Choice Healthplans is bucking the trend by booming.
The online third-party benefits administrator -- which charges fees of about $20 per employee per month to handle benefits for self-insured companies -- finds itself on the Philadelphia 100 for the third consecutive year. A two-year growth rate of 203.82 percent led to its No. 38 ranking.
Expect to see America's Choice Healthplans back on the list next year: Sales of $4.03 million in 2000 will be dwarfed by anticipated 2001 revenue of about $8 million. The company had 58 employees last year and about 100 now. There are satellite offices in New York, Chicago and in Baltimore-Washington, D.C.
Heading for the Web; Clellend N. Green II, CEO, America's Choice Healthplans
"I always thought the business would be big," said President and CEO Clelland N. Green II. "It's an exciting place to be because it's such an important part of our economy."
Willow Grove native Green founded America's Choice in 1994, but his story actually dates to 1988, a time when many health insurance plans began migrating to self-funding. That's when Green left a job as sales executive at Karr Barth Associates. He and partner Dennis Cox founded Cox Green Associates, a benefits administration firm based in Cherry Hill.
The firm succeeded, growing to $2.3 million in annual sales within a few years (and making the Philadelphia 100), but differing interests led Cox and Green to split up in 1994.
Green, 38, noted that health maintenance organizations were losing single-state, single-site clients. Thus, he decided America's Choice would focus on third-party benefits administration for corporations with offices in multiple locations.
The company started with $75,000 in funding. It's come a long since, having raising $5 million in venture capital in the past 18 months, most of it from the Berwind Group's Eureka Fund.
As the Internet grew in popularity, Green said he realized online service could bridge gaps for spread-out companies. A quiz of clients showed that even low-tech companies were eager to take their service online.
America's Choice deployed its online site (MyAmericasChoice.com) in August 1999 and had all its customers online by January 2000. Those customers now can enroll in insurance plans, find doctors in the plan, submit claims and check the status of those claims. They can even engage in live chat with member services representatives.
Once the firm went online, things began rolling:
The company Web site recorded 200,000 hits in September.
The client base now tops 100 and includes the Philadelphia Phillies, Select Medical Corp. of Mechanicsburg (acquirers of NovaCare's rehabilitation business), Envirosource Inc. of Horsham and Bottomline Technologies Inc. of Portsmouth, N.H.
America's Choice enjoyed its first profitable month in September, after flirting with being in the black for much of the summer, Green said.
The Eastern Technology Council nominated the company for an Internet Achievement Award.
Green is optimistic that the best is yet to come.
"We kind of bridge the old economy and the new economy. The industry is still basically a paper industry," Green said, estimating that just two of every 10 customers in the industry file claims electronically.
Furthermore, just 10 percent of all companies use the Internet for claims administration.
America's Choice will continue its Internet push in 2002, deploying new technology and keeping a "hyper-focus" on customer service and quality, Green said.
For example, the company paid 60,000 claims in August -- 59,000 of them accurately, Green said. While the error rate of about 1.6 percent is half the industry average, Green wants to further improve it.
Competitors include insurance companies such as Blue Cross, Cigna and United Healthcare, as well as other third-party administrators, both online and off.
"The market for administration is $3 billion," Green said. "We represent a small portion. There's enough market share for all of us."
Green isn't satisfied simply raking in the proceeds of a successful business.
America's Choice also looks to reduce costs in the industry.
For example, Green said America's Choice's model could provide easy access to claims data that allows employers to identify workers who could benefit from disease management programs that focus on controlling and minimizing existing conditions.
"Six percent of people in any (managed care) plan have 60 percent of the claims," Green noted.
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