Amid a cancer battle, this CEO is building holistic health into his company's plan design

When Rick Betenbough was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer nearly two years ago, he headed south of the U.S. border in search of alternatives to chemotherapy and radiation. 

Among the medical treatments the CEO of Betenbough Companies received at a clinic in Cancun, Mexico: sound and light infusions not covered by traditional health insurance; cold-pressed juice and nutritional supplements as part of a heavy enzyme and detox treatment for cancer and degenerative diseases known as the Gonzales Protocol; and vitamin D therapy on the beach and Bible study devotionals.

Betenbough describes cancer as "a symptom of spiritual, emotional or physical stress and a diet of processed foods loaded with refined sugars and cooked in vegetable oils," and laments that the U.S. healthcare system treats symptoms rather than cures illness. 

"They want to sell pharmaceuticals to treat them forever," he says. "And we conspire with them, because we don't want to change our diet and lifestyle."

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Although not cancer-free and still under the care of a local holistic and integrative care physician, Betenbough has seen enough progress that he's been inspired to promote holistic health for his 345 employees and their family members. This is now part of an integrative care model involving body, mind, spirit and soul, all baked into a culture that already valued deep faith and the power of prayer.

"I embarked on a change of everything," Betenbough says. "New pace. New rhythms and real food. I had to slow down. God began to ask me to extend this philosophy to our employees and their families. I want them to have what I have: wellness." 

The company's health "assurance" initiative was rolled out in January 2023, layered on top of a self-insured group health plan that covers nearly 700 lives. More than half of those plan participants have registered for an account to participate in voluntary wellness programs, which include subsidizing 80% of the cost for blood work, a consultation to discuss the results and recommended actionable items.

"The most valuable resource that we have is our team members and their families," explains Casey Brewer, employee support director for the Lubbock, Texas-based company. "We believe that healthy people will lead better lives and be more productive workers."

The company joins a growing movement to transcend a U.S. healthcare system that has long been fixated on treating symptoms for mounting chronic conditions. More proactive approaches center around placing greater emphasis on preventive medicine and holistic care through plan designs that address the root cause of disease. Examples include chiropractic care, acupuncture and naturopathic medicine, in contrast to traditional care that is more standardized, less variable and more predictable.

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In offering point solutions that are alternatives to the traditional care model, employers need to implement several important steps, according to Ashley Pace, SVP for Alliant Insurance Services and a Validation Institute advisory board member. They include devoting enough attention to these programs to boost utilization, figuring out the financing component and ensuring that they dovetail into company culture.

One of the forward-thinking vendors Pace recommends to employer clients is Spark Health, whose evidence-based methods feature a team of medical and naturopathic doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, nutrition specialists and other healthcare providers. "It's a cool clinic with a spa-like atmosphere that doesn't look like a doctor's office," he says.

Few leaders in the employee benefits space know their way around the holistic care landscape better than Mark Testa, a chiropractor and acupuncturist who's also a licensed benefits broker specializing in regenerative care.

"The solution is in plain sight, but really nobody's looking for it," says Testa, a principal of Testa Consulting Group. One example lies in his advisory work with Regenexx, whose procedures provide non-surgical treatment options for people suffering from pain related to orthopedic issues. Bone marrow concentrate and platelet-rich plasma injections help avoid up to 70% of elective orthopedic surgery. He notes that this reduces absenteeism, requires less rehab and medication use, as well as lowers cost. 

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Testa reports that some employer-sponsored health plans have seen the benefit of providing employees with greater numbers of chiropractic care, some as high as 40 visits per year, rooted in the knowledge that having access to inexpensive, conservative care will keep members from needing steroid injections and surgery.

At Betenbough Companies, employees and their families have access to services that help them navigate their way through their personal nutrition, with guidance on how to select ingredients, grocery shop and build healthier menus. Soon, employees also will be offered cold-pressed juicing on a weekly basis and seminars open to spouses. These programs will supplement free counseling for individuals or couples that is currently available.

A projected savings of 20% to 30% over last year's healthcare spending is expected just in year one of the health assurance plan, while the projection could exceed 50% in year two. But Brewer says it's not about the money. He's gratified to see people who once avoided doctor visits excited to participate: "They're willing to pay a small fee to pursue the truth about what's going on in their body."

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