Spotlight Interview: Bruce Flunker, President, EBSO

About Bruce Flunker

Bruce Flunker is president of EBSO, Inc., now a 90 Degree Benefits Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and St. Paul, Minnesota. EBSO, Inc. serves clients throughout the United States with employees in Arizona, Ohio, Illinois and Kentucky.

Flunker began his insurance career in 1980, when he joined Wausau Insurance as an Employee Benefit Specialist. In 1983, Flunker was hired by Safeco Life and Investments as a Stop Loss Group Representative in the Minneapolis Office and then held several management positions within Safeco. In 1998, was promoted to president of Safeco Administrative Services and Employee Benefits Consultants.

In 2009, Employee Benefit Consultants was acquired by Flunker and partner Cindy Sheffield of SOMI, Inc. The two TPAs merged and became EBSO, Inc. After almost a decade of building and growing EBSO they joined the growing National TPA enterprise, 90 Degrees, in December 2018.

About EBSO, a 90 Degree Benefits Company

90 Degree Benefits is a health benefits company with a mission: to help employers Make the Right Turn™ for their business through strategically crafted benefit offerings. With every business being unique, no path to success looks the same. 90 Degree Benefits designs health plans and administers benefits that meet each employer’s unique health and operational needs, both now and for the road ahead. We believe the right health plan does more than just provide benefits. It provides peace of mind for both employees and employers and contributes to the overall success of the organization. The 90 Degree Benefits vision is to help each employer Make the Right Turn™ for their business.Visit 90degreebenefits.com.


Medical Travel Today (MTT):  How did you get involved in this industry, the TPA  and  benefits marketplace?

Bruce Flunker (BF): My career started out in the self-funding space as a wholesaler, a stop-loss professional with the Safeco Life, which eventually became Symetra Financial.

In 1996 I was promoted as Vice President TPA operations in Ohio. In 1999 I was promoted to  president. In 2009, Symetra Financial  made a strategic decision eliminate the TPA distribution channel. I purchased the TPA with my partner, Cindy Sheffield.

In 2018 we sold it to BlueCross BlueShield of Alabama, and became part of the  90 Degree Benefit enterprise.

MTT: What do you find remarkable about this industry today?

BF: What’s exciting is that there’s always opportunities to become more creative and bring innovation to the marketplace.

We are in the middle of working on programs and products that we believe employers are going to find interesting as they come out of this COVID-19 crisis.

There will be tremendous financial strain on many sectors of the economy.  Employers will continue to be using a competitive benefit program to attract and retain quality employees. Developing cost effective innovative and affordable health plans is our focus.

We believe many of the services we offer will be very attractive to employers; Direct contracts with providers, Patient Advocacy services to assist members navigate the complicated health system and strategic strategies to manage the growing cost of specialty drugs.  An overriding goal is to help members find care with a high value provider at the best price.

MTT:  Do you think the medical travel industry will have a renaissance, both domestic and international?

BF: I can’t really speak to international, but I think in the United States for elective surgeries, absolutely.

Our company develops employer plans that reward people who are willing to travel to a high value cost effective provider.  It is critical to align incentives to promote medical tourism.  Employers need to clearly communicate the value of a medical tourism program and why they are promoting it.

We have not had much success in getting people to travel more than 100 miles, but continue to work to enhance Plan designs, incentives and communication .

MTT:  Did you ever introduce some international benefits?

BF: It’s certainly worthy of looking at because everything you read about it is very positive.

We have had one member successfully seek care through an international tourism program in the Cayman Islands. 

MTT: Would you say people aren’t willing to travel? What do you think holds them back? Are they more nervous about travel, outcomes or the follow-up care?

BF: All of the above.

Looking to the future, millennials are now going the majority of the American workforce. My prediction is they will be more willing to travel to seek medical with the proper incentive. They’re not as attached to their doctor as their parents and the way they shop is different. They are savy consumers in all purchases.

MTT: When you talk about quality, that’s a pretty broad word. What are you looking for?

BF: Outcomes is going to be a key measure. The challenge is the way quality and outcomes are reported and how they are measured today is subjective. With technology and standardization, measuring outcomes and quality will evolve. 

MTT: How has your business model changed?

BF: Now that we are part of the 90 Degree Enterprise our focus for us is to take away any barriers that may be in place to growing organically. One example with the buying power of 90 Degrees we’ve able to restructure most of our contracts with pharmacy benefit managers and vendors at much more attractive pricing, increasing our competitiveness.

MTT: Can we talk a little bit about specialty pharma?

BF:  With specialty pharma the trend is going to continue at an even more aggressive pace.  There are some very creative solutions being developed in the PBM industry that address the growing cost of prescriptions.

MTT: After the pandemic resolves, what would you say are going to be the biggest changes in the market?

BF:  Difficult to predict. I think you’re going to see a change in behaviors for primary care doctors, who will have learned how to work in a telehealth environment very quickly.

Telehealth does several things. Number one, it creates an environment for providers where they can really have a conversation with the member without pressure. Providers are going to have to learn how to be more efficient with what they have but the accountability is going to be higher.

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