Lee's Summit Journal

Insurance company with humble roots now serves more than 2 million

GEHA Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Karen Schuler (left) and Kathy Ross, vice president of clinical operations hold a walking meeting on Monday along new walking trails just opened this year on the GEHA campus in Lee’s Summit. The trails are part of a greater, long-term vision for health and wellness that extends to both GEHA employees and to the nearly two million members served by the organization.
GEHA Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Karen Schuler (left) and Kathy Ross, vice president of clinical operations hold a walking meeting on Monday along new walking trails just opened this year on the GEHA campus in Lee’s Summit. The trails are part of a greater, long-term vision for health and wellness that extends to both GEHA employees and to the nearly two million members served by the organization. Special to The Journal

On a hot August night in 1937, following a long day of dangerous work delivering the U.S. mail, six railway mail clerks sat down together at Union Station to bring a shared vision into reality.

Together, they launched the Railway Mail Hospital Association to help fellow mail clerks pay the costs of hospitalization for themselves and their families. Though the group had no financial resources or prior experience in health care, they were focused on this goal to help their employees they considered coworkers, friends, and even like family.

Since its founding days, the Railway Mail Hospital Association has seen a number of name changes and is now known as the Government Employees Health Association (GEHA). Operating from its headquarters in Lee’s Summit, GEHA has more than 1,000 employees and serves nearly 2 million members in more than 70 countries. It is also one of the nation’s largest health and dental plans for civilian (non-military) federal employees.

During its early years, Railway Mail Hospital Association members were exclusively from the Kansas City area. They paid $1 to join and 50 cents dues each month, and benefits included $5 per hospital day, along with $10 for ambulance and other services. In their second year of operation, the group had to pass the hat, as they were $52 short of being able to pay member’s claims.

In 1950, the plan expanded to include railway mail clerks nationwide. With the enactment of the Federal Employees Health Insurance Act of 1959, GEHA (then the Federal Postal Hospital Association) expanded to serve civilian federal employees across all branches of the federal government.

Over the past decades, GEHA has seen significant changes in both their industry and operations. Thirty years ago, all claims were submitted on paper and processed by hand. Now, the company processes more than 13 million claims a year online — and within four days of receipt.

One significant change and challenge the company founders would not have foreseen is that of cybersecurity.

“Cybersecurity has been a significant concern for our customers and within our industry as a whole,” says Karen Schuler, vice president and chief marketing officer. In response, GEHA has invested heavily in their cybersecurity program, cyber-defense systems, and cyber-risk management to protect members from cyber threats.

In their ongoing mission to serve their members, GEHA’s insurance services today reflect an integrated healthcare model. “We’re also in the business of helping members manage their health and health outcomes, rather than exclusively focusing on claims,” says Julie Browne, president and CEO.

This vision of good health also extends to GEHA employees.

“We’re a health organization, so we focus on our own health, too,” Browne says. “We want to demonstrate to our employees that we care about them and their health.”

Over the past three years, GEHA has expanded their culture of wellness. Kathy Ross, vice president of clinical operations, has been at the helm of these projects. Throughout the campus buildings are mindfulness spaces where employees can take meditation breaks or relax in massage chairs.

“Our customer care team fields 10,000 calls a day,” Schuler said. “We have critical care nurses working with people at very critical times in their lives. They need to take a moment and put their toes in mindfulness.”

Walking trails, lined with native grasses and flowers, have been added between buildings, along with an outdoor meditation and meeting space. In addition, employees can take advantage of company-sponsored yoga and dance classes.

“We’re very much a team and a family,” Browne said. “Just like the decision the railway employees and founders of the company decided to make in 1937, we take care of each other and our members.”

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