Sarah Spiekermeier: Facilitating a Health Experience

Sarah Spiekermeier
Sarah Spiekermeier

An uninsured American faces greater health hardship than an insured American today.

The uninsured individual would not seek medical care and avoid preventive health screenings due to high costs. On the same lines, in mid-2022, around half of the U.S. adults were having difficulty in affording health care costs, with four in ten reporting that they have delayed medical care.

While middle-income adults are likely to face the dilemma, it is noticed that higher-income adults are also not immune to the high cost of medical care. The scenario has been reflected by statistics that suggest, “One-third of insured adults are worried about their monthly insurance affordability, while 44% worry about affording their deductible even before health insurance comes into play.

Identifying the existing disproportionate healthcare coverage systems, Sarah Spiekermeier, an emerging healthcare leader and the Chief Operations Officer, introduced Banner University Health Plans, a large Medicaid and Medicare plan under Banner Health’s insurance division.

BannerHealth is an Arizona-based 20-year leading solution that combines care and coverage through its member-centric culture. The organization has committed to its community’s health by integrating quality health care, medical, and prescription drug coverage into one plan.

We at Healthcare Everything reached out to Sarah Spiekermeier to know her story on how she managed to turn the health plan challenges of the American healthcare sector into a fortunate opportunity while simultaneously serving the community.

Let’s know Sarah’s journey that got her into the prime spotlight.

Venturing into Healthcare

Sarah was born and raised in Arizona and started her career in the healthcare industry at a young age. She participated in several activities, from volunteering to entry-level positions at the local hospitals and clinics.

She adds, “I was always drawn to the patient advocacy and health insurance side of health care.

During her first year of college, she found herself in a life-changing predicament—pregnant and a soon-to-be single mother. While navigating the health insurance coverage as a 19-year-old, she was still on her parent’s health insurance, and her work did not offer health insurance (this was before the marketplace), coupled with not qualifying for Medicaid. “It was a struggle. But I figured it out. This led her to promise herself to help as many individuals as possible to navigate this difficult system,” states Sarah.

She continued with college and raising her son when she met her amazing husband, who at the time was an active-duty U.S. Air Force member. “Soon after, we welcomed our second son.

Despite being a busy young mother and an Air Force wife, she never stopped her education. She completed her Associates of Art in Business Administration, Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, and even an MBA.

Today, she remains happily married to her husband (now retired) and her amazing boys, who are now young men.

My oldest son once told me when I was promoted to Chief Operations Officer, that he learned from watching me that – If you work hard and don’t give up (even when things get tough) you can achieve your dreams,” – concludes Sarah, as she reflects on her journey.

Orienting with the Mission of Care and Coverage

Banner University Health Plans (BUHP) is a managed care organization and part of Banner Health’s Insurance Division. Being a Banner division, it is a locally owned plan focused exclusively on Central and Southern Arizona with over 325,000 members. It has also been a recognized managed care leader since 1985, with a long history of successful operations in Medicaid and Medicare.

Highlighting the organization’s mission, Sarah marks, “BUHP is a mission-oriented organization that strives to be a member champion and collaborative partner. An easy-to-work-with organization that sets the bar for care and coverage. We are inspired by our connection to the members and communities that we serve.”

BUHP owns and operates: Banner – University Family Care (B – UFC/ACC), an AHCCCS Complete Care plan; Banner – University Family Care (B – UFC/ALTCS), an Arizona Long Term Care plan; and Banner Medicare which offers three Medicare Advantage plans (Banner Medicare Advantage Prime HMO, Banner Medicare Advantage Plus PPO and Banner Medicare Dual D-SNP) in several Arizona counties along with three prescription drug plan options (Banner Medicare Simple Rx PDP, Banner Medicare Classic Rx PDP, and Banner Medicare Premier Rx PDP) available state-wide

Journey Towards BannerHealth’s Success

I started with Banner close to ten years ago, but my history with Banner goes beyond that,” suggests Sarah. She is a 3rd generation Banner employee, with her grandmother retiring from medical records when it was the legacy organization Samaritan. Similarly, both of her parents have a combined 40+ years of service with Banner.

Sarah worked as a call center supervisor during her initial days at Banner and later quickly moved up the ranks in roles such as Program Implementation Manager, Medicaid Compliance Officer, Senior Director of Operations, and most recently, her current role of Chief Operations Officer.

A few of her most memorable and successful projects in these roles are:

  1. Leading an 80,000 Medicaid member transition from one plan to another, which was acknowledged as one of the most successful member transitions by the state and deemed a “Best Practice” by state leadership.
  2. Leading and implementing two State Medicaid Requests for Proposals resulted in the successful Contract award for 10 Arizona Counties.
  3. Launching three Medicare Advantage plans during a pandemic while moving the entire health plan workforce from in-office to remote.

Cultivating a Member-Centric Culture

With a mission to make health care easier so that life can be better, we are the only local organization that couples care and coverage through our member-centric culture,” points out Sarah.

At Banner, every employee strives to honor the individual. “We are privileged to serve through a company-wide campaign focused on the needs of ‘Ana’ and ‘Sofia” (the persona of a members we know), wherein we embrace and consider every interaction,” notes Banner’s employees.

Banner’s commitment to serving Arizona’s most vulnerable citizens is demonstrated throughout its 30+ years of experience and vast Medicaid MCO expertise. As a non-profit organization rooted in the communities, Banner is the largest employer and Medicaid provider and has invested five billion dollars in the state over the past five years. Its 30-year affiliation with the University of Arizona facilitates research and training of Arizona’s future healthcare workforce.

We give all individuals VIP access to the best-integrated health care solutions, whether they come through BUFC, Banner’s delivery system, or our community provider network,” adds Sarah.

Sarah’s Leadership Approach: Providing a Safe Space

Sarah, under her senior leadership, has ensured that Banner’s Health Plans offers a safe space for care.

For instance, in the wake of the pandemic, Banner rallied around the communities it served and moved swiftly to transition staff to remote working and ensure a safe space for staff that had to remain in the office or clinical settings.

Highlighting Banner’s operations, Sarah suggests, “At the health plan level, we have continued a hybrid approach to remote and in-office staff to meet the needs of our employees as well as our members. The in-office locations are being updated to provide safe working environments for staff so they can collaborate in small-in-person settings.”

Banner is the leader in providing quality health care. As a leader and employee of Banner, my family and I trust the outstanding care we receive from all Banner facilities and staff,” concludes Sarah.

Taking Advantage of Technological Development

Sarah points out that technology was the foundation for moving from in-office appointments to telehealth during the pandemic. “But technological advancements come with a cost and a vast array of options that can make it challenging for providers, especially providers in rural locations,” marks Sarah.

Addressing the matter, Banner’s Insurance Division has been passionate about helping providers move towards better technological solutions.

The organization offers several innovative technology options to help providers in rural and urban settings improve the overall member experience. For instance, it provides technology solutions for Banner’s contracted providers that enable all stakeholders to monitor and influence quality metrics as well as track and oversee trend utilization. Additionally, it also offers value-based purchasing options to incentivize providers to provide quality care to all of their members.

Seeking Balance

It could be a challenge for women in leadership positions to find that balance between career aspirations and home life.

When I struggled with this, I asked other women in higher-level leadership roles how they managed work-life balance. The best advice I got and still live by is to find a balance that works for you. While catching up on emails or projects in the evenings or weekend mornings works for me, that might not work for someone else, and that’s okay,” remarks Sarah.

Furthermore, she believes that an individual must own his or her schedule. She puts, “I block time in the mornings to catch up on emails and in the afternoons to review my calendar for the next day/week. I also use this time to complete any follow-up work I have for those meetings. If something gets scheduled during those times, it is my choice to accept or decline based on priority, of course.” 

Enlightening Budding Enthusiasts

To those entrepreneurs and enthusiasts who desire to venture into the healthcare sector, Sarah reports, “The best advice I could give up-and-coming healthcare leaders is:

  1. Don’t be afraid to take on a challenging project or projects that may be out of your comfort zone. I don’t think I would be where I am today if I hadn’t raised my hand to take on a challenging project. It helped me learn all areas of health plans and build relationships with key leaders.
  2. Network! Join boards, committees, volunteer opportunities, and attend conferences. Not only will you expand your knowledge base, but you will meet and network with many key leaders.
  3. Expand your inner circle with mentors. I learned so much from the female mentors I have had over the years. From helping me find my voice to developing my executive presence, their impact on my career and choices has been extraordinary.”

Scaling the Healthcare Journey

Sarah envisions scaling into her successful journey in the healthcare sector. She states, “Healthcare is in my blood. I see myself continuing in the world of healthcare with a focus on health insurance. That, combined with keeping a promise I made to myself almost 20 years ago, helps individuals navigate our healthcare system and benefits from a high standard of quality care for all Banner members.”

Next Story: