Every year millions of Americans and their families make the trek to the “Happiest Place on Earth,” — Walt Disney World. But whether you fly, drive or even take the Amtrak car train to Orlando — you cannot help but notice another omnipresent name in hospitality across Central Florida, and I’m not speaking of Universal or Sea World.

Rosen Hotels & Resorts is now the largest privately owned hotelier in Florida, with nearly 6,500 hotel rooms, two convention centers and other facilities which they own and operate primarily along the International Boulevard tourism corridor in Orlando.

Disney World has more than 40,000 hotel rooms, and Universal is adding three new resort hotels next to Volcano Bay. Harris Rosen was hired as Disney Director of Hotel Planning, and oversaw construction and development of the Contemporary and Polynesian Resorts, until he was laid off by Uncle Walt in 1974. But Rosen still understood the super people magnet that Walt Disney was engineering, and then unemployed at 35, he acquired his first hotel property, a former Quality Inn, now known as the Rosen Inn International, and its initial 256 rooms later that year.

With an aversion to taking on debt, and also understanding that many Disney guests might be challenged to pay the freight of a Disney Resort stay, Rosen hitchhiked to the northeast, and met with every bus tour and motor-coach company he could find.

Rosen returned to Orlando with rooming contracts as low as $7 per night. He set a focus, an outlier in the industry, of committing first priority to room occupancy percentages, versus average nightly room rates. His fourth hotel, originally the Comfort Inn Lake Buena Vista, and now the Clarion Inn, deployed a flashing billboard along the busy Interstate 4 corridor reading “Best Rates in Town.” Guests flocked to the interstate adjacent property, just a few miles from the Disney parks. This hotel reached maximum capacity on opening night. Rosen stood in the parking lot re-directing potential guests to his then three other Rosen hotels. That property ran at 100 percent occupancy for five consecutive years.

With his fast-growing pool of full and part-time employees, Rosen was also seeing his health care and benefit costs skyrocketing. In 1989, he formed RSC Insurance Agency, now ProvInsure to administer a self-funded insurance plan. In the fall of 1991, he opened the Rosen Medical Center adjacent to the Rosen Inn International. The full-service health care clinic offered on-site doctors and nurses as well as diagnostic and treatment facilities and equipment, to handle all the medical needs of Rosen’s fast-growing work force.

In addition to doctor visits with no co-pays or deductibles, the Rosen health plan offers prescription drugs which cost at most a $3-co-pay for employees. The Rosen health plan provides chiropractic and physical therapy treatment at its wellness center. All of this has significantly reduced Rosen’s overall health costs per employee, keeping costs as low as possible. The bulk of his employees now pay a bit less than $850 per year for individual medical, dental and vision coverage, and just under $2,600 per year for family coverage, with no deductibles and no coinsurance. Employees pay $750 in the event of their first hospitalization each year, and $750 for a second hospitalization. That’s it. Rosen more than matches employee contributions, spending about $5,500 per covered employee. That cost is less than half the national average.

Rosen is far from the only company in hospitality noting the benefits of self-insurance. Chick-fil-A self-insures all of its real estate, as well as its employees and their benefit plans. Many of the larger employers in Dalton, Georgia’s carpet, rug and textile industry also offer on-site medical clinics at no cost to their employees, encouraging wellness, as well as reducing absenteeism for medical appointments.

Rosen’s leadership in health care has won national recognition, rewards and honors. Convinced that his plan can work well for other industries and employers, he started a consulting business to help other employers design and build out self-insured plans and programs.

Rosen acknowledges fear of medical malpractice lawsuits and the complexities of health care regulation have many employers afraid of making the leap to self-insurance. But he is hopeful that the cost savings and improved offering for employees and wellness will cause others to make that same leap.

“It’s like me getting fired from Disney while I was buying my first hotel. What a blessing that turned out to be,” Rosen said.

Bill Crane is a senior communications strategist who began his career in broadcasting and has worked at the state capitol and in Washington in both political parties. Contact him at bill.csicrane@gmail.com.

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