Making Health Benefits Better with Nava's Donald DeSantis

Leslie Harding
September 27, 2021

Nava is a modern benefits brokerage, founded on a mission to fix healthcare, one benefits plan at a time. They do this by delivering a unified, tech-enabled health benefits strategy that is inspired by big company best practices, but tailored for groups of any size.  Nava co-founder and Chief Product Officer Donald DeSantis joins us to share what they’re learning and what brokers and employers can do differently to create health benefits programs that employees love.

Donald’s Journey to Co-founding Nava

Like many of our guests, Donald didn’t start out his career in healthcare. In fact, his last startup, VTS, is the leasing and marketing platform leveraged by the majority of office buildings in the U.S. and transformed how the commercial real estate industry operates. Around mid-2019, Donald and Nava co-founder and CEO Brandon Weber began looking at the healthcare space, wondering how they could make a difference.

They knew that healthcare affordability was (and remains) a crisis in the U.S. In fact, 18% of Americans have medical debt in collections, and healthcare costs are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.. On a personal level, Donald also had a healthcare crisis in 2013 that gave him insight into just how costly necessary treatment can be. They started doing some research and found that there was no shortage of innovation in healthcare and insurance today, but there were many problems in getting those products to market. Given that benefits consultants influence the healthcare plans of 160+ million Americans who depend on an employer for health benefits, they are in a great position to catalyze needed change in the healthcare industry. With this insight, Donald and his co-founder realized the biggest impact they could have on the healthcare space is to build a better benefits brokerage, and thus, Nava was born. 

How Small Businesses Can Learn From Large Corporations

A core part of Nava’s strategy is to take the best practices of large corporations, who are paying less overall for their benefits and make them accessible to smaller companies. After all, 98% of businesses in the US have less than 100 employees. Many of them face big increases in their health insurance costs every year, but large companies aren’t necessarily seeing the same rate increases. Why? 

Large corporations are buying less health insurance and more health care. These companies are typically self insured, and they directly contract with local providers to get the level of care they need at the rates they want. They can also afford to hire consultants and license technology to help bring their costs down even more. So Donald and his team decided to figure out how they could take that playbook and bring it down market to help small businesses.

How Nava is Helping Small Businesses 

“You can’t walk into a 100 life group and say, ‘You should self insure and actively manage your pharmacy benefits closely, and contract with local providers etc.’ Many small businesses won’t even consider it, because it’s just too unfamiliar and too much work,” Donald said. Nava has been listening to its customers to learn about the barriers to change, and they’re been crafting solutions to meet groups closer to where they are today. By taking an iterative approach, Nava is able to guide employers toward more affordable and effective benefit solutions at a pace the company can handle.  

One of the easiest solutions to deploy that has the most impact is a tool to help employees make better decisions when choosing their health plans. Most employees are flying blind, unable to meaningfully weigh their options and figure out exactly how a plan will work for them. Nava offers an easy-to-use quiz to find out employees’ needs and calculates the most economically optimal plan for their personal situation. That’s something that can immediately move the needle for employees and help them better utilize what is available to them.

Challenges Facing Brokers, Now and in the Future

Right now is either a great or a tough time to be a broker, with all of these innovative products becoming available. They have to stay on top of what is available in the market, discerning which solutions could help their clients the best. Then they have to figure out how to sell these new solutions and implement them with their clients. 

Donald recommends staying up to date on industry innovation via social media and podcasts like Better Benefits. It can also be valuable to designate someone at their firm to make this a priority and share learnings with the broader team. There is just so much to have your arms around nowadays as a broker that it is essential to dedicate time and energy to staying abreast of the innovations. 

The most successful brokers today collaborate with their colleagues and their team. However, this can become limiting if your firm has their own tools that you’re forced to use. You want to be in a position to be able to adopt new solutions because you want to be free to bring the best new solutions to your clients. Regional or newer firms may have an advantage in staying flexible and collaborative in bringing new innovations to market.

What’s Next for Nava

As they look toward 2022, Nava will be hiring more brokers and client managers. In the next few months they will also be partnering with more like-minded companies, much like Ansel, to further their goal of designing better health benefit programs that limit employee’s exposure to burdensome out-of-pocket costs. The team at Nava is also really excited about the new content they are going to launch in 2022, as well as the new proprietary tools they will be bringing to market.

To hear more insights from Donald, including more tips for employers and brokers, listen to Episode 28 of Better Benefits now. If you enjoy the episode, don’t forget to subscribe and leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform. 

Donald’s Recommended Resource

On every episode of Better Benefits, we ask our expert guests for a book or resource they’d recommend to others working in the benefits space. This week, Donald recommended a few different books to us. The first is The Price We Pay: What Broke American Healthcare and How to Fix It by Dr. Marty Makary, Nava’s Chief Medical Advisor and a Johns Hopkins Surgeon, which gives an overview of the American healthcare system. It includes some truly heartbreaking stories, but it also gives some hope about how we can fix some of the problems we are facing as a nation. Next up is The CEO’s Guide to Restoring the American Dream by Dave Chase. Donald tells us this one is on the reading list for new hires at Nava because it is so effective at getting people up to speed quickly. (If you haven’t heard it, catch Dave’s episode of Better Benefits where he unpacks the ideas in his book.) 

If you’d like to connect with Donald and the team at Nava you can visit their website at

Note, this episode is for informational and educational purposes only. Donald DeSantis and Nava are not endorsed, affiliated with, nor compensated by Ansel Insurance Inc.

If you want to get in touch with Mike or learn more about Ansel, visit our website or email us at