38th ECFC Annual Conference Speakers





Jody Dietel is Chair and an active board member of the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation (ECFC), a nonprofit association dedicated to the promotion and preservation of employer-sponsored benefit programs that facilitate employee choice and consumerism on a tax-advantaged basis. Ms. Dietel is currently involved with the association’s Government Relations and Interpretations Committee and is a member of the Technical Advisory Committee, diligently working to ensure ECFC is a vital force‒and essential voice‒in the legislative and regulatory debate shaping the future of employer-provided tax-advantaged benefit plans.

To her role as chief compliance officer at WageWorks, Inc., Ms. Dietel brings years of flexible benefits industry expertise and experience. She is the current vice president and an active board member of the Special Interest Group for IIAS Standards (SIGIS), which streamlines standards for the use of health care electronic payment systems in accordance with federal standards, and continues to serve on its List Review Working Group and Audit Committee. In addition, Ms. Dietel serves on the Board of the HSA Council of the American Bankers Association and is on the Policy Advisory Board of the American Benefits Council and active in the US Chamber of Commerce. She is also a frequent speaker at industry functions and is the only non-attorney to present at Employee Benefits Institute of America’s conferences.

Prior to joining WageWorks, Ms. Dietel was the founder and chief executive of Creative Benefits, Inc., a successful consumer-driven health care (CDHC) benefits administrator acquired by WageWorks in 2008. As Creative Benefits’ chief executive, she was responsible for the successful integration of the two companies’ people, products, and services. As WageWorks’ chief compliance officer, she helps the company navigate the maze of federal and state regulation and serves as a liaison between WageWorks and key industry groups and governing bodies. Before founding Creative Benefits, she held positions of responsibility at Prudential Insurance Company of America and the Wyatt Company (now Willis Towers Watson).

Ms. Dietel holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Bethel University (Minn.) and is an Advanced Certified Flexible Compensation Instructor (ACFCI) and COBRA administration specialist (CAS) through the Flexible Compensation Institute, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of ECFC.



J. Kevin A. McKechnie is Executive Director of the ABA’s HSA Council and a Senior Vice President at the American Bankers Association, representing the Council before Congress and the federal government.
Mr. McKechnie is a nationally recognized expert in insurance generally and health insurance in particular, and is the winner of the 2011 Public Policy Leadership Award from the Institute for Healthcare Consumerism.
Mr. McKechnie is also a principle in HSA Holdings, an organization of global healthcare financing experts, providing health care financing expertise to several governments around the world.
Mr. McKechnie joined ABA in 2001 after serving for 4 years as Government Relations Representative for the Affinity Services Division of Marsh & McLennan.
Previously, Mr. McKechnie served as Director of Government Relations for International Financial Services, a wealth management and insurance consulting firm located in Bethesda, Maryland. Prior to this assignment, Mr. McKechnie served as Legislative Assistant on the Congressional staff of former Representative William Dannemeyer of California. 
Prior to his appointment on Capitol Hill, Mr. McKechnie served as Director of Legislative Affairs for the Segermark Company, an association management firm.
Mr. McKechnie pursued graduate studies in American history at the American University in Washington, D.C. after receiving his BA in History and Political Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. Born in Madison Wisconsin, Mr. McKechnie grew up in Toronto and has lived in the Washington D.C. area for thirty years. 



Helen Tolar is an attorney and Republican strategist with nearly two decades of experience in key roles on both sides of the Capitol dome and beyond the Beltway. As Principal with Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas, Tolar puts to work her extensive network of relationships on Capitol Hill and around Washington to achieve results for clients.

Prior to joining Mehlman Castagnetti, Tolar served in high-level positions on the Hill and in the private sector, including key roles in the Senate and House. As Chief of Staff to Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), a former health care provider and senior member of the Appropriations, Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs, and Environment and Public Works Committees, she managed Boozman’s staff across eight offices and coordinated with a political team during the senator’s historic re-election bid, while working with external partners across business and government to advance Boozman’s priorities. During her time with the senator, she headed “RAMS,” a 60-year-old membership organization of Republican Senate and House chiefs of staff.

Tolar also served as Staff Director and Chief Counsel for the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, a role in which she reached across the political aisle and worked with key stakeholder organizations. She played a leading role in crafting six bills that ultimately became laws aimed at enhancing veterans’ access to quality health care, education and employment opportunities, and at modernizing the VA benefits process. Her efforts led National Journal to name her one of “Fourteen Powerful Women on the Hill” in its quadrennial “Hill People” profile of key congressional staffers.

Tolar’s policy experience ranges beyond Capitol Hill and the Beltway. She served as the Director of Public Policy for South Carolina’s largest trade association. In addition, she was a government affairs consultant to BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina prior to and following enactment of the Affordable Care Act. Before joining Mehlman Castagnetti, she was a Principal in the federal government affairs office of an AmLaw 100 firm, representing corporate, trade association and higher education clients.

Earlier in her career, Tolar served as health policy counsel at the Senate VA Committee and in various roles including as Legislative Director for then-Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), where her efforts on behalf of the military and veteran communities drew recognition by multiple advocacy organizations. She began her Capitol Hill career as a law clerk at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee under subcommittee chair and then-Vice Chair of the House Republican Conference, the late Rep. Tillie Fowler (R-FL).



David Castagnetti is a legislative and political strategist with a history of delivering for clients. A trusted Democratic advisor who understands how to talk to business, he has played a critical role in shaping many significant policy issues of the past two decades.

Recognized as one of Washington’s top lobbyists by BusinessWeek, Washingtonian magazine, The Hill and Congressional Quarterly, Castagnetti’s policy expertise and political chops are well known. His forte is translating complex policies into straightforward issues, then navigating the political, legislative and regula­tory challenges that dictate outcomes. His working style is as renowned as his expertise. A strong believer in “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” client service, he has instilled that same approach at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas, where all principals roll up their sleeves to get results. This combination of skill and work­ing style has made Castagnetti a trusted advisor to Members of Congress, Fortune 100 CEOs and executives across Washington’s business community.

Castagnetti’s career has put him at the highest levels of politics, business and government. Before helping to found Mehlman Castagnetti, he served John Kerry as the top liaison to Congress for the Democratic nominee’s presidential campaign. He earned plaudits from House and Senate Members for his briefings on campaign strategy and messaging, deft handling of political requests, and sensitive management of surrogates and speaking roles at the Democratic National Convention.

As a partner at Bergner, Bockorny, Castagnetti & Hawkins, he worked with technology leaders and innovative startups across Silicon Valley to develop and implement effective strategies to drive exports and maintain America’s lead in information technol­ogy. He also provided expert regulatory and political guidance for mergers and acquisitions, including the Delta Air Lines and North­west Airlines merger, Hewlett-Packard’s merger with Compaq, NewsCorp’s merger with DirecTV, and Travelers Insurance in its well-regarded partnership with St. Paul Insurance Company.

On Capitol Hill, Castagnetti earned a reputation for integrity and collaboration. As Chief of Staff to Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), he advised the Senator on trade, tax, transportation, technology and matters before the Finance and Environment and Public Works committees. He also served as Chief of Staff to Rep. Norman Y. Mineta (D-CA) when the Congressman was Chairman of the House Transportation Committee. A decade later, Castagnetti led a successful effort to win confirmation for Rep. Mineta as Secretary of Commerce for President Clinton and Secretary of Transporta­tion for President George W. Bush. Castagnetti is also one of the few people to serve in senior positions for Members on both the Senate Finance Committee and House Commerce Committee, as he began his career in the office of Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA).


Sage Eastman is a senior Republican strategist with two decades of policy, political and government experience. While as steeped in political campaigns as he is in congressional policy debates, Eastman is most known for his close relationships and being widely respected on both sides of the aisle and both sides of Capitol Hill.Having spent six years as a senior counselor to the Ways and Means Committee and its Members – serving variously as Senior Advisor, Deputy Staff Director and Director of Strategy – there isn’t a tax,health or trade battle that Eastman hasn’t worked. During his tenure on the Hill, Eastman was as likely to be found huddled on the House floor with senior House Republican leadership staff as he was working to bring about an unprecedented era of cooperation between the Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees.Eastman was a key driver behind the Ways and Means Committee’s extensive work to craft the most comprehensive re-write of the taxcode since 1986,quarterbacking the effort to solicit and incorporate input from stakeholders and thought leaders.


John Hickman is head of the Alston + Bird, LLP Health Benefits Practice where he leads five attorneys devoted exclusively to new health care reform issues under PPACA, HIPAA privacy, flexible benefits, and other health and welfare benefit issues. Hickman has been a pioneer in the consumer directed health care arena and has worked closely with health plans, financial institutions and employers as well as the IRS, Treasury, and DOL in developing guidance for tax-favored health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs). Hickman has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America (Woodward/White) and Who’s Who Legal in the employee benefits area. Hickman has lectured widely and published articles on HIPAA, ERISA litigation, cafeteria and health plan issues. He is co-author of the “Cafeteria Plans Manual,” “HIPAA Portability and Privacy” and “Consumer-Driven Health Care” (published by the Employee Benefits Institute of America). Hickman is head of the Technical Advisory Committee and is on the board of the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation (ECFC). Hickman is also an adjunct professor of law at Emory University School of Law.



Ashley Gillihan is counsel in the Atlanta office of Alston & Bird, LLP, and a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits and ERISA Litigation Groups. Gillihan focuses his practice exclusively on health and welfare employee benefit compliance and litigation issues for employers, health plan administrators, and other health and welfare benefit plan service providers. He also has extensive experience assisting financial institutions and insurance companies who serve as health savings account trustees or custodians.


Gillihan serves as a faculty member and/or technical advisor for several health and welfare benefit plan focused organizations. He is a member of the ECFC Technical Advisory Group and the board of editors for the Benefits and Compensation Law Alert published by M. Lee Smith Publishers. He is a faculty member for the Institute for Applied Management and Law, and he was recently named a contributing author for the Flexible Benefits Answer Book published by Aspen Publishers.


Alyene Mlinar works on health tax, Medicare Part C, Medicare Part D, and health reform initiatives at the Committee on Ways and Means. Previously, she worked for the Senate Republican Policy Committee, Senator Ben Sasse, and The Heritage Foundation. She has a bachelor’s in Political Science from Kent State University and a master’s in Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University.


Stuart Portman serves as Health Policy Advisor for the majority staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance. In this capacity, he handles issues related to Medicaid, CHIP, and ACA Exchanges. Previously, he served as the Senior Healthcare Legislative Assistant and Legislative Correspondent for Senator Hatch. Stuart received his Master of Public Health degree specializing in health policy from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University. While there, his coursework focused on Medicaid and CHIP, as well as ethical debates within the health services community.


Kristen Donheffner was born & raised on a farm outside of Salem, Oregon.  Kristen’s Father worked in State Government and her Mother was a nurse, which made public policy and health care a regular topic of conversation in her home.  This upbringing helped put Kristen on the path to a career in health care policy and politics.

Kristen began her Capitol Hill career as a Fellow for the Ways & Means Subcommittee on Health, where she assisted the Committee staff defending the Affordable Care Act and repealing the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR). From there, Kristen worked in the Office of Legislation at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, where she provided Congress with technical assistance on Medicaid policy and assisted the launch of the Financial Alignment Initiative and HealthCare.gov. 

Kristen returned to Congress to serve her home state as a Senior Legislative Assistant for Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), covering several policy areas including health care, Social Security, and welfare and poverty. Throughout her time in Congressman Blumenauer’s office, Kristen helped create a Medicare benefit for advanced care planning and introduce Value-Based Insurance Design (V-BID) into Medicare Advantage. She has also played an important role in crafting legislation to help individuals with chronic disease afford treatment and to strengthen patient privacy standards.

Today, Kristen is the Legislative Director for Congresswoman Doris Matsui (CA-06), where she manages Congresswoman Matsui’s legislative team and advises her on all health care policies that move through the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. During her time in Congresswoman Matsui’s office, Kristen has worked on legislation to improve mental health care, expand telehealth opportunities, and address key public health priorities.

Kristen holds a BS in History from the University of Oregon and an MPH from the George Washington University.


Casey Badmington serves as a Legislative Assistant to Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) working on Medicare, Medicaid and health tax policy issues before the Senate Finance Committee. She previously worked for six years as a Legislative Assistant to Representative Mike Thompson (D-CA) where she worked on health and tax issues, including the repeal of penalties associated with Health Reimbursement Arrangements, employer reporting obligations under the ACA, and the expansion of telehealth services under Medicare. Prior to her work on the hill, Casey interned with AARP and a DC-based PAC fundraising firm. Casey was raised in Baltimore, MD and graduated from George Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. 




Brian Blase serves as Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy at the White House’s National Economic Council. In this capacity, he develops and coordinates health care and entitlement program policymaking across the executive branch. Prior to joining the National Economic Council, Blase was a senior research fellow in the Spending and Budget Initiative at the Mercatus Center, the health policy analyst at the Senate Republican Policy Committee, and a senior professional staff member at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He has a Ph.D. in Economics at George Mason University with a dissertation on Medicaid financing. He lives in Reston, Virginia with his wife and five children. 




Bridget Tombul is the Chief of Branch 2 in the Income Tax and Accounting Division at the IRS Office of Chief Counsel and the medical expense deduction under section 213 is one of the code sections in which Ms. Tombul’s branch specializes.  Ms. Tombul started her career in Chief Counsel in ITA, and then transferred to the Procedure and Administration Division.  After that, she spent two years working for KPMG’s National Practice, Procedure and Administration Group before returning to PA in Chief Counsel.  She then served as a Special Counsel to the Division Counsel, Wage and Investment for over eight years before returning to PA as a Senior Technician Reviewer in 2013.  Ms. Tombul has also served details as the Senior Operations Advisor for the W&I Commissioner, and as the Senior Attorney-Advisor for the Commissioner’s Chief of Staff.  She received her JD with honors from the University of North Carolina in 1996.


Amy Wei is an attorney with the Income Tax and Accounting Division at the IRS Office of Chief Counsel, providing legal advice on tax matters involving the recognition and timing of income and deductions, including on section 213.  Prior to coming to Chief Counsel, Ms. Wei clerked at the United States Tax Court for the Honorable Juan F. Vasquez and the Honorable Harry A. Haines.  Ms. Wei received her JD from the Ohio State University, and her LLM in Taxation from New York University.



Kevin Knopf is a Senior Technician Reviewer in the IRS Office of Chief Counsel, TEGE, Health and Welfare branch working on guidance implementing the Affordable Care Act. Prior to joining the IRS in 2013, he was an Attorney-Adviser in the Office of Tax Policy at the US Department of the Treasury since 1987. He joined the Office of Benefits Tax Counsel within the Office of Tax Policy in 1992. Knopf received his JD from the University of Iowa, where he also received his bachelor’s degree in psychology. He is also a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center with an LLM in taxation. He is a member of the bar in Iowa and the District of Columbia.




Stephen LaGarde is an attorney-advisor in the Office of Benefits Tax Counsel at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.  Stephen specializes in all U.S. federal tax aspects of retirement plans, health and welfare plans, executive and equity-based compensation, fringe benefits, employment taxes, and IRAs.  He holds a B.A. from the University of Virginia and a J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center, where he was Editor in Chief of The Tax Lawyer and later served as an adjunct professor.  Before joining Treasury in 2016, Stephen worked in the national tax office of a Big Four accounting firm.


Nicky Brown is the Vice President, Compliance Services at WageWorks. Nicky has more than 16 years of experience in flexible benefits, compliance, consulting and management. In her previous role as the Assistant Vice President of Shared Services at CONEXIS, she had oversight of compliance, information security, vendor management, and contract administration.


Ms. Brown attended the University of Tulsa and is an Advanced Certified Flexible Compensation Instructor (ACFCI) and COBRA administration specialist (CAS) through the Flexible Compensation Institute, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of ECFC. She is also a Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional (CCEP) through the Society of Corporate Compliance Certification Board. She currently serves on the board of the Special Interest Group for IIAS Standards (SIGIS).


Candy Darr, CFC, is the Senior Manager for Creative Services and Partner Marketing for DataPath, Inc. In this role, she is responsible for the creative execution of company marketing plans and the development of marketing programs and materials to support DataPath clients. Prior to joining DataPath in 2008, Darr had worked in the marketing and advertising field for nearly 25 years, including 11 years as president and creative director for a full-service ad agency.



Ben Morris is President of UMB Healthcare Services. He has been with UMB for 20 years and is responsible for the direction and growth of the segment, including health savings accounts, multi-purpose debit cards and healthcare payment strategies to health plans, third party administrators, and technology companies.

Ben has been instrumental in helping to grow the HCS business to $2.6 billion in deposits and more than 1.25 million health savings accounts, along with over 6 million multi-purpose benefit cards. In addition, he also helped to launch other healthcare products such as payer to provider virtual cards and the health claims portal, HealthPay View.  

He started his career at UMB in 1998 and has worked in several different areas of the bank including Treasury Management, Merchant Services and Healthcare Services.

Ben graduated from the University of Missouri and has his Executive MBA degree from Rockhurst University.

In addition Ben has been an industry leader including serving as a current board member of the Employer’s Council of Flexible Compensation (ECFC). He is also a member of the American Banker’s Association HSA Council and Self-Insurance Institute of America (SIIA).

Ben is known as a thought leader throughout the country on a range of topics related to healthcare financial products and services and healthcare reform.


William F. Sweetnam is the ECFC Legislative & Technical Director. Prior to joining ECFC, he was principal at the Groom Law Group, the nation’s largest employee benefits specialty law firm.Before joining Groom in 2005, he was the benefits tax counsel in the Office of Tax Policy at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Prior to that, Sweetnam was tax counsel on the Majority Staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, under the chairmanship of Senator William Roth of Delaware. He is a graduate of Rutgers University (N.J.) and of Fordham University School of Law (N.Y.). 




Erin Freiberg, JD is the Director of Compliance at Employee Benefits Corporation in Middleton, Wisconsin. Erin has over 12 years of experience in employment law and employee benefits, handling issues arising under the Fair Labor Standards Act, FMLA, ERISA, COBRA, HIPAA, ADA, Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Section 125, and others.  Prior to coming to Employee Benefits Corporation, Erin was a Compliance Attorney with a regional insurance agency and also ran her own law practice. Erin serves on the Board for ECFC and is an active member of the Governmental Relations and Interpretations Committee and Governance Committee. Her law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School was earned with high honors.