Our sister company, Oliver Wyman, had some advice for healthcare industry leaders on Election Day: There are actions you can take to address problems in the health system that transcend party affiliation. The authors called them no-regret moves. Joe Biden is now the president-elect, but advancing his ambitious healthcare agenda will depend to a large extent on Congress, where he will have to work with either a Republican-controlled Senate or one with the thinnest Democrat majority. Finding common ground will be essential to progress. I found it both interesting and encouraging that the “no-regret moves” align so well with what employers want. That’s critical, because no one stakeholder can make change happen on their own. Here are two moves that got my attention.
Continue the drive towards quality and transparency
We’ve written about this topic a lot over the past few years. Mercer’s point of view – which we’ve shared with policymakers – is that transparency data should include quality indicators. While the government has taken steps to advance price transparency by releasing regulations for hospitals a year ago and regulations for group health plans just before the election, unfortunately neither required any quality metrics. The hospital regulations have been challenged in court – and so far have been upheld – and it has been reported that the BCBS Association and AHIP are expected to lead litigation attempts against the new health plan regulations. There are conflicting opinions as to whether or not transparency will reduce costs or make them higher – create a floor or a ceiling. Yes, it’s a bit of a mess, but these actions show that the government acknowledges that the lack of transparency in health care cost information is a flaw in the system that needs to be addressed. It is also interesting that the new group health plan transparency requirements are very focused on the consumer. Employers can use this endorsement to support their own demands for greater transparency from their plans and providers – to address both price and quality.
Plan or expand health inequality programs – and start to address health inequity
This got my attention because designing inclusive benefits is a good way for employers to support a broader corporate DEI strategy. Until I read this post, I hadn’t really understood the difference between health inequality and health inequity – but it’s important. Health inequality refers to the uneven distribution of health or health resources that we typically refer to as “access” to healthcare. An example is inadequate access to healthcare in rural areas. During the pandemic, as we relied more on telemedicine, lack of access to the internet became another barrier not just in rural areas but also in some low-income locations. While there is still much work to be done, over the years employers have developed strategies to address health inequality. But health inequity has more recently come into focus. It refers to unfair differences in health status of different population groups, arising from the social conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. We have become more aware of health inequities during the pandemic as we saw Blacks, Latinx, and Native Americans impacted more than others. With new awareness of this problem, employers can begin to engage HR teams, health plans, and their own employee population to face the issue openly and develop a plan to act on it.
Neither of these are simple problems, to say the least. But being aligned on the end goal is a good place to start. So take the first step – you won’t regret it.