Now is the Time to Think Big About Strategy

It has been said many times: Life will never be the same after what we experienced in 2020. Today, let’s ask ourselves how that might translate into our benefits strategies for the future. While there remain challenges and hard times ahead, for the next few minutes let’s consider this year as a transformative opportunity. Many people look at their jobs very differently now compared to before the pandemic. Businesses have had to change in response to the current environment to survive and thrive. It is time to look at benefits differently, too. 

  1. Are you wasting money on low-value benefits?  Simple test. Make a list of the top priorities for your benefits program. Then review each benefit you currently offer against that list and answer these questions: Relevant in today’s environment? Desired level of engagement and utilization? Worth the investment? Then think about this: What’s missing from your program? The most meaningful direction for your 2022 strategy lies in the answers to these questions.  The bottom line is that employers can’t afford to waste money on low-value benefits.

  2. Get ready to double-down on health care cost management strategies.  Findings from Mercer’s National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans 2020 indicated that many employers saw slower cost growth in 2020 and decided to avoid cost-management tactics like shifting cost to employees for 2021. Instead, they focused on providing resources to keep employees healthy and productive during a stressful time. Looking ahead, there are market forces at play – driven faster by the pandemic -- that will definitely impact cost. Examples include market consolidation of provider practices and the growth in virtual visits with network providers that are reimbursed at same level as in-person visits. At the same time, there’s a big opportunity for employers to rethink how and where their members get health care. Is it time to modernize your plan design to drive more efficient care with AI triage and care support, advanced primary care models, clinical monitoring tools, and virtual value networks? The affordability of health care is a real issue even for employees with health insurance -- and that translates into genuine interest in better ways to get care more efficiently.

  3. DEI is a cultural requirement and health benefits have a role to play. The pandemic has made the problem of health inequity very clear. To begin to address it, data is critical. By incorporating demographic data on race, ethnicity, and gender of members into your claims data with your carrier or your data warehouse, it is possible to identify disparities for preventive services, treatment of chronic conditions, and other indices of clinical quality.  The next step is to turn that data into a plan to improve care. In addition, it is critical to support patient and provider racial congruence (as well as gender congruence) by including provider demographics in provider directories. We know from many studies that patient experience -- and in many instances health outcomes -- are improved when there is racial congruence and/or gender congruence in patients and providers. Addressing DEI in benefits will be challenging and require creative thinking, but promises to be deeply rewarding, as providing support to those who need it the most will be transformative for those individuals. 

  4. It’s all about the employee experience.  The consumer experience has been elevated to new heights, and there are no signs of this progress stopping. My favorite data point from reports on the JP Morgan healthcare conference: 49% of consumers wish the digital healthcare experience was smoother and more intuitive, similar to experiences with Netflix, Amazon and Uber. We’ve come to expect text notifications on the status of things important to us, apps that tell us where to get the best price for goods and services, and sites that anticipate our next need. Does your health benefit plan do that? Would you like it to? What needs to change to create that level of engagement – and drive healthy behaviors and appropriate access to care?  

These truly transformative opportunities will change the shape of benefits – making them more relevant, responsive, cost effective, and sensitive to the needs of your employees and their families. Are you ready to take it on?

Tracy Watts
by Tracy Watts

Senior Partner, National Leader for U.S. Health Policy

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