Health care, its costs and its uncertainty are definitely at the top of the list of what keeps one leading benefits professional up at night.
There is a real desire for American employees to understand how to best to evaluate plans for themselves and their families coupled with shifting from traditional health plans to those with high deductibles, according to Jeff Oldham, part of the Benefitfocus leadership team.
Oldham described this shift as similar to what occurred decades ago in the retirement industry, with the transition from defined benefit to contribution.
"The health care space is changing so rapidly," Oldham told HR Daily Wire in an email interview. With the increase in medical costs continuing to be a challenge for employers to absorb, there has been a quick move to providing employees with more tools, he said.
These include personal claims data, guided shopping, recommendations, and bundles "to assist in evaluating (high-deductible health plans) HDHPs and Consumer-Directed Health Plans."
"With high deductibles, it’s important for employees to have their financial house in order; unfortunately this is a significant challenge," Oldham said. "Stats abound about financial un-health, and when people are in HDHPs and not financially ready, they often stop obtaining the care they need."
But it is not just costs because of the time in the history of employer-sponsored health care; employees are making critical decision themselves.
"The industry will adapt to educate employees about their newfound responsibility and ensuring there are financial protection measures available," Oldham said.
Technology, including online shopping, is the other big issue in the industry, Oldham argued, and his company is "committed to helping employers and their employees manage these changes."
"We ensure employees can see how a plan choice may impact them financially, and educate employees about pairing complementary benefits like critical illness and hospitality indemnity with medical plans," he said. "With our focus on Data Science and our annual State of Employee Benefits, we help employers make informed decisions, giving their employees the best options for their own personal needs. There’s awareness of this need, but there’s been five or so decades leading up to the health care crisis; it’s going to take time to adjust to where we are today and make it better."
On changes to the business, the "shift in consumerism is driving an enormous transition from traditional 'brick and mortar' services to disruptive, online digital health and fintech (financial technology) companies."
"These are not just changes in the U.S., but global -- whether it’s a financial wellness company Neyber in England, or Withings, a French Digital Health company’s continued advancements in conjunction with Nokia," he said. "These transitions are occurring across the globe, driven by an intersection of entrepreneurs and health/financial care."
On the Affordable Care Act, Oldham said that since the presidential election, the uncertainly of what, if any, changes will occur is disrupting business and creating changes in the market.
"We are seeing this impact both carrier customers and employers," he said. "Questions such as what health care support from an employer will look like in the future and how they can best provide for employees is top of mind for all HR/benefit leaders. However, our value proposition and use case for employers and carriers remains unchanged."
Oldham added that what is causing the most impact is simply the cost of health care, which he said is growing significantly faster than inflation.
"Employers are looking for strategies beyond shifting more costs of plans to employers," he said. "Providers are looking for ways to optimize patient care and make it more efficient. Insurers are looking for business efficiencies, measuring clinical outcomes and pricing effectiveness."