Published last weekend in the New York Times Magazine, this wide-ranging article weaves the experiences of patients and providers within hospital-at-home programs into a broader examination of what hospital-level care at home could mean for the future of healthcare.
While the hospital-at-home movement is still small, provider interest grew sharply during the pandemic, and gave rise to Medicare’s Acute Hospital Care at Home waiver, providing 260 hospitals Medicare payment for the service. The article lays out the challenges hospital-at-home programs are still working to overcome, ranging from equity (rural hospitals have seen far less uptake of the Medicare waiver), labor models (National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses, opposes them), to the upfront investments required to stand up a program.
The Gist: Like telemedicine, hospital-at-home programs lingered on the fringes of care delivery before the federal COVID response delivered both the regulatory flexibility and the reimbursement needed to generate provider interest—and turbocharged start-ups providing support in implementing the model.
Despite growth in health system and payer interest, hospital-at-home programs are still not deployed widely, or at scale. Many physicians and patients either don’t understand or accept it as an alternative to inpatient hospitalization, despite the fact that patients and families who participate in the service largely report a high level of satisfaction.
But as the article points out, thebarriers to scaling hospital-at-home pilots—staffing models, quality control, and appropriate reimbursement—are ultimately financial.
Radio Advisory’s Rachel Woods sat down with Advisory Board‘s Aaron Mauck and Natalie Trebes to talk about where leaders need to focus their attention on longer-term industry challenges—like growing competition, behavioral health infrastructure, and finding success in value-based care.
Rachel Woods: So I’ve been thinking about the last conversation that we had about what executives need to know to be prepared to be successful in 2023, and I feel like my big takeaway is that the present feels aggressively urgent. The business climate today is extraordinarily tough, there are all these disruptive forces that are changing the competitive landscape, right? That’s where we focused most of our last conversation.
But we also agreed that those were still kind of near-term problems. My question is why, if things feel like they are in such a crisis, do we need to also focus our attention on longer term challenges?
Aaron Mauck: It’s pretty clear that the business environment really isn’t sustainable as it currently stands, and there’s a tendency, of course, for all businesses to focus on the urgent and important items at the expense of the non-urgent and important items. And we have a lot of non-urgent important things that are coming on the horizon that we have to address.
Obviously, you think about the aging population. We have the baby boom reaching an age where they’re going to have multiple care needs that have to be addressed that constitute pretty significant challenges. That aging population is a central concern for all of us.
Costly specialty therapeutics that are coming down the pipeline that are going to yield great results for certain patient segments, but are going to be very expensive. Unmanaged behavioral needs, disagreements around appropriate spending. So we have lots of challenges, myriad of challenges we’re going to have to address simultaneously.
Natalie Trebes: Yeah, that’s right. And I would add that all of those things are at threshold moments where they are pivoting into becoming our real big problems that are very soon going to be the near term problems. And the environment that we talked about last time, it’s competitive chaos that’s happening right now, is actually the perfect time to be making some changes because all the challenges we’re going to talk about require really significant restructuring of how we do business. That’s hard to do when things are stable.
Woods: Yes. But I still think you’re going to get some people who disagree. And let me tell you why. I think there’s two reasons why people are going to disagree. The first reason is, again, they are dealing with not just one massive fire in front of them, but what feels like countless massive fires in front of them that’s just demanding all of their strategic attention. That was the first thing you said every executive needs to know going into this year, and maybe not know, but accept, if I’m thinking about the stages of grief.
But the second reason why I think people are going to push back is the laundry list of things that Aaron just spoke of are areas where, I’m not saying the healthcare industry shouldn’t be focused on them, but we haven’t actually made meaningful progress so far.
Is 2023 actually the year where we should start chipping away at some of those huge industry challenges? That’s where I think you’re going to get disagreement. What do you say to that?
Trebes: I think that’s fair. I think it’s partly that we have to start transforming today and organizations are going to diverge from here in terms of how they are affected. So far, we’ve been really kind of sharing the pain of a lot of these challenges, it’s bits and pieces here. We’re all having to eat a little slice of this.
I think different organizations right now, if they are careful about understanding their vulnerabilities and thinking about where they’re exposed, are going to be setting themselves up to pass along some of that to other organizations. And so this is the moment to really understand how do we collectively want to address these challenges rather than continue to try to touch as little of it as we possibly can and scrape by?
Woods: That’s interesting because it’s also probably not just preparing for where you have vulnerabilities that are going to be exposed sooner rather than later, but also where might you have a first mover advantage? That gets back to what you were talking about when it comes to the kind of competitive landscape, and there’s probably people who can use these as an opportunity for the future.
Mauck: Crises are always opportunities and even for those players across the healthcare system who have really felt like they’re boxers in the later rounds covering up under a lot of blows, there’s opportunities for them to come back and devise strategies for the long term that really yield growth.
We shouldn’t treat this as a time just of contraction. There are major opportunities even for some of the traditional incumbents if they’re approaching these challenges in the right fashion. When we think about that in terms of things like labor or care delivery models, there’s huge opportunities and when I talk with C-suites from across the sector, they recognize those opportunities. They’re thinking in the long term, they need to think in the long term if they’re going to sustain themselves. It is a time of existential crisis, but also a time for existential opportunity.
Trebes: Yeah, let’s be real, there is a big risk of being a first mover, but there is a really big opportunity in being on the forefront of designing the infrastructure and setting the table of where we want to go and designing this to work for you. Because changes have to happen, you really want to be involved in that kind of decision making.
Woods: And in the vein of acceptance, we should all accept that this isn’t going to be easy. The challenges that I think we want to focus on for the rest of this conversation are challenges that up to this point have seemed unsolvable. What are the specific areas that you think should really demand executive attention in 2023?
Trebes: Well, I think they break into a few different categories. We are having real debates about how do we decide what are appropriate outcomes in healthcare? And so the concept of measuring value and paying for value. We have to make some decisions about what trade-offs we want to make there, and how do we build in health equity into our business model and do we want to make that a reality for everyone?
Another category is all of the expensive care that we have to figure out how to deliver and finance over the coming years. So we’re talking about the already inadequate behavioral health infrastructure that’s seen a huge influx in demand.
We’re talking about what Aaron mentioned, the growing senior population, especially with boomers getting older and requiring a lot more care, and the pipeline of high-cost therapies. All of this is not what we are ready as the healthcare system as it exists today to manage appropriately in a financially sustainable way. And that’s going to be really hard for purchasers who are financing all of this.
There is no shortage of challenges to confront in healthcare today, from workforce shortages and burnout to innovation and health equity (and so much more). We’re committed to giving industry leaders a platform for sharing best practices and exchanging ideas that can improve care, operations and patient outcomes.
Check out this podcast interview with Ketul J. Patel, CEO at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health and division president, Pacific Northwest at CommonSpirit Health, for his insights on where healthcare is headed in the future.
In this episode, we are joined by Ketul J. Patel, Division President, Pacific Northwest; Chief Executive Officer, CommonSpirit Health; Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, to discuss his background & what led him to executive healthcare leadership, challenges surrounding workforce shortages, the importance of having a strong workplace culture, and more.
After COVID fears and shutdowns led consumers to delay care early in the pandemic, persistently high inflation over the past year has further suppressed volumes.
As the graphic above illustrates, the average deductible for individual coverage has grown by over 140 percent since 2010, exposing consumers to an increasing portion of healthcare costs, and prompting economists to reevaluate the adage that healthcare is “recession-proof”.
This year, that trend collided with an inflation spike that outpaced wage gains by two percent. Faced with diminished purchasing power, households are making budget tradeoffs which explicitly pit healthcare against other essential household needs.
For some, this cost-cutting impulse even extends to preventative screenings—required to be covered without cost-sharing—when consumers’ financial concerns drive them to avoid healthcare altogether.
While the latest inflation report suggests price increases are moderating, fears of a broader recession persist, making it critical for health systems and physicians to communicate with patients, encouraging them to continue to access preventive care, educating them about lower cost care options, and helping them prioritize treatment that should not be put off.
Healthcare leaders now need to strike a delicate balance that requires managing financial and growth metrics, increasing the speed of transformation, and building the health systems of tomorrow. So how do we redefine compensation models to reward all these behaviors?
Executive compensation might not spring to mind as a key driver of healthcare transformation, nor does it seem naturally connected to critical issues such as health equity, patient safety, or quality of care – just a few of the areas where significant changes can be made to transform healthcare. But, in fact, executives leading not-for-profit health systems today are tasked with delivering measurable results that improve the health status of their patients and their communities. And to ensure that these new performance metrics are met, we must change how we think about —and deliver—compensation.
Defining a new model
While executive compensation has always been tied to specific objectives, they have historically leaned heavily toward financial performance, volume and margins, with a modest portion of compensation aligned to quality of care and patient outcomes. But transformative approaches such as population health, value-based care, patient wellness and health outcomes are shifting the mark.
Healthcare leaders now need to strike a delicate balance that requires managing financial and growth metrics, increasing the speed of transformation, and building the health systems of tomorrow. So how do we redefine compensation models to reward all these behaviors?
Some might say that the answer lies in adjusting incentive plans. While incentive plans across health care have not changed significantly in the past decade, the sophistication of the plans has changed, reflecting greater attention to delivering a better patient experience. But delivering better experiences does not imply that health systems have transformed from the top down. In my mind, adjusting incentive plans only solves part of the problem.
If we want true health care transformation—and we should, in order to best serve patients and communities—health systems need to re-evaluate the outcomes for each stakeholder and create incentives to evolve leadership as a whole. We need to rethink executive compensation models to align with value-based care, patient experience, and the resulting outcomes, along with traditional performance measurements.
Leading through lingering disruption
But rethinking executive compensation models won’t be an easy task, especially given the external challenges and changes thrust upon the health care system over the last few years.
As with nearly every other aspect of health care, pay for performance was disrupted during the pandemic. Demand for health services changed dramatically, labor and attrition issues intensified, and supply chain problems and operational costs increased. These new pressures required executives to manage through long periods of uncertainty where meeting operational pay-for-performance goals was nearly impossible. Fast-forward to today, the executive talent market remains extraordinarily competitive. Demand outpaces supply due to higher-than-typical retirements, effects of the great resignation, the need for new skill sets and overall burnout.
As a result, there has been upward pressure on compensation to address and fulfill unexpected but immediate needs such as rewarding executives for managing in a unique and challenging performance environment, increasing efforts to recruit and retain, and recognizing leaders for their hard-won accomplishments.
Considerations and changes
When considering adjusting models for 2023 and beyond, CEOs and compensation committees need to take these pressures and disruptions into account. They should look closely at their own compensation data from the past two years – not as a lighthouse for future compensation, but as data that may need to be set aside due to the volume of performance goals and achievements that were up-ended by the pandemic. When relying on external industry data, the same rules apply; smaller data sets or those that don’t account for the past two years may be misleading, so review carefully before using limited data sets to inform adjusted models.
Just as important, CEOs and compensation committees should consider new performance measurements tied to both financial and quality or value-based transformation metrics. We don’t need to eliminate traditional financial and operational goals because viability is still a business mandate. But how can we articulate compensation-driven KPIs for stewardship of patient and community health, improved outcomes and reduced cost of care? Too many measures are akin to having no measures at all.
The compensation mix should take into account a more focused approach to long-term measures. The old paradigm of 12-month incentive cycles is not enough to address the time required to truly transform health care. Another consideration should be performance-based funding of deferred compensation based on achieving transformation goals, and greater use of retention programs to support the maintenance of a stable executive team during the transformation period. Covid-19 proved how crisis can be an accelerator for change. True transformation should blend the skills gained from crisis management with planful, thoughtful and intentional change.
In addition, some metrics may need to incorporate a discretionary component, considering ongoing disruption within the workforce, supply chain limitations, and energy, equipment and labor cost increases. More organizations are also including health equity, DE&I, and ESG goals in incentive programs to tighten alignment with mission-critical board-mandated goals.
There are four elements that are vital in the journey to transform health care from “heads in beds” to the public-service-oriented organizations that they were meant to be—and can be again. With mounting pressure from patients, communities, and payers to boards and employees, CEOs and compensation committees must become key drivers of change, setting the right goals and incentives from the top down.
Affordability: can patients afford the care they need?
Quality: is the care being delivered of the utmost quality?
Usability: how can we reduce hurdles to undertaking the care plan?
Access: are all community members able to access needed care?
Solving for each of these elements is one of the biggest challenges we face, and as we begin to emerge from the disruption of the pandemic, leaders will be watched closely to ensure that they deliver—and can clearly show the path to delivery.
Ideally, end achievements would include patients spending less to achieve better health; payers controlling costs and reducing risk; providers realizing efficiencies and greater patient satisfaction; and alignment of medical supplier pricing to patient outcomes. And when you zoom out to reveal the bigger picture, all of these pieces come together to achieve healthier populations and lower overall health care costs, while still meeting the financial goals of the organization.
We’re asking a lot of already-overburdened health care executives. Stakeholders must prove that we value leaders with the right mindset and skillset in order to attract executives who can shepherd organizations through the transformation journey. This requires a setting where there is supportive leadership, a compelling mission and opportunity for personal growth and development. It will not be easy, but without rethinking how we design compensation models from the top down, it will be unnecessarily challenging.
Rachel Woods:When I talk about hospitals of the future, I think it’s very easy for folks to think about something that feels very futuristic, the Jetsons, Star Trek, pick your example here. But you have a very different take when it comes to the hospital, the future, and it’s one that’s perhaps a lot more streamlined than even the hospitals that we have today. Why is that your take?
Jim Bonnette: My concern about hospital future is that when people think about the technology side of it, they forget that there’s no technology that I can name that has lowered health care costs that’s been implemented in a hospital. Everything I can think of has increased costs and I don’t think that’s sustainable for the future.
And so looking at how hospitals have to function, I think the things that hospitals do that should no longer be in the hospital need to move out and they need to move out now. I think that there are a large number of procedures that could safely and easily be done in a lower cost setting, in an ASC for example, that is still done in hospitals because we still pay for them that way. I’m not sure that’s going to continue.
Woods: And to be honest, we’ve talked about that shift, I think about the outpatient shift. We’ve been talking about that for several years but you just said the change needs to happen now. Why is the impetus for this change very different today than maybe it was two, three, four, five years ago? Why is this change going to be frankly forced upon hospitals in the very near future, if not already?
Bonnette: Part of the explanation is regarding the issues that have been pushed regarding price transparency. So if employers can see the difference between the charges for an ASC and an HOPD department, which are often quite dramatic, they’re going to be looking to say to their brokers, “Well, what’s the network that involves ASCs and not hospitals?” And that data hasn’t been so easily available in the past, and I think economic times are different now.
We’re not in a hyper growth phase, we’re not where the economy’s performing super at the moment and if interest rates keep going up, things are going to slow down more. So I think employers are going to become more sensitized to prices that they haven’t been in the past. Regardless of the requirements under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which require employers to know the costs, which they didn’t have to know before. They’re just going to more sensitive to price.
Woods: I completely agree with you by the way, that employers are a key catalyst here and we’ve certainly seen a few very active employers and some that are very passive and I too am interested to see what role they play or do they all take much more of an active role.
And I think some people would be surprised that it’s not necessarily consumers themselves that are the big catalyst for change on where they’re going to get care, how they want to receive care. It’s the employers that are going to be making those decisions as purchasers themselves.
Bonnette: I agree and they’re the ultimate payers. For most commercial insurance employers are the ultimate payers, not the insurance companies. And it’s a cost of care share for patients, but the majority of the money comes from the employers. So it’s basically cutting into their profits.
Woods: We are on the same page, but I’m going to be honest, I’m not sure that all of our listeners are right. We’re talking about why these changes could happen soon, but when I have conversations with folks, they still think about a future of a more consolidated hospital, a more outpatient focused practice is something that is coming but is still far enough in the future that there’s some time to prepare for.
I guess my question is what do you say to that pushback? And are there any inflection points that you’re watching for that would really need to hit for this kind of change to hit all hospitals, to be something that we see across the industry?
Bonnette: So when I look at hospitals in general, I don’t see them as much different than they were 20 years ago. We have talked about this movement for a long time, but hospitals are dragging their feet and realistically it’s because they still get paid the same way until we start thinking about how we pay differently or refuse to pay for certain kinds of things in a hospital setting, the inertia is such that they’re going to keep doing it.
Again, I think the push from employers and most likely the brokers are going to force this change sooner rather than later, but that’s still probably between three and five years because there’s so much inertia in health care.
On the other hand, we are hitting sort of an unsustainable phase of cost. The other thing that people don’t talk about very much that I think is important is there’s only so many dollars that are going to health care.
And if you look at the last 10 years, the growth in pharmaceutical spend has to eat into the dollars available for everybody else. So a pharmaceutical spend is growing much faster than anything else, the dollars are going to come out of somebody’s hide and then next logical target is the hospital.
Woods: And we talked last week about how slim hospital margins are, how many of them are actually negative. And what we didn’t mention that is top of mind for me after we just come out of this election is that there’s actually not a lot of appetite for the government to step in and shore up hospitals.
There’s a lot of feeling that they’ve done their due diligence, they stepped in when they needed to at the beginning of the Covid crisis and they shouldn’t need to again. That kind of savior is probably not their outside of very specific circumstances.
Bonnette: I agree. I think it’s highly unlikely that the government is going to step in to rescue hospitals. And part of that comes from the perception about pricing, which I’m sure Congress gets lots of complaints about the prices from hospitals.
And in addition, you’ll notice that the for-profit hospitals don’t have negative margins. They may not be quite as good as they were before, but they’re not negative, which tells me there’s an operational inefficiency in the not for-profit hospitals that doesn’t exist in the for-profits.
Woods: This is where I wanted to go next. So let’s say that a hospital, a health system decides the new path forward is to become smaller, to become cheaper, to become more streamlined, and to decide what specifically needs to happen in the hospital versus elsewhere in our organization.
Maybe I know where you’re going next, but do you have an example of an organization who has had this success already that we can learn from?
Bonnette: Not in the not-for-profit section, no. In the for-profits, yes, because they have already started moving into ambulatory surgery centers. So Tenet has a huge practice of ambulatory surgery centers. It generates high margins.
So, I used to run ambulatory surgery centers in a for-profit system. And so think about ASCs get paid half as much as a hospital for a procedure, and my margin on that business in those ASCs was 40% to 50%. Whereas in the hospital the margin was about 7% and so even though the total dollars were less, my margin was higher because it’s so much more efficient. And the for-profits already recognize this.
Woods: And I’m guessing you’re going to tell me you want to see not-for-profit hospitals make these moves too? Or is there a different move that they should be making?
Bonnette: No, I think they have to. I think there are things beyond just ASCs though, for example, medical patients who can be treated at home should not be in the hospital. Most not-for-profits lose money on every medical admission.
Now, when I worked for a for-profit, I didn’t lose money on every Medicare patient that was a medical patient. We had a 7% margin so it’s doable. Again, it’s efficiency of care delivery and it’s attention to detail, which sometimes in a not-for-profit friends, that just doesn’t happen.
Driven by the steady progress of Medicaid expansion and pandemic-era policies to ensure access to health insurance coverage, the US uninsured rate hit an all-time low of 8 percent in early 2022. Since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, the US uninsured rate has been cut in half, with the largest gains coming from Medicaid expansion.
However, using data from Commonwealth Fund, the graphic below illustrates how this noteworthy achievement is undermined by widespread underinsurance, defined as coverage that fails to protect enrollees from significant healthcare cost burdens. A recent survey of working-age adults found that eleven percent of Americans experienced a coverage gap during the year, and nearly a quarter had continuous insurance, but with inadequate coverage.
High deductibles are a key driver of underinsurance, with average deductibles for employer-sponsored plans around $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for families.
Roughly half of Americans are unable to afford a $1,000 unexpected medical bill. Americans’ healthcare affordability challenges will surely worsen once the federal COVID public health emergency ends, because between 5M and 14M Medicaid recipients could lose coverage once the federal government ends the program that has guaranteed continuous Medicaid eligibility.
The process of eligibility redeterminations is sure to be messy—while some Medicaid recipients will be able to turn to other coverage options, the ranks of uninsured and underinsured are likely to swell.
When it comes to her feelings about investing in care delivery startups, it’s a real “mixed bag” for Ulili Onovakpuri, managing partner at Kapor Capital. This is because a lot of them operate on a cash-pay model. She summarized the issue quite succinctly: there’s an incredible amount of innovation happening, but the people who could benefit the most from this type of care will be the last ones to receive it.
Healthcare investors are facing a myriad of care delivery startups seeking their capital. And it’s an interesting time in the care delivery startup space — there’s more and more questions arising about how much scrutiny should be applied to the way these companies are growing, what should be included in their gross margins, and how they should be valued.
When it comes to her feelings about investing in care delivery startups, it’s a real “mixed bag” for Ulili Onovakpuri, managing partner at Kapor Capital. She said so Sunday at Engage at HLTH, a patient engagement summit hosted by MedCity News in Las Vegas.
Healthcare is a stratified experience in the U.S. Onovakpuri drew attention to the fact that this stratification is getting worse with the advent of provider startups that operate on a cash-pay model, such as Sesame and Tia.
These types of cash-pay providers usually offer a simpler healthcare experience compared to the endless bureaucracy and billing confusion patients face in the traditional healthcare system. This can be very attractive to patients — they don’t want to deal with months-long wait times to see a provider, nor do they wish to navigate the Kafkaesque ordeal of trying to understand and pay their healthcare bills.
In Onovakpuri’s view, these cash-pay providers “are good for some” — those who can afford it. But those who lack the means to pay for care outside the traditional healthcare delivery system don’t get to take part in these startups’ care model, regardless of how innovative or convenient it may be.
“If I’m honest, it’s hard for me because I see a lot of great tech every single day, and when I talk to them, I’m like, ‘Wait, this is awesome — how much is this?’ and then I say, ‘Well, we can’t do it because the people that we care the most about can’t afford it.’ And it’s hard, because they’re probably the folks who need it the most,” Onovakpuri said.
She summarized the issue quite succinctly: there’s an incredible amount of innovation happening, but the people who could benefit the most from this type of care will be the last ones to receive it.
“Innovation is great, but it’s another dividing factor we face,” Onovakpuri declared.
Onovakpuri noted another key concern: the fact that many of the country’s most talented physicians are opting to leave their hospitals and health systems to work for cash-pay care delivery startups. She said she can understand why they make this choice (they are understandably fed up with the inefficiency of standard systems), but it still is a problem because it exacerbates hospitals’ labor shortage crisis and makes their patients wait times even longer to receive care.
All signs point to a crushing surge in health care costs for patients and employers next year — and that means health care industry groups are about to brawl over who pays the price.
Why it matters: The surge could build pressure on Congress to stop ignoring the underlying costs that make care increasingly unaffordable for everyday Americans — and make billions for health care companies.
[This special report kicks off a series to introduce our new, Congress-focused Axios Pro: Health Care, coming Nov. 14.]
This year’s Democratic legislation allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices was a rare case of addressing costs amid intense drug industry lobbying against it. Even so, it was a watered down version of the original proposal.
But the drug industry isn’t alone in its willingness to fight to maintain the status quo, and that fight frequently pits one industry group against another.
Where it stands: Even insured Americans are struggling to afford their care, the inevitable result of years of cost-shifting by employers and insurers onto patients through higher premiums, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs.
But employers are now struggling to attract and retain workers, and forcing their employees to shoulder even more costs seems like a less viable option.
Tougher economic times make patients more cost-sensitive, putting families in a bind if they get sick.
Rising medical debt, increased price transparency and questionable debt collection practices have rubbed some of the good-guy sheen off of hospitals and providers.
All of this is coming to a boiling point. The question isn’t whether, but when.
Yes, but: Don’t underestimate Washington’s ability to have a completely underwhelming response to the problem, or one that just kicks the can down the road — or to just not respond at all.
Between the lines: If you look closely, the usual partisan battle lines are changing.
The GOP’s criticism of Democrats’ drug pricing law is nothing like the party’s outcry over the Affordable Care Act, and no one seriously thinks the party will make a real attempt to repeal it.
One of the most meaningful health reforms passed in recent years was a bipartisan ban on surprise billing, which may provide a more modern template for health care policy fights.
Surprise medical bills divided lawmakers into two teams, but it wasn’t Democrats vs. Republicans; it was those who supported the insurer-backed reform plan vs. the hospital and provider-backed one. This fight continues today — in court.
The bottom line: Someone is going to have to pay for the coming cost surge, whether that’s patients, taxpayers, employers or the health care companies profiting off of the system. Each industry group is fighting like hell to make sure it isn’t them.
Healthcare costs are expected to jump 6.0% next year. CFOs must prepare accordingly, advises WTW’s Tim Stawicki.
CFOs need to be prepared for a “higher tail” of medical inflation — even if general inflation eases in the near future, Tim Stawicki, chief actuary, North America health & benefits of Willis Towers Watson (WTW) told CFO Dive.
“CFOS need to be prepared for the case that if general inflation eases, there may be two or three more years where they need to think about how they are managing the costs of health care plans,” he said in an interview.
Inflation, which can more immediately impact consumer prices, works somewhat differently when it comes to costs of medical care. “Employers are paying healthcare costs based on contracts that their insurer has with providers, which are multiple years in length. So if a deal with the hospital or contract does not come up until 2023, then that provider has the opportunity to renegotiate higher prices for three years,” said Stawicki.
The recent Best Practices in Healthcare Survey by WTW consisting of 455 U.S. employers found that employers project their healthcare costs will jump 6.0% next year compared with an average 5.0% increase expected by the end of this year.
Further, employers see little relief in sight — seven in 10 (71%) expect moderate to significant increases in costs over the next three years. Additionally, over half of respondents (54%) expect their costs will be over budget this year.
Balancing talent retention and healthcare costs
Talent retention has also remained an entrenched challenge for CFOs over recent months and continues to be top of mind.
Given inflationary pressures and a potential looming recession, employers are having trouble finding the workers they need to run their businesses. A rise in healthcare benefit costs will make this all the more challenging, said Stawicki. “Employers are looking around and saying ‘I need to find talent to help me run my business and I can’t do that if I have an ineffective program in healthcare benefits,’” he said.
There is a direct link between business outcomes and in particular employee productivity and employees’ ability to manage their health and financial environment, according to WTW’s Global Benefits Attitude Survey. “Losing the ability to offer programs and benefits that meet employee needs is impacting business,” said Stawicki.
It comes down to finding the balance between cost management in an environment where talent is hard to come by, he said. In order for CFOs to be successful in financing benefit programs they need to look at finding ways to partner with their counterparts in human resources, said Stawicki.
Sixty-seven percent of employers said that managing company costs was a top priority in the company’s August Best Practices in Healthcare Survey, versus the 42% who said that achieving affordability for employees was a top priority. In the near future, CFOs need to establish a relationship with HR counterparts that can facilitate “ways to manage company costs without shifting it to employees,” said Stawicki.
Ultimately, company costs remain paramount for employers but running a successful business will also require keeping employee affordability top of mind.