Coronavirus: 15 emerging themes for boards and executive teams

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/risk/our-insights/coronavirus-15-emerging-themes-for-boards-and-executive-teams?cid=other-eml-alt-mip-mck&hlkid=0e0b80570bfe48508db4370a1999a949&hctky=9502524&hdpid=b867bc22-e8f5-41b6-b080-40a5d4c21c71

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Board directors and executives can pool their wisdom to help companies grapple with the challenge of a lifetime.

As Winston Churchill said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” We are seeing some faint signs of progress in the struggle to contain the pandemic. But the risk of resurgence is real, and if the virus does prove to be seasonal, the effect will probably be muted. It is likely never more important than now for boards of directors and executive management teams to tackle the right questions and jointly guide their organizations toward the next normal.

Recently, we spoke with a group of leading nonexecutive chairs and directors at companies around the world who serve on the McKinsey Resilience Advisory Council. They generously shared the personal insights and experiences gained from their organizations’ efforts to manage through the crisis and resume work. The 15 themes that emerged offer a guide to boards and executive teams everywhere. Together, they can debate these issues and set an effective context for the difficult decisions now coming up as companies plan their return to full activity.

Managing through the crisis

1. Boards must strike the right balance between hope for the future and the realism that organizations need to hear. There are many prognostications on what comes after COVID-19. Many will be helpful. Some will be right. Boards and managers may have some hopes and dreams of their own. Creating value and finding pockets of growth are possible. It is important to have these aspirations, because they form the core of an inner optimism and confidence that organizations need. However, leaders should not conflate aspirations with a prescience about the future.

2. The unknown portion of the crisis may be beyond anything we’ve seen in our professional lives. Boards and managers feel like they might be grappling with only 5 percent of the issues, while the vast majority are still lurking, unknown. Executives are incredibly busy, fighting fires in cash management and other areas. But boards need to add to their burden and ask them to prepare for a “next normal” strategy discussion. Managers need to do their best to find out what these issues are, and then work with boards to ensure that the organization can navigate them. The point isn’t to have a better answer. The point is to build the organizational capability to learn quickly why your answer is wrong, and pivot faster than your peers do. Resilience comes through speed. This may be a new capability that very few organizations have now, and they will likely need to spend real time building it.

3. Beware of a gulf between executives and the rank and file. Top managers are easily adapting to working from home and to flexible, ill-defined processes and ways of working, and they see it as being very effective and also the wave of the future. Many people in the trenches think it is the worst thing to happen to them (even those that are used to working remotely). Remote working is raising the divide between elites and the common man and woman. There is a real risk of serious tension in the social fabric of organizations and in local and national communities.

4. Don’t overlook the risks faced by self-employed professionals, informal workers, and small businesses. These groups are often not receiving sufficient support. But their role in the economy is vital, and they may be noticed only later, when it is too late.

5. Certain industries and sectors are truly struggling and require support. Several disrupted industries and many organizations in higher education, the arts, and sports are severely struggling and require support to safeguard their survival.

Return to work—the path ahead

6. Mid- to long-term implications and scenarios vary considerably. It’s important to differentiate between industries and regions. Some industries may never come back to pre-COVID-19 levels.

7. What went wrong? Boards and executives, but also academics, need to debate the question. Where should we have been focusing? Take three examples. Why did companies ignore the issue of inadequate resilience in their supply chain? The risks of single sourcing were well known and transparent. Also, why did we move headlong toward greater specialization in the workforce, when we knew that no single skill was permanently valuable? Finally, why did we refuse to evolve our business models, although we knew that technology and shifts in societal preferences were forcing us down a treadmill of ever decreasing value-creation potential?

8. How can we prevent a backlash to globalization? The tendency toward nationalism was already strong and is growing during the crisis. The ramifications will be challenging. For example, in pharmaceutical development, residents of the country where a pharma company has its headquarters may expect to get the drug first. Global companies, despite their experience, may find it harder to address and engage directly with diverse, volatile, and potentially conflicting stakeholders. In such times, societies may need someone to mediate between the private sector and some of these stakeholders.

9. Companies need help with government relations. Strong government interventions are occurring on the back of a serious loss of confidence in free-market mechanisms. There is little question that different governments will land on different answers to the debate around how free markets really ought to be structured. The corporate community has been thrust into a new relationship with government, and it is struggling. The government landscape is fragmented, with highly varied approaches and competencies. Companies are looking for a playbook; no one has an infrastructure to manage this complexity.

10. Where will the equity come from, and with what strings attached? Governments are propping up various sectors with new capital. What will they receive in return? Will they distort markets? How can companies manage this process carefully to emerge from the crisis with a stronger balance sheet? Further, much more capital is likely needed; presumably some of it will come from the private sector. Will capital markets be effective and trusted in such times? Who governs this overall process, and what role should the government play? Is it the time for more state funds?

11. The balance between profits and cash flow is tricky, and essential to get right. Many companies are caught right now and are sacrificing their bottom line in order to pay for their financing. That’s not sustainable; companies will need guidance on how to balance the two.

12. It may be time for responsible acquisitions, including to help restructure certain industries. Many “resilients” have “kept their powder dry,” and are now ready to acquire. But they need to be sensitive and allow sellers a good path to exit. We need guidelines for responsible acquisitions.

13. Cyberrisk is growing. Remote working increases the “attack surface” for criminals and state actors. Both are more active. Chief information officers and chief information security officers are grappling with the overwhelming demand for work-from-home technology and the need for stringent cybersecurity.

14. Innovation may never have been so important. Innovation has always been essential to solving big problems. The world is looking not just for new things but also for new ways of doing things (especially on the people side, where we need new behaviors, long-term rather than short-term), capabilities, and work ethics.

15. The path ahead will surely have ups and downs and will require resilience. As lockdowns are relaxed, and segments of the economy reopen, viral resurgences and unforeseen events will keep growth from being a straight line going up. It will likely be a lengthy process of preserving “lives and livelihoods” over several months, if not years. The reality is that many or even most business leaders made choices over the past decades that traded resilience for a perceived increase in shareholder value. Now may be the moment to consider that the era of chipping away at organizational resilience in the name of greater efficiency may have reached its limits. This is not to say that there are no efficiencies to be sought or found, but more that the trade-off between efficiency and resiliency needs to be defined far more clearly than it has been in recent years.


It is the board’s responsibility to coach and advise its management team, especially when the terrain is trickier than usual. However, boards should not mistake the need for vigorous debate with the need for consensus. More than ever, a bias to action is essential, which will frequently mean getting comfortable with disagreement. Apart from all the operational focus needed for the return to work, it is even more important that boards and management teams take a step back to reflect upon these 15 core themes. In summary:

  1. Take the time to recognize how the people who (directly or indirectly) depend on the company feel.
  2. Have aspirations about the post-COVID world, but build the resilience to make them a reality.
  3. Strengthen your capability to engage and work with regulators and the government.
  4. Watch out for non-COVID risks, and make sure to carve out time to dedicate to familiar risks that have never gone away.
  5. Find out what went wrong, and answer the uncomfortable truths that investigation uncovers.

 

 

 

The rich pull up the drawbridges

https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-rich-drawbridges-7567f493-1bed-494e-926c-be897823a706.html

 Animated illustration of a drawbridge made out of a hundred dollar note being pulled up.

From hastily-chartered superyachts to fortresslike country estates, the wealthiest Americans have found places to ride out the pandemic far away from the masses.

Why it matters: The contrast between the rich vs. poor experience of coronavirus exposes class differences — in housing, access to health care, etc. — that are less obvious in normal times.

Where it stands: Even as elected officials tell us that the novel coronavirus does not discriminate — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called it “the great equalizer” — it’s still true that the moneyed classes are walling themselves off and, on the whole, suffering less.

  • People with second (and third) homes have stampeded from hot spots like New York City to pastoral and less-afflicted areas — like the Hamptons, Cape Cod, Hilton Head and Palm Beach.
  • Thanks to “concierge medicine,” where people pay hefty annual fees in exchange for near-unlimited access to their doctors, the rich have been getting faster access to COVID-19 tests, plus more attention when they’re sick.

Headlines that tell the story:

  • “Chic Hamptons food stores ransacked by the wealthy amid coronavirus pandemic” (NY Post)
  • Private jets ‘pour in’ to Martha’s Vineyard as rich flee coronavirus” (The Telegraph)
  • “Billionaires are chartering superyachts for months at a time to ride out the coronavirus pandemic” (Business Insider)
  • “The U.S. has a shortage of coronavirus tests, so the ultra-wealthy are paying concierge doctors to do their own,” (Business Insider)

What they’re saying: “There is an undercurrent of unequal sacrifice,” Chuck Collins, a senior scholar at the progressive Institute for Policy Studies, tells Axios.

Seasonal vacation resorts don’t have the doctors, hospital beds and other resources to care for throngs of sick people — prompting calls for the moneyed interlopers (renters and owners alike) to go home.

  • The mayor of Honolulu wants the Trump administration to suspend nonessential travel to Hawaii.
  • The governor of New Jersey is urging people not to come to the Jersey Shore — even enlisting Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino to spread the “stay home” word.
  • The chiefs of Nantucket Cottage Hospital (which has 15 beds) and Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (25 beds) are asking people to keep off the islands.
  • Angry Cape Cod residents are circulating a (probably doomed) petition to close the bridges to their area.

While the wealthy were among the first in the U.S. to contract the virus (as they’re more apt to travel abroad), the brunt of the pandemic has hurt the working poor.

  • Per the WSJ: “The new coronavirus has struck hardest in working-class neighborhoods in New York City’s outer boroughs, city data shows, underlining how the pandemic has ravaged densely packed lower-income areas where social-distancing guidelines have proved difficult to implement.”

People who live in poverty are more likely to have underlying illnesses that make them more susceptible to coronavirus — asthma, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes.

  • “Income in the United States is our pre-existing condition,” Collins said. “This infection is landing on an extremely unequal society — much more unequal than 40 years ago.”

A tale of two pandemics: As soon as NYC schools closed, real estate agents were flooded with calls from people begging to rent houses in the Hamptons — where a single summer’s lease can easily cost $100,000 — immediately and sight unseen.

  • “You have people calling in and saying, ‘We’re going to be in a car tomorrow, give me a house that I can move into,’ ” Eddie Shapiro, founder and CEO of Nest Seekers International, tells Axios. “We’ve never seen that.”

To drive there, the renters would have had to pass through Queens — the city’s hardest-hit borough — where “apocalyptic” conditions at a 545-bed public hospital in Elmhurst have turned the neighborhood into a poster child for the virus’ wrath.

 

 

 

 

 

Conservatives buck Trump over worries of ‘socialist’ drug pricing

https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/456457-conservatives-buck-trump-over-worries-of-socialist-drug-pricing?utm_source=&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=24010

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Conservatives are growing increasingly uneasy with the Trump administration’s new drug pricing policy.

President Trump is desperately seeking an elusive political win in his efforts to lower prescription drug costs, but he faces a hard sell to conservative groups and GOP lawmakers as he touts ideas traditionally favored by Democrats and presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

In a rare break with Trump, conservatives are now pushing back against key administration policies and accusing the president of supporting what they call Sanders-style socialism.

The president has embraced importing drugs from Canada, as well as an international pricing policy that would bar Medicare from paying more than other countries for prescription drugs.

The moves are designed to co-opt Democratic talking points and position Trump as a populist champion of the free market.

Trump has made lowering drug prices a top priority of his presidency, but he has suffered some high-profile setbacks in recent weeks.

Drug importation and the international pricing caps proposal are the only remaining policies remaining that the White House can use to make a splash heading into 2020.

Trump has frequently railed against “global freeloading” and said he doesn’t think it’s fair that the U.S. subsidizes research and development in other countries.

Last year he went to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and announced the plan to cap U.S. payments for expensive drugs, over the objections of some White House advisers.

Those objections later spread to include conservative groups.

Facebook ads this year from FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group, urged people to tell HHS Secretary Alex Azar to oppose “socialist-style price controls.”

Another ad warned the administration against “importing socialist European drug prices in America.”

Separately, a website sponsored by the American Conservative Union rails against the administration’s pricing index, calling it an experiment “directly out of the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton government health care takeover playbook.”

In the GOP-controlled Senate, a bill backed by the administration is facing Republican opposition over a provision that would impose a limit on drug price increases in Medicare’s Part D prescription drug program.

The legislation would force drug companies to pay money back to the government if their prices rise faster than inflation.

The Senate Finance Committee approved the measure late last month in a 19-9 vote — all Democrats voted for it, and all nine “no” votes came from Republicans. Some GOP senators said they were concerned because they think the Medicare Part D provision violates traditional free-market principles.

The bill faces long odds of making it to the Senate floor without substantial changes.

“I’m not comfortable with putting price controls on drugs,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a member of the Finance Committee, told The Hill.

Toomey offered an amendment to strip out the provision, which failed on a tie vote of 14-14. All but two Republicans voted for his amendment.

Aside from capping drug payments, Trump has also softened his stance on importing drugs from Canada. The administration last week announced a proposal that would set the groundwork for states or wholesalers to launch pilot programs to safely import drugs.

Shipping in drugs from abroad has long been a goal of progressives like Sanders, but has also won the support of libertarian-leaning conservatives like GOP Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Mike Lee (Utah).

But with Trump looking for a win on drug pricing, political analysts and health experts argue he doesn’t necessarily care about gaining the support of conservatives.

“This is the administration throwing down a wild card,” said health care consultant Alex Shekhdar, founder of Sycamore Creek Healthcare Advisors. “In order to win in 2020, they need to take into consideration independents and anyone else who thinks drug prices are an issue.”

Joe Antos, a health care expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said it doesn’t matter if the policies Trump is embracing are traditionally Democratic ones.

“Just because Democrats endorsed it in the past, doesn’t mean Trump can’t take ownership and call it his idea. He might not call them Republican ideas, but he’ll call them Donald Trump ideas,” Antos said.

But some GOP senators cautioned against letting Democrats play too much of a role.

After the Finance Committee advanced the drug-pricing bill, Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told reporters that Republicans don’t want Trump negotiating with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

A competing bill from House Democrats is far more sweeping than the Senate’s, and includes direct Medicare negotiation on drug prices.

“It seems to me that the Grassley-Wyden approach is a very moderate approach to what could come out,” Grassley said, referring to the bill backed by him and Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee.

But a stalled bill could still work to Trump’s advantage, according to Antos, who said the president doesn’t necessarily need to lower drug prices, he just needs to convince the public he is trying. 

In that sense, Antos argued, Republicans haven’t offered anything better, and they will eventually support whatever the administration does.

“Republicans don’t have any alternative ideas,” Antos said. “Trump has full control of Republicans in Congress, so there’s just not going to be any response other than going along with what comes along.”

 

 

 

Health care price transparency: Fool’s gold, or real money in your pocket?

http://theconversation.com/health-care-price-transparency-fools-gold-or-real-money-in-your-pocket-115103?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20June%2025%202019%20-%201343712591&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20June%2025%202019%20-%201343712591+CID_58c7f956f838d44f75c126a23c41100c&utm_source=campaign_monitor_us&utm_term=Health%20care%20price%20transparency%20Fools%20gold%20or%20real%20money%20in%20your%20pocket

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The news is full of stories about monumental surprise hospital billssky-high drug prices and patients going bankrupt. The government’s approach to addressing this, via an executive order that President Trump signed June 24, 2019, is to make hospitals disclose prices, including negotiated rates with insurers, so that patients supposedly can comparison shop. But this is fool’s gold – information that doesn’t address the real question about why these prices are so high in the first place.

I know from my time as an academic researcher, hospital board member, adviser to Congress and health insurance CEO that the problems in health care are far deeper than just knowledge about hospital charges that few will ever pay.

While it is easy to blame greedy pharmaceutical manufacturers, health insurers and hospital executives, the problem comes from the very nature of our confused system. Who actually benefits from these high prices and why do they persist? Is it just greed, or something endemic in the system?

Should the EOB be DOA?

The EOB is not a bill, the insurance companies want you to know. Lynne AndersonCC BY-SA

Many in the health care system, including hospitals, doctors and insurers, are complicit in this confusing mess, although all can justify their individual actions.

The confusion begins for the patient when he or she receives an explanation of benefit (EOB). This typically says it is “Not a Bill,” although it really looks like one. What it actually shows is incredibly high provider prices and an equally implausible discount. The bottom line lists the actual payment and the amount the patient owes. Patients are supposed to be grateful for the discounts after they recover from the sticker shock of the listed price.

When a service is provided out-of-network, or is not covered at all, or the person doesn’t have insurance, the patient is supposed to pay this full amount. Such surprise bills” typically come to those least prepared to pay and, as a result, providers typically recover very little. So no one wins, except the collection agency and the lawyers.

I believe the standard EOB is the beginning of unnecessary complexity that leads to higher prices and an impossibly flawed market where shopping can never really work properly.

This ridiculous situation actually starts with insurance companies selling policies to ill-informed employers who don’t understand health care but effectively are the purchasers. Employers hire brokers and consultants to collect proposals from insurers; by some estimates, as many as 50 million people in the U.S. are covered by such plans.

These proposals frequently focus on the size of the discount from providers’ list prices as an indicator of how much the employer can save. The overall total cost or coverage is more important, but harder to estimate, since it depends on actual care delivered to employees. The unrecognized incentive for providers and insurers is to increase prices in order to increase the size of the discount.

I have actually seen cases where the insurer requests higher list prices from a provider to pump up the discount they can report to employers. This is crazy.

Stop the madness

One solution to this mess would be to require uniform prices by all providers to all purchasers. Maryland has a form of this “all-payer” system where everyone pays the same under rate regulation or negotiation. France, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands also use this form of control.

Benchmark pricing against what Medicare pays would do something similar, with everyone paying a fixed percent of these nationally regulated rates. This would blunt the ability of hospitals to arbitrarily jack up list charges and negotiate contract prices with insurers based on relative market power.

Unfortunately for consumers, such rate setting may be a political “bridge too far.” While some progressives might like regulation, conservatives likely will not because it challenges their faith in the superiority of free-market negotiations around prices.

And it might dampen innovation and even competition, depending on how realistic and flexible the regulators are in responding to new technology, alternative procedures, quality differentials and consumer demands – the decisions where markets are supposed work well.

Can price competition work?

It’s hard to shop around for some procedures, such as complex surgeries. Yulai Studio/shutterstock.com

The overarching question is whether patients and employers can ever do comparison shopping effectively. Clearly for many things, there can be no head-to-head choice. Trauma, highly complex surgery and other care cannot be predicted ahead of time or standardized to fit a consumer market model.

However, some things can be compared. Insurers now routinely let consumers know if a test or image could be done for less elsewhere. Perhaps comparing just a few services as an overall cost indicator is the best we can do.

But it may also be possible to determine overall relative bargains for a typical package of care to guide choices. My Cleveland hospital, MetroHealth System, manages Medicaid patients for a total cost which is 29% less than when they wander around without a medical home. This is a meaningful difference.

A first step towards comparison shopping might be eliminating the EOB as we know it. Rather than showing meaningless list prices, it would be more revealing if hospitals and insurers had to disclose their actual payment terms.

An alternative benchmark might be to provide health care consumers with a range of contract rates or the Medicare rate for a service. Then the difference between what you and others actually pay could be useful in comparing providers and insurers.

Those who long for a total overhaul of our system through “Medicare for All” or its variants, such as many Democrats vying for the nomination,will still have to deal with the question of how to contract and pay for all these moving parts. The temptation will be toward simple solutions involving prices, discounts and rate regulation – still, I believe, effectively a pursuit of fool’s gold.