Health care benefit trends in 2018 will be highlighted by initiatives to transform health care delivery, the role of new technology and efforts to improve the employee experience, according to the National Business Group on Health (NBGH).
According to the NBGH, employers continue to manage costs through plan design efforts, but they are also pursuing ways to support changes in how health care is paid for and delivered to drive more effective, efficient and affordable care. Bundled payments with centers of excellence are becoming more prevalent and risk-based arrangements with high value networks and Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), self-insured health benefit plan models in which employers directly contract with medical providers, are on the rise in select markets.
The group also notes that as much as employers would like employees to become sophisticated consumers of health care, the delivery system is too complex and most employees rarely engage with enough frequency to ever become sophisticated consumers. Employers are empowering employees and their families through concierge services, coaching and decision support to help them navigate the health care system, understand treatment options and identify the best places to go for care, all in an effort to improve the consumer experience—a growing trend in 2018.
A top concern for employers is the ability to interest employees in the well-being and health care management resources they make available to them. Broad-based communications are ineffective in engaging employees at the time they need support. Engagement platforms have emerged that can aggregate employer resources and leverage data and technology to push personalized, actionable messages to engage employees in the moment with relevant resources. The NBGH expects engagement platforms to be an area of focus in 2018.
Employer investment in employee well-being, which encompasses emotional and financial well-being, social connectedness and job satisfaction, in addition to physical health, is becoming integral to the global workforce strategy of a growing number of companies. Much like investments in training, development, and safety, employee well-being can play an important role in deploying the most competitive, productive and efficient workforce possible.
Expenditures for specialty drugs are growing faster than any other component of health care spend and more high-priced medications are expected to be on the market in the next few years, the group notes. While specialty drugs are used by only 2% of the population, they are a top driver of total health care costs for most employers. The current pricing model for these drugs is antiquated, unsustainable and unaffordable and criticizing it has become popular among politicians and the public. Advancing risk-sharing and other value-based pricing models and reexamination of the supply chain will be an area of focus in 2018.
The first targeted therapeutics and precision diagnostic tests and tools are being introduced into clinical practice. As the science of genomics advances, coupled with advanced data and informatics, the NBGH expects targeted or precision medicine will rapidly expand. While many of these diagnostics and therapies are costly, they promise to improve the effectiveness of care by getting to the right diagnosis sooner and better identifying the right treatment for a patient’s specific condition and their genetic makeup. The potential for employers is a healthier workforce and better value for the health care dollars they spend.
The NBGH also sees an increased focus on behavioral health and the opioid crisis.Finally, the NBGH says recent merger activity involving new alliances and combinations, and new niche players bringing technology to address gaps in care and promote engagement are all signs of disruption in the health care delivery system. It expects more developments and disruptions going forward and says employers are eager to pilot many of these innovations and encourage disruption that promises to transform health care delivery.