Leading Employer Innovation – Past, Present & Future

A core component of Business Group on Health’s mission over the past 45+ years has been to keep employers on the leading edge of innovation.

A core component of Business Group on Health’s mission over the past 45+ years has been to keep employers on the leading edge of innovation. A crucial component of that mission is to identify novel, compelling and most importantly, proven and sustainable solutions for the health and well-being issues employers and their employees face.

Never has there been a more critical time to make innovation a priority. There are many ways the Business Group facilitates this important work - one group in particular is the Health Innovations Forum (HIF). More on HIF in a bit. . .

As we head into the third year of the pandemic, what was once considered radical, such as 100% work from home or lightning-fast procurement for stopgap digital solutions, has become increasingly common as employers grapple with how to support their workforce in whatever “normal” they return to.

It is well documented how beneficial and widely adopted virtual health solutions have been during the past 2 years. While many of these innovative solutions are indeed compelling, there are a number of issues we need to keep an eye on, including impacts on cost and quality, as well as duplication of services.

Sensing an opportunity to cash in on the rapid change and reorganization of the workforce, venture capital investment in digital health care companies has skyrocketed to the tune of $14.6 billion in 2020, topped just halfway through 2021 at $14.7 billion. As investors consider where to make a return on their investment, employers represent an attractive market, given higher commercial reimbursement rates, tech savvier employees and their ability to move faster than many public payers in adoption of new approaches. While some of this is good, there are very real items of concern as we look to the future.

If every startup company’s claims of how much they can reduce costs were true, my health care spend would be zero by the time I contracted with all of them.

Jake Flaitz, Director, Benefits & Human Capital, Paychex, Inc.

Health Innovations Forum (HIF) members report that while many “innovative” solutions may optimize one portion of their health care strategy, they can often confuse, duplicate or at worst be to the detriment to seamless coordinated care that employers are striving to create in their overall benefits ecosystem. Compounding these issues are concerns that these solutions may further fragment an already fragmented delivery system, may not be high-quality solutions and might ultimately drive up costs across the system. Our own survey data show that virtual health will remain a key priority for employers in the years ahead, with many more implementing additional solutions. We also see an emerging need for integration – from both a data and care coordination perspective.

What does this mean for innovation in employer health care heading into 2022? The Business Group’s Trends in Employer Innovation to Keep an Eye On published in early 2021 and based on HIF strategy discussions, identified trends with a common theme: pushing for value in innovation across new strategies as the market and workforce evolve. Innovation must first focus on how it impacts the ultimate end user – employees and their families. Furthermore, innovative strategies must consider the totality of someone’s life experience, including their mental health, where they live, how they want to access care and how their demographic background may present additional challenges to their overall well-being.

Ultimately, innovation is at its best with effective integration, and leading HIF employers are increasingly focused on how to create seamless benefits that make accessing care and staying healthy the easy thing to do for employees. Employer leaders have pushed for a renewed industry focus on high-quality primary care, the promising though as of yet unproven potential for coordination through consolidation among health care vendors, and the evolution of digital care from ancillary to traditional in-person care to a bona fide “front door” where you go first for help with your health.

The Business Group will continue to drive innovation, featuring those of our members who are leading the way and taking lessons learned and opportunities yet to be realized by highlighting them through our conferences, resources, policy and advocacy efforts and employer education on trends in health care.

Interested in getting involved in the discussion with the Health Innovations Forum? Employer members of Business Group on Health are eligible to join throughout the year. Learn more about HIF on our website and contact us if you are interested in joining.