If the pandemic were to magically disappear on 12/31, what news would benefits advisors like to see make headlines in 2022?
By BenefitsPRO Editors | December 29, 2021 at 09:46 AM
If the pandemic were to mysteriously disappear on the last day of 2021, what big trends or topics would you like to see take its place in the headlines during 2022?
Here are some themes I think it would be nice to see:
Reiterating the importance of maintaining/resuming preventive services that were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the pandemic led to a significant decrease in cancer screening, which could mean that some early cancers may have gone undetected, leading to later diagnoses and worse (and more costly) outcomes. Getting preventive services back on track should be a major priority.
The other thought I had was a focus on embracing and expanding employee access to mental health benefits. It’s no secret the pandemic wreaked havoc on the average person’s mental health. Many even turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. So it should come as no surprise to employers when they see a major increase in demand for mental health benefits. Nor should it be surprising to employers to find themselves falling behind in attracting and retaining top employees should they fail to provide the appropriate resources.
Here’s a headline I hope to see in the near future:
“Employers refocus efforts on improving employee health care consumerism, see major breakthrough: benefits literacy rates climb, health care costs plunge”
Matt Derus, content attorney & market analyst, Zywave
In 2022, I hope that as benefits professionals, we will stop and reflect on what access actually means. Having insurance or being eligible for a health plan does not equal access to care. Unfortunately, it is not enough to just offer a benefit for the sake of offering it; that’s shortsighted, expensive and unsustainable.
We have to focus on the outcomes we’re trying to achieve, and build the programs from there. When we do that, we are better able to address (or plan around) weak links early on. Focusing on access and outcomes means we have to understand the supply chain. In health care, as we’re seeing today with mental health resources, the strength or weakness of each link of the chain affects access to care. We also see these issues in other areas of health care, including critical access to specialists. On a related note, when we fail to diversify our vendors, there’s so much we miss–issues that could have been addressed early on that were not seen or contemplated.
Uche Enemchukwu, co-founder and CEO, Nelu Diversified Consulting Solutions
Addition by subtraction?
Here’s the message I’d like to see from Mark Zuckerberg in 2022:
“Since its inception, Facebook has done a world of good as a conduit of social networking, helping to establish and re-establish relationships. But people today can connect in a myriad of different ways. Where Facebook was once a unique, singular beacon of constructive pathways, it has turned dark. It’s morphed into an ugly ‘too big to fail’ behemoth.
“Though I’m immensely proud that I achieved my goals, a toxic atmosphere has permeated my organization, both inside and out: racism, sexism, political and religious antagonism/hatred, homophobia, etc. Also, the crass monetization of those very things. I’m a wealthy man because of Facebook. And because I am, I can afford to shut it down, which I’m doing so effective immediately (Dec 31, 2021).
“With the pandemic now over, please take advantage of every opportunity to meet your friends and loved ones in person, and cherish the time you and your fellow citizens of the world have to spend together in unity and harmony. Life’s too short for impersonal and irrational hatred. Peace and love to all!”
Jason Marcewicz, content and communications specialist, Advanced Medical Strategies LLC
I’d love to see better HSA investment vehicles. Target-date funds have changed 401(k)s by making it easy, and by increasing allocation to stocks, which do better over time, all with low fees. Something similar for HSA dollars could help boost HDHP enrollments, the percentage of people who invest their HSA balances, and HSA savings. As little as $150/month, invested to hedge health care inflation, goes a long way to neutralizing out-of-pocket costs in retirement.
Joe Andelin, founder, Olavi Group
Outside the box
If fueled by economic stagnation and monetary inflation, 2022 will drive employers to seek alternative funding strategies. The introduction of cost transparency will inject a new sense of “consumerism” at the C-suite level, resulting in fundamental change and executing on long-term strategic initiatives. We will also see a hastening of larger benefit practices also embracing the health care cost-containment train.
As a result of greater pricing transparency, the PPO value will begin to weaken not only for employers, but also for providers. Through more direct engagements, providers will strengthen relationships with stakeholders (employers), driving greater value for each party while benefiting the community as a whole. Patients benefit by gaining access to quality providers at little to no cost, with some expectation of an improved health care experience.
Doug Hetherington, CEO & program architect, HealtH2Business
Accentuate the positive
Although I predict 2022 headlines to continue grasping at the ugly to attract audiences with clickbait, my evolutionary story in 2022 dreams of a less radical society with words like “harmony,” “generosity,” “kindness,” and “honesty” dominating the headlines. Particularly at this challenging time, let’s all work to emphasize the positive, reflect on the constructive and ignore the unpleasant.
Let’s change “If it bleeds, it leads” to “Good, better, best….never let it rest.”
Rina Tikia, managing director, Risk Strategies Company
Time to reconnect
Poof! It’s January 1st, 2022 and all of those hopeful pleas for normalcy to return have suddenly been answered. The phrases “masking up,” “covid testing,” “quarantining,” “social distancing,” etc. aren’t quite a distant memory but are less prevalent. Now that we can return to more “normal” conditions, there are plenty of initiatives I’m excited to see reoccur in the workplace:
- On-site biometric screenings so employees can be proactive about their health. We’ve seen too many employees defer preventive and wellness visits. Let’s catch those potentially dangerous and costly conditions early!
- Provide in-person dietician-led sessions to teach employees some healthy recipes and prep ideas to set them up for a successful day of eating. In addition to Domino’s Pizza stock price soaring over the past 18 months, so did people’s waist sizes. The U.S. already had an issue with obesity pre-COVID; lets get in front of this issue and help people eat healthier diets.
- Organize yoga in the park to stretch our minds and bodies.
- Help employees relax with chair massages.
- Invite employees out for happy hour, meals or appetizers as a way to reconnect with employees.
- Plan a “bring your child to work” day as a fun way to show off your workplace to your family and let your coworkers meet your children.
As we head into the new year, I’m excited to help employers get back to some in person activities that promote healthy physical and mental living while reestablishing the human connection.
Brian Lacher, vice president, employee benefits, Nielsen Benefits Group
The business of health equity
I’d love to see us focus on health equity as a solution to cost waste and quality deficiencies. Employers should be at the center of leading this effort, as they are uniquely positioned to leverage their own data to get a view on race/ethnicity, medical claims, short-term disability etc. They are paying more than $22,000 per family in premiums, therefore having the financial leverage with medical systems and health plans to get real action steps in place. It should not be left up to the health care system to “own” this, as it has been for our lifetimes and beyond. The problem has to be disrupted by purchasers/patients and employers at the top!
Frankly, centering health equity is centering our front-line doctors who are burnt out, depressed and disenfranchised. There are many solutions created and led by people of color who consider these issues, yet they aren’t getting in the door at the rate of other innovators.
Equity is the top economic, social, and human-centered opportunity of this era! Those who think of it and approach it as merely an option will contribute to capping our potential in this country, and will be accountable for the many lives lost and harmed physically, emotionally, and financially. Bad care costs us billions upon billions. This is a business issue.
Jessica Brooks Woods, President & CEO, Pittsburgh Business Group on Health Founder
“HR strategists are given an extra week of paid time off” “Ping pong tables are back in the rec room” “Mask? What’s a mask?”
Bobbi Kloss, director, Human Capital Management Services for the Benefit Advisors Network (BAN)
I believe one ideal will ring true… people will find their happiness.
We just went through a time that gave us the awareness of what we truly value in our lives, it’s time to take action and achieve. Life is too short.
I believe happiness should be free or at least low-cost. I do believe there will be more cost-effective mental health solutions that give people much easier and affordable access to therapy. It’s no longer a taboo subject, and if it is to you, I urge you to take an internal look and realize everyone has struggles. No one has a perfect mindset all the time, doesn’t our society laugh at “happy people” all the time anyway? That just shows how normal it is to not be the best version of ourselves.
It’s time we take care of each other and our neighbors and seek to understand and respond rather than to judge. Plus, it feels better when we can fill each other’s cups. Let’s be happy together.
Ed Ligonde, executive vice president, Nielsen Benefits Group
Back on track
Multiple studies have demonstrated that when the pandemic hit, people delayed critical preventive health care, and many continue to do so. Moving into a 2022 without COVID-19, it would be great to see everyone get back on track with their health and well-being and get the care they may have put off for the past 18+ months. Ideally, this would start with biometric screenings to measure any changes since early 2020. Along the same lines, I would envision a surge in wellness and related program utilization as we now have even more capabilities than we did pre-pandemic to personalize employees’ experiences to get the right content and care for their health and well-being goals.
Marcia Otto, vice president, product strategy, Health Advocate
Roaring 20’s, take 2
I’d like to see more headlines focusing on economic growth, prosperity, employment gains and increased savings rates for all Americans. The data we’re seeing today amid inflation, rising health care costs, and more is painting a bleak picture of what tomorrow may bring. At the same time, I think that all of this will help to push many to just do better – and hopefully be nicer. Here’s to brighter days ahead, and a fun Roaring 20’s 2.0.
Derek Winn, benefits consultant, Business Benefits Group
Time to hit the books
After the holiday vacations are over, it’s back to school with health literacy in 2022. As new transparency rules are in place, multi-generational employees will be looking to get more from their benefits, and ongoing education will be critical in health care. Despite ongoing efforts by employers and advisors alike, it’s important to understand that health care is still complicated for most employees and consumers.
Advisors should be ready to support clients by promoting ongoing education to employees and improving the consumer experience with their benefit plans by leveraging technology, engagement, and decision support tools. Similar to consumers shopping online for nearly everything they purchase, they should have the same access and information for health care, written in language blue collar, white collar and everyone in between can easily understand. While some consumers–usually those of the younger generations – are more comfortable with technology, the reality is they still rely on their providers for guidance and direction. Let’s get back to helping employees take control of their health care journey.
Denise Stefanoff, interim executive director, Benefit Advisors Network (BAN)
Time to hit the books
After the holiday vacations are over, it’s back to school with Health Literacy in 2022. As new transparency rules are in place, multi-generational employees will be looking to get more from their benefits, and ongoing education will be critical in healthcare. Despite ongoing efforts by employers and advisors alike, it’s important to understand that health care is still complicated for most employees and consumers. Advisors should be ready to support clients by promoting ongoing education to employees and improving the consumer experience with their benefit plans by leveraging technology, engagement, and decision support tools.
Similar to consumers shopping online for nearly everything they purchase, they should have the same access and information for healthcare, written in language blue-collar, white-collar, and everyone in between can easily understand. While some consumers – usually those of the younger generations – are more comfortable with technology, the reality is they still rely on their providers for guidance and direction. Let’s get back to helping employees take control of their healthcare journey
Bobbi Kloss, director, human capital management services, Benefit Advisors Network (BAN)