HR consulting firm Mercer’s annual cost survey shows employers across Michigan paid an average of 4.7 percent more for employee health benefits in 2019. Employers expect 2020 costs to increase another 5.3 percent, provided they maintain the same benefit level, and 3.6 percent if they make changes to their health plans. As costs keep rising each year, Mick Young of Mercer’s Grand Rapids office sees more interest among employers for greater consumerism in health care and a much higher focus on the quality of care for their employees.
What’s the biggest trend you saw emerging this year as employers renewed health benefits for 2020?
There is a much greater attention on the employee experience that relates to health care, and that’s everything from ‘how do I enroll’ to ‘how do I get help’ to ‘how do I manage my chronic disease.’ (They are) becoming focused on the experience of that employee and that member. The comparative experience in health care is vastly different to buying a song on iTunes or to picking an app or to watching a movie on your phone. The experience is so much quicker, it’s so much more pleasant than trying to get your flu shot or trying to manage diabetes. There is a tremendous focus on how do we improve the experience of the member.
What would you like to see happen in health care in 2020?
A laser focus on quality. Forget about deep-discount networks, forget about narrow networks, forget about which (health) systems are in or out of a network. Let’s focus on who provides quality service at a reasonable cost. I believe there’s going to be a huge focus on that space in 2020 as well. Separate from ‘where do I get the biggest discount,’ it’s more about ‘where is my outcome going to be best for me?’
Are employers beginning to gravitate to that issue?
Absolutely. There is so much going on around that quality quotient and it’s coming like a freight train. The data shows employers are at the point where they all realize you can only shift so much (of the costs for health coverage) to the members. If the member can’t afford it, then they just can’t afford it. You look at social determinants of health and the affordability of health care, the issues are so much more important than getting a deeper discount (from care providers through your health plan). It’s more about how do we hold the hands of these members to get the care that they need.
Beyond costs, what’s the biggest issue for employers in the new year?
There’s a war for talent and I feel everyone’s attention is on that key focus: How do we attract and retain the people we end up hiring to stay with our firm? That’s probably the singular, most important issue for employers: How do we meet employees where they are and in a way that they want to work here and stay here?
What do you want to hear the presidential candidates talk about during the 2020 campaign?
I’d like to see them address and argue and debate Medicare for All. I’d like to see them sort of articulate what does that look like, what does that cost, and then find the middle ground in terms of what’s realistic based on what we can afford and get that on the table. That’s not to say that is a solution, but let’s get it on the table and thoroughly vet that as an alternative. I think that would motivate the marketplace to move quicker toward this quality quotient and toward this member experience, and toward how do we make and keep people healthy. Understanding what a government solution might look like will then motivate people to find the right solution in between.
What is something else in health care we’ll hear more about in 2020?
The concept of a concierge and advocacy at a much deeper actual level for members, whether they just need a card or to figure out their diabetes, or whether they need to schedule surgery. The concierge advocacy model is another very fast-moving train that will be here in 2020.
What makes you worry about next year?
Complacency. Employers across the country have got to lead the disruption and they have to lead the change. When year-to-year costs appear to be reasonable, it sort of pushes the button on complacency and sort of lets people breathe a little and maybe kick the can down the road a little bit. In my opinion, that’s exactly the wrong sort of thing to do. The time is now to put the pedal down and really let employers drive change and don’t wait for any carriers to deliver that.
What makes you optimistic?
I feel like we’re in a spot that we’re ready to put our pedal down. I think employers are ready to lead. You look at the Amazon-Berkshire-Chase connection (through a joint venture named Haven Healthcare to address high health care costs and improve outcomes) and there’s leadership. That gives me hope. There’s a groundswell of demand from members that are saying, ‘This has to be different.’ With this economy and this war for talent, (employers are) pushing the envelope.