Praveen Thadani describes his first year as president of Priority Health as “simply exceptional.” In January, he joined the Grand Rapids-based Priority Health — the second-largest health plan in Michigan with 1.1 million members. He believes the COVID-19 pandemic has driven and accelerated the pace of change in the health care industry, as well as the willingness of consumers to adapt to changes such as the use of virtual platforms to connect with care providers. Thadani recently discussed his first year on the job, emerging virtual health plans, and growing needs around behavioral health treatment.
What was the biggest thing you learned in your first year?
Coming from Illinois, and I was entering a new market coming to Michigan, there are a lot of things that really make the Michigan market unique. It was taking the time to learn the market and understand what drives our consumers, our employees and the health care industry. As you might imagine, you can’t talk about 2021 without talking about COVID-19, and it has challenged us to pivot. This constant flux of the pandemic has really required our team to be flexible and agile. If you think about the team, we have to get back to full-time back-in-the-office mode, and so managing the team member expectations and engagement during the pandemic has been the biggest learning opportunity.
How have you managed that?
We meet with our teams virtually every month, we do surveys with them to ensure we know exactly what’s top of mind for them. Most importantly, I also augment that with what I call ‘coffee chats with Praveen’ where we gather 10 team members at a time and I have a session and a discussion with them. I ask them what’s top of mind for them, what worries them, what concerns them, and what they think we need to be doing to assure Priority Health has a very bright future.
How has the pandemic permanently changed your business and your industry?
Very, very substantially. This notion of delivering on value, as an example: Most of our provider partners have certainly been very distracted by COVID. They’re struggling just to ensure they’re taking good care of the COVID members, let alone focus on value. The good thing is the entire industry believes and agrees that the industry is changing for the better.
Changing in what ways?
Even if you think about the digital expanse that has been rolled out in health care in a very short, compressed time frame, consumers were willing to adapt to that and were willing to try and embrace new things. For me, most importantly, what this pandemic’s really done is change consumers’ expectations and at the same time help health care realize there could be a compelling case for change. When there is a compelling case for change, our vision and our values can thrive very deeply in this marketplace. There is more readiness to change than we had all expected, and there’s more capacity for change and for agile transformation inside our organizations than we all expected. That can carry us forward with a lot of momentum toward transformational change.
What did you notice this year during open enrollment that was new and that employers were doing with their health benefits for 2022?
There was much more of an interest in virtual health plans. Less so on the employer side, but much more so on the individual side. We saw many more consumers picking our virtual-first plans. Clearly, tastes are evolving and consumers are evolving as well.
On the employer side, we clearly saw employers want to ensure they are retaining the best staff they can and are attracting the best talent they can as well. We’re seeing an emerging demand for navigation and advocacy services, which is really helping consumers navigate health care more effectively. There’s a lot of themes around ensuring that we help them optimize their benefits as well.
What’s something not getting a lot of attention right now that will become a much bigger issue for health plans in the new year?
Two critical themes. One is behavioral health. Certainly there is pent-up demand for behavioral health. And secondly, as people deferred some care, I believe that primary care also has taken a back seat and an increased emphasis (is needed) on preventive care, which I think has sort of fallen by the wayside this year. Most importantly, this notion of picking back up on behavioral health and basic preventive primary care, if we can continue enhancing and focus on those two things, we are in a stronger position going into the future.