The health insurance industry is facing a number of unknowns while continuing to evolve in the pandemic’s wake. Our team has frequent conversations with health insurance leaders across the country, keeping a pulse on how they are preparing for the unexpected, while accommodating the needs of both their employees and members. Below are a few key areas that are on our radars as we approach the second half of 2022.
Increased Demand for Health Insurance Talent
The insurance industry as a whole is experiencing one of the most challenging labor markets in history. Sixty-five percent of life/health insurers plan to add staff this year, according to our recent Q1 2022 Insurance Labor Market Study, conducted in partnership with Aon, plc. The majority of those planning to grow their headcounts say it’s due to anticipated increases in business volume. However, while additional staff may be needed to meet these business needs, recruiting is at its most difficult level in the study’s 13-year history. Finance and insurance job openings reached a peak at the beginning of the year, while insurance unemployment remains low, reflecting a significant lack of available talent. Health insurers must evaluate how they’re attracting and retaining talent at all levels to remain successful and meet increasing demands.
Need for Behavioral Health Support
Professionals’ behavioral health has also been impacted as they cope with the effects of the pandemic. A recently published study by The Hartford found nearly three-quarters of employers believe employees’ mental health is impacting their company’s financial performance. The percentage of workers who report feeling depressed or anxious at least once per week has increased from 20% in 2020 to 34% in 2022. Additionally, there is a notable disconnect around the perceived stigma of mental health: 82% of employers feel their work environment inspires dialogue around mental health, compared to less than half of employees. At the same time, fewer companies are offering Employee Assistance Programs to support their staff. While this is an industrywide issue, health insurers have been at the forefront of this space, with many proactively evaluating their wellness plans and their effectiveness, as well as acknowledging behavioral health’s place in an inclusive work environment.
New Areas of Focus for Leadership
As a spotlight is placed on behavioral health, there’s also a need for health insurers to effectively train their leadership teams and managers to communicate available resources, while also demonstrating empathy that transcends across hybrid and virtual environments. Many managers have well-developed technical skills, but may feel uncomfortable engaging in transparent conversations about employees’ concerns, stressors and overall job satisfaction. Training on interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence will likely become more common as managers navigate shifting employee needs and behaviors.
Impending End of Public Health Emergency
The COVID-19-related public health emergency (PHE) was renewed until July 15, meaning July 31 is the earliest potential end date for continuous Medicaid enrollment. However, it could extend into October if a 60-day notice is not given by May 16. Although the PHE end date continues to shift, just 27 states have plans in place for prioritizing outstanding eligibility and renewals, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey.
Medicaid/CHIP enrollment has increased by nearly 16 million individuals since the start of the pandemic – for many states it has been the largest enrollment period since the Affordable Care Act. Once the PHE expires, many of these individuals will lose their state-funded coverage and need to move to an exchange or private plan. Insurers that work with Medicare/Medicaid must be prepared to quickly staff call centers and proactively capture new memberships, while addressing inquiries and providing the best customer experience possible.
Emphasis on Risk Adjustment
There’s also a continued emphasis on risk adjustment as insurers work to optimize their models and account for the impacts of COVID-19. Roughly 40% of Americans delayed medical treatment during the summer of 2020, according to a U.S. Census Pulse Survey. Collection and interpretation of data will remain vital for risk adjustment, yet may not tell a patient’s full story. For instance, it’s estimated risk scores for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries were 9.5% higher in 2020 than for similar beneficiaries in traditional Medicare, resulting in an overpayment of roughly $12 billion. As plans work to achieve more accurate and holistic programs, it may be necessary to bring in additional data analytics experts to support and evolve contracting partnerships and renewals. New services and specific healthcare inclusions for the population and members you are serving (such as behavioral health services) could lead to more optimum coverage, reduce overall costs and result in the best possible care.
As employee and member needs continue to evolve and health insurers position themselves for success in the aftermath of COVID-19, maintaining a sense of transparency and adaptability is essential. Being prepared for shifts in Medicare/Medicaid and focusing on the health and well-being of your team are key in effectively moving forward. For more Health Highlights, click here.