Health insurers are facing a turbulent labor market with complexities caused by vaccine mandates and government regulations, a tightening employment landscape and the implications of “the Great Reshuffle.” Our team talks with health insurance leaders on a regular basis, keeping a pulse on what is impacting the talent marketplace. Below are the pressing topics and trends we’ve been discussing as the industry continues to adapt to the pandemic’s ongoing effects.
Compliance with vaccine mandates is a high priority for health insurers. There’s little more than a month before the Dec. 8 deadline for government contractors to be fully vaccinated, a requirement that will directly impact plans working with Medicare and Medicaid. At the same time, many plans attached to health systems that do not participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs are preparing for self-imposed mandates. In some cases, these mandates also apply to remote workers, causing an already meager talent pool to contract even further.
Health insurance leaders must think through what these changes could mean for their staffing plans and prepare for potential needs. Develop contingency plans and focus on how your talent strategies for full-time employees, as well as interim talent and contractors, may need to be revised to maintain business continuity and avoid gaps in service levels. Additionally, begin adjusting your hiring practices to include proof of vaccine, without sacrificing quality of talent.
Tight Job Market
While vaccine mandates may exacerbate staffing challenges for many health plans, the current state of the insurance job market should not be overlooked. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for insurance carriers and related activities dropped to 1.9% in September – its lowest since the pandemic began in March 2020. While many jobs are available, there are not enough qualified individuals to fill them. In fact, nearly 75% of life/health insurers are planning to increase their staff in the next 12 months, with 73% attributing this growth to areas that are currently understaffed, according to our Q3 2021 Insurance Labor Market Study. We’re noticing organizations developing a false sense of security around the availability of talent. Health insurance leaders must acknowledge the tight market and build contingency plans that account for reshuffling, increased workloads and loss of employees due to vaccine mandates.
Rethinking strategies around retention and employee engagement is also crucial, especially as higher-skilled positions, such as actuaries and medical directors, experience significant shortages. Those plans going through or anticipating mergers and acquisitions must also have a clear understanding of the impact on talent. While there may be redundancies in roles, it’s likely workloads will remain the same and employees will need to be not only retained, but reengaged.
Continued Modernization Projects
Modernization projects are moving forward as customer experience, telehealth and other technological advancements continue to be emphasized. Amid employee reshuffling and organizational realignment, many health insurers are in need of experienced contractors to complete projects when backfilling roles isn’t necessary. Some of these projects began prior to the pandemic and have withstood hiring freezes, individuals exiting the organization or being promoted out of roles, department restructuring, and even company acquisitions. Now, as these projects are moving toward completion, organizations may not want to replace full-time team members, but do need to effectively push projects across the finish line. Bringing in skilled and specialized contractors is making it possible to be flexible with talent and bring longer-term projects to fruition.
Need for Succession Planning at all Levels
Strategic and intentional talent strategies are vital for tackling forthcoming complexities. Developing employees and retaining high performers at all levels must be a priority. Health insurers can protect themselves against gaps by building a strong bench in all areas, especially those positions that traditionally have higher turnover, such as front-line workers. Consider how you can grow your customer service and claims roles and create longer-term development plans to keep talent within your organization. Additionally, extend succession planning to include directors and even some middle management roles, rather than focusing solely on executive leadership. Thoughtful contingency and succession plans will enable you to respond proactively to the ongoing implications of COVID-19.
As health insurers work through the challenges of the next few months, anticipating potential talent needs is imperative. Consider areas where you may require skilled individuals to move forward with initiatives, such as quality audits and modernization projects, while also accounting for talent that may exit the industry or take on new opportunities. Focus on retaining your employees, preparing a strong interim talent strategy and strengthening your internal bench. The health insurance landscape will continue to evolve; having the flexibility to adjust along with these changes will set successful organizations apart. View past Health Highlights here.