Words by Imogen Barber

Earlier this week, the Lumeon team headed out to attend the 9th Employer Healthcare and Benefits Congress in LA. 

The event brought together over 2,000 leading payers, TPAs, brokers, consultants, healthcare providers, benefits companies, and of course, employers to discuss the latest developments in the employer benefits industry. They were joined by 200 exhibitors, offering everything from smart water bottles to precision genomics – all under the dome of the LA convention center. 

The Californian market undoubtedly has its own distinct health and wellness microclimate. That said, many of the people we encountered came from across the full breadth of the US and spoke of common trends – here are just a few.

1. A real appetite for bundled payments

The appetite for bundled payment options seems to be growing. They’ve been around for a couple of decades but payers, providers and employers are waking up to the fact that healthcare is becoming more consumer-focused and people want upfront price transparency – particularly for high-cost surgical procedures. Bundled payments are being increasingly seen as a competitive differentiator and employers are making better use of outpatient networks and ‘centers of excellence’ for pathways such as cardiology, orthopedics, gastroenterology and ophthalmology to keep costs low without any trade-off in quality.

2. Beyond the health screen – examining ‘lifetime value’ of integrated benefits

Providers, employers, consultants and payers are looking at the holistic value of health services an employee (or their family) might require, and how they fit into their wider benefits package. This means extending the interaction with their members beyond the health screen, to include services like lifestyle coaching, behavioral health, nutrition and chronic condition management. It also means providing better options for caregiving leave or financial management packages to combat stress.

3. Want to keep them engaged? Keep it personal...

There’s been a shift in emphasis away from generic ‘wellness campaigns’ rolled out to all staff, towards a more personalized approach. The recurring question: How do we keep members participating on a longer term basis? The common denominator seems to be that members have to feel that engagement is personalized, relevant and convenient. It’s also true that providers need to connect the dots to see the bigger picture of care. If an employee stops their weight loss management program – is it because they feel anxious or depressed or have they strained their back so they can’t participate? This type of personalization can be incredibly labor intensive, but that’s where next-gen digital solutions can help. 

4. Millennials want choice and convenience without the complexity

By 2021 millennials will make up the majority of the employed population. They are working longer hours and choosing companies based on how their corporate values align their own principles, which means they expect a different type of relationship with their employer. Again, there was emphasis on linking services – companies with large millennial populations are providing on-site centers offering acupuncture, mindfulness, fitness classes, lifestyle coaching, stress management and behavioral health as well as biometric screening. Millennials want choice and flexibility of packages and engagement channels – but the key is simplicity, speed and a seamless experience.

5. Genomics set to play a bigger role in health and wellness

Aside from behavior change, there was a big emphasis on personalized medicine and genomics at the conference this year. In a presentation by Aeon Global Health we learned that up to 20% of individuals in the US are slow metabolizers of certain commonly prescribed drugs, meaning they need higher doses or even alternative medications in order for treatment to be at all effective. This of course, has big cost impact – particularly when it comes to readmissions. Meanwhile, other aspects of genetic profiling, such as pre-disposition to particular cancers can be mitigated by lifestyle changes. The challenge is how to translate these insights into operationalized and integrated, longitudinal care pathways.

6. Data driven c
hronic condition management strategy 

No surprise chronic condition management was a key topic, as it accounts for such a big part of healthcare spend. What was interesting was to learn how data is helping providers work with employers to understand their employee population and proactively manage chronic conditions. For example, members with mild asthma may not need regular medication, but you might want them to be on a pathway that notifies them when air quality is poor, or recalls them for regular testing more often. Analysis of real-time population data as well as claims figures, can help employers identify the right mix of ‘quick-wins’ and longer-term payoff.

7. Voluntary benefit schemes increasingly popular

More employers and brokers are moving towards voluntary benefit schemes, helping them considerably reduce costs and improve uptake. Cigna presented a case study showing how one large manufacturer had improved their HDHP (High Deductible Health Plan) enrolment from 7% to 25% using incentivized voluntary benefit schemes.