2019: The Year We Learned to Love Instability 

Jan 07 2020

Health and healthcare are in a period of rapid change – which only seemed to accelerate over the course of 2019. Here’s a look at the major trends we tracked over the past twelve months in Mercer’s Center for Health Innovation, with some thoughts on how they will continue to evolve.

New entrants and partnerships are shaking up healthcare

  • Consumer-facing brands took some big steps into health and healthcare. Apple’s partnerships with health systems, Amazon’s employee-focused efforts to provide virtual care, Google’s announcements on searchable EHRs…the examples came fast and furious in 2019, and we don’t expect to see that trend slow anytime soon. 
  • Payers and provider groups continued to vertically integrate – notably, Optum acquired DaVita Medical Group – with the goal of more efficient operations and the promise of lower cost. Will we soon start to see new synergies open up cost-savings opportunities for employers? Employers should not shy away from asking vendors tough questions about how these business deals will impact their health programs and their employees. 

Patient or consumer? Healthcare attempts to strike a better balance

  • Patient management and clinical outcomes are foundational elements of the healthcare system, and directly relate to the health of individuals. However, 2019 saw healthcare companies designing and marketing services in ways that reflect broader consumer trends. With a laser focus on convenience, they are making services available 24/7 through the palm of your hand – like Anthem’s AI-powered Sydney app, or Aetna’s Attain app. The thinking is that engaging people as consumers will help them to be better patients when the time comes. Results from Mercer’s soon-to-be-released “Health on Demand” survey indicate that many employees are already willing to use new digital solutions that make healthcare more convenient and affordable. 
  • Disruption is coming to a primary care doctor near you. Direct-to-consumer plays for primary care utilization sprang up in 2019 – One Medical’s expansion into new geographies, the founding of virtual-care provider Galileo, and the excitement around 98point6’s $1 virtual visit all garnered attention. Now we’ll be watching to see if these companies can win over the hearts of their consumers and convince more employers to offer models like these to their populations. 

Medicine advances, population health declines – and both add to cost

  • Chronic conditions, especially among the millennial population, are on the rise. While hypertension, depression, and high cholesterol are already an issue in many employer populations, the situation is poised to deteriorate rapidly. According to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, millennial healthcare costs may be up to 33% higher than that of Gen-Xers at the same age. Employers should ask themselves if they can afford not to invest in population health. 
  • When employers see the words genomics, pharmacogenomics, and precision medicine, they also see dollar signs. Advances in medical science and technology hold enormous promise for the health of individuals – while raising enormous questions for employers. Employers need to consider the potential impact of new treatments in the pipeline, and proactively prepare for the sky-high claims that could bust benefit budgets. 

Given all of this change (and more!), we can expect to see continued instability in the healthcare system in the years ahead. That’s not a bad thing – it brings significant potential to positively impact people’s health, whether you call them patients, consumers, or employees. To help shape health and healthcare in 2020 and beyond, employers need to keep thinking ahead. Watch this space for our thoughts on how to build a future-focused health program. 

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