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March 9, 2021

Roundtable Discussion:How Companies are Changing Goals, Motivations, and Measures of Benefits Success [Part 1]

Artemis Health

In October of last year, Artemis Health conducted a research study, surveying over 300 benefits leaders at companies with 5,000 or more employees. We wanted to see exactly how their goals, motivations and challenges have changed in 2020. Our questions for the survey were based on those from our 2019 research, and we found a lot of remarkable results compared to the previous year. We shared some of the findings with a panel of industry experts and leaders on a recent webinar with WorldAtWork. Here’s a recap of the discussion and some interesting insights from the research. 

The webinar was hosted by Haley Eckels, Content Director at Artemis Health, and featured three panelists: 

  • Emily Munroe, Senior Benefits Manager at Wayfair, one of the largest online retailers of home goods
  • Betsy Nota-Kirby, Vice President of National Health Management Consulting at Marsh & McLennan Agency 
  • Kelly Blue, Principal Data-Driven Insights Consultant from Mercer’s Data, Technology, and Analytics team

Now let’s dive into the transcript from our discussion.

Haley Eckels:

So our first topic today, 2020 is a year none of us will soon forget. The world of employee benefits has changed dramatically, and benefits teams are being asked to do even more in 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to drive benefits strategy for a lot of the folks we talk with, and with vaccines now taking center stage. Delayed care, mental health challenges, and virtual care are all spurring change in 2021, and benefits leaders must balance these employee needs with rising costs. They are facing big organizational goals, and the responsibility is falling on their shoulders to find solutions.

One of the responses that we've got from our survey is that the goals have shifted dramatically from 2019. Last year, the majority were concerned with employee productivity as their number one goal. In 2020, 61% of benefits leaders indicated that improving employee health and well-being was their top benefit goal. It moved to the top spot in 2021 from the third spot in 2019. Other high ranking organizational goals included improving employee satisfaction, engagement, and increasing employee productivity. So I wanted to ask, are these results surprising to you? Are they in line with the conversations that you've been having internally or with your clients? Kelly, let's start with you.

Kelly Blue:

Yes. So thanks, Haley. It's not surprising to me actually because we have seen a shift in employers starting to think about employee centric strategy and really starting to focus on the employee bringing their whole self to work, thinking about quality of life. And if we can support the employee, not just at work, but outside of work, will that result in them bringing increased productivity and focus and maybe additional innovative thoughts to work instead of just focusing on how we can get productivity when they're just at the workplace. So we have seen some of those shifts toward well-being as a differentiator, how they can differentiate their employee value proposition, but also just support productivity and maybe a different way by focusing first on the person instead of the output.

Haley Eckels:

Very interesting. Betsy, do you think these are surprising results?

Betsy Nota-Kirby:

No, I'm actually in agreement with Kelly. And earlier in the summer, we surveyed our own client database, which is a mid-market-to-small group, and the human resources teams that we work most closely with ranked assistance and support with developing well-being programs as their number one need. And we have been working...obviously we've been working with our clients for quite a while on this, but they're putting more of an emphasis and more of a focus and voicing their concern to us that this is really a priority for them moving forward. So no surprise.

Haley Eckels:

Great, thank you. Finally, Emily, I'd love for the employer perspective to weigh in on this. How are you feeling about the results of the survey with regard to employee health and well-being being number one?

Emily Munroe:

Yeah, it's definitely not surprising. I would say I am laser-focused on things like burnout, our parents struggling at home, and just mental health all together. And that's honestly not something that I was focused on in previous years. So it's been a shift for me and an important one.

Haley Eckels:

Thank you. Yeah, so the quote that we've got up on the screen now was one of the open-ended responses from our survey. It seems like the pressure test of the pandemic has helped benefits leaders focus on what really matters. However, we do know that many of you are worried about the side effects of the pandemic aside from just serious COVID disease, and that's the issue of delayed care. What are your expectations for healthcare demand as the pandemic wanes? Are you thinking that you're going to see a surge of claims for postponed elective procedures or preventive screenings? Emily, we'll throw it to you first.

Emily Munroe:

Yeah, definitely preventative screenings. And the way that I've been talking to our community about it was that is also coupling it with talking about the vaccine with your primary care physician. So I'm encouraging that increase in primary care appointments because I want them to feel comfortable with their choice, and the way back to the office. So I think that's going to have an incline for sure. And then other data though, I'm seeing it normalized. I'm seeing people go to these elective appointments past couple of months. And I think that it would have been hard for me to wait to receive that data from our TPS, or our carriers or anything. So I've been lucky to have access to Artemis, honestly, to see it start to pick up so I can prepare for it and prepare my leadership team for it.

Haley Eckels:

Thank you. Betsy, can you talk a little bit about healthcare demand as well?

Betsy Nota-Kirby:

Sure. Obviously, we saw a dramatic decrease in office visits for primary care. We did not see a decrease in telemedicine. We actually saw a significant uptake in our book of business which is great. It's not anywhere where we think we need to be, but we are seeing a great increase. What we've been noticing in the last quarter with our clients is that we're seeing a rebound, we're seeing increases in those PCP visits, specialist visits, and elective care procedures, but they're still down from where they were pre-pandemic.

And there are surveys that have been put out by various organizations, but most recently, the Robert Wood Foundation coupled with an institute to really look at what sort of issues are driving folks to not get their care. And primarily it's a fear of getting sick when they go to see their healthcare provider. And that is also coupled with healthcare providers having reduction in office hours, reduction in elective procedures earlier in the pandemic, which impacted people's ability to schedule appointments. So even though appointments have opened back up, they're still not as plentiful as they had been. So we're going to be expecting to see that continue to rebound into 2021 and further into 2022.

Haley Eckels:

Interesting. Yeah, they haven't quite caught up with demand yet. Kelly, what are you seeing for your clients on healthcare demand?

Kelly Blue:

They're very similar to what Emily and Betsy noted: significant delays in screenings. We are starting to see a lot of that rebounding. We are tracking, like Betsy said, to our book of business results. And I think one of the things that will be interesting to see over the coming months to maybe even a few years is what the impact is as some of that delayed care, will we see exacerbated issues from lack of preventative care or lack of screening that result in more significant costs on the backend? So we're tracking all this, and we'll be interested to see how this all plays out.

Haley Eckels:

Very interesting. Yeah, those gaps in care opening up as people delay preventative screenings that we know can be very life-saving if certain conditions are caught early. Thanks. So we also asked benefit leaders, “How would you describe your organization's benefits offerings in comparison to peers and competitors?” In 2019, 19% of them told us that they were falling behind, and 18% indicated they were feeling ahead of the curve. However, 2020 seems to have given them a little bit of a boost in confidence in their ability to offer comprehensive ahead of the curve benefits. And we now find that 30% of them feel like they're in that “ahead of the curve” group.

They gave us a few reasons why they felt like they were ahead of the curve: offering more choice of health plans for employees, their quick and decisive response to COVID-19, a focus on new and innovative benefits programs, their ability to attract top talent, and expanding affordable care for employees and their families. In what ways would you say your clients have pivoted and found creative solutions to benefits problems? Betsy, let's start with you.

Betsy Nota-Kirby:

Sure. There are some really significant creative solutions that involve remote and distance sessions, but I think the biggest thing that we've experienced in our client bases, we had virtual solutions already in place, but some of our clients are smaller group, the mid-market, they like doing things with paper and pencil, the old-fashioned way. So they've been blending technology in with the traditional paper and pencil. And when they had to pivot to all technology-based, we had a solution for them and it was easy to implement and it wasn't difficult. And it actually went very well for our clients, including setting up virtual enrollment fairs and virtual health fair events. So I think that that really helped build confidence with our client base as far as staying ahead of the curve. They weren't scrambling to create a solution. It was already there and they were just leveraging it.

Haley Eckels:

Great. Thank you. Kelly, I know that you also have experienced with some creative pivoting that clients have done this year.

Kelly Blue:

Absolutely. But I think in addition to just creative thinking, I think that there's been a shift to look for partners to help solve some of these problems, whether it be a consultant partner or a vendor partner and saying, "What else is being done out there?" And when they see some of that information from their peers or from the industry, then they can feel a little bit better about where they stand.

So it's a benchmarking exercise of sorts, but I wonder if that's also contributing to some of those feeling ahead of the curve, that when you go to one of your partners and they say, "Well, here's how we're helping these other companies," you can feel more justified and maybe handling it that same way, or feel like your employees won't be surprised by the way that you're handling it because if there's a creative solution that's being done by multiple companies, you feel better than being out on an island, trying something new by yourself. So I think not only is it shift to some of the creative options that Betsy said, but feeling a little bit more confident because you can see some safety in numbers as well.

Haley Eckels:

Got you. Yeah, and speaking of safety and numbers, a lot of employers are focusing on virtual health as a big priority in 2021. Emily, I know it’s a big priority at Wayfair. So can you talk us through some of the key considerations for benefits leaders who are doing this expansion of telehealth?

Emily Munroe:

Yeah, absolutely. One of the data points that knocked me off my chair in the middle of 2020 was that our telehealth went up 4000%. And we were regular users before that. And it was one of those things where there's no turning back. Like even when things reopen, people are getting comfortable with telemedicine. So that's an area for me where data's my thermostat, follow the employees and listen to them. 

So we do an annual benefit survey, same as everyone else. And one of the questions on there, I just honestly said, “What would you do virtually that you go into the office to do?” And I feel like I've created that ability with the community and saying, "I don't know if I can get it, but what do you want?" And maybe not everybody has that yet, but the answers surprised me and I gave them a couple of options. But yeah, their physical therapy ones. Should we bring in a SWORD Health or a Hinge option? I have a really young population and that's not normally covered.

And then other things like would you want to have the ability to take your blood pressure at home. Would you like those types of things? And yeah, some of the answers were surprising, and probably not something that I would obviously have gone towards, but decided to listen to the population and start partnering with some startups that are doing that and figure out a way to call it a pilot and say, "I don't know if this is going to work, but we'll pivot, if it doesn't, but let's try it." 

And that excitement, I think, matches our business model of trying things and being innovative. And I think that resonates with employees. So we're really trying it all to try to stay ahead of the curve and really listen to what people want.


We’ll continue exploring these research study results and our expert panel’s thoughts on our finding in future blog posts. 


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