Top healthcare trends to watch in 2018

Published
  • March 26 2018, 5:38am EDT
The National Business Group, a non-profit association of 420 large, U.S. employers, released its list of 2018’s top healthcare benefit trends.

These developments highlight how healthcare delivery is changing, the role of new technologies and how group health coverage will continue to be disrupted by industry consolidation.

Overview

The National Business Group, a non-profit association of 420 large, U.S. employers, released its list of 2018’s top healthcare benefit trends.

These developments highlight how healthcare delivery is changing, the role of new technologies and how group health coverage will continue to be disrupted by industry consolidation.

Value purchasing is gaining traction

Employers continue to manage costs through plan design efforts, but they are also pursuing other ways to make healthcare more efficient and affordable.

Bundled payments to Centers of Excellence are becoming more prevalent, and risk-based arrangements with high-value networks and ACOs are on the rise in certain markets.

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Employers are focusing on the employee experience

Communicating the wealth of benefits offered to employees continues to be a top priority for benefit brokers and their clients.

Employers are providing concierge services, coaching and decision support tools to help their employees navigate the healthcare system, better understand treatment options and identify the best places to go for care.

Interest in engagement platforms is growing

A top concern for employers is providing employees with the well-being and healthcare management resources that they need, when they need them.

Broad-based communications are ineffective when it comes to helping particular employees in their time of need. But new, data-driven engagement platforms can fill the void by pushing personalized, highly relevant messages to employees as their concerns arise.

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Concerns over specialty drug costs are mounting

Price increases for all types of prescription drugs, and for specialty pharmaceuticals in particular, show no signs of abating.

Spending on specialty drugs is growing faster than any other category of healthcare spending, and more high-priced medications are expected to reach the market during the next few years.

And while specialty drugs are used by only 2% of their employee population, they account for a much larger portion of most employers' total healthcare costs.

To counter this, employers are turning to risk-sharing, value-based pricing and new sourcing strategies.

Employers are investing in workforce well-being

To ensure that their workforce is competitive, a growing number of companies are investing in employee well-being, which encompasses emotional and financial wellness, social connectivity and job satisfaction, in addition to physical health.

Much like investments in training, employee development and safety, investments in employee well-being can improve overall workforce productivity and efficiency.

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Behavioral health is getting more attention

Economic uncertainty, abrupt cultural and technological change, along with information overload, are some of the factors behind the rising incidence of mental and emotional illness among the U.S. workforce. And these behavioral issues are now understood to be directly related to the epidemic of obesity, heart disease and other chronic conditions.

In response, employers are paying more attention to the behavioral health of their employees and providing expanded access to counseling through worksite clinics and telehealth services. The are also making efforts to remove the stigma that often accompanies behavioral conditions within the workplace.

Employers are confronting the opioid crisis

Faced with widespread opioid addiction and its impact on workforce health and productivity, employers are taking steps to confront this crisis. These include providing treatment coverage, counseling and other support services, as well as making managers and employees aware that they are available.

Employers are also working with insurers and healthcare providers to restrict and reduce the inappropriate use of these drugs.

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Gene-based medicine is entering clinical practice.

As the science of genomics advances, targeted or precision medicine is rapidly expanding, and the first targeted therapeutics and precision diagnostic tests are being introduced into clinical practice.

While these diagnostic tools and therapies are costly, they have the potential to improve healthcare outcomes by better identifying the most appropriate treatment for a given patient.

This is an emerging trend, and demonstrating its effectiveness will be critical. Employers are intrigued by precision medicine's potential to improve workforce health, but they need proof that it offers more value for their healthcare dollars, before they rally behind it.

The U.S. healthcare system will continue to be disrupted

Driven by competitive and economic pressures, the healthcare industry will continue to consolidate, even as new niche players and startups attack waste and inefficiencies with new technologies and innovations.

The big unknown is whether all this disruption will pay off in the end by making the U.S. healthcare system more responsive and cost-effective.