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Innovation in Benefits (Yes, Benefits)

By Alan Cohen

The Following is an excerpt from the book, “Employee Benefits and the New Health Care Landscape: How Private Exchanges are Bringing Choice and Consumerism to America’s Workforce”, by Alan Cohen. Alan will be leading a panel discussion at EHBC, “Rise Up! The Changing Benefits Landscape Starts With Your (Employers, Brokers & Insurers)


Innovation came to the healthcare industry in many forms during the 20-teens.

Startups and major health providers partnered around innovations in data analysis of patient risk and behavior, wellness monitoring, and consumer satisfaction. Hospital and healthcare institutions sought out venture funds, developed new products, and formed partnerships in health and wellness.

For example, Seattle’s mega non-profit chain Providence Health & Services invested in Sqord, a children’s wearables company committed to increasing childhood exercise. Then in 2014, it partnered with Binary Fountain, a social intelligence startup which provides near real-time monitoring of online patient experience reviews, ratings, and social media content.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center partnered in 2015 with a Silicon Valley startup to create technology that helped health systems measure and manage risk for populations of patients. And, in a major partnership with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., Geisinger Health System began collecting genetic data from its consented patients to develop new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat medical conditions before they cause harm.

The venture firm Bessemer sees “a massive market opportunity for entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to pursue” in health care, and has identified nearly 200 companies that are leading the way based on the following groupings: technology infrastructure, payment models, disease management, and care models It seems like there is a new language sprouting up just to deal with this burgeoning field as exemplified by new companies with one-word names such as ZeOmega, Fibrolast, Joyable, Livongo and Avizia.

Companies Leading the Health Care Sector

Graham’s growth forecast is holding up. With consumers wanting more information and choices about their healthcare as well as control over their benefits, expanded offerings from current companies are cropping up. In fact, entrepreneurs have created nearly 100 companies focused on consumer-driven innovations in the fields of telemedicine, education, model innovation, process improvement, and wellness.

They’re entering a space already known to Apple with its iOS-powered wearables such as the Apple Watch.

In September 2016, for example, Aetna announced a major initiative to integrate Apple Watches into its analytics-based wellness and care management programs. It not only made the data-collecting Watch available to some of its large employers and individual members during open enrollment season, it also gave the Watch free to its nearly 50,000 employees who participated in the company’s wellness reimbursement program.

“We are incredibly excited to use iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch to create simple, intuitive, and personalized technology solutions that will transform the health and wellness experience for our members,” Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini said in a statement at the time.

The Apple Watch gives consumers tools such as medication reminders, integration with Apple Wallet to allow consumers to check their deductible and pay a bill, personalized health plans, messaging and decision
support, and information on medical events such as a new diagnosis.

These offerings and many others are leading the way in improving many outdated health care systems and processes, while also uncovering long-term solutions to the failures of legacy benefit approaches for consumers. They’re making powerful inroads into what matters to the most powerful change-makers in our society. People want more than efficient ways for institutions to monitor and measure their behavior,
however.

They want a health care experience to match their involvement with Amazon where they can find a product, see the reviews, and order it easily. “Anything that helps healthcare follow that same model will surely prosper,” said venture capital investor and healthcare industry consultant Lisa Suennen.

We’re still only at the beginning of the sea change. The future of healthcare and benefits can be much more dynamic for consumers, employers, insurers, and practitioners. We have seen that private exchanges give employees the support people need to make engaged and informed decisions. They increase engagement.

They lead to improvements in health insurance costs and transparency. They’re built to accommodate new tools and resources developed by companies that are revolutionizing the health and benefits industry, such as those mentioned above. The exchange platform can harness the internet’s resources, smart navigation, decision support, and advanced e-commerce tools to become a daily dashboard for our personal and financial well-being.

Private exchanges are designed to integrate with game-changing innovations that will improve people’s lives now and in the future. The dramatic advances in benefits and health care that are on the next frontier for
private exchanges include:

  • Expanding the concept of a “benefit store” to give consumers the freedom to view and manage more of their entire health and wealth portfolio.
  • Letting individuals research and make a range of health service and benefit purchases, including the design of their own health networks, directly and without intermediaries.
  • Merging group and individual marketplaces for insurance to create a free market so consumers can purchase their own coverage.

From expanding the benefits store concept to include a virtually limitless product set, to influencing policymakers in Washington, innovation in benefits can take on many forms.

For Americans, sometimes it can take our democracy far too long to figure out the best way forward. But, in most cases, we do find that way, when the people have a strong enough
voice.

As John Kennedy famously said: “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”


About the Author

Alan Cohen is the head of product for the Exchange Solutions segment of Willis Towers Watson, defining the future of benefits delivery with innovative, modernized solutions for businesses of all sizes, including their global service line. In addition, he co-founded Liazon, operator of industry-leading private benefits exchanges. Liazon was acquired by Towers Watson, now Willis Towers Watson, in 2013. Alan recently authored the book, Employee Benefits and the New Health Care Landscape: How Private Exchanges are Bringing Choice and Consumerism to America’s Workforce, based on his experience as a benefits technology pioneer.

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