To figure out what’s next in the realm of employee benefits, we need to travel back in time. About six centuries ought to do it. Our adventure takes us to the epoch of the Renaissance. The Dark Ages are beginning to fade…
Any evidence of employee benefits is profoundly absent from the scene, but there are ample developments occurring that will alter the course of history:
Literature: There is a revolution on the literary scene. Relevant new material is being produced – Dante, Chaucer and Shakespeare are among those who will achieve immortality. Yet thought leaders of the day also are turning to the old classics – the teachings of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle. Entirely new generations are influenced by their philosophies and ideas.
Science: It’s going to be a while before the world experiences the benefits of modern medicine, but the field of anatomy is firmly rooted in this era, providing a remarkable foundation to better understand the body. Advances in physics and chemistry also produce a catalyst for later expansion of knowledge. Additionally, thanks to development of the scientific method, there will be extraordinary leaps forward in other forms of science.
Dissemination of information: In one of the most significant breakthroughs of the age, the Gutenberg press will forever change the landscape by accelerating the dissemination of information. Think of it as the era’s version of the Internet.
Thought Leadership: da Vinci, Michelangelo, Machiavelli and many others fostered a fresh way of thinking, a renaissance of thoughts, ideas and visual expression that often expanded the boundaries of traditional life.
While the Renaissance was significant for many other monumental reasons, the general theme was a reawakening of knowledge that led to cultural change. It drove a new approach to life. As we transport ourselves back to the 21st century in a post-Supreme Court PPACA decision world, lessons from some parallel experiences can serve us well.
First, some context. The entire health care industry is on a new path leading to an era of consumerism. Truthfully, our approach has been operating in the Dark Ages for far too long.
Think about it. Individuals have minimal access to meaningful information that would enable them to make informed choices about quality, outcomes and price. Traditionally, some of those who are unhealthy have been left out of the system. And, while information about improving health exists, key stakeholders (employers, advisors, carriers and providers) have not worked in concert to create effective programs that can change behavior and inspire healthy lifestyles. The solution is a system that produces educated and engaged health care consumers.
How do we get there? Let’s take some lessons from the Renaissance.
Literature: We can turn to a few books that I consider seminal classics for our industry. Zero Trends: Health as a Serious Economic Strategy (2009) by Dee W. Edington, Ph.D., provides a specific outline for the future. This information is not new; Edington has studied these trends for decades. Another essential read: The Company That Solved Health Care (2010) by John B. Torinus details how one company successfully initiated a consumer-driven health care program. By involving employees in their own health, using primary care doctors instead of specialists and identifying high centers of value for health care and rewarding workers for using them, it was able to significantly lower its insurance costs.
Science: We are in the midst of a new scientific revolution. The mapping of the human genome holds astonishing potential to change our entire approach to health. The next generation of medicine is set to explode. Even 10 years from now, we will look back with disbelief at some of the practices that are prevalent today, because we may have the ability to inhibit development of certain diseases before birth.
Dissemination of information: The Internet already delivers advantages that put us light years beyond our enlightened brethren of yore. But we have not yet used it to leverage access to information and analytics to help consumers become savvier about the choices they make. In the future, multiple entities must work in concert to simplify the health care journey and efficiently communicate quality and cost measures. These decision-support tools will help empower patients to make responsible and informed choices.
In addition, a key component to consumer-engaged health care is getting Americans to take more responsibility for their health. We know that access to information alone will not alter behavior. We need to foster relationships with employees and their families, inspire them to take better care of themselves and reward them for improving their lifestyles. Insurance carriers, employers and even brokers are developing effective wellness programs along these lines. As efforts advance, call centers, interactive capabilities, mobile apps and the Internet will enhance their potential for success.
Thought leadership: This represents the largest void in today’s world of benefits professionals. It is not that we lack smart people with great ideas, but rather a set of voices that can move beyond the rhetoric and noise about the problems and politics of the day.
If we want to emerge from “these” Dark Ages, we need a renaissance that involves a commitment to creativity and innovation. We have the ability to reshape the future of our industry. A successful transformation requires leadership and a commitment from companies willing to operate on the vanguard of this type of reform. Who among us will be the beacons of light?