Looking Ahead with People-Centered Strategies

by Hannah Robinson

There is one silver lining from the past year and a half: the trials and weaknesses that have been embedded in the employer health plan long before the pandemic can no longer hide. And, as COVID-19 vaccines are administered across the country and there is a promise of the pandemic nearing an end, employers and solution providers are at a crossroads on which benefits to keep and which to embrace going forward. 


Employee Expectations Have Shifted 

study measuring patients’ post-COVID perceptions of their physicians reveals they are “prioritizing communication and re-examining relationships with their doctors” depending on how they handled the pandemic. The study suggests that, in the future, 50 percent of patients will expect physicians to provide highly personalized, actionable communication regularly. 


The team at Privia Health, a company that works with key stakeholders to increase patient engagement and reduce unnecessary costs, shares, “As for the healthcare sector, more than half of patients expect digital appointment scheduling, proactive communication, and the ability to have virtual appointments from their healthcare providers. In fact, 63 percent of patients who have considered switching to another doctor say that they will consider whether potential providers use digital communication tools before choosing a new doctor.” Which is why Privia unites five core services to streamline value-based care to their constituents that are patient-centered and physician-led.  


This translates into the employer/employee relationship too. Pictsweet is known for filling grocery store freezers all across America with premium frozen vegetables. When it comes to helping employees fill their benefits selection, the company has shifted their approach to account for new, rising needs. 


Bailey Pipkin, Risk Manager for Pictsweet, recounts that “social distancing required us to put on more sessions for smaller groups of employees, and recorded Zoom presentations replaced in-person speakers. I expect this way of conducting Open Enrollment is here to stay.” (He’s right.) 


Digging into Employee Needs 

At Frontdoor, the nation’s largest provider of home service plans, this year has provided an opportunity to reflect on what matters to their workforce. 


Jen Alessandra, Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer, shares that “at Frontdoor, we know that an individual’s total wellbeing is affected by factors both in and outside of work. Now more than ever, our associates are faced with the tremendous challenge of balancing both work and personal obligations. We are striving to offer benefits that take this into consideration.” 


Much has been written about the impact of the pandemic on families, in particular, who have had to pivot during this season in our nation’s history. Smart employers are honing in on that vaccum of need as they work to retain talent. “We are supporting families by offering medical coverage choices that meet a variety of needs and life stages. Meredith Pruitt, Total Rewards Leader for Frontdoor, says “In 2022, we are also adding new benefits, such as marriage counseling and support for parents with neuro-diverse children. We have also enhanced our ADA therapy offering and eliminated the cap for autism related therapies.” Note that neurodivergence accounts for roughly 40% of Americans and benefits have just begun to be offered! 


Keeping Budget in Balance and Expectations in Check 

While employers are contemplating highly-specific solutions based upon their population’s unique needs, the staples of benefits remain medical, dental and vision. Employers should get creative in these offerings as well, since it directly impacts benefits budgets. 


Pipkin expands on this topic: “We began offering a self-funded voluntary Dental plan this year, and, based on an overwhelmingly positive response from our participants, we’ll continue to offer it in 2022.  We chose to go the self-funding route because we could not meet the fully insured carriers’ minimum participation requirements.  Now that my CFO has gotten comfortable with the numbers, we’re increasing the annual benefit limit. It’s one of those rare situations when everybody’s happy.” Strategies like these can help increase satisfaction all around.  


“The team at Frontdoor is committed to continuously improving our benefit offerings for associates year over year,” echoes Alessandra, “we gather and review associate feedback, as well as market best practices, while determining what investments to prioritize. This year, we are happy to expand our overall wellness offerings, in addition to other updates.” 


As much as we like options, it is possible to have too many—yes, you have to guard against both problems. Pipkin gives some advice on the nuances of how much to offer. “You’re never going to please everyone.  Be on guard against decision fatigue, remembering that we - HR professionals - care a whole lot more about the finely-honed details of our benefits package than the average employee or candidate does.” 


The bottom line is that there is none. If the problem of benefits could be fixed with a cookie-cutter solution, we wouldn’t be discussing this in 2021. However, you can use the understanding the pandemic has lent us to re-group, re-think, and re-position yourself in the optimal position to have a comprehensive, patient-centered health plan for 2022. 





To search and source solutions like the ones mentioned in this article, visit The Granite List at www.thegranitelist.com




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