By Tom Torre
To no one’s surprise, everywhere you look – social media, the news, TV commercials and more – the main topic of interest is the ‘post-virus’ world and what it looks like. From schools re-opening in the fall to businesses permanently pivoting to remote work, almost everyone on earth is making plans and adopting a ‘new normal’ that we’ll someday accept as commonplace.
It’s impossible to count the number of ways COVID-19 has impacted us, but I’m certain historians 100 years from now will look back and say that 2020 was a point of inflection for the world. So far, we’ve seen the pandemic extend our tax deadlines, offer more flexibility in health benefits offerings, and even shift social safety norms like wearing masks in public and maintaining six feet of social distance.
But of all the ways the pandemic will impact us, it’s obvious that consumer healthcare experiences will undergo drastic changes. Some experts have suggested that the future might include a fundamentally different health system than what we have today. While I think the chances that we will see that level of change are low, I believe there are several other outcomes that are all but guaranteed to stick around:
The first is that telehealth will become a new standard for patient care. Up until now, telehealth had not been used extensively due to patients’ perception that proper care was dependent on in-person appointments. Our need to social distance, however, has given telehealth its opportunity to shine. It has swiftly proved that standards of care can be maintained virtually. Plus, outside of healthcare, the world has really embraced video conferencing for almost everything now – countless work meetings, exercise classes, and virtual cocktail hours to name just a few – further proving that any objection to the virtual experience was largely left in 2019.
Unfortunately, I also believe we will see a meaningful increase in the cost of healthcare as we come out of the pandemic. What has become clear during this crisis is that our current healthcare infrastructure is not up to the challenge. Resolving this will inevitably drive up costs in the system, which will ultimately be passed on to consumers through higher premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses.
As the financial burden grows, there’s an opportunity for employers to reevaluate their health plan coverage. High deductible health plans (HDHPs) with the right plan design can offer immediate relief with lower monthly premiums than traditional plans. HDHPs also have the added benefit of being coupled with health savings accounts (HSAs), which offer individuals additional tax-savings opportunities.
Finally, I also suspect that we’ll now see a renewed and sharper focus on educating people on planning for their healthcare financial needs. Whether looking at long-term healthcare needs, preparing for the next healthcare crisis – or even the likely second wave of COVID-19 – people will increasingly think of their healthcare expenses and needs as an important piece of their overall financial puzzle.
This is another opportunity for employers to help employees better understand and manage their health benefits. HR managers can get ahead of this by offering plan comparison tools and selecting benefit vendors that provide educational resources and personalized communications. These tools will help offload many of the manual and tedious tasks currently required of HR staff, enabling them to better serve employees’ more complex needs.
Just about everyone is experiencing difficult changes during this time, so it’s important to look ahead and predict what else may be on the horizon. If you’re feeling the effects of the pandemic financially, I strongly urge you to prepare as if the financial challenges will continue through the end of this year and into next. There’s no better time to reevaluate where you’re allocating your spending and saving across healthcare expenses to ensure you’re in the best possible position for whatever the future brings.
About the Author: Tom Torre, CEO and Founder of Bend
For nearly 20 years, Tom has led organizations in the consumer-directed healthcare space. He describes himself as a fintech and health tech entrepreneur who, at his core, is a payments nerd, water toy lover, and dog person. Tom lives in the greater Portland, Maine area with his spouse, two daughters, and two dogs.