Transforming health care at the local level

Driving innovative solutions to help make the health system work better for employers and employees across the nation.

Lack of price transparency, the rising cost of health care and health inequities are just a few barriers employees face while navigating the health care system. Complex health care challenges are requiring insurers to innovate and implement new ways of thinking nationally and locally.

The following UnitedHealthcare regional leaders gathered to discuss how they’re seeing innovation come to life in their markets and how meeting employees where they are may be more important than ever before.

  • Gary Daniels, CEO, West Region
  • John Prior, Regional Vice President, Small Business & Specialty Benefits, East Region
  • Robert Henderson, Vice President, Product, Central Region
  • Robert Horton, Regional Vice President of Small Business Sales and Account Management, East Region

Q: How are employee expectations changing, and what is UnitedHealthcare doing in response? 

Henderson: The way employees are accessing care – whether it’s primary, behavioral or specialty care — has shifted dramatically. Employees are expecting more from their health plans, and those expectations are informing our innovation agenda. Employees don’t want to sit in a waiting room for 45 minutes prior to a doctor’s appointment or wait months to receive a bill in the mail. 

UnitedHealthcare will need to continue to adapt to the virtual environment to meet employee expectations. 

Prior: Simplifying health care and lowering costs with enhanced plan designs will be important factors in meeting consumer expectations and offering access to quality, lower-cost care. Employees have an appetite to know what they are going to spend out-of-pocket. Zero-deductible and on-demand health plans like Surest™ are helping respond to those needs by offering greater price transparency and flexibility to employees. 

Q: What is UnitedHealthcare doing to help employers support the physical and mental well-being of their employees?

Daniels: Helping employers identify environmental and clinical factors impacting the health and well-being of their employees is a crucial aspect of addressing social determinants of health. Only 20% of health outcomes are driven by traditional medical treatment in a doctor’s office, so it’s important that employers understand what’s at stake for employees living in marginalized communities.1

A resource we’ve designed to help address these barriers is our UnitedHealthcare Healthier Lives website, which connects members, customers and providers to free or reduced-cost services that may assist with medical care, food, housing, transportation and more.

Henderson: As a result of the economic pressures from the COVID-19 pandemic, 48 million workers quit or left the workforce in 2021.2 Jobseekers are looking for more value from their employee benefits, including, flexibility, healthier workplace practices and easier ways to engage in physical and mental health services. Working with employers to evolve their benefits strategy to meet employees where they are will continue to be an important way to drive health plan value.

Delivering benefits focused on employee well-being will be critical for employers to attract and retain employees in this highly competitive job market.

— Robert Henderson, Vice President, Product, Central Region

Q: What efforts are the organization making to advance consumer-centricity?

Horton: Simplifying the member experience is critical in helping employees get the most from their health plan. When employees don’t have a strong understanding of their health benefits, they are more likely to experience unwelcome surprises, which may lead to delay in care and unexpected out-of- pocket costs. Offering personalized, proactive support is a key consideration when building new consumer-focused digital tools, advocacy models and virtual care strategies.

Henderson: Improving patient-carrier relationships is an important step in making health care more consumer-centric. Employees typically have stronger relationships with their providers than they do with their insurance carriers, so it’s vital for the organization to invest in care delivery models and to collaborate with local hospitals and physicians to continue building trust with employees.

Q: How does the organization leverage data to identify ways to better serve employers and their employees?

Daniels: We conduct a health plan review each year to help our clients better understand how our UnitedHealthcare products and solutions are influencing their employee populations. It’s not just about the data; it’s about how we translate it and use it to design strategies built to lower costs and improve health outcomes for employers and their employees.

Horton: UnitedHealth Group sees 1 trillion health care transactions annually(3), so employers trust the fact that UnitedHealthcare has the comprehensive data that is foundational to health plan decision-making. From health care reform to COVID-19 updates to labor shifts, employers look to UnitedHealthcare because we have the ability to use data from across the continuum of care to make evidence- based decisions.

Q: How does vertical integration serve as an innovation strategy for the organization?

Prior: As health care continues to evolve, it will become increasingly important for UnitedHealthcare and Optum to work together. Better connecting these two companies, under their parent company, UnitedHealth Group, will allow us to offer competitive pricing to our clients and drive greater value for employees.

Daniels: That is how UnitedHealthcare differentiates itself from its competition. Our integrated approach allows us to address the needs of a company’s employee population more holistically and create tailored strategies designed to help lower costs and simplify experiences. It’s really a win-win for employers and employees and will only become more important as the economy starts to shift and employers look for ways to further mitigate risk and streamline their health care benefits under one roof.

Daniels: And using Optum Care technology, we are streamlining the administrative process for providers through things like Prescription Drug Lists (PDLs), which eliminate prior authorizations and flag other barriers employees may be experiencing in real-time.

Q: How is UnitedHealthcare continuing to innovate and evolve to meet the needs of employers and their employees?

Horton: Employees are demanding value across the board, and we’re helping meet those demands by offering diverse health benefits and health plan designs like Surest, which offers a $0 deductible and no coinsurance for employers with 51+ employees in select states.

Enabling members to make more informed health care decisions and to understand what they will pay out-of- pocket before stepping foot in a provider’s office may lead to greater savings for both employers and employees.

Prior: Delivering health benefits with ease and simplicity is an important factor driving the need for innovation. For example, thinking about how we can improve ease of quoting and administrative tasks and working to implement innovative technologies like API connectivity with health care aggregators to streamline the process of quoting and enrolling new business.

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