Finally, it’s 2021!
What a challenging year 2020 was for the education industry. COVID-19 placed immense financial burdens on educational institutions as student and on-campus housing enrollments declined, costs associated with COVID testing and online learning increased, and other revenue streams dried up. Finance and Human Resources departments were on the frontline in helping to bring costs down. Furloughs, layoffs, early retirement incentives, and benefit cuts were considered or implemented.
Pivoting to Support Members
Appreciating the strain our member institutions were under and that schools interested in joining edHEALTH didn’t have the bandwidth to do so, edHEALTH pivoted from a growth to a member support mode. We strove to support members and their faculty and staff financially, strategically, and emotionally – and the collaboration was a balm for all of us.
- Collaboration Forums for Member Owners: Recognizing that collaboration between colleges, universities, and other educational institutions could help HR and finance departments learn from one another, edHEALTH implemented bi-weekly virtual meetings that continued throughout the year at least monthly. edHEALTH provided follow-up communications to recap the discussions that included up-to-date insights on claim trends, cost-cutting strategies, and best practices for helping employees weather these difficult times.
- Telehealth Access: edHEALTH promoted telehealth as a convenient means to access care to member institutions and through employee-facing communications. In part due to these efforts, telehealth use skyrocketed, and 24%-32% of visits, depending on the school, were for much-needed behavioral health needs.
- Walking Challenge: To help boost morale and team spirit in a healthy way, edHEALTH held a June member school walking challenge. Member institution faculty and staff competed against other schools for prizes based on steps walked. Boston College won the coveted “Walk this Way edHEALTH Walking Challenge” trophy.
- Employee Engagement Communications: Communications are critical for attracting and retaining employees, improving health outcomes and well-being, and reducing healthcare costs. edHEALTH instituted a series of communications to help its member HR staff communicate timely and important information to their employees.
- Thought Leadership Seminar Series: The effects of reduced 2020 healthcare costs, surge in mental health needs, and continued escalation of prescription drug costs will have long-term impacts to edHEALTH, and it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest issues so that we can respond strategically and effectively. After eliciting member input, we invited a nationally-recognized communication and engagement speaker to kick off our Thought Leadership Seminar series that was attended by over 100 people and garnered rave reviews.
- Top-Issue Articles: Through our newsletter and digital channels, edHEALTH provides in-depth analyses of some of the top issues affecting healthcare. These articles help lay the groundwork for thinking about and formulating potential solutions to vexing problems.
Dashed Engagements Salvaged
The Eastern Association of College and University Business Officers (EACUBO) selected Salve Regina University’s edHEALTH financial savings to present at its March Conference. Sadly, we know what transpired in March, and EACUBO canceled the event. Despite the deferral of this and other key events where we missed seeing colleagues in person, edHEALTH still garnered visibility:
- New England Journal of Higher Education – April 2020: “Higher Ed Institutions Facing a Bottom-Line Squeeze Should Look at Their Health Benefits” by edHEALTH’s Cynthia McGrath.
- Vermont Captive Insurance Association (VCIA) Annual Conference – August 2020: As a Board member of VCIA, I am asked to speak at a number of their events. This year, I discussed strategies for addressing HR-related concerns at their annual conference, which took place virtually.
- Global Captive Podcast – September 2020: Host Richard Cutcher interviewed me about how and why the Educators Health Insurance Exchange Captive was formed for the higher education industry.
- Chronicle of Higher Education – Financial Strategies for a Financial Crisis and Beyond: The publication interviewed edHEALTH’s Board of Manager’s Chair, Stephen Hannabury, for their special edition devoted to financial strategies for a financial crisis. He discussed the healthcare savings edHEALTH has generated for higher ed institutions and its population health initiatives.
- Risk Retention Reporter – December 2020: “Lessons from a Higher Education Captive: 3 Proven Ways to Help Members Navigate the Pandemic” by edHEALTH’s Cynthia McGrath.
edHEALTH by the Numbers
Member/Owner Growth - Bennington College, our first Vermont school, joined edHEALTH effective July 1, 2020. This brought our total membership to 23 colleges, universities and other educational institutions.
- Our latest counts:
- 13,797 employee participants
- 28,641 total participants
- Total premium equivalents for 2021: $238M
Bending the Cost Curve
On average, compensation and benefits represent 60% of higher education budgets. Healthcare represents a large chunk of those expenses, and edHEALTH continues to bend the cost curve so that member institutions have additional resources for their students.
Information is critical for proactively controlling rising healthcare costs. Two of edHEALTH’s strategic priorities provide data insights and help people experiencing difficult medical concerns access the resources they need so they can go back to the things they love to do:
- Data-Driven Decisions: In the spring, our data warehouse partner conducted a deep dive into edHEALTH’s suite of plan design options. This analysis compared the monthly cost per unit of risk across the plans. Based on this analysis, we have identified the best combination of plan design and employer Health Savings Account contribution. This annual plan performance analysis coupled with new customized school reports will help guide members in controlling their healthcare spend.
- Population Health Management/Clinical Intervention Programs: Despite 2020’s claims dip, controlling healthcare and prescription drug costs will continue to pose a challenge. To better manage costs and improve care coordination, edHEALTH introduced population health management/clinical intervention initiatives including the comprehensive KnovaSolutions®. The savings are compelling - the program saves $4.33 for every $1.00 spent.
There’s no question that 2020 was a challenge, but collectively we rose to the challenge. We are bullish about 2021 and the possibilities ahead to provide quality care at affordable costs to faculty, staff, and their family members. We have a strong foundation on which to build and can leverage our collective expertise to drive our strategic initiatives. In particular:
- edHEALTH Owner Annual Strategic Review: edHEALTH is kicking off one-on-one meetings with each member owner. We’ll review each school’s financial trends, initiatives, data insights, and compare results to benchmarks so we can identify strategic opportunities.
- Thought Leadership Seminars: We look forward to thought-provoking content in our 2021 Thought Leadership Seminar series. Mark your calendar for Thursday, February 25 at 10AM when we’ll hear from Economist and Sol C. Chaikin Professor of National Health Policy at Brandeis University, Stuart Altman, who will discuss “The Changing Landscape of the Healthcare System: in Washington and in State Capitols.”
- Anticipated Growth: Educational institutions are seeking innovative solutions to control costs. With faculty and staff healthcare costs taking a big chunk out of school budgets, we anticipate that more colleges, universities, and private secondary schools will want to consider edHEALTH. If you have colleagues who want to learn more, please put them in touch with edHEALTH’s Nancy McConaghy. Other ways to learn about edHEALTH include subscribing to our newsletter and following us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
How can we help you? Please reach out to learn more about edHEALTH and share your ideas, comments, and suggestions. I look forward to discussing how we can work with you to control the increasing costs of healthcare.
Warm regards for an edHEALTHy and Happy New Year,
A. Tracy Hassett
edHEALTH President and CEO