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May 11, 2022

CT healthcare leaders discuss future of telehealth, insurance, care delivery

Robert Storace Panelists for a discussion on "Health Insurance Reimagined" held at a Rocky Hill hotel Tuesday morning were (from left): Moderator Susan Halpin, co-principal, government relations group, Robinson & Cole; Karen Ignagni, CEO of EmblemHealth; and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield Connecticut President and CEO Lou Gianquinto.

Thirteen Connecticut healthcare leaders on Tuesday morning discussed various hot industry topics -- ranging from how the pandemic affected healthcare delivery to the rise in telehealth services and moving away from fee for service -- during five separate panel discussions at an event at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill.

The forum titled “Healthcare’s Future: The Post-COVID World” was sponsored by The Connecticut Business & Industry Association and attended by about 130 people.

Top leaders in the field including Hartford Healthcare CEO Jeffrey Flaks, Stamford Health President & CEO Kathleen Silard and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield Connecticut President and CEO Lou Gianquinto were among those taking part in the panel discussions and also a question-and-answer session with the audience.

A hot topic for conversation throughout several of the panels dealt with the increase in virtual services like telehealth and how it impacts doctors and consumers.

“The buzzword of the day is telehealth,” said Susan Halpin, co-principal of law firm Robinson & Cole’s government relations group, who is also lobbyist for the Connecticut Association of Health Plans. Halpin moderated a panel discussion titled “Health Insurance Reimagined” with panelists Gianquinto and Karen Ignagni, CEO of EmblemHealth, parent company of Farmington health insurer ConnectiCare.

Gianquinto said telehealth services were always available, albeit on a smaller scale pre-pandemic.

“The pandemic put [adoption of telehealth] on hyperspeed,” he said. 

Since the pandemic has wavered a bit, Gianqunito said the need for telehealth services “has come back down to earth a bit, but it’s still 38 times higher since pre-pandemic. It’s a new way to access the system. It’s not just about urgent care, you can use telehealth services for things like chronic diseases management and behavioral health. It’s here to stay; you can see it in the numbers.”

Halpin and Gianquinto said telehealth can be effective in helping deal with the burgeoning mental health crisis.”

“The problem needs continuing attention and more collaboration,” Gianquinto said. “Behavioral health needs have skyrocketed. Expanding the virtual capabilities is starting to help. But, we need to think outside-the-box and broaden the access, especially for outpatient and inpatient services where the needs are not being met.”

Gov. Ned Lamont was set to announce Wednesday morning more than $100 million to support mental health services in the state.

Gianquinto and others agreed the fee-for-service model, which pays doctors based on the services they provide rather than the quality of outcomes, needs to be a thing of the past.

“The one thing the pandemic taught us is that fee for service does not work,” he said. The Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO said that there should be “value-based models where there is payment for services combined with incentives for improved outcomes.”

Flaks reiterated his belief that “health care is broken. It’s not equitable, not accessible enough and our whole vision has to be to completely disrupt ourselves.”

“We must move away from fee for service,” Flaks said. “We need a massive overhaul of the system.”

Many speakers also said there was a health equity gap that needs to be addressed.

Silard, the Stamford Health CEO, said COVID-19 impacted “Black and brown communities” more than other segments of the population -- in part -- due to that population’s apparent mistrust of healthcare institutions.

“Those communities were already skeptical [of the system],” Silard said. “But, at Stamford Health, we got the word out early on about vaccine programs. We provided the vaccine with no registration process and no immigration status asked,” culminating with a 77% vaccination rate in minority communities served by Stamford Health.

In a panel segment titled “What’s Next for Employee Benefit Packages,” Teresa Bucello, Connecticut health practice leader for Mercer, said surveys her company recently took showed employees in healthcare fields and elsewhere were getting burned out and looking to their employers for help.

Those surveys, Bucello said, showed 59% of workers said that employers who “offer a flexible working arrangement” were “highly or extremely valuable.”

In addition to offering flexibility, such as a hybrid work schedule, employees also want their companies to provide on-site day care; offer employer-sponsored summer camps; offer backup child care support; and telemedicine support.

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