Michael McGuire has been an extraordinarily busy man this year. As the CEO of UnitedHealthcare of New York, he has been focused on his organization’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which not only disrupted the economy but also redefined the delivery of healthcare to his membership.
In this edition of Suite Talk, Business Journal Senior Enterprise Editor Phil Hall spoke with McGuire on how he stayed ahead of the Covid-19 curve.
This has been quite an unprecedented year, for obvious reasons. How has your organization been holding up during this period?
You’re right, it has been unprecedented times. As an organization, we quickly transitioned from working in the office to working from home across the tristate area and the country. We transitioned pretty quickly and we kept our customers informed – there was a lot of information coming out around Covid, so we were sharing that with both our employer customers and our members.
The feedback was that we gave folks a lot of good information around Covid – what we were seeing in the marketplace and how you protect yourself. Here we are, seven to eight months later, and we’ve continued to provide information. The feedback is very good –the information that give is relevant, is actionable and easy to understand.
And we continue to continue to evolve. We’re learning new things all the time.”
What are some of the new things you’ve been learning during this period?
“What we saw was that elective services were stopped at hospitals they wanted to save space for Covid patients or potential Covid patients. Doctors’ offices were closed. So, we had resources called ‘virtual visits’ where you could do a doctor appointment online – through an iPhone, the internet, an iPad or your laptop — and you could do a face-to-face visit. And we had that those capabilities – they really weren’t utilized – and what we quickly saw was our membership learned how to use it if you did have something that didn’t require you to go to an urgent center or an ER.
A lot of our provider partners got that capability, if they didn’t have it before, and out of this came something that is a good tool for everybody – both the provider and the member, as it kept folks out of ERs if it wasn’t a true emergency. It was something we learned quickly.”
There are fears there’s going to be a second Covid wave coming up as we get into the colder weather. How is your organization readying itself for the potential of a second viral assault?
“We are working with our provider systems to make sure they’re prepared. We’re not making projections – we’re not saying that we think there will be a second wave, but we want to make sure our members have access to care in any way that they can, and we’ll keep communicating with them to make sure they’re accessing care at the right time in the right place, both now and if there is a second wave.”
You are currently in an open enrollment season for health benefits. How has Covid impacted this and what is your organization doing to help its customers navigate open enrollment amid this pandemic?
“Now, more than ever, it’s important that members understand their benefits. They understand what they have access to and what plans they have. You find out of all the information that’s out there and you want to make sure you take advantage of what your employer is offering: Do they have telehealth visits? How do you access them? Are there other plans that you can help save money, such as wellness programs, and what are the incentives of those offerings?
The way to do that is to start the process early and read all the communications you have to understand what the benefits are, and then make a decision that’s right for your family. The first question should ask is this: Is my primary care physician that one I have – and if not, you want to make sure they’re in the plan that you’re going to enroll in, because you want to maintain and establish that relationship as you go forward.”
UnitedHealthcare did a survey that found more than 78% of people said they’re prepared for open enrollment, yet previous research has shown that some people struggle to fully understand common health care terms and concepts, including plan premiums and deductibles. What can employers do to help their employees get a better grasp of health care literacy?
“You’re right, a lot of folks don’t quite understand all the ins and outs of insurance. And it is difficult. So, you want to make sure that they do understand their benefits.
We’ve tried to be very clear and make our communications simple to understand around what is the deductible and what is coinsurance. We’ve got printed information, we’ve got enrollment sites with that information, with short videos to help you understand it. Communication is probably the best way an employer can help their member employees – and our members – make a decision. The information is out there.
One of the things that very popular for years and years were the enrollment meetings – you go to an office a representative says, ‘Okay, here’s open enrollment and here are your choices.’ And we have a little bit of a Q&A. But that opportunity is really been gone with Covid and folks working from home. But what we have transitioned to doing those enrollment meetings via webinar or Zoom or WebEx. So, we’re still getting in front of our members, just in a different fashion.
Now more than ever. we want to make sure folks understand their benefits, make the right choice for their family, have a primary care physician and know how to access that primary care physician in the coming year.”
What is on UnitedHealthcare’s agenda for 2021?
“It is about how we continue to create high quality products to our membership at different price points, based on their needs, while doing everything we can to keep the cost of healthcare under control. Healthier folks have less healthcare costs. We are helping people navigate the healthcare system, so our customer service reps help the members not just by answering a claim question, but by helping them navigate the delivery system.
We continue to focus on high quality programs, to make them as affordable as possible. And so that’s our goal every day when we get up. We continue to evolve in offering more wellness programs, continuing to educate our advocates so they can help members navigate this process, and we’re going to stay focused.