Michigan Association of Health Plans

Pandemic gives health care industry ‘solid nudge’ to make needed changes

Joan Budden retires Dec. 31 as CEO of Priority Health, Michigan’s second-largest health plan with more than 1 million people statewide enrolled in policies. As she prepares to depart after 12 years with the Grand Rapids-based Priority Health, the last five as CEO, Budden expects COVID-19 pandemic will continue to cause disruptions. That includes within Priority Health, which had to adjust its operations because of state-ordered restrictions, as well as with the broader trend toward increased use of telehealth services, Budden told MiBiz. 

What major adjustment that Priority Health had to make because of the COVID-19 pandemic will carry over into 2021?

Priority Health has always had a lot of people have an option to work from home, and about 60 percent of our workforce did that at least on occasion. Of course, back in March we went full swing into 99.7 percent of our workforce working from home and we did that really quickly, within a week. Our behaviors, our patterns of how we work, will never return to fully being in the office again, and we will not travel the same and we’ll connect differently. I think there are significant workforce ramifications.

What changes to the health care industry that were brought on by the pandemic do you expect to see stick around? 

We have been trying to encourage and promote virtual care for several years now, and it blossomed under the COVID pandemic situation, both on the consumer side as well as providers being thrown into it and becoming more accepting of it. A lot of people had experience with telehealth and will consider that more frequently in the future as a potential channel for care and to improve access to care. There’s big ramifications on the provider side, and there’s clearly some accessing (and) convenience improvements on the consumer side as well.

Where can telehealth make the biggest difference?

One of the most promising areas is in the mental health arena where many geographic locations have a shortage of mental health providers. Telehealth in the mental health arena can really get greater access to the care that people need, especially with the extra stress and isolation and loneliness that this pandemic has caused. That can be very positive in the long run.

Does the pandemic accelerate change in health care?

What I find in health care is we talk about it for years before we do it. We’ve been talking about telehealth for years. We’ve been talking about value-based payments for years. And whenever we talk about it we say, ‘it’s just on the verge of happening.’ But I do think the pandemic is going to give us a solid nudge to move us along that continuum.

This article originally appeared in MiBiz, read more here.