As General Eric Shinseki once said, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” If there was one theme at this week’s Healthcare Marketing and Physician Strategies Summit in Austin, TX, it was that we, as health care communicators, need to stay ahead of the changing landscape. We heard references to Blockbuster and other companies that have gone the way of the dinosaur because they didn’t get ahead of change.

And, the times they are a changin’ (there are a LOT of songs about change).

American Health Care Act

Last week, Congress passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the so-called “zombie bill” that died and came back, to replace aspects of the existing Affordable Care Act (ACA or “Obamacare”). I attended several sessions focused on the topic, with some key takeaways:

  • ACA is still the law of the land and those who have pledged to repeal it still have a great deal of work ahead of them.
  • The Process: The Senate has formed a 13-person working group, led by Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, to construct its own version. If, in fact, it passes its first hurdle (the Upper Chamber), both the House and Senate bills will need to be reconciled in a joint conference process. From there, the bill will need to be passed by both chambers and signed by the President to become law. And, it all needs to happen in about four months. Right.
  • The most important person you’ve never heard of: GOP leaders plan to pass the legislation through special “budget ­reconciliation” rules that would prevent a Democratic filibuster. Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough will decide how much of AHCA can pass without any Democratic votes.
  • The major roadblock: A key element of ACA was Medicaid expansion – 31 states and D.C. expanded Medicaid to include people with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty rate ($16,400 for a single adult). Under AHCA, it would cap how much states would be reimbursed for enrollees (read: states would be on the hook for significantly more money). The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the net effect would be 14 million fewer people on Medicaid. But, fear not – the changes to Medicaid expansion will likely be removed in the Senate and here’s why: 20 Republican senators come from states that expanded Medicaid and 16 Medicaid expansion states have Republican governors. So, there’s that.
  • The impact for providers: In the event that Medicaid expansion is repealed, providers will see more uninsured patients (the 14 million referenced above), and experience more bad debt.
  • What can you do? Policy expert Paul Keckley offered advice for hospitals, “Double down on advocacy at the state level because that’s where the dirty work is going to happen.”
  • The bottom line: Uncertainty will continue for health care stakeholders, both short-term and long-term. Rose Glenn, SVP Communications & Chief Experience Officer at Henry Ford Health System, described it best with the acronym VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. Sound familiar?

The Changing Landscape

Other sessions focused on increasing consumerism in health care and the changing landscape across industries. Some snackable bites from the conference:

  • Health care consumerism: According to David Duvall, SVP, Marketing & Communications at Novant Health, trends include: pressure to pay for patient’s own care, rise in self-directed health plans, shift towards emerging retail options, greater access and convenience, and choice.
  • Your hospital’s new front door: Google. Take up as much real estate as possible.
  • Call, click, or come in: New York Presbyterian is offering an innovative take on the second opinion – for $800 (without insurance), you can submit your information online and receive a second opinion in just three days.
  • Moving toward access versus ownership: Think Netflix, where there’s a fee to access content for a specific amount of time versus owning a video collection.
  • The value of impermanence: Evidenced by the continued rise of Snapchat, which is broadening its offering with the debut of an original series produced by Vice Media later this year.
  • Mobile-first: PC’s are becoming an accessory to mobile, which will represent 75% of the internet next year.
  • Voice-first browsing: Gartner predicts that, in 4 years, 30% of searches will occur without a screen (think Amazon Echo).
  • The rise of the Chatbot: Artificial intelligence is powering chatbots that make medical consults more accessible and help patients determine whether or not they should see a doctor in person.

As always, we appreciated the opportunity to connect with colleagues and discuss emerging trends and changes at the Healthcare Marketing and Physician Strategies Summit. Some of these changes are welcome and others will pose significant challenges, particularly for those who aren’t prepared. As JFK once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” (There are a LOT of quotes about change too.)