Industry Trends: 2018 Recap and 2019 Predictions

Industry Trends: 2018 Recap and 2019 Predictions

In just a matter of weeks, another calendar year will come to a close and we will focus our energy forward, anticipating another year of goals and challenges. The chaos and rush of both our personal and professional lives at this time of year is daunting. But we should take these fleeting days of 2018 to reflect and appreciate what we have and what is most important to us, and how we can improve in the upcoming year.

Reflecting on the trends covered in 2018, there are issues and themes that are worth reexamining and recapping due to the influence and impact they will have on the future of employer/employee health, wealth, and overall well-being and satisfaction. With unemployment hovering around 4%, the lowest since 1969, the attraction and retention of your most valued resource—your employees—is critical to your company’s growth and success in the new year and beyond.

2018 Key Trend Recap:

Financial Wellness—According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), more organizations are offering programs that help employees with their finances. Roughly half of the SHRM members polled in the latest annual employee benefits survey say they offer investment planning.  Overall financial advice as a benefit offering increased to 49% from 36% five years ago. Although these benefits often appeal to older employees, millennials also are seeking this information because many would like to retire earlier than their parents, friends, and relatives.

Student Loan Assistance—Employers are now looking at how they can help with the increasing employee issue of dealing with student loan debt. This issue has affected younger employees in the sense that it is imposing on their ability to save in retirements plans such as a 401K. This is important as it shows just how many components to financial security there are beyond having adequate funds in a retirement plan. This is leading employer Human Resources managers to look at a more holistic view of benefits from a recruitment and retention perspective. One idea being kicked around Capitol Hill is to allow employers to contribute into a retirement savings plan an amount that would match what employees pay each month in terms of student loans. It is a creative way to not only help people with their student loan debt, but also see the value of retirement savings. However, only 4% of SHRM survey respondents provide some kind of student loan repayment programs. Right now, it is not reached a high level of popularity with employers due to the fact that it is a high cost benefit and it really has to fit the organizations strategy and culture. That fit right now appears to be more tech and finance sectors. But, if it fits a company’s philosophy, it is a well-received and great benefit for retention and recruitment.

Escalating Pharmacy/Specialty Medications—The specialty pharmacy marketplace has changed dramatically over the past two decades. In the mid-1990s, there were only a handful of specialty drugs on the market, focused on treating a limited number of cancers and rare diseases. Today, there are hundreds of specialty drugs available giving patients extraordinary accesses to potentially life-changing treatments.

The number of specialty medications is increasing rapidly. In the past four years, we have seen over 100 new drugs launched. The numbers show that more and more patients are taking advantage of this increased availability—in 2006, only three of the top 10 drugs in the U. S. were specialty drugs; by 2016 it was eight of the top 10 drugs.

If you haven’t heard much about specialty medications, it’s time to prepare yourself.  They represent the fastest growing and most expensive cost element in pharmacy care today and pose a serious challenge to maintaining stable health care costs.

There is no standard definition for a specialty medication, but drugs in this category typically share one or more of the following characteristics. First, they are expensive—the average monthly cost to payers and patients for a specialty medication is $3,000, ten times the cost for non-specialty medications. Second, they can be difficult to administer. They are often given by injection or infusion to treat complex, chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and psoriasis just to name a few. Third, the drugs may require special handling, including temperature control. And finally, patients taking these medications may need ongoing clinical assessment to manage challenging side effects and conditions.

CVS Caremark estimates that specialty drugs could account for about half of the total pharmacy spend in 2020, which is up from one-third from three years ago.

These key issues and trends were at the forefront of the health and benefits discussions for many employers in 2018, but these will continue to play a key role as we head into 2019.