Data Analytics – The Holy Grail of Health Benefits?

Data graphs on a computer

In our August 26th and November 25th Benefits Breakfast Club (BBC) sessions, our participants told us the same thing. With chronic diseases on the rise and new developments in specialty medications putting pressure on benefits costs, making better data available is critical to provide to advisors so they can guide plan sponsors to make more informed decisions about the best benefits package for their budget and their employees’ wellbeing.

Without these insights advisors told us that it is difficult to answer questions about what is driving premium increases or how they can keep benefits costs down. Benchmarking data is also critical because it allows advisors to help clients keep their plans competitive by comparing their benefits package to others in their industry. 

Almost 3/4 of our mostly advisor audience told us through polling at the November 25th BBC that they rely on insurers to provide data that will help them respond to their clients’ information needs (Poll 5), but most aren’t satisfied with what is available. Our poll indicated that 80% want more detail or functionality to express data in a more meaningful way (Poll 7). More than 1/3 told us that they could not access any benchmarking data at all from insurers (Poll 3), and less than half could access drug claims benchmarking data (Poll 3).

Cleary there is a demand for better data so that advisors can respond to the questions clients are asking.

We gathered a group of expert presenters* to share their data analytics expertise to 70 of our audience at the November 25th BBC. The audience learned how to make better use of existing data analytics tools by insurers, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and third-party administrators (TPAs). They also learned about the progress that is being made in the data available to advisors, plus they were provided with simple tips on how to conduct and present data in a more meaningful way.

Despite the many barriers that exist in Canada due to confidentiality and privacy legislation, progress on delivering more sophisticated data is being made, and advisors have more to work with in the meantime. Here’s an overview of what was shared at the session:

New Developments in Data Analytics

  • GreenShield: business analytics tools when available from insurers, such as Dataleap from Greenshield, allow advisors or plan sponsors to visualize benchmarking data and trends data. It can also be customized by different categories according to clients’ individual needs. While there will likely be some costs associated with this, it can be worthwhile to better understand trends and develop client solutions.
  • Express Scripts Canada: PBMs are moving to more sophisticated offerings and leveraging predictive analytics (using past trends to look forward) to develop actionable insights that will help organizations plan. Express Scripts shared their commitment to move beyond reporting simple trends to incorporate predictive analytic tools to provide additional value such as in their 2021 Drug Trends Report.

DIY Analytics

  • Cowan: Advisors can leverage different types of existing data, even if at the aggregate level, to develop benchmarks for modifiable health risks and create corporate buy-in for a wellbeing strategy. Experts can help advisors work around data limitations to generate ROI calculations.
  • Paint with Data (Tableau): Even those who are not experts in data analytics can easily create data visualizations with user-friendly software tools like Tableau and can learn to ask the right research questions of your data. Data analyst consultants can further support you in formulating the right research questions and creating visuals to communicate more clearly.

Using data effectively was an important message from presenters. Most attendees told us they are using data to evaluate disease trends to guide workplace interventions or plan design (70%, Poll 8), or to identify opportunities for wellness programs (58%, Poll 8). But only 1/3 of respondents actually utilize claims trends data to develop wellness programs (Poll 10), and as many as one-third do not track any measurements pre and post when wellness programs are delivered (Poll 11).

Data and results of analytics and benchmarking need to be available to plan advisors and their clients. It seems that insurers and PBMs are beginning to develop more robust external analytics capabilities for data that is available to advisors and clients. This trend will only continue if advisors and plan sponsors speak up and ask for what they need.

Thank you to each of our presenters* at the November 25th BBC session.

We thank our sponsors for their support in 2021-22, and invite you to join us on February 10, 2022 as we explore The Changing Risk Landscape (register) with discussion on drug pooling, flexible spending accounts and innovative solutions for SMEs.

*Kiran Ing, Senior Manager, Data Analytics, Express Scripts; Mitch Coviensky, Manager, Advanced Analytics and Dataleap, Greenshield; Lianne Clarke, Principal, Vice President, Wellness & Disability Innovation and Growth, Cowan Insurance Group; Candice Munroe, President and Principal Consultant, and Kirk Munroe, VP Strategy and Principal Consultant, Paint with Data.