On March 24th, 2022, Julie Binder, SVP of Brand and Communications at Maven, sat down with Dr. Neel Shah, MD, MPP for a conversation about what’s next in family healthcare. They covered topics ranging from the rise of fertility benefits and what that means for employers to the maternal health crisis and how it's affecting insurance costs.
Read on for the highlights, or watch the full recording here.
The state of family health today
Dr. Shah, a practicing physician and professor at the Harvard School of Medicine, joined Maven as the Chief Medical Officer in 2021 to help ensure “pregnant people aren’t lost.” He saw an opportunity with Maven to help build the healthcare system he’d been evangelizing for throughout his career. But the first step starts with acknowledging what’s wrong:
“The state of maternal health in America is not great. Maternal mortality and morbidity are going the wrong way, in spite of all the good things we’re doing with medicine. C-section rates are skyrocketing, and for all of those interventions, we’re not seeing the benefits.” To Dr. Shah, these outcomes speak to a much deeper issue in our healthcare system. “Maternal health is a bellwether for the wellbeing of society. If moms are unwell, society is unwell.”
But there is more awareness of these challenges than ever before. “In the past two years, we’ve had an awakening on the need for inclusivity, and as a society we’re broadening our lens to support multiple paths to parenthood.” That support includes adding benefits for different paths to parenthood and acknowledging the difficulties different groups of people have when planning, growing, and caring for their families. Dr. Shah honed in specifically on fertility, declaring, “historically, fertility has been seen as a luxury as opposed to this existential need for so many people. Fertility benefits are really a necessity to help people pursue their unique path to parenthood.”
Meeting the needs of the reproductive age workforce
The underlying theme of the conversation centered on the needs of the reproductive age workforce and how their relationship with work influences their health, choices, and outcomes.
The dawn of hybrid and flexible work has forced HR teams to think critically about how location informs what benefits and resources their employees can access. Dr. Shah connected this to broader conversations about health equity in the workplace, remarking, “if you have less means, starting and building a family is much harder. Historically, healthcare has been hyper-local: what you get is determined by what’s in proximity to you.” Those means are often informed by socioeconomic factors like race, education, gender identity, and more.
Thus, the ways in which your employees choose to grow, build, and care for their families are intimately connected to who they are and where they come from. For employers, that means simply that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to family benefits. Dr. Shah admitted, “today, the healthcare system is not meeting the needs of birthing people and their families.” So what does that mean in the workplace?
“Employers need to intentionally support the reproductive age workforce and make sure that they’re cared for. It’s actually HR leaders who are redesigning the system to support their people in real-time.”
Thinking critically about family benefits vendors
If it will take public-private partnerships to fix the healthcare system, then those partnerships need to be chosen wisely. To Dr. Shah, adding benefits that merely check a box won’t result in meaningful change to the dire conditions so many birthing people face. “It’s not the case in 2022 that you take a person and put them in front of the doctor and health automatically happens,” quipped Dr. Shah.
So what should HR leaders look for in a benefits partner? First, find a vendor who sees what they’re providing as healthcare. “You want to have your vendor practice healthcare, and not sell you vitamins for fertility or tell you you have to freeze your sperm in your 20s or whatever the case might be.”
Second, Dr. Shah advises to look at the care model. “What you want in a trustworthy vendor is someone who can reproduce their results. And reproducibility is fundamental to what science is about.” Another thing to look for is tangible outcomes for your employees where they need help the most. “Are we succeeding and helping people get pregnant, and are we improving the four major outcomes for maternity costs: C-sections, NICU stays, mental health, and premature delivery? What you want is a solution that tethers it all together, and understands building a family as a phase of life.”
Finally, the benefit needs to be able to support people whenever and wherever they need it. To Dr. Shah, telehealth can close a lot of the gaps facing birthing people today, and complement in-person care. In his view, a benefit that leverages telehealth to enhance and improve in-person care can be “a gamechanger.”
“If you're struggling to breastfeed, you need a lactation consultant now–not next Tuesday during a scheduled appointment, but at 3:00 AM when you're struggling to get a latch. If you have gestational diabetes, you don’t need a surgeon, you need a dietitian who can look through your fridge and help you make a meal plan that fits your lifestyle. But the claim is not that an app alone is going to fix healthcare. The claim is that the devices that almost everyone carries around in their pockets can be turned into portals for healthcare.”
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