Healthcare: Not Just an Employee Benefit Anymore – An Interview with Ellen Kelsay

The title for the Business Group on Health’s annual conference, “From Crisis to Opportunity,” says it all, doesn’t it? If you’re working in any corner of healthcare, if you’re an employer with employees needing healthcare, or if you’re a family seeking healthcare, the pandemic crisis is leading everyone to seek new, better answers. And those opportunities exist.

The other day I had a chance to talk with Ellen Kelsay, President and CEO of the Business Group on Health. She defines the healthcare industry as including all participants: plans, providers, pharma, anyone providing some form of health and wellness products and services, plus all the commercial customers, government programs and end consumers.  

The pandemic has turned a bright light on to this “industry” – but it’s the health of people. That’s why I say “industry” because we’re all ultimately here trying to serve individual patients, consumers, family members…whomever. So, there’s a lot of visibility right now. And whether it’s health equity, or social determinants, or a pandemic and vaccine distribution – people are paying attention to things, societally, that they never used to pay attention to.

Ellen Kelsay, President & CEO, Business Group on Health

That broad industry, Ellen said, is “in a hyper-fluid and hyper-evolving state.” And she would know. As the BOLD leader of a group that includes 74 of the top 100 largest employers in America, plus a full array of businesses whose operations circle the globe, she has a unique seat from which to see the needs, demands, and urgency on all sides of this industry. 

We are in a hyper-fluid, ever-changing industry of healthcare. In every level – market dynamics, policy dynamics, COVID and what’s going on. This industry is just hyper-evolving. And because we are a membership-based organization, we have to stay one step ahead of that evolution curve. We have to anticipate, we have to predict what the next need is going to be before we’re asked to solve for that need. Our mindset, our orientation as an organization has to be extremely proactive and anticipatory, and always that value-added orientation.

Ellen Kelsay, President & CEO, Business Group on Health

If you read my posts regularly, you know that we define BOLD as those leaders who are curious, use their deep empathy skills, build trust, are confident and inspire confidence in others. Throughout my conversation with Ellen, those characteristics were present. In the next clip, you can hear how her BOLD orientation and capabilities shape her views of her own responsibilities and are driving the focus of her organization.

It’s an unbelievable privilege and opportunity to lead this organization and we have some of the most impressive organizations who are part of our membership, from all aspects of the industry. Certainly, the employers and who they represent from all sizes and industries, all around the globe. And then all of their other partners who are players within this healthcare ecosystem. And what a wasted opportunity if we don’t leverage that brain trust to really drive change – and our tagline is “driving change, together.

Ellen Kelsay, President & CEO, Business Group on Health

This shift that Ellen and I discussed, and that we are all experiencing, raised a point I know intuitively but hadn’t really focused on: the health of employees has moved beyond the benefits department and traditional health insurance. Well beyond. Employers now understand that the health and wellbeing – physical and mental – of their workforce is fundamental to their talent strategies. It is core to their ability to execute their business strategies successfully.

We’ve seen, progressively, year over year now, for four years, that more and more of our members say that healthcare and wellbeing of their workforce is integral to their workforce strategy at large and, ultimately, down to their business performance. It used to be that maybe 5, 10 years ago that you kind of had a healthcare budget off to the side that the HR team managed. Nobody paid attention to it as long as they stayed within budget… nobody cared. Now people are realizing, especially with a pandemic, that “Oh my gosh, the health and wellbeing of our population actually really has a significant impact on our organization.

Ellen Kelsay, President & CEO, Business Group on Health

Just think about how exciting and freeing that is – or can be – for anyone contemplating how they navigate their own path through the “hyper-fluid, hyper-evolving” world of healthcare. Whether you’re in the business of providing healthcare products or services (the supply side) or you’re a purchaser of health and wellness services (the demand side), this is true. By shifting your thinking from a fairly (expensive but) transactional, and typically scheduled, set of decisions to something more holistic, dynamic, and core to your business, it opens up many more creative options.

Lifting employees up, above important but narrowly focused benefits decisions, and understanding the implications of their total health and wellbeing to your business success really is something to get excited about. It absolutely is a time of opportunity. What BOLD paths will you pursue?

Some questions for your consideration:

  • How are you preparing for the “hyper-fluid” healthcare market we find ourselves in?
  • What steps are you taking to better align the health and wellbeing of your workforce to your business and talent strategies?  

As the first Aveusian to work in the U.S., Asia and Europe, Chris has a unique perspective on how leaders drive material and positive outcomes in today’s global marketplace.