How is coronavirus affecting your plan operations, office operations, etc., and what steps have you taken to respond?
To date, COVID-19’s most significant operational impact on the GroupHEALTH Family of Companies, which under its corporate structure includes Manion, has been the need to transition from on-premises workspaces to work-from-home workspaces in response to the direction of public health authorities.
This transition has included the deployment of key technology infrastructure; the development and distribution of new or modified human resources policies and practices; the development of new management routines and expectations; the introduction of new remote-work and video conference tools; adjustments to operational processes and procedures; the coordination of information with key suppliers; optimizing and expanding internal and external communications programs and platforms; and the creation of extraordinary monitoring, collaboration and decision-making processes.
Our organization leveraged existing technology infrastructure and business continuity planning to effectively migrate more than 98% of our national workforce from on-premises work practices to work-from-home practices within less than a week, without material negative impact to plan sponsor and plan member operations. The GroupHEALTH Family of Companies continues to support modified procedures for a small number of paper-based processes, while assertively encouraging plan sponsors and plan members to transition to digital processes. Standard benefit and pension support procedures, including claims processing, have leveraged existing technology investments to maintain operations seamlessly.
Sales and revenue operations have felt the impact of the COVID-19-related economic slowdown, with increased inquiries regarding business relief measures and plan design changes to accommodate revenue loss and workforce changes. To date, the financial impact has been muted, though our analysts have begun financial modelling for a variety of scenarios based on the anticipation of a sustained economic slowdown.
How are you communicating and/or holding meetings with colleagues and/or participants? If meeting virtually, what kind of software/utility are they using?
The GroupHEALTH Family of Companies, which includes six independently operating divisions, has successfully leveraged video conferencing tools to maintain business operations.
The organization has standardized communications platforms using Microsoft Teams for live cross-functional communications and Microsoft Office 365 for cross-functional file and document collaboration. Deployment has been universal: All employees have access to this rich set of tools.
How are claims being processed? What about other essential processes?
Claims processing has been uninterrupted by COVID-19. Claims intake, inquiry, adjudication, and payment teams continue to function without disruption to the plan sponsor and plan member experience, even while work-from-home transition activities were occurring.
In response to concerns for the health of our employees, we have reminded plan members of existing paper-free and virtual service options, encouraging them to avoid paper-based claims submissions and payments.
Other essential processes—including plan administration, finance and underwriting—have also transitioned quickly to work-from-home arrangements, with seamless access to key systems and data sources from remote locations. The organization has experienced only minor disruption as employees adjust to new systems and network access protocols.
Did you have an infectious disease policy in place prior to coronavirus, have you used it and how has it worked?
The GroupHEALTH Family of Companies did not have an infectious disease policy in place prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. The organization successfully leveraged existing human resources polices and business continuity plans—modifying where appropriate—to respond to COVID-19 disruption.
What have been your biggest challenges?
As a multi-division organization operating nationally across multiple time zones and jurisdictions, the GroupHEALTH Family of Companies has had to align practices, communications and expectations across multiple internal and external stakeholder groups to ensure a consistent, coordinated and rapid response. This has forced us to implement new management practices focused on the rapid dissemination, processing and decisioning of information.
As well, the “creeping pandemic” nature of the outbreak has driven the organization to react quickly day to day and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. A strong, centralized, executive-led “rapid response team,” empowered to make decisions quickly and broadly, has been essential to ensure an effective pandemic response.
Equipping employees for new workspace arrangements has stretched our management teams, particularly those responsible for front-line teams. We continue to monitor these work arrangements, including and especially through expectation-setting for regular, positive contact with employees. We continue to assess the mental health, team connectedness and productivity of employees with regular video, chat and email contact, while encouraging healthy work-from-home habits.
What are key lessons and takeaways for moving forward?
The GroupHEALTH Family of Companies’ historical investment in technology infrastructure has allowed us to respond with alacrity to the COVID-19 outbreak. Key technologies like Microsoft Teams, cloud telephony and Microsoft Office 365 collaboration tools have proved their value since the escalation of the outbreak.
The organization’s personnel have proven to be resilient and flexible in the face of significant social disruption. Sustained investment in remote-work best practices, internal communications, learning and development resources, and mental health support has kept both morale and productivity high throughout the pandemic. This will be an ongoing investment.
The GroupHEALTH Family of Companies has successfully leveraged concepts built into its existing business continuity plans to maintain operational discipline and effectiveness. Our existing business continuity plan did not anticipate the “creeping pandemic” nature of COVID-19: the quick, controlled, and incremental social and economic slowdown driven by (often uncoordinated) public policy decisions. Nevertheless, components of the plan were activated to ensure ongoing operational integrity. The value of a robust and realistic business continuity strategy has been proven through this outbreak.