Note to insurers: Accept your new reality and move forward

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Acceptance is a valuable lesson that helps us lead happier, more positively-focused lives. Although it's rarely applied to the business world, I think it may be particularly relevant these days for insurance companies.

Many insurers are still riding the Republican wave to power, hoping the newly-elected lawmakers will repeal some of the most burdensome aspects of the health reform law. But this type of logic ultimately hinders insurers because it prevents them from accepting the real reality--healthcare reform isn't going anywhere. Even if elected officials in Congress or statehouses can make some inroads, the bulk of the law will remain the same. If insurers can recognize this as the new reality, they likely can also see that spending time on hoping, or even taking actual steps to change the law, is an exercise in futility--and denial.

I'm not the only one who thinks like this. The folks over at Deloitte Consulting are advocating that insurers stop yearning for yesterdays and face the health reform music. "Fighting this change isn't a productive option--instead, health plans should embrace these changes and be proactive in shaping the 'new normal' that will emerge," the Deloitte experts wrote in the whitepaper, Six months (and counting) of health reform: Lessons learned for health plans.

Perhaps I should clarify. I'm not suggesting that insurers should be jumping up for joy over health reform. Acceptance doesn't necessarily equate to pleasure. I'm proposing that they recognize times are changing, accept reality for the truth that it is, and move forward. As the old maxim goes, "there are two kinds of businesses--the quick and the dead." I don't think any insurance company wants to fall in the "dead" category.

To successfully embrace change, insurers must accept that change has occurred. Analyzing whether certain provisions under the health reform law may or may not be repealed is like splitting hairs. If anything is repealed, they can adjust their compliance efforts accordingly and avoid wasting precious time (and dollars) worrying.

However, that doesn't mean that insurance execs should rest on their laurels. As the Deloitte experts say, "health plans can now take advantage of this time to analyze the real impacts of health reform on their business and deliberately and aggressively plan for their future."

That's exactly why Deloitte suggests the first step insurers should take is to start fresh, transforming their culture to support the change, innovation, and collaboration that will be needed to survive in the industry's new normal.

Next, insurers should seize the opportunities presented by industry disruption to create new products and/or diversify into new areas. "Reform will create opportunities for those organizations who can identify and seize them," the authors said.

Of course, insurers' response to reform must be flexible enough to evolve if any changes do come to fruition. But, as Deloitte noted in its paper, "what is certain is that health plans will need to balance implementation of newly effective provisions with longer-term strategic decisions about where they want to focus and what roles they want to play. Those health plans who can effectively apply the lessons of the past six months to their strategic and tactical health reform-related planning going forward will be a step ahead."

I'd like to think that most insurers want to be progressive in the market and move forward with new ideas, products and innovations. The best first step down that road is accepting that change is in the air. - Dina

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