Survey: U.S. payers feel well-positioned to survive COVID-19

U.S. payers feel the most confident that they’ll weather the COVID-19 storm, a new survey shows. 

Analysts at ZS Associates surveyed (PDF) 25 payers from seven countries. Those from the U.S. were the respondents to broadly say they were “well prepared to adapt” to changes in the industry as a result of the pandemic. 

Ed Schoonveld, managing principal at ZS and leader of the value and access practice, told FierceHealthcare the design of the U.S. health system has plenty to do with this, as private insurers play a different role than a payer in a country with a single-payer or public health system.

“When you’re looking at U.S. payers versus global payers, they tend to a be a little bit more differently positioned,” Schoonveld said. 

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The survey found that American payers also largely expect to be operating at about 90% capacity on average. They’re also expecting the shortest delay in any product approvals—between two and four months—compared to payers in other countries. 

That said, they’re not expecting everything to be smooth sailing, the survey found. There are several key areas where they’re seeking support from other sectors of the industry, particularly the pharmaceutical companies, as the pandemic continues. 

For one, the surveyed payers across the board put an emphasis on empathy and urged their peers to be patient as priorities and approaches to payment evolve. This will be especially critical as providers begin to open up for more services not related to COVID-19. 

In addition, health plans urged others in the industry to rigorously monitor supplies, particularly for drugs, to avoid shortages of necessary products. One U.S. payer said the industry should “endeavor to keep supply of all drugs consistent” to avoid access gaps. 

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The payers also said drug companies should accelerate clinical trials for potential COVID-19 treatments and offer products at a fair price, according to the survey.

The survey respondents flagged several points they believe are going to be key for collaboration across sectors, namely digital health, vaccine development and diagnostic programs.

Schoonveld said the pandemic offers a notable opportunity for drug companies to work more closely in concert with providers and health plans.

“I do think that there is really an opportunity now for the pharma industry, particularly, to step up and change the relationship that the industry has had with managed care organizations and with provider organizations and take the opportunity to work more in partnership, identifying where the gaps are,” he said.