This year, the health care industry experienced a wealth of change from the ever-evolving Covid-19 pandemic to severe workforce shortages. Our experts reflect on 2021 to bring you the eight most important stories of the year, why they matter, and how to think about them moving forward.
1. Covid-19 continued to dominate the entire health care industry.
Yulan Egan, Managing Director, Executive Insights
At the risk of pointing out the obvious, the biggest health care story of 2021 was the same as that of 2020: the Covid-19 pandemic. This has been particularly clear in the second half of the year. As the delta and omicron variants have emerged, we've witnessed cases surge up from the optimistic lows we achieved following the initial vaccine rollouts.
The continued emergence of these variants has had tangible impacts on the U.S. health care industry in 2021. We've witnessed rising burnout and trauma among health care workers, ongoing fluctuations in hospital volumes, and continued investment in researching and developing Covid-19 treatments, among others.
Aside from the obvious—and devastating—impacts these surges have had, the entire health care industry experienced (and is still experiencing) delayed resolution to many of the biggest strategic questions raised by the pandemic. Here are a few I am watching:
- What will the pandemic ultimately mean for the uninsured rate? We won't know for sure until the PHE ends, and with it, the current suspension on Medicaid disenrollment.
- Where will telehealth reimbursement land, and who will win the race for telehealth market share? Amid enhanced reimbursement policies and a slew of relaxed regulations, local providers continue to dominate this market. However, there is no guarantee that will remain true into perpetuity.
- Will the pandemic reignite the shift to value-based payment, or have we already passed VBP’s peak? With the federal government largely focused on navigating the continued impacts of the pandemic—and reluctant to place new requirements on providers—we've seen limited innovation on this front in the past two years.
These were the same questions we were asking at the end of 2020, and the continuation of the pandemic means we still don't have clear answers. But as we approach the end of 2021, the conversation is shifting in a meaningful way. This year has forced us to acknowledge that we are working toward a future reality in which Covid-19 will be endemic. The rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines combined with the continued development of promising treatment options, will allow us to evolve our thinking on what "success" means in the future.
As we head into 2022, I remain optimistic that the collective efforts of organizations from across the health care sector will bolster our ability to successfully manage this virus, and to tackle the structural issues raised above to envision and build a new—albeit very different—future for this industry.