BCBS of Alabama exec: Pandemic has 'dramatically' changed conversation with health systems

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Of the many strains the coronavirus pandemic has placed on the healthcare industry, the payer-provider relationship has dramatically shifted, said Richard Embrey, MD, medical director of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama.

Dr. Embrey said that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama tried to support hospitals through the pandemic, which resulted in enlightening conversations that will prove useful as the world moves away from the coronavirus. However, topics like costs and advanced technology will circle back into the limelight soon, and he hopes the progress made during the pandemic will carry over.

Below is an excerpt from the podcast. Listen to the full interview here.

Dr. Richard Embrey: The pandemic changed the conversation dramatically. Blue Cross, like most insurers, did not have the same financial impact that hospitals and providers had. We continued to collect premiums from members while hospitals had to shut down surgeries, while physicians couldn't see members face-to-face. So we were able to work with hospitals, particularly smaller, rural hospitals here in Alabama, to really work on some advanced payments to try and help them keep their doors open and to sort of mute the financial impact during the worst part of the COVID crisis. I think this improved the relationship between hospitals. We talked about things that we really hadn't talked about before. I hope that goodwill will last, and I think it really has improved the dialogue. 

I do think that we are looking at an increase in healthcare expenditures and costs coming in the next year in sort of the backlash from COVID-19. Certainly we are starting to see an increase in non-healthcare prices. Inflation is rearing its ugly head in the economy, and usually inflation in healthcare services is greater and comes in advance of general inflation. So I think that unfortunately, some of our conversations with the hospitals are going to have to go back to that topic of prices and reimbursement. So I think that's how they're going to change probably in the next year. We're going to come back and start having to talk about costs.

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