Writer: Eleana Teran
2 min read June 2023 — Between escalating costs, access limitations and a pandemic that changed the world, the healthcare landscape has needed to evolve more quickly and innovatively than ever before. Fortunately, Charlotte’s leading healthcare providers have proven that they are more than up to the task.
With an ongoing focus on improving cost management, expanding networks, and delivering timely and quality healthcare, industry leaders have shown that it is possible to overcome these challenges. Invest: spoke with two key players to learn about the future of Charlotte’s healthcare sector. Delta Dental of North Carolina, under the stewardship of Curt Ladig, president and CEO, has been making strides in facilitating affordable oral healthcare to a broader demographic by leveraging an extensive dentist network and optimizing their operating expenses. And Cigna Healthcare, led by general manager for the Carolinas, James Day, has capitalized on the lessons from COVID to broaden their offerings, with a particular focus on telehealth, behavioral health, and transparency in pharmacy costs.
How are you addressing the challenge of high healthcare costs and limited accessibility?
Curt Ladig, President & CEO, Delta Dental of North Carolina: Upon assessing the landscape in North Carolina, it became evident that the cost of oral healthcare is excessively high, thereby creating a barrier to access. Therefore, the challenges we face revolve around finding ways to assist employer groups and individuals in effectively managing these costs. Fortunately, Delta Dental of North Carolina boasts the largest network of dentists throughout the state, surpassing our closest competitor by 30%. This extensive network ensures that more dentists are willing to participate in our insurance products, consequently providing accessible points of care for people seeking affordable oral healthcare. We consistently prioritize finding solutions to control the escalating costs of healthcare, both externally and internally,including how we allocate the funds entrusted to us by our clients. I take great pride and satisfaction in sharing that we have a very low operating expense ratio, which leaves more of the customer’s premium dollar to go toward direct care.
James Day, General Manager, Carolinas, Cigna Healthcare: We really look at three key tenets that are included in our Drive to 2025 in adapting to the marketplace. The first is the expansion of our telehealth offerings. COVID has changed the way people access care and we need to continue meeting our customers where they are at in their healthcare journey.
The second is behavioral health. We know the pandemic has put a large strain on people’s mental health so we have launched some different tools and programs to engage people of all ages as they think about behavioral health outside of the provider office. We will be able to get some of these individuals from 18 months to 18 years old into our virtual care settings, which would have never been possible when I started in this industry 18 years ago.
The third tenet revolves around increasing affordability and transparency in a pharmacy landscape that is ever-changing. To this end, we have launched three new programs in the last year: ClearCareRx, Copay Assurance plan and Price Assure, powered by GoodRx.
How are you leveraging technology to improve efficiency and reduce administrative burdens in healthcare?
Ladig: We have developed our own technology systems exclusively dedicated to dental insurance, dental procedures, and dental claims—distinct from medical or life insurance systems. This homegrown system allows us to process claims efficiently, with an impressive 96% being handled automatically, without the need for human intervention. Moreover, by enabling dentists to sign up for electronic payments and submitting clean claims, we provide payment within 24 to 48 hours.
In the healthcare realm, paperwork and bureaucracy often dominate discussions, with complaints about the excessive time they consume. Our network of dentists is the cornerstone of our value proposition, streamlining processes and simplifying access for our providers and members. By harnessing the power of our extensive network, efficiency and deliver exceptional service to employers and customers, all while minimizing administrative burdens and optimizing healthcare budget allocations. We prioritize simplicity. These are some of the most significant challenges that I perceive in our industry.
Day: One thing that separates Cigna is our 24/7, 365-day approach to customer care. Healthcare is not 9-5, so getting that information to members when they need it is crucial. MyCigna.com is the app we use to handle everything from finding in-network providers and to helping make healthcare more predictable and connected. Those are just a couple aspects but when we walk individuals through the app, we give them the option for in-person programs as well and offer 16 outside programs that they can utilize to customize their healthcare journey.
What is your vision for Charlotte’s healthcare sector?
Ladig: My outlook is positive. I am proud of the great team of individuals we have committed to the work we are doing every day and take pride in the diversity of our staff and board of directors. This team continues to do the work and build on the diversity initiative we established in 2014. As a result of this team, we’ve grown our business with large employers, then added a Fortune 500 this year. However, our focus extends beyond big companies to individuals. Recognizing that only some North Carolinians are employed by a company, we launched an individual plan 12 years ago to ensure access to care for those who are self-employed, unemployed, or retired. This year, we expanded our reach to the Affordable Care Act exchanges, or the marketplace, and anticipated selling around 15,000 policies. Surpassing expectations, we sold 24,000 policies, with 23% of our new business originating from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region. This demonstrates the significant growth potential in Charlotte, as more individuals embrace our model for improving affordability and cost-effectiveness in oral care. Ultimately, our goal is not just business growth, but rather, improving lives. We are committed to making a positive impact in Charlotte and beyond.
Day: Our landscape is always changing, so we are focused on being flexible to grow with the community. We are one of the fastest-growing markets in the country so we are continuing to dedicate resources to the market, especially as our team continues to grow. In 2016, we had 19,000 customers and today we have over 120,000. In our Drive to 25 strategy, Charlotte is a key area of growth and it is something I am looking forward to.
When we meet with clients, we typically hear about talent and retention. Employers across the country are looking for ways to engage their employees and we are no different. We have always taken an employee-centric approach but the pandemic definitely made it more of a focus. We want to ensure that every employee feels a sense of belonging here and feels they can thrive. That is at the heart of our culture here.
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