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Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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Demographic Shift Means Lower Birthrates and Aging Populations around the World, Suggesting Big Changes for Global Healthcare, Pathology Groups, and Clinical Laboratories

Demographic shifts are most acute in Europe and East Asia but could be a harbinger of things to come for US healthcare as well

Across the globe, major shifts in many countries’ demographics are starting to drive notable changes in how healthcare is delivered in these nations. Having fewer pediatric patients and more senior citizens is fundamentally altering what types of tests are in greatest demand from the medical laboratories in these countries. It is the population trend writ large on a global scale.

For example, in countries as diverse as Sweden, Hungary, Japan, and South Korea, birthrates are declining as fewer young people decide to have kids, or they choose to have smaller families. Thus, demand for pediatric care is declining in those countries.

Meanwhile, populations around the world continue to age as greater numbers of people reach their retirement years. Not only does this create the need to expand medical services designed to serve the elderly, but there are important economic consequences. That’s because each wave of retirees leaves fewer people in the workforce to support the healthcare of ever-growing numbers of senior citizens.

According to The New York Times (NYT), this trend is likely to accelerate. In “Long Slide Looms for World Population, with Sweeping Ramifications,” the paper reported that “All over the world, countries are confronting population stagnation and a fertility bust, a dizzying reversal unmatched in recorded history that will make first-birthday parties a rarer sight than funerals, and empty homes a common eyesore.”

The NYT added that, “With fewer births, fewer girls grow up to have children, and if they have smaller families than their parents did—which is happening in dozens of countries—the drop starts to look like a rock thrown off a cliff.”

In countries such as the US, Canada, and Australia, this is partially mitigated by immigration, the NYT reports. However, some nations, such as Germany and South Korea, have instituted programs aimed at boosting birthrates, though with varying degrees of success.

According to demographer Frank Swiaczny, Dr. rer. nat., Senior Research Fellow at the Federal Institute for Population Research in Germany, countries around the world—especially in Europe and East Asia—“need to learn to live with and adapt to decline.”

“A paradigm shift is necessary,” he told the NYT.

An Aging Nation

The graphic above, taken from the US Census Bureau’s 2018 report, “The Graying of America: More Older Adults than Kids by 2035,” illustrates the rate at which America’s elder population is catching up with the rest of the world. It will soon exceed younger portions of the population, thus shifting demand for healthcare from pediatrics to geriatrics. Anatomic pathology groups and clinical laboratories will be impacted by this trend. (Graphic copyright: US Census Bureau.)

Elder Population Growth: Academics Take Notice

Healthcare scholars also have been looking at the topic of demographic shift. A recent commentary in Health Affairs, titled “Actualizing Better Health and Health Care for Older Adults,” focused on the policy implications for senior care.

The authors, which included Terry Fulmer PhD, RN, FAAN, and John Auerbach, Director of Intergovernmental and Strategic Affairs at the CDC, noted that in 2018, adults 65 or older were 15.6% of the population. This will rise to 20% by 2030, when, according to the authors, seniors will outnumber the portion of the population that is younger than age five.

Fulmer is President of the John A. Hartford Foundation, which is dedicated to improving care for older adults, and until May, Auerbach was President and CEO of Trust for America’s Health (TFAH).

They recommended six broad policy goals:

  • Foster an “expanded and better-trained workforce” to care for older adults, through enhanced training as well as “scholarships, loan forgiveness, and clinical internships.”
  • Adapt the public health system to account more for the needs of an aging population, such as by “improved coordination and collaboration with Area Agencies on Aging and key healthcare providers.”
  • Address disparities and inequities in healthcare access, such as social isolation “caused or exacerbated by social, economic, and environmental conditions.”
  • Facilitate advances in telehealth and other technologies to improve care delivery. “The lack of access to technology, low digital health literacy, and design barriers in patient portals and apps have disproportionately affected older adults, especially those in underserved communities,” the authors wrote.
  • Improve palliative and end-of-life care. “Many older adults are living with serious illness,” the authors wrote, and “most will live for years with their illnesses, resulting in a high burden of physical and psychological distress, functional dependence, poor quality of life, high acute care use, loss of savings, and caregiver distress.”
  • Reform long-term care, by improving conditions in long-term care facilities and making it easier for older adults to stay at home.

The authors also urged a move away from “traditional fee-for-service Medicare” through “policy changes such as bundled, capitated, and other value-based payments.”

A perspective in the journal NPJ Urban Sustainability, titled “Ageing and Population Shrinking: Implications for Sustainability in the Urban Century,” notes that these trends have led some cities or countries to adopt technological innovations in healthcare, such as “socially assistive robots and virtual entertainment for mental health, roadside AI services for healthcare, and a series of innovations for house-based healthcare, digital nursing, and monitoring.”

Aging population of Italy vs. Nigeria

The graphic above, taken from, illustrates the stark differences in the age of populations in two countries at opposite ends of the progressing demographic shift. Italy’s population pyramid (left) shows how the senior population makes up a substantial proportion of total population, while Nigeria’s 2030 population pyramid (right) shows the classic pyramid of a wide base of younger people trailing off to a small number of the elderly at the top of the pyramid. Medical laboratories in those nations will continue to be affected by how these demographic shifts taking place worldwide are changing the type of healthcare in highest demand. (Graphic copyright:

Impact on Pediatrics

At the other end of the age spectrum, a recent presentation from the American Academy of Pediatrics noted a 13% decline in the US birthrate between 2007 and 2019. But a white paper from physician search firm Merritt Hawkins suggests this has not necessarily resulted in reduced demand for pediatric services, at least not in the US.

Despite the decline, “there are still about four million births in the US annually, and immigration adds to the number of children in the population,” the white paper notes. Even rural areas with aging populations “have far fewer pediatricians per capita than they require.”

However, according to The New York Times, in South Korea, “expectant mothers in many areas can no longer find obstetricians or postnatal care centers.” And the town of Agnone, Italy, no longer has a maternity ward because the number of births—just six this year—is below the national minimum.

This is important to note. If there are developed countries around the world where demographics point to a steady decline in population, then the type of healthcare provided will be different than what is currently used. Clinical laboratories and pathology groups in those regions can expect changes and should prepare for them.

Stephen Beale

Related Information:

Long Slide Looms for World Population, with Sweeping Ramifications

Aging and Population Shrinking: Implications for Sustainability in the Urban Century

Actualizing Better Health and Health Care for Older Adults

US Birth Rate Falls to Lowest Point in More than a Century

Employers Can Save Money by Adopting Self-funded Healthcare Models, and Clinical Laboratories Have Opportunities to Support These Plans

By negotiating directly with healthcare providers, employers cut health insurers out of the loop, at least for certain specified healthcare conditions and surgeries

It’s a new trend in how employers provide healthcare benefits for their employees. In order to save money, a growing number of employers are going to low-cost hospitals, physicians, and other providers to contract directly for their services. This may be the opening that allows some clinical laboratories to approach larger employers in their region and negotiate pricing and contract terms without the need to involve a health insurer.

What’s motivating more employers to reach out and contract directly with low-cost healthcare providers is the realization that their health insurance plan typically pays much more than Medicare to hospitals, physicians, clinical laboratories, and other ancillary providers. This fact is supported by a study conducted by the Rand Corporation that found “large employers generally lack useful information about the prices they are paying for healthcare services,” and that of the 1,600 hospitals in 25 states that Rand surveyed, “employer-sponsored health plans paid hospitals an average of 241% of what Medicare would have paid for the same inpatient and outpatient services in 2017,” which is up from 236% of Medicare in 2015, Modern Healthcare reported.

Thus, to better control the skyrocketing cost of healthcare, and the health benefits plan they offer their employees, employers are increasingly turning to self-coverage and implementing company benefits plans that reward employees for price shopping and for selecting the lowest costs healthcare services.

This trend is another reason why clinical laboratory leaders should be tracking changes in federal price transparency requirements, along with the increased consumer interest in accessing healthcare prices in advance of service.

Employers Negotiate Directly for Healthcare Services

Over the past decade, Dark Daily has repeatedly covered expanding federal price transparency legislation and the trend among large employers to self-insure and negotiate with hospital networks for discounted healthcare services for their employees. Most recently in, “Ohio Healthcare Network Serving Amish and Anabaptist Communities Could Provide Blueprint for Hospital Price Transparency,” and “Amazon Care Pilot Program Offers Virtual Primary Care to Seattle Employees; Features Both Telehealth and In-home Care Services That Include Clinical Laboratory Testing.”

Innovative employer plans to decrease healthcare costs include:

  • Contracting directly with medical providers,
  • Opening primary care clinics within their corporate facilities,
  • Referring employees to contracted providers for certain procedures, and
  • Creating bundled-payment deals with select providers.

Modern Healthcare reports that both public and private employers in five states (Colorado, Connecticut, Michigan, Montana, Texas, and Wisconsin) are “considering or launching group purchasing initiatives with narrow- or tiered-network plans, onsite primary-care clinics, and contracts with advanced primary-care providers,” as well as “direct-contracting with providers, such as referring employees to designated centers of excellence for some procedures and conditions under bundled-payment deals with warrantied results.”

Cheryl DeMars, CEO of The Alliance, a Wisconsin healthcare purchasing cooperative, says there is a movement afoot. “I’m seeing a level of boldness on the part of our members that I haven’t seen before in my 27 years here,” she told Modern Healthcare.

“Almost 100 million employees covered through self-insured plans not only represents a staggeringly large market for healthcare cost containment, it is an extraordinary opportunity for America to meaningfully reduce our national healthcare bill,” Kirk Fallbacher (above), President and CEO of Advanced Medical Pricing Solutions (AMPS) told Healthcare Finance News. (Photo copyright:

Self-insured Employers can Reduce the Nation’s Healthcare Bill, says KFF

A 2018 US Census Bureau report states that more than 181 million people in the US were enrolled in employer-sponsored health plans in 2017, and that the estimated average premium for employer-sponsored family coverage increased at an annual rate of 4.5% from 2008 to 2019.

That increase was approximately twice the rate of overall inflation and growth in average hourly earnings during the same time period, according to the report, which also states that the surge in premiums was driven by price increases for medical services and that use of most healthcare services among employees has actually been declining.

For US employers, “the steep increase in their healthcare cost crowds out financial resources that could be used for employee wage increases, capital investments, and other spending priorities, such as retirement plans,” the report notes.

However, an estimated 94 million of the 156 million workers in the US—approximately 61%—are currently covered under a self-insured medical plan through their employer, the KFF Employer Health Benefits 2019 Annual Survey states. defines the self-insured health insurance plan as a “type of plan usually present in larger companies where the employer itself collects premiums from enrollees and takes on the responsibility of paying employees’ and dependents’ medical claims. These employers can contract for insurance services such as enrollment, claims processing, and provider networks with a third-party administrator, or they can be self-administered.”

Kirk Fallbacher, President and CEO of Advanced Medical Pricing Solutions (AMPS), told Healthcare Finance News (HFN) that the self-insured approach to employee medical coverage saves employers between 20% and 30% over a traditional Preferred Provider Organization (PPO), and that the savings total about $2,800 per person annually. 

“It doesn’t signal the end of the insurance industry,” he said. “On the cost side of the equation, the PPO approach is beginning to come to an end. The costs are outstripping inflation and wages.”

Moving to self-insurance is another part of the current trend for price transparency in the healthcare industry and may offer opportunities for clinical laboratories to increase profits. Clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups might want to contact the Human Resources Departments of local major employers to educate them on the costs and quality value of their labs. Such a proactive and innovative move could encourage employers to include those labs in the provider networks of their self-insured health benefit plans.   

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Self-insured Employers Go Looking for Value-based Deals

Self-insured Employers Are Playing An Increasing Role in Taking on The Status Quo to Lower Costs

Self-insured Employers Have More Leverage than They Think

Health Insurance Coverage in The United States: 2017

The Kaiser Family Foundation Employer Health Benefits 2019 Annual Survey

Ohio Healthcare Network Serving Amish and Anabaptist Communities Could Provide Blueprint for Hospital Price Transparency

Amazon Care Pilot Program Offers Virtual Primary Care to Seattle Employees; Features Both Telehealth and In-home Care Services That Include Clinical Laboratory Testing

More Small and Midsize Companies Opt to Self-Fund Workers’ Health Plans Despite Potential Risks: Might Clinical Labs Benefit from This Trend?

Self-insurance trend could push more businesses to independent and local clinical laboratories if self-insurers prefer to offer employees local access to testing services

Three years after the roll out of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) major provisions, more small and midsize companies may be opting to self-insure their employee health plans rather than face the coverage mandates and administrative costs imposed by Obamacare, a recent study found. It is uncertain how this trend will improve the access clinical laboratories and pathology groups have with these patients.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) study looked at trends in private sector self-insured health plans between 1996-2015, with a focus on 2013-2015, to assess whether the ACA might have affected those trends.

Researchers analyzed survey data from nearly 40,000 employers that participated in the US Census Bureau’s Medical Expenditure Panel Survey Insurance/Employer Component. They found that from 2013 to 2015: (more…)