In recent months, Belong Health has enjoyed remarkable growth while expertly serving and strengthening healthcare’s most vulnerable and under-resourced communities.
As he reflects on his first 90 days as President of Belong Health, Jonathan Davis, CPA, CGMA, shares the challenges and the joys of leading a unique effort that champions whole-person care as a distinctive asset in the healthcare space.
Q: Belong has quickly managed to gain trust, attract support, and make an impact. How do you account for its success, so far?
A: We’re working not to just to sell a product, but to address the clinical concerns of the beneficiaries. That’s where we’ve created a bit of a niche, I think. That’s a differentiator.
The classic cliche with health insurance is, “You don't like my rates? I'll kick you out! I’ll get your competitor in, and that's it. You’re just going to get whatever rate I can [set].” But that’s really thirty- to forty-year-old thinking, in the healthcare space. We truly are taking the view that [providers] are partners. Partners who treat patients and who see them and who are acting as key components in the healthcare system.
There's still a lot of room for improvement, on our end, but I think we are where health insurance should sit. We’re engaging with doctors and using the data we have — either through health risk assessments or through interdisciplinary care plans — to direct dedicated staff to interface with those practices.
Q: What have you learned, over these past few months, either about yourself, professionally, or about the demands of your role?
A: I knew it before, but in having people report to me, and in getting to know them better, I recognize even more fully that the performance of our care management teams and clinicians is second to none. They live and breathe this work, and it’s not lip service. It’s very real to them.
I’ve also learned there’s just not enough time in the day to get done all I’d like to get done. The opportunity that sits before us, the ability to impact a population, is awesome. Not just in respect to trying to grow a business but in respect to serving the specific geographies we're in. Bringing our concepts to other geographies? Impacting people for the better? That's fantastic.
If you look inside the Medicare Advantage bubble, you’ll notice different populations and segments are growing. The attention Medicare Advantage now has on this [dual-eligible special needs] population is fantastic. The growth charts are outpacing those of non-dual-eligibles, significantly.
Q: What aspects of your role, and of Belong’s mission, have proven to be harder than you’d expected?
A: In my role, my thought process is 24-36 months down the road. The ability to appropriately find time for strategic thinking while managing the near-term needs of a startup is always a challenge. Our product lines are highly complex. One of the most important things I can do is make sure I make myself available for my team and that they have the resources needed to manage the work. Sometimes this can get difficult given our growth and the myriad of details that go into launching a start-up in such a regulated space.
Q: What sorts of challenges keep you up at night, whether in your role at Belong, or in consideration of the healthcare space overall?
A: There’s a great thing happening within Belong right now, which is the issue of growth — but we still must make sure we implement the business at the standard we want. I have full faith the team will be able to do it, but it’s something I think about a lot.
In the near term, healthcare is always about regulatory changes — how the winds are blowing. There's clear direction from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS): they want to see Medicare and Medicaid under one umbrella. As CMS thinks about Medicare Advantage, Medicaid and Medicare together are one shared risk pool.
That means we always make sure we’re as up-to-date as we can be on all of the regulations — including any emerging regulations. We can either be thought leaders or we can prepare ourselves accordingly. That [responsibility] is always something we're vigilant about as an organization.
In the longer term, we’re thinking about the overall trends in healthcare. The shortage of primary and behavioral health care. The shortage of nurses and doctors in schools.
What we do know is, we all age. We get brittle. Stuff happens. We are products of our environment, but largely of our diet and our exercise and our heredity. So we have to make sure care and food are affordable and accessible, across the spectrum.
Q: In the face of all of those challenges, what gives you hope? What do you look forward to, when you engage with this work?
A: The U.S. healthcare system drives more innovation and advancements than are accomplished by any other nation in the world. Pharmaceutical advancements, new medical devices, new and less invasive ways to perform surgeries. There are drugs in the pipeline now that treat dementia and Alzheimer’s. All of that is phenomenal. However, even with this innovation there are still inequities in how care is delivered. At Belong, we are targeting the most vulnerable populations to ensure that their specific needs are being met and that they have the same access and attention as everyone else.
Q: In the next 90 to 100 days, what do you predict for the future of Belong? What do you imagine we’ll be discussing a year from now, on your first anniversary as President of the organization?
A: In our pipeline today, we have enough business that suggests it’s not inconceivable we could triple in size next year. Every day, the probability of that goes up significantly. In 90 days, there will be finalization of what's in our near-term pipeline, and then implementation will begin rapidly after that.
A year from now? Well, we started to lay of our foundation last year — but that foundation is being finished this year. Our core capabilities will only get stronger and be able to be executed in a more efficient manner. Not to mention that our pipeline for 2025 is even better than the outlook for 2024.