Reflecting on 2021, Another “Year Like No Other”

At the 2021 Fall Managed Care Forum, Jacque J. Sokolov, MD, chairman and chief executive officer of SSB Solutions, Inc., a health care management, development, and financial services company, delivered the first keynote address of the meeting. Dr. Sokolov’s presentation, “Healthcare Marching to Discovery: 2021 Another ‘Year Like No Other,’” asked attendees to look back at the past year in health care and then look to the future to see how recent discoveries will reshape managed care in the United States.

First, he provided context for the discussion, providing an overview of recent trends and disruptions in the U.S. health care economy brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. He cited data that, since 2019, health care expenditures have represented an increasingly larger portion of the U.S. gross domestic product, up from 17.9% in 2019 to 20% in 2021. As 2021 nears its close, health care professionals can take several lessons from the “year like no other,” from navigating disruptions in the “health care food chain” and their consequences to the growing role of health care aggregators which are actively purchasing primary care practices.

The experiences of the last year have revealed what Dr. Sokolov called “sustainable transformational trends.” One of the most profound of these was the introduction of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, which demonstrated that mRNA technology was real, scalable, and worked in humans. The research in this area also uncovered new opportunities for biomedical products and the potential to develop mRNA “cancer diagnostic chips.” As one example, Dr. Sokolov described the use of transformational mRNA technology to deliver protein therapeutics or to identify patients with cancer who would benefit most from immune checkpoint inhibitors. Looking to the future, he predicted that advances in mRNA technology will mirror the introduction of biologics more than two decades ago, with similar “game changing” impacts on human health care. As the United States continues to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic and Delta variant evolution, the health care system will have to adjust to a “new normal,” though one that could change given potential virus variant dynamics.