New Approaches to Managing Health Care Costs, Improving Outcomes

As health insurance and health care costs continue climbing, some employers are taking new and innovative steps to tamp down costs for themselves and their covered employees while not sacrificing the quality of care they receive.

Some of the strategies require a proactive approach by engaging with their broker and insurer, and even local health care providers, efforts that may be hampered by location and how flexible insurers may be. The goal for these employers is to reduce their and their employees’ costs and improve health outcomes.

The following are some strategies that employers are pursuing.

Steering workers to certain providers

One way to reduce spending is to contract with insurers that guide patients to facilities and providers that are more affordable and who have good patient outcomes. This process, called steerage, if executed correctly can save the employee money on their deductibles, copays and coinsurance and help them get better overall care.

For standard services, this steerage can help your employees see immediate savings on small payments. But for services that require pre-authorization, such as an MRI or X-ray, the insurer can help steer them to the least expensive provider. The differences in cost for these pre-planned services can often be hundreds of dollars, if not more.

Even guiding workers to outpatient facilities over inpatient facilities for these services can yield even greater savings and a better patient experience.

To get the most benefit out of steerage some employers have been switching from traditional group health insurance to self-insured direct-to-employer health plans. These plans will centralize employees’ health care with an integrated provider network or hospital group that focuses on coordinated care, which can reduce overall costs and improve the quality of care.

Since the employer is self-insured, they can work with a health system to establish an integrated care strategy that puts a premium on steerage.

Getting a handle on drug spending

Pharmacy benefit costs are the fastest-growing part of health care costs, up an estimated 8.4% in 2023, according to the Mercer “National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans.” And as new and more expensive pharmaceuticals hit the market, the portion of overall health care costs that goes towards medications will continue to rise.

One contributor to the increasing prices that your staff pay for their medication may be the pharmacy benefit manager that your insurer uses. Many PBMs earn commissions on drugs dispensed to patients and they benefit from steering them to higher-cost drugs. As well, many PBMs steer patients to pharmacies that they own, further muddying the waters.

There is a way to cut through this mess, but it requires asking tough questions of your insurer and/or the PBM. Ask them how they earn their money, and what kind of commissions and margins they are earning on drugs dispensed to your employees. It’s best to take this approach with the assistance of us, your broker.

Having an honest discussion with your insurer and PBM can open opportunities to save on pharmaceutical outlays through various strategies, like using generic drugs instead of brand-name ones and ensuring that your workers get the full manufacturer rebates — and that they are not kept by the PBM.

Depending on the PBM, this may or may not work.

Helping your employees get healthier

The healthier your workers are the less they will need to access health care, meaning they will spend less for medical services.

Employers can help their employees by weaving in health and wellness education in their staff communications. As well, many wellness programs focus on improving health, including smoking cessation programs, weight loss programs and free or subsidized gym memberships.

Also, many Americans are not keeping up on preventive care visits, many of which are free under the Affordable Care Act. Keeping up on these visits can help stave off larger health problems in the future.

Sometimes what’s needed for your employees to take preventive care seriously is education. You can work with us to come up with communications strategies aimed at trumpeting the importance of these visits by focusing on improving overall health and cost savings in the long run.

The takeaway

The above strategies follow a trend in health care focusing on improved health outcomes for patients by better coordinating care, particularly for those with chronic conditions. For employers, the name of the game is keeping costs down for themselves and their staff while not sacrificing quality of care and while improving their workers’ health.

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