2017 Employer-based Premiums Contrast with ACA Increases

By Phil Galewitz, Kaiser Health News

2017 employer-based premiums

Family health insurance premiums rose an average 3% this year for people getting coverage through the workplace, the sixth consecutive year of small increases, according to a study released Tuesday.

Average 2017 Family Premiums: $18,764

The average total cost of family premiums was $18,764 for 2017, according to a survey of employers by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust. That cost is generally divided between the employer and workers. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

2017 employer-based premiumsWhile overall premium increases remain modest, workers are picking up a greater portion of the tab — this year $5,714 for family coverage, about a third of total cost.

Employer-provided coverage for a single person rose on average 4%, to $6,690. Those individuals pay $1,213 on average.

Still, the employer market looks remarkably stable compared to the price increases seen in the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces for people who buy their own coverage. Premiums on those plans spiked on average about 20% this year, and many insurers dropped out because of financial concerns.

Average ACA Premiums Up 20% in 2017

For all the media attention and political wrangling over the Obamacare exchanges, their share of the market is relatively small. They provide coverage to 10 million Americans while 151 million Americans get health insurance through their employer.

The continued slow rise of employer health premiums identified in the Kaiser survey surprised some analysts who have expected the trend to end as the economy picked up steam, leading to a jump in use of health services and health costs.

Drew Altman, CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said it’s “health care’s greatest mystery” why health insurance costs have continued their slow pace even as the economy has picked up the past few years. “We can’t explain it.”

2017 employer-based premiums

Employee Deductibles Have Nearly Doubled Since 2010

Another unexpected result was that workers’ deductibles — the health bills that workers must pay before their insurance coverage kicks in — remained stable this year at $1,221. Since 2010, as companies sought to keep premiums in check, deductibles have nearly doubled. Higher deductibles can limit premium increases because costs are shifted to workers and it gives them greater incentive to cut spending.

“Increasing deductibles has been a main strategy of employers to keep premiums down and we will have to watch if this plateauing is a one time thing … or if this portends a sharper increase in premiums in future years,” said Altman. “It could be deductibles are reaching their natural limit or could be the tighter l2017 employer-based premiumsabor market” that’s causing employers to back off, he added.

Meanwhile, a second employer survey released Monday by Mercer, a benefits consulting firm, suggests a modest increase in health costs coming next year, too. Employers said they expect their health costs to increase by an average 4.3% in 2018, according to the survey.

To deal with higher medical costs — notably big increases in the prices of prescription drugs — employers are using multiple strategies, including continuing to shift more costs to workers and paying doctors and hospitals based on the value of the services rather than just quantity of services.

Jeff Levin-Scherz, a health policy expert with benefits consultant Willis Towers Watson, said there is a limit on how much employers can shift costs to their workers, particularly in a tight labor market. “Single-digit increases doesn’t mean health care costs are no longer a concern for employers,” he said.

Trend: Employer-Based Coverage Has Dropped

The 19th annual Kaiser survey also found that the proportion of employers offering health coverage remained stable last year at 53%. But the numbers have fallen over the past t2017 employer-based premiumswo decades.

The survey highlights that the amount workers pay can vary dramatically by employer size. Workers in small firms — those with fewer than 200 employees — pay on average $1,550 more annually for family premiums than those at large firms. The gap occurs because small firms are much more likely than large ones to contribute the same dollar amount toward a worker’s health benefits whether they’re enrolled in individual or family coverage.

More than one-third of workers at small employers pay at least half the total premium, compared with 8% at large employers.

That’s the case at Gale Nurseries in Gwynedd Valley, Pa., where health insurance costs rose 7.5% this year. Its 25 workers are paying nearly half the cost of the premium — at least $45 a week for those who choose the base coverage plan. Employees also have deductibles ranging from $1,000 to $2,500.

A decade ago, the nursery paid the full cost of the premium.

“It’s crazy — we keep paying more and getting less,” said comptroller Candy Koons.

At the Westport (Conn.) Weston Family YMCA, health insurance premiums rose about 7% this year, leaving its 50 full-time employees to pay a $156 premium for individual coverage.

“It’s not problematic, but it’s one of our bigger costs associated with payroll,” said Joe Query, the human resources director.

 

Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

2 Obstacles to Managing Drug Costs (Video)

To Manage Employer Prescription Costs, Get the Right Drug for the Right Condition

Employer Prescription Costs

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Zafeira Sarrimanolis, MedCost Pharmacist and Clinical Consultant,knows the value of reviewing pharmacy usage patterns for clients, to identify opportunities to contain costs.

“From a more clinical perspective, the key to managing drug costs is making sure that the right people are using the right drug for the right medical condition,” she said.

Obstacle #1: Not Adhering to the Formulary

“What is a formulary?” asked Michael Cornwell, Director of Sales and Underwriting. “A formulary is a guide that the Pharmacy Benefit Manager puts out that says these brand drugs are the preferred versus the non-preferred versus generics.

“For example, the average cost of a generic today is about $28-$29. The average cost of a brand drug is probably in the $167 range.

employer prescription costs“Members do not always know what drugs are on the formulary,” said Ms. Sarrimanolis. “Certainly their providers don’t always know what drugs are on the formulary, so that’s where some of the confusion and disruption comes from.

“We try to fill a lot of these gaps through member education. Pharmacy Benefit Managers do a great job of outreaching to members through the mail, emails and on their websites. Unfortunately, members might not always understand that information.

“What we need to do is to encourage members to become smarter consumers and to make the best, most cost-effective choice for their own medication.”

The Pharmacy Benefit Manager’s Role

employer prescription costs

“A Pharmacy Benefit Manager, or PBM, serves multiple purposes,” Mr. Cornwell said. “One purpose is to process all the pharmacy claims. By doing that, benefits administrators like MedCost are able to collect the data and analyze it.

“Zafeira, as our pharmacist on staff, and our Care Management teams know what usage patterns are. We know what kinds of drugs people are taking.

“The PBMs certainly are negotiating discounts at the drugstore and contract rates for us to get the best prices that we can for the drugs that we take. PBMs can also provide data on clinical reasons to manage those drugs and make sure that they’re the most appropriate and cost-effective.

Obstacle #2: Not Educating Members

“One of the largest reasons that people are readmitted to the hospital is because they don’t adhere to directions to take their medication.

“Programs like step therapies ask: ‘Have you tried this drug before you try that one?’

“Prior authorizations ask: ‘Why do you need this drug?’ For example, you must have the proper genotype to be able to take certain treatments for Hepatitis C.

employer prescription costsPrior authorizations cause a lot of disruption to the member. You go to the doctor for a prescription.  You go to the drugstore and they say why do you need to take this drug? And you go back to your physician but they’re busy. It takes time, so it’s all disruptive at a time when you want your medication. It’s hard to understand.

Member education is extremely important. It would be nice if we could fill that gap to where physicians knew exactly what your formulary was at the point that physicians are prescribing that medication. Right now that doesn’t exist.

“Every 1% increase in generic utilization results in about 1.5% savings,” said Michael Cornwell.

“In drug costs, it becomes pretty significant. As Zafeira said, as the drug manufacturers continue to make more drugs (which is a good thing), it puts more challenges on us to make sure that the drugs are appropriate and cost-effective.

Using PBM Websites to Shop Employer Prescription Costs

employer prescription costs“We’re going to go through more disruption as a result of that. We’re going to have to get used to it. But there are a lot of new tools coming on the marketplace to try to help people shop for drugs,” Mr. Cornwell observed.

“The PBMs have websites where you can log in under your personal account with your PBM that is administering your drugs. You can put in the name of the drug and the details; and it will show you the best places the most price-competitive places, to buy that drug. It will also match up what your formulary is and if there are alternatives that are cheaper than the drug you have.

“The bigger issue is helping people to understand to be shoppers.”MedCost

(This post is a transcript from the video, “2 Obstacles to Managing Drug Costs.”)

employer prescription costs

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Too Few Patients Follow The Adage: You Better Shop Around

By Michelle Andrews, Kaiser Health News

shop medical costs

Despite having more financial “skin in the game” than ever, many consumers don’t make any attempt to compare prices for health care services, a newly released study found.

In a survey of nearly 3,000 adults younger than 65, about half of the roughly 1,900 who said they spent money on medical care in the previous year reported that they knew in advance what their costs would be. Of those who didn’t anticipate how much they would owe before receiving care, only 13 percent said they tried to predict their out-of-pocket expenses. An even smaller proportion, 3 percent, compared prices from multiple providers ahead of time.

It wasn’t that survey respondents were ignorant of price differences or didn’t care about them. More than 90 percent said they believed that prices vary greatly among providers, and 71 percent said that the amount they spent out-of-pocket was important or very important when choosing a doctor.

Yet most respondents said they didn’t comparison shop or even ask how much they would owe in copayments or other cost-sharing expenses before they turned up for an appointment.

Researchers conducted the online survey in February and March of 2015, dividing respondents into three groups: uninsured, insured in a plan with an annual deductible higher than $1,250 for single coverage or $2,500 for family coverage, or insured in a plan with a lower deductible or no deductible. The results were published in the August issue of Health Affairs.

Three-quarters of the study participants said they did not know of any resource that would allow them to compare costs, while half said that if a website showing such information were available, they would use it.

“If price shopping is an important policy goal, it will be necessary to increase the availability of information on price and decrease the complexity of accessing the information,” the researchers wrote. They noted that patients trying to figure out pricing information and their share of the cost must often know specific procedures’ billing codes, the difference between professional fees and facility fees, and the details of how their insurance plan is structured.

“Our results emphasize that simply passing price transparency laws or regulations (as over half of states have done) appears insufficient to facilitate price shopping,” they added.

Most respondents said they did not think there was a relationship between lower cost and lower quality.

shop medical costsOne reason for the lack of shopping activity may be that consumers value the ongoing relationship they have with an existing doctor and don’t want to disrupt that, said Neeraj Sood, professor of public policy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and one of the study’s authors.

Another possible explanation is that despite efforts by states, employers and insurers to make price information readily available, shopping for health care services is nowhere near as user-friendly and intuitive as buying something on Amazon or Expedia.

“Maybe right now these tools are so primitive that even though there is a financial incentive to shop, people aren’t doing it,” Sood said.

People surveyed were most likely to search out prices before going to a retail or urgent care clinic compared with other care facilities. Consumers who received physical therapy or lab and imaging services were more likely than others to comparison shop for providers, the survey found.

 

Please visit khn.org/columnists to send comments or ideas for future topics for the Insuring Your Health column. Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit health newsroom whose stories appear in news outlets nationwide, is an editorially independent part of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The 3 Keys of Stop Loss Insurance (Video)

stop loss carriers

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“Stop loss carriers are definitely not the same,” said Jeff Thornburg, Senior Manager for MedCost Underwriting. “Stop loss insurance should not be treated as a commodity. Price is important. It should be considered. But the quality of the carrier and their policy are actually more important than the price.

“As long as you are getting a good price, you want to drill down into the policy. The first key is:

1. Be sure your policy is going to mirror, or virtually mirror, stop loss carrieryour plan document, to avoid any gaps in coverage.

“When there’s a gap, there’s a denial. You might as well consider denied claims as additional premium. So if you bought the cheaper policy that had more exclusions, and you had a denial, you quite possibly ended up paying more than if you had just bought good quality stop loss from a good quality carrier.”

Senior Underwriter Jeff Woodburn explains the second key: look for these qualities to choose the best carrier.

2. What differentiates the good stop loss carriers from inferior ones?

             *Financial stability
             *The ability to be efficient in paying claims
              *Ease of doing business

“For example, a premature baby incurs a tremendous amount of expense,” said Mr. Woodburn, with over 10 years in the industry. “As you know, that is a totally unexpected expense. But when these unexpected events occur, that is when your stop loss insurance kicks in to cover expenses that exceed a certain threshold. This threshold is predetermined when we’re putting the health plan together for a prospective group.”

Mr. Thornburg has seen how important the third key is from his 28 years handling stop loss insurance.

3. Choose your benefits administrator wisely.

“As a self-funded employer, you’re going to have the same claims, regardless of which stop loss carrier you choose. Your claims are going to happen whether you are with Benefits Administrator A, B or C.

“In evaluating different benefits administrators, it’s important to nail down who is going to manage those claims the best. To limit the liability of the employer while still giving good service and excellent benefits to the employees.

“This is what it comes down to at the end of the day. Who is going to best manage your claims?”MedCost

stop loss insurance

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Would you like more resources? Get a free white paper explaining stop loss insurance. We respect your privacy.

stop loss insurance

How Employer Plans Cover Prescription Drugs (Infographic)

An estimated 150 million Americans have employer-sponsored health insurance.[i] What is the complex system under which employer health plans cover the rocketing costs of prescription drugs?

employer prescription drugs

Members

Individuals covered by employer’s health plan. May pay premiums or copays for drug coverage.

Employer or Insurer

Employer or insurer pays PBM to develop preferred drug pricing & process prescription claims. PBM returns some or all rebates to employer or insurer.

Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM)

Negotiates discounts and rebates from manufacturer. Contracts with pharmacy.

Manufacturer

Negotiates rebates with PBM.
Sells discounted drugs to wholesaler from core price.

Wholesaler

Negotiates price with pharmacy.

Pharmacy

Pharmacy dispenses to members & collects copays.

For more resources, view: ”10 Pharmacy Terms Employers Need to Know” and “5 Factors in Employer Prescription Drug Costs” from Pharmacist Zafeira Sarrimanolis.MedCost

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[i Robert Galvin and Troyen Brennan, “Can Employers Take a Bigger Role in Controlling Drug Costs?” Health Affairs blog, February 17, 2017, http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2017/02/17/can-employers-take-a-bigger-role-in-controlling-drug-costs/ (accessed April 6, 2017).

 

Controlling Specialty Drug Costs (Video)

Specialty Drug Costs Can Be Managed with These Strategies
specialty drug costs

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“It’s interesting that a lot of these specialty drugs are designed for a very small percentage of the population that have a certain disease state,” said Michael Cornwell, MedCost Director of Sales and Underwriting.

“There may be less than 200,000-300,000 people in the country that need that particular drug. That’s one of the reasons specialty drugs are so expensive.”

MedCost Pharmacist Zafeira Sarrimanolis agrees. “It’s an exciting time in the drug manufacturing world, because all of these new medications have been coming out over the past ten years or so for medical conditions that really weren’t treatable before.

“For example, hepatitis C medications previously were not very effective and really hard for patients to tolerate. Now we have new medications on the market that are practically a 100% cure rate for patients.

specialty drug costsThese drugs are also a lot easier for them to take and tolerate. Part of the problem with that is the price tag on some of those new medications.”

“One of the largest reasons people are readmitted to the hospital is because they don’t adhere to the medication,” said Michael Cornwell. “Programs like step therapy ask you to try a clinically appropriate drug before you try a similar but more expensive one.

Prior authorizations probe a physician’s reasoning behind prescription choices. A lot of these specialty drugs are really for a pretty small percentage of the population. So when you look at a population as a whole, the people taking those drugs are usually between 1%-1½% of your population. That’s the good news.

“The bad news is they’re very expensive. Probably the biggest growth area in the specialty arenas are the cancer drugs. There’s a whole pipeline of new cancer treatments hitting the marketplace. But in that pipeline, member education and aid in helping and consulting is a good thing too. It allows us to have some personal outreach try to help these people manage their disease state.MedCost

(This post is a transcript from the video, CONTROLLING SPECIALTY DRUG COSTS.”)

 

Listening to the Voice of the Customer (Video)

Health care is complex. It always has been — even more so today in a continually changing industry and environment. MedCost strives to be the kind of partner that helps our customers navigate, translate and adapt to those changes.

When MedCost started as a small company, we were still using some of the principles we use today. We were sitting down and listening to the unique needs of the customer. We were using data even before there were sophisticated mechanisms to use data. To understand what was driving their costs, what providers they were utilizing, how we can essentially customize some sort of solution, whether it be a product, a program or a service to essentially help them better manage or to achieve what they were trying to achieve with their health plan.

In this time, in this industry, collaboration is more important than ever. We have a legal team, a communications team, a pharmacist, an underwriting team — all designed to essentially help support the employers, and bring some of the best new ideas to the employer to help them engage in new or better health and wellness programs. And also to drive lower costs for their population.

We essentially try to be one single source for an employer to come and partner with them — to not only design but to administer their health plans.

We’re interested in your unique needs. Contact Jason at jclarke@medcost.com or call 336.774.4283.MedCost

(This post is a transcript from the video, “Listening to the Voice of the Customer.” )

Prescription Insurance: Why Are Costs Rising?

MedCost pharmacistBy Zafeira Sarrimanolis, PharmD, MedCost Clinical Consultant

Prescription insurance has become an increasingly major cost for employers. New drug approvals by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are expected to escalate this year with multiple innovative drugs already being approved for cancer, multiple sclerosis and other conditions.

As researchers discover more treatments, costs will continue to climb. For this reason, smart management of pharmacy plans will be even more vital for employer health plans.

2017 Drug Pipeline

2016 saw a below average number of drug approvals. 2017 is expected to bounce back with 30+ new specialty drugs.

Specialty medications are high-cost prescription drugs used to treat complex conditions. The blue bar (below) shows specialty medication drug approvals. The green bar represents traditional brand and generic drugs. Technology, innovation and new scientific discoveries have caused specialty medication drug approvals to rapidly increase over the last few years.

prescription insurance

Growth of Novel Drugs in Prescription Insurance

In 2016, 22 novel drugs were approved, which was the lowest number since 2010. A novel drug is an innovative product with a unique chemical structure that has never been approved by the FDA before.  Typically novel drugs meet an unmet medical need.

prescription insurance As of May 5th, 20 novel drugs have already been approved this year. It’s an exciting time for healthcare as we treat more complex conditions and improve member health and quality of life.

But it comes at a cost – literally.

 

Summary

When 1% of prescriptions drive 40-45% of an employer’s pharmacy spend, avoiding wise management is no longer optional. Part of my role as a MedCost Pharmacist is to emphasize the importance of cost-management strategies to our employers and consultants.

prescription insurance

I also work closely with our clients to help employers understand the importance of educating their employees about these changes and why they are needed.

It’s all about making sure each employee gets the right drug for the right medical condition at the right time. That’s how we control pharmacy costs.MedCost


Sources

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Factors in Employer Prescription Drug Costs

Why are employer prescription drug costs spiraling higher every year?

“There are a combination of factors,” said Zafeira Sarrimanolis, PharmD, MedCost Pharmacist and Clinical Consultant. “This is a major problem for employers who do not want to make employees unhappy by instituting clinical pharmacy programs in their health plans.”

employer prescription drug costs


What Are the Factors in Employer Prescription Drug Costs?

  1. Manufacturer Price Hikes.

    Costs for drugs like EpiPen® and Humira® have been widely publicized.[i] Prices are escalating 16-17% per year. Manufacturers are also promoting new uses for existing high-cost drugs, even though there are already FDA-approved, lower-priced drugs for the same conditions already on the market.

  2. Increased Use of Prescription Drugs.

    The number of people taking cholesterol drugs is up from 6.5% (1999-2002) to 13.1% (2009-2012). Similar increases are seen in other common chronic conditions, including depression which increased 6.4% to 9.0% over the same period.[ii]

employer prescription drug costs

 

3.Specialty Drugs.

New, expensive medications for diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis are constantly hitting the market. Specialty drugs account for about 1% of total prescriptions but 35-45% of pharmacy spend, averaging $3,400 per drug per month.[iii]

4. Patent Expirations.

In 2016, Crestor, Zetia and Benicar all had patent expirations. The increased competition from generic equivalent drugs is decreasing costs across the board. Unfortunately for high-cost injectable medications like Humira, the introduction of generic versions is not as simple.

5. Advertising.

An estimated 80 drug commercials per hour are shown across TV outlets.employer prescription drug costs[iv] Radio, magazines, newspapers and social media also contain prescription drug ads that prompt individuals to ask doctors about specific drugs.

It’s an exciting time in the drug industry with the influx of new drugs coming on the market,” said Michael Cornwell, MedCost Director of Sales and Underwriting. “But it also presents challenges for us in the industry since controlling these costs is not always user-friendly.”

 

Employer Strategies for Controlling Prescription Drug Costs

 

Pharmacy Benefit Managers

Working with a Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) supports cost management for employers in the pharmacy portion of their health plans. A PBM negotiates discounts and rebates from drug manufacturers, which are then returned back to the employer. PBMs also contract with pharmacies and process pharmacy claims.

The PBM controls pharmacy costs for employers through development of a preferred drug list (or formulary) and clinical programs. MedCost as a benefits administrator works closely with PBM partners to get the best rates for employers, customizing a pharmacy plan for each client’s unique population.

Formulary Management

Preferred drug lists are arranged in tiers, or cost levels, of generic, preferred and non-preferred medications. A PBM Pharmacy & Therapeutics Committee of industry experts follows a clinically-driven formulary decision-making process to define the preferred drug list. Some drugs are excluded from coverage in favor of clinically-similar alternatives that treat the same disease.

Exclusions can save as much as 15% of prescription drug costs in an employer’s health plan.

Prior Authorization

Prior authorizations require a doctor to provide additional clinical information to determine whether the health plan covers that drug. Employees, providers and health plan administrators dislike the inconvenience of waiting for approval of drugs. But this strategy is key to ensure that members take safe, clinically-appropriate and cost-effective drugs.

“There’s a human factor,” said Michael Cornwell. “We do not want to be disrupted in using familiar medicines. But employers cannot save money without these strategies.”

Step Therapy

Step therapy requires initial use of a lower-cost, clinically-similar drug for a medical condition, before a higher-cost drug for the same condition is covered by a health plan.

Summary

When 1% of prescriptions drive 40-45% of an employer’s pharmacy spend, avoiding wise management is no longer optional”, said Zafeira Sarrimanolis. “Part of my role as a MedCost Pharmacist is to emphasize the importance of cost-management strategies to our employers and consultants.”

“I also work closely with our clients to help employers understand the importance of educating their employees about these changes and why they are needed.”

“It’s all about making sure each employee gets the right drug for the right medical condition at the right time. That’s how we control pharmacy costs.MedCost

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[i] Brad Tuttle, “21 Incredibly Disturbing Facts about High Prescription Drug Prices,” Money Magazine, June 22, 2016, http://time.com/money/4377304/high-prescription-drug-prices-facts/ (accessed April 26, 2017).

[ii] “Health, United States, 2015,” National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,   https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus15.pdf#079 (2009-2012), (accessed April 26, 2017).

[iii] “The Growing Cost of Specialty Pharmacy – Is It Sustainable?” American Journal of Managed Care, February 18, 2013, http://www.ajmc.com/payer-perspectives/0213/the-growing-cost-of-specialty-pharmacyis-it-sustainable (accessed April 26, 2017).

[iv] “Prescription Drug Costs Remain Atop the Public’s National Health Care Agenda,” Kaiser Family Foundation, October 28, 2015, http://kff.org/health-costs/press-release/prescription-drug-costs-remain-atop-the-publics-national-health-care-agenda-well-ahead-of-affordable-care-act-revisions-and-repeal/ (accessed April 26, 2017).

Self-Funded vs. Fully-Insured Health Plans (Infographic)

Why are more employers choosing self-funded versus fully-insured health plans? This infographic compares the fixed costs of self-funded employer plans, with potential savings available from health dollars not spent by the company.

In the event that an employer’s claims are larger than projected, stop-loss insurance that is purchased protects business assets.

Self-Funded vs. Fully-Insured

This short video, “Reasons to Consider Self-Funding,” gives four key reasons that over 58% of US employees are enrolled in self-funded health plans. Evaluate these reasons to see what is best for your business.MedCost

(To print this infographic, click on the title and scroll to “PRINT THIS PAGE” at the bottom)