Health Costs Up 6% for Big Employers in 2017

Big employers expect health costs to continue rising by about 6 percent in 2017, a moderate increase compared with historical trends that nevertheless far outpaces growth in the economy, two new surveys show.

These cost increases, while stable, are both unsustainable and unacceptable,” said Brian Marcotte, CEO of the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), a coalition of very large employers that got responses from 133 companies.

Employers are changing tactics to address the trend, slowing the shift to worker cost sharing and instead offering video or telephone links to doctors, scrutinizing specialty-drug costs and steering patients to hospitals with records of lower costs and better results.

Most large-company employees should expect a 5 percent increase in their premiums next year and, in contrast to previous years, “minimal changes” to plan designs, NBGH said.

(Kaiser Health NewsJay Hancock, August 9, 2016)
Kaiser Health News

The Employer Benefit First Offered by NASA

The first place this employer benefit was offered wasn’t even on planet Earth.telemedicine employers

The idea to assess human health from afar started with NASA in the early 1960’s. Both American and Russian doctors were concerned that astronauts might lose circulation and other functions in space. The first telemedicine was practiced on animals attached to medical monitors while orbiting Earth.

TV viewers became familiar with live updates on astronauts’ heart rates, breathing and temperature during space flights. And the technology has translated right into employer benefit plans for medical care for onsite and offsite workers.

Over 15 million Americans obtained medical care remotely in 2015,[i] and the American Telemedicine Association anticipates 30% growth in 2016. Employers have picked up on the cost savings and convenience—nearly 75% of large employers plan to offer telemedicine as a health plan benefit in states that regulate this method, up from 48% in 2015.[ii]

telemedicine employers

Why Telemedicine?

Employers are searching for ways to contain the spiraling costs of health care. The ability for employees to make a call or have a video conference with a board-certified doctor within minutes brings both convenience and less time away from work. A recent analysis by Willis Towers Watch estimated that as much as $6 billion per year could be saved by U. S. companies using telemedicine.[iii]

Where the Savings Come From

Employers are seeing the need to educate employees about the best medical options for every health need. Some fevers, headaches, sore throats and other minor symptoms are appropriate for a telemed call (see “Treatment Alternatives to the Emergency Room”). Average cost: $45.

Compare the cost of a telemed call with an average primary care doctor visit: $145. Or the average cost of an ER visit: $1,316. [iv] Your employees with commutes to work may have to travel longer distances for in-person visits—time also lost in productivity. And many employees allow conditions to worsen before seeking treatment, resulting in even higher expense and time away from work.

“Over 400 million visits a year are appropriate
for telehealth.”

 – Jason Gorevic, Teladoc CEO, NJTV News

Managing Costs in a Complex Environment

As responsibility for paying health bills shifts to the employee, 24/7 services such as Teladoc becometelemedicine employers an increasingly attractive option for appropriate levels of medical care. A board-certified doctor is always available with a cell phone callback, even if an employee is on vacation or lives in a rural area where medical access is more limited.

MedCost clients who use Teladoc have already saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2016, avoiding more expensive treatment centers and lost hours at work.

Looming in employers’ minds is the Affordable Care Act’s Cadillac tax, now postponed until 2020. This 40% excise tax would trigger when an employer offers health benefits above $10,200 for an individual and $27,500 for a family.

Employers have already begun to raise employee deductibles and out-of-pocket costs, not included in the value of a health policy.

Summary

Some large employers such as JetBlue Airways are installing telemed kiosks at their workplaces, harnessing technology innovations for immediate care.[v] The Department of Veteran Affairs provided telemedicine employerstelemed services to more than 675,000 veterans in fiscal 2015. Employees who are used to searching for restaurants and shopping deals on cell phones will increasingly call a doctor to get routine medical care.

And it won’t even require a trip to outer space to get it.

 

[i] Melinda Beck, “How Telemedicine Is Transforming Health Care, Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-telemedicine-is-transforming-health-care-1466993402 (accessed July 14, 2016)

[ii] National Business Group on Health, “Health Care Benefits Cost Increases to Hold Steady in 2016,” August 12, 2015, https://www.businessgrouphealth.org/pressroom/pressRelease.cfm?ID=263 (accessed July 18, 2016)

[iii] Willis Towers Watson, “Current Telemedicine Technology Could Mean Big Savings,” August 11, 2014, https://www.towerswatson.com/en-US/Press/2014/08/current-telemedicine-technology-could-mean-big-savings (accessed July 15, 2016)

[iv] Sabrina Rodak, “Study: 71% of ED Visits Unnecessary, Avoidable,” Becker’s Hospital Review, April 25, 2013, http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/capacity-management/study-71-of-ed-visits-unnecessary-avoidable.html (accessed February 23, 2016)

[v] Phil Galewitz, “Kaiser: Your Doctor Will See You Now,” June 20, 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/06/18/kaiser-how-far-telemedicine-has-come/86084092/ (accessed July 18, 2016)

Telemedicine: Doctor on Call

TelemedicineLooking for a way to save on health care? It might be as close as your cell phone.

Which medical facility do you choose when you have the flu? A sprained ankle? Headaches? Your health plan may now include telemedicine—video or phone conferences with a board-certified doctor, within minutes of a call. You may be able to save the costs of Emergency Room (ER) or Urgent Care visits for a wide variety of common ailments(see “Treatment Alternatives” below). 

A Truven Health Analytics’ study reported that 71% of ER visits are unnecessary.[i]  Urgent care facilities now treat a number of minor illnesses and ailments. And the rapidly growing use of telemedicine means that even remote rural areas can get expert consultations with board-certified physicians.

Compare these costs from the study:

 Average ER Visit Average Primary Care Doctor Visit Average Telemed Consultation*

 $1,316

$145

$40-$50

*Consult your summary plan description for complete coverage details

Need a better prescription for your health care expenses? The expert care of local physicians may be available with a phone call, no matter where you are.

TREATMENT ALTERNATIVES TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM

Telemedicine

[i] Sabrina Rodak, “Study: 71% of ED Visits Unnecessary, Avoidable,” Becker’s Hospital Review, April 25, 2013, http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/capacity-management/study-71-of-ed-visits-unnecessary-avoidable.html (accessed February 23, 2016)