In recent years, many companies have been dealing with rising health care costs largely by transferring more of the expense and risk on to their employees.
But some employers have found smarter, more creative ways to limit health costs without further burdening valued employees. Here are some of the best solutions:
- Pharmacy benefit managers. Pharmacy benefit managers are independent third party administrators who work with pharmacists, employers and workers to reduce costs and inefficiencies. For example, they may help workers migrate from expensive brand name drugs to equally effective generics for a fraction of the cost.
Or they may be able to migrate workers from bricks-and-mortar pharmacies to mail order. They also assist employers with contract negotiations.
- Telemedicine. Some companies are contracting with doctors to provide health services online, via a video feed. It’s no substitute for an in-person examination, but workers can get consultations and routine assessments done and get a prescription for a fraction of the cost of an in-person visit. Furthermore, the worker doesn’t have to take time off work for an appointment. It can be done from the office. A typical insurance billing for a basic medical appointment can run as high as $150. But a telemedicine visit can cost about a third of that amount, according to reporting from U.S. News.
- Wellness programs. Healthy employees cost much less than sick ones over time. Smokers and the obese generate much more frequent and higher medical claims than normal-weight employees.
Employers are fighting back by offering access to smoking cessation and weight loss programs, as well as additional programs for the management of common conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma. About 58% of health plans nationwide offer an incentive for participating in a wellness program, according to research from CEB, the best-practice insight and technology company.
- Consumer-directed health plans. Employers are also giving employees greater control over their spending decisions. They are doing this via high-deductible health plans, which come with access to health savings accounts. These allow either an employee or an employer to contribute pre-tax dollars to an HSA. Withdrawals from an HSA to pay for qualified health care expenses are tax-free.
These plans are less expensive for employers than comparable traditional insurance plans, and can work very well for employees in good health. Some employers choose to contribute to HSAs on their workers’ behalf.
- Transparency tools. Cost-transparency tools make the cost of every medical procedure or service visible to employers and patients alike.
A claims analysis from UnitedHealthCare found that those who used the company’s transparency tools spent an average of 36% less on health services. When consumers used price-transparency tools, CEB researchers found an average saving of $173 for employees and $409 for employers per procedure.