Everyone in America knows that the healthcare landscape is rapidly changing. Insurance premiums continue to increase, while employers and healthcare organizations everywhere seek innovative approaches to reduce, or at least stabilize, these costs. Most experts agree that any savings generated from managed care options have long since evaporated.
To understand why the cost of healthcare is skyrocketing, there are several factors to consider. The list includes:
- Aggressive marketing of new medications
- New medical technologies
- An aging population
- Overuse of medical services
- Cost insulation that isolates patients from the real cost of healthcare services, and pharmaceuticals
What can be done about any of these factors? Obviously employers have little control over medical advancements or the increasing age of the U.S. population and they must continue offering medical plans to attract and retain valuable employees. Though employers may not be able to directly affect many of these costs, they can play an active role in creating an informed healthcare consumer.
High deductible plans more common than ever
In recent years, high deductible plans have focused attention on the need for consumer education. With a “high deductible plan,” the consumer bears a significant amount of responsibility for financial decision-making.
High deductible plans typically provide coverage for disastrous events, leaving employees with the responsibility of budgeting for routine and preventative care. Communication regarding coverage and out-of-pocket expenses is a must and requires a strategy for employee education.
Luckily, most employers have free access to education resources directly through their health insurer. In particular, pharmacy education is often integrated within a specific medical plan. For example, some insurance companies give their members cost comparison information of brand name versus generic drugs. Insurers have also created tiered pharmacy plans, which use lower co-pays to encourage members to use generic drugs whenever possible. Since an increasing proportion of health dollars is spent on developing and marketing pharmaceuticals, the situation would only worsen if not for these education efforts.
Many insurance carriers in the U.S. offer searchable online databases for their members where they can research the approximate cost of certain procedures. Employees considering a “routine” MRI are able to view the cost of this procedure and their out-of-pocket cost potential. While this information may not affect everyone’s decision, some will consider foregoing the procedure if they feel it is not really necessary.
Some insurance carrier representatives are opting to host health seminars and workshops for businesses and employees. Topics could range from healthy diets to disease management, as well as the value of preventative care. Employers can show commitment to these programs by making such meetings mandatory.
Repetition is the key to making health education work. Employees should have easy access to healthcare alternatives. The message needs to be communicated more often, using multi-media with clear and clever delivery.
Undoubtedly, employers will benefit from lower premiums in the future by educating employees today. When employees utilize healthcare resources more efficiently, everyone wins. Cost-effective healthcare choices will produce savings that flow not only back to the employer, but to the consumer as well.