Telehealth and Advocacy: Key to Reducing 2018 Healthcare Costs

Healthcare benefits costs are set to rise by 5% again in 2018, for the fifth consecutive year. While this is lower than the double-digit increases in premiums seen on the private insurance marketplace, it’s still a significant drain on a business’ bottom-line.

Traditional cost management techniques haven’t been particularly successful in reducing healthcare costs for both employers or employees. In response, interest is growing in alternative healthcare management services, typically delivered by supplementary benefit packages that enable employees to tailor their plan to their personal needs.

Telehealth, cost negotiation and medical advocacy services are front and center in the drive to control costs, according to a recent survey by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), a non-profit organization that represents large employers’ perspective on national health policy issues. These cost-reduction strategies are identical to those presented in a recent survey by Willis Watson Towers, a risk management insurance brokerage firm. While both surveys focused on large enterprises, the impact of rising costs and the strategies that can be used to combat it are equally applicable to smaller businesses.

Healthcare Cost Reduction Tactics

The Willis Watson Towers survey found that employers either have or are planning to:

Implement telehealth services: Almost all employers surveyed – 96 percent – will make telehealth services available in states where it is allowed next year. About 20 percent of employers who do offer telehealth saw employee utilization rates of 8 percent or higher in 2017.

Offer voluntary benefits:  66% of employers currently use this tactic with another 20% planning to or considering to by 2019.

Provide decision-support tools for health navigation: 55% of employers currently offer such tools with another 26% considering to by 2019.

Go mobile: about half of the employers surveyed have or will encourage the use of mobile apps for healthcare services and wellness support.

“Employers understand that there is no single strategy for success when it comes to health care, and it is critical to engage employees through education and communication that will create a win/win,” said Catherine O’Neill, a senior health care consultant at Willis Towers Watson.

“The most effective health programs will include a broad range of strategies that encompass employee and dependent participation, program design and subsidy levels, and plan efficiency. The ultimate goal is to offer a high-value plan that manages costs for both employers and employees while also improving health outcomes.”

Small Businesses and Teleheath

Health coverage offered by small businesses typically has higher out-of-pocket costs for employees –  the typical family deductible is $3,660 at small firms, nearly twice the $1,899 average at large ones – according to findings from the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2017 Employer Health Benefits Survey, released in September.

Telehealth services significantly reduce costs for those on high-deductible plans. Telehealth services through plans such as DP HealthNow offer unlimited, free telehealth consultations enabling plan members to get care for everyday ailments like respiratory infections, allergies, skin rashes, colds/influenza, and other health issues.

Supplementary Benefits Cut Healthcare Costs

Other tactics that are recommended to reduce healthcare costs include advocacy services. As an article on the BenefitsPRO site points out “…the complexity of health care is also increasing … employees facing a health issue are often overwhelmed and unsure where to turn for assistance.” BenefitsPRO stresses the importance of offering good self-help tools that enable employees to make smart decisions about their health, along with advocacy services that provide individualized live support to help employees navigate the healthcare and insurance maze.

At their best, high-deductible healthcare plans enable employees to take control of their health costs. But, unless your employees are medical and insurance experts, these plans need to be backed-up with access to trustworthy health information and advocacy services.

Without support and education, high-deductible plans only frustrate employees, who feel that their employer is only interested in shifting the cost of health care onto employees. When you provide access to advocacy and education services, high-deductible plans work better. Add in wellness programs, and you have an affordable benefits package that better meets employer and employee needs, delivering both managed costs and improved health outcomes.

Voluntary Benefits Plans for Small Businesses

Besides unlimited, free virtual visits with doctors, :DP HealthNow includes a bundle of telehealth benefits that cover the entire healthcare spectrum for your employees, from medical bill negotiation services to personal healthcare advocates to wellness programs and online access to a team of medical professionals – including pharmacists, nurses, dentists, and nutritionists –  for the guidance, advice and support your employees need to manage costs and make the best possible decisions about their healthcare needs.