Why America's Healthcare System Is Broken

David Rook

According to The Commonwealth Fund’s most recent study of 11 different countries’ healthcare systems, the United States comes in dead last. This study measures overall industry performance and each country is ranked by five factors that contribute to their score: care process (in which the U.S. placed 5th), access (11th), administrative efficiency (10th), equity (11th), and outcomes (11th).

For being one of the richest countries in the world, the U.S. just can’t seem to get a grip on their healthcare system. No matter the proposed solution over the past century, the system has slowly but surely become more and more expensive, which means it’s also becoming less and less accessible.

If you were to ask 10 people why America’s healthcare system is broken, you’re sure to get 10 different answers — and you might even get into a debate about what “broken” means, both of which could help explain why we haven’t been able to fix it yet. Experts have many opinions, but one thing is for sure: the problems with our healthcare system don’t point back to just one cause. There are multiple issues at hand and none of them are easy fixes. 

5 Major Ways Our Healthcare System is Broken

Lack of Cost Transparency

One of the most common complaints among consumers is the lack of cost transparency in our healthcare system. You’d be hard-pressed to find another industry where this is the case. Even in other insurance situations, such as a car repair after an accident, the driver can figure out a fairly accurate estimate before ever paying a dime. The same goes for a homeowners claim.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Affordable Care Act, Cost Containment, Education, ACA

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What is Preventative Care? (And How Does it Decrease Healthcare Costs?)

Jeff Griffin

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, the idea of “preventative care” has been more widely discussed. The law requires insurance companies to provide certain preventative care services at no additional cost to the enrollee (meaning that the insured will not be charged a copay or coinsurance as long as the provider is in-network). 

Many employee benefits brokers, employers, and insurance companies started emphasizing preventative care and maintenance years ago, when they discovered that doing so can decrease their overall costs over time, but the ACA is what put this type of healthcare on the map.

What is Preventative Care?

Preventative care (also known as preventive care) is any health service aimed at the prevention of disease or in support of general health maintenance. Preventative care is also one of the primary focus areas in wellness programs, which are of particular interest to companies who understand the long-term value preventative care can provide in taming runaway healthcare expenditures, including rising premiums.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Cost Containment, Preventative Care, wellness program

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How To Cut Benefit Costs Without Compromising Employee Satisfaction

David Rook

Every employer is looking to cut employee benefits costs, but it can be difficult to do so without compromising employee satisfaction. Employers therefore need to be careful when restructuring their benefit offerings.

Of course the most common way to cut employee benefits costs is to alter medical plan design, since medical coverage makes up a significant portion of benefit expenses. That said, it's not the only way to tame costs. Here are some of the most popular areas for cost savings.

Medical Plan Design

One of the most popular ways to cut employee benefits costs these days is switching to high deductible health plans (HDHPs), which reduces the cost of medical premium while pushing up deductibles. It should be noted, however, that HDHPs must be introduced with a great deal of employee education, since out-of-pocket expenses flow very differently than with those of traditional health plans.

For example, if offered multiple plan choices, some employees may elect an HDHP (in absence of any education), simply in an effort to save on premiums, when another plan was perhaps more appropriate for their particular situation. These employees may then experience buyer’s-remorse as the plan year unfolds, which contributes to the negatively surrounding HDHPs, which is undoubtedly one of the reasons these plans come with mixed reviews.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Cost Containment, Plan Design, Voluntary Benefits, Ancillary Benefits, Worksite Benefits, wellness program

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Why Voluntary Benefits are Critical with HDHPs

David Rook

In the never-ending quest to curb employee benefits costs, many companies have transitioned away from traditional healthcare plans and toward high deductible health plans (HDHPs) with savings options, such as health savings accounts (HSAs).

The danger with high deductible health plans (especially for employers who don't help fund the HSA nor employees who don’t stow away the premium savings for a rainy day) is that they can leave a participant extremely vulnerable in the event of a catastrophic event, such as a heart attack or stroke. Even an extended hospitalization or the diagnosis of a chronic condition can run up the tab. Therefore, it’s imperative that employers add the right voluntary benefits to their portfolio to help shore up with vulnerabilities.

Voluntary benefits are a great way to beef up your employee benefits package without increasing costs. Employees feel better equipped to deal with unanticipated health issues and employers don’t have to invest any additional money into their benefits package. If you’re considering offering a HDHP to your workforce (whether as one medical option or the only medical option), voluntary benefits can be a great way for employees to supplement their health insurance policy.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Cost Containment, Plan Design, Voluntary Benefits, Ancillary Benefits, Worksite Benefits

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The Pros and Cons of Employee Benefits Benchmarking

Shawn Fried, PMP

Employers often compete against each other for the same pool of talent, whether that be within specialized industries or simply within a geographic community. It’s never been easy to secure the best workforce, but it’s even more difficult these days with such a low unemployment rate and the recent government crackdown on immigration and employment laws. Those who rely on recruiting talent through H-2B visas found that petitions ran out months early this year and Arizona employers, in particular, have to abide by the e-verify law. 

In the relentless quest to claim the best talent, employee benefits benchmarking is crucial. This practice allows you to measure where your organization's position is in terms of benefits offerings versus the competition. Some companies conduct benchmarking as part of a strategy of good governance every few years (which we highly recommend), while others perform benchmarking in response to something specific, such as an acquisition, the need to fill a specific role, or the launch of a new division.

Benchmarking is determined through public and proprietary information, the latter of which can be quite costly for employers, but it’s also quite necessary. Employee benefits benchmarking isn’t always an easy process, but a good employee benefits advisor can help you navigate the system in accordance with the law and help you understand the pros and cons behind this important practice.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Cost Containment, Plan Design

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Healthcare vs. Health Insurance: Why the Difference Matters

David Rook

The term “healthcare” gets thrown around quite a bit these days. As HR professionals, you may have seen “healthcare” used interchangeably with “health insurance,” although it’s the layman doing so, rather than industry professionals. Healthcare and health insurance are two completely different things. They have different definitions, even though we, as a country, have largely co-mingled the two.

This co-mingling has led the county to erroneously focus on health insurance as an equal target of wrath for the rising cost of medical care, when in truth, healthcare has been the driving force. This understanding is critical if we’re to wrestle the ever escalating cost of medical care in this country.

Healthcare vs. Health Insurance

Healthcare

Healthcare is defined asthe field concerned with the maintenance or restoration of the health of the body or mind.” This also pertains to any “procedures or methods” related to the care of a person’s physical or mental health.

The industry in which medical professionals work is often referred to as the “healthcare industry.” Healthcare is provided by doctors, nurses, dentists, therapists, hospital systems, and pharmaceutical companies. The price these providers set for their products and services is the primary driver of health insurance costs.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Affordable Care Act, Cost Containment, Education, PPACA

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What Is Reference Based Pricing?

Shawn Fried, PMP

In the never-ending quest to decrease employee benefits spending on healthcare, some employers are turning to a somewhat revolutionary concept called reference based pricing. This switch is most common among large employers (500 employees or more) who are self-funded, and is gaining popularity rather quickly. For those who may be interested in implementing such a program, it’s important to understand how it differs from traditional healthcare plans, as well as how it will affect those enrolled in it.

What Is Reference Based Pricing?

Reference based pricing (RBP) is a system that some employers have started to use for cost containment purposes. This method is different from more traditional pricing options in that the employer caps the amount they’ll agree to cover for certain non-emergent medical procedures that can vary greatly in price yet not in outcome, such as hip or knee replacements.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Cost Containment, Education, employers

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The Effect of Chronic Conditions on Employer and Employee Healthcare Costs

Dr. Christine

It seems like the only thing we can talk about these days is the rising cost of healthcare. Whether it’s in the news or in the boardroom, healthcare costs are a major topic of conversation — and with good reason. Healthcare costs have been increasing for decades with no apparent end in sight. There are many differing opinions on how exactly to decrease costs and even more debate as to the cause behind them. What is the reasoning behind the drastic increases?

While that question may have many answers, one of the most impactful is the effect of chronic conditions, which require constant care from medical professionals. Chronic conditions range in severity and attention needed to manage them, which can dramatically affect the healthcare costs associated with them.

A recent study by the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization committed to making “the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous,” looked into chronic conditions in the United States and their effect on healthcare costs. Their findings were both surprising and disheartening — but they do help explain at least one reason why overall costs are increasing so dramatically.

What Is a Chronic Condition?

A chronic condition is an illness that lasts for a prolonged period, but most definitions do not specify an exact period of time. For the purposes of the RAND study, they defined the term as a “physical or mental health condition that lasts more than one year and causes functional restrictions or requires ongoing monitoring or treatment.”

By this definition, we could assume that the term “chronic conditions” includes ailments such as heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, anemia, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and mood disorders, among many others.

What Causes (and Contributes to) Chronic Conditions?

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), there are four major health risk factors that “cause much of the illness, suffering, and early death related to chronic diseases and conditions.” They are:

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Cost Containment, Education

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Containing Employee Benefit Costs Through Value-Based Insurance Design (VBID)

Shawn Fried, PMP

As the cost of healthcare continues to rise with seemingly no end in sight, employers of all sizes across the entire country are looking for ways to cut costs without compromising the quality of care. Many employers have already moved toward consumer directed healthcare, but another strategy some employers are turning toward is value-based insurance design (VBID).

While value-based insurance design is far from a topic discussed at the dinner table, it isn’t a new concept. In fact, one state adopted this plan design in 2008 and some principles of VBID, such as low-cost preventative care and wellness visits, were incorporated into Section 2713 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

VBID takes a very different approach than HDHPs (high deductible health plans)  when it comes to trying to save employers and employees money, so if you’re thinking of making a change to your employer-sponsored health insurance, it’s important to understand exactly what you’re signing yourself (and your employees) up for.

What Is Value-Based Insurance Design?

Value-based insurance design is a cost containment strategy being adopted and tested by some employers. This plan structure is different from traditional health insurance plans in that its purpose is to decrease costs for medical services deemed as “higher value,” while increasing costs for those considered to be “low value.”

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Cost Containment, Education, Plan Design

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Why Your Cost Saving Strategies On Employee Benefits Are Failing

Jeff Griffin

As the third or fourth largest line item on most business’ profit and loss statements, employee benefits have been under pressure for years. Rising costs have impacted both employers and employees, but cutting benefits or pushing more of the financial burden onto employees will only exacerbate hiring and retention struggles. And as employers have figured out by now, relying on a once a year negotiation with their medical carrier is by no means an effective or sustainable way to curb costs.

While putting all your eggs in one basket by attempting to contain employee benefits cost via an annual renewal negotiation is still more mainstream than the exception, employers would realize far more sustainable savings if they sat down with an employee benefits broker who is dedicated to year-round cost saving strategies. Additionally, renewal negotiations, which are still very much a part of cost containment, should not only be focused on price, but also on the multitude of contractual issues which, when thoroughly reviewed, can yield substantial cost savings.

The three areas we consider of greatest importance to sustainable employee benefits cost savings are 1) wellness through the identification and management of chronic conditions within an overall health plan, 2) high-dollar claims intervention, and 3) the effective purchasing of healthcare in the open market.

Wellness Through the Identification and Management of Chronic Conditions

When designed effectively, with targeted population health data to guide the way, wellness programs can be very effective in bringing down the overall cost of your employee benefits program. But wellness programs should not be solely focused on modifying behavioral health patterns such as smoking, lack of exercise, and poor eating habits. In fact, by promoting age appropriate screenings, preventative care participation, and medication adherence for chronic conditions, wellness plans can really pay off in the long run.

Chronic conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, depression, back pain, and heart disease represent a significant risk for an overall health program. These conditions present challenges in direct medical expenses as well as indirect costs such as lost productivity and absenteeism. In our experience, members with chronic conditions typically make up 25 percent of the overall population, but are responsible for 75 percent of overall healthcare spending. Programs geared towards disease management, medication/standard of care adherence, and unidentified conditions present the greatest opportunity for cost containment and large claim mitigation in employee benefits programs.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Cost Containment, Education

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