Can Innovation Curb Rising Health Costs?

Three experts suggest creative ways for companies to counter the rising costs of health care.

Grossi is also working to eliminate readmissions to hospitals of workers who have been recently released. “The severity of readmission is sometimes worse than the original diagnosis,” observed Grossi, who said he is considering beefing up his company’s benefits package to include five days of home nursing care for employees who are discharged after longer hospital stays.

Carter predicted that corporations will offer employees more incentives to stay fit or choose lower-cost care options. For example, some companies are offering a $5,000 bonus to workers who agree to seek care in cheaper, U.S.-certified overseas hospitals. “That’s something that must be incentivized,” he said. Employees “are not going to get on a plane and go overseas for surgery unless you make it worth their while.” Carter said the savings to corporations are significant enough to warrant the bonus.

In the same vein, some companies offer lower co-payments if workers choose a less-expensive generic drug or an over-the-counter remedy when it’s appropriate, said Mangan.

The panel pointed out that under the new law, companies can grab some incentives, too. For example, there is $200 million worth of wellness grants available to small companies (fewer than 100 employees) that put in place company-sponsored health-related programs. In addition, the reward payments that companies currently offer to workers who participate in wellness programs will increase to 30% of the insurance premium in 2014, up from the existing 20% limit, noted Mangan. The incentive could potentially rise to 50% if the Secretary of Health and Human Services gives the green light in four years.

Health-insurance exchanges where uninsured individuals and employees of small companies can buy coverage are also on the horizon. But regulations for the operation of the exchanges have not been written yet, so it’s uncertain how they would work. Carter said some companies may follow the early-adoption route and jump into the exchanges as soon as they are in place, in order to lower costs and gain experience. Mangan agreed, saying he expects many small businesses will “punt” on high-deductible plans, pay the tax penalty for not insuring workers, and then send workers to exchanges to buy coverage.

Although employee health data, as well as information on doctor and hospital care, will be key to sizing up the risk inherent in a corporate population, an information gap still exists, said Mangan. “I can get more data on buying a Honda Accord than I can on the doctor that I’m going to visit,” he quipped, adding that a cottage industry of health-care information providers is already starting to emerge.

Indeed, as is the case with most corporate issues, information is king, the panelists agreed. “If you don’t have data about your own population, you could make some pretty serious mistakes,” warned Grossi.

This article was reported from the floor of the CFO Core Concerns conference. For more information on upcoming conferences, click here.


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