The Impact of Healthcare Reform

Healthcare ReformPredictably, many companies are worried that the healthcare reform being debated in Washington will significantly increase their employer healthcare costs. Just as predictably, many companies plan to pass these rising costs on to their employees. I would argue that shifting these costs will only increase them, both for you and for your employees. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone involved to lower employer healthcare costs through onsite health clinics and employee wellness programs?

By increasing employee deductibles, co-pays and maximum out-of-pocket expenses, you’re shifting costs that have already been incurred: event-centered expenses that result from your employees accessing healthcare services. By providing primary care in an onsite health clinic, you treat minor illnesses and injuries on a lower fixed cost basis, and can identify potential disease risks early enough to intervene. And, by providing health screenings, risk assessments and other wellness programs, you incentivize your employees to live healthier lifestyles, reducing their need to access medical services. This not only lowers employer healthcare costs, it improves productivity and increases morale.

Consider the millions of dollars companies spend each year to maintain their equipment and ensure that it operates at peak efficiency. It’s an investment they’re willing to make, since they can’t afford for the equipment to break down. Aren’t your employees just as essential to your operation? Wouldn’t a targeted investment in their health also significantly contribute to your company’s efficiency? Isn’t it time for a little more carrot, and a lot less stick?

The alternative is an unhealthy employee population that struggles to afford basic healthcare. And, as their health deteriorates, they’re forced to access more expensive care. Primary care becomes episodic care … episodic care become emergency care (a portion of which straps your employees and a larger portion of which you still pay for). I understand how difficult it is for companies to absorb increasing employer healthcare costs in this uncertain marketplace. But shifting these costs to your employees isn’t the answer.

Using onsite health clinics and wellness programs to reduce these costs is. Its healthcare reform we can believe in. I was recently asked by an employer whether our plan would allow his employees to access urgent care centers for primary care (increasing their options when they needed treatment). While immediate care clinics provide a valuable service, they should not be used for primary care for several reasons.

First and foremost, urgent care is typically far more expensive than the same care provided in a physician’s office or in an onsite employee health clinic. Under most plans, the rates for urgent care are higher — by as much as 30% — than the rates for primary care. Therefore, a hefty premium is paid for the same care which, needless to say, drives up employer health costs. Despite the increased cost, urgent care centers don’t generally deliver better care – a regular relationship with a dedicated primary care provider is a much better way to manage health. That’s because an urgent care model is made to handle minor emergencies, not to provide quality primary care.

I’ve also heard of health plans that feature lower employee co-pays for urgent care than for primary care. This worst case scenario provides an incentive for employees to go to an urgent care center for conditions that can be better and less expensively treated by a primary care provider or onsite health clinic. A managed care program that promotes wellness and encourages injured or sick employees to seek timely and effective treatment at an appropriate facility is the best way to lower employer health costs, and one sure way to keep cost-conscious employers out of the urgent care center.