Posts

As an employer are you educating your employees about the appropriate use of the Emergency Room, Urgent Care and Telemedicine?

One in five Americans will visit the Emergency Room (ER) at least once a year. Between one-third and one-half of all ER visits are for non-urgent matters.

Many conditions can be treated at Urgent Care centers. A recent review of the top 100 diagnosis codes from a self-insured employer revealed that 83 percent of them were in the top 100 diagnoses seen at a nearby urgent care center.

Unnecessary and inappropriate use of the ER causes multiple systemic issues and wastes scarce resources. The average cost for an ER visit is $1400 — compared to $125 for an urgent care visit.

Chronic conditions — which affect 45 percent of Americans — account for 75 percent of health care expenditures in the US. Diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and other chronic illnesses are also responsible for a large portion of ER visits. Asthma alone precipitated 1.8 million ER visits in 2004.  The ER visits resulting from unmanaged chronic conditions are avoidable. Proactive disease management, effective patient and caregiver education and simple lifestyle changes, can reduce ER usage for this group by up to 69%.

Appropriate use of the ER could save the U.S. healthcare system more than $18 billion a year. Patients with avoidable or non-urgent conditions who use urgent care centers, primary care physicians, or a telemedicine service can contribute significantly to creating a sustainable healthcare system.

How do you divert your employees to Urgent Care or Telemedicine?

An effective ER diversion program begins and ends with employee education. If you, as an employer, are serious about reducing your health care spend you need to think about the following;

Education Campaigns: Educational messaging creates an awareness of cost consciousness, reinforcing how to use urgent care, emergency room care, telemedicine and primary care. Campaigns leverage long-standing trusted relationships in order to have the greatest impact in changing the behavior of inappropriate ER use. If you partner with a Telemedicine service make sure your employees know how to use this benefit – provide examples, maybe a wallet-sized card with the 1-800 number, a list of appropriate ailments etc. Provide an online map to the nearest Urgent Care.

Member Engagement through Incentives: It may take the use of incentives to encourage members to change their behavior about the correct use of the ER. To reinforce behavior change, a great way to keep people engaged is to provide incentives to employees who seek appropriate care, including gift cards, coupons, and vouchers for dining, entertainment, and other goods and services.

The use of good data is the key to success.

It is essential to use Data to define the Initiatives: Use data analytics to establish a baseline reading of ER, Urgent Care, Telemedicine and primary care use. This information guides initiatives revealing the hotspots for intervention. Your data analytics should measure the impact of initiatives and allow for adjustments as needed. Use claims analysis to alert employees about a previous ER visit and show them the financial advantage of that visit when compared to using Urgent Care or Telemedicine. The employee will be forever grateful – particularly if they are responsible for large ‘out of pocket’ costs.

Take the time to explain all the benefits to your employees

Employees who manage their health and seek Urgent Care treatment instead of ER services (when appropriate) can expect to enjoy several benefits:

·      Save Time: The average wait time in urgent care centers is a door through door time of 45 minutes. Walk-in patients receive high-quality treatment quickly and efficiently. Very often issues can be addressed via Telemedicine in less than 10 minutes.

·      Save Money: Compare the $140 price tag of an urgent care visit to the $1400 price tag of the average ER visit. Even if a member’s insurance covers these costs completely, members learn that inappropriate use of the ER drives up the cost of healthcare and inevitably the consumer will pay for it. Employers are known to cover the cost of a Telemedicine consult 100%.

·      Reduce stress: Using an urgent care center when an illness or injury strike relieves the stress of handling an unscheduled crisis. When families have easy access to affordable, high-quality and convenient care when they need it, they go home happier and satisfied.

The Obeo Health Organizer module can help you reduce your ER costs – take a test drive of this module today.

Evaluating health insurance plans can be daunting and confusing, and most people don’t get much guidance, research shows

The following is taken from an article written by Austin Frakt at the New York Times. It highlights the challenges around picking a health plan…….

It’s open enrollment season for almost every kind of health insurance in America. Millions of Americans using Medicare plans, employer-sponsored health insurance or Affordable Care Act marketplaces select health plans each fall. Many consumers face numerous options, and research shows that they make many mistakes, often paying more than they need to.

Some err by selecting deductibles that are too low. Lower deductibles can be a fine choice for some consumers, but trying to save money with a lower deductible can be a poor choice if a person pays even more in premiums. For instance, at one large American company in 2010, employees could reduce their deductible by $250 — to $750 from $1,000 — by paying $500 more in premiums. Trading $500 for $250 is clearly a bad deal for the consumer.

Yet a majority of the firm’s workers made bad deals like this, according to a study by Saurabh Bhargava, a Carnegie Mellon economist, and his colleagues. Workers were offered a choice of 48 plans that were identical except in cost sharing and premiums. Though no plan would have been optimal for every employee, a $1,000 deductible plan would have been better for many and at least a no-worse choice for 97 percent of employees who chose a lower deductible.

People make mistakes like this for a variety of reasons. Some don’t understand basic health insurance concepts. In an experiment accompanying Mr. Bhargava’s study, 71 percent of people couldn’t identify fundamental cost-sharing features of health insurance plans. This type of illiteracy was highly predictive of mistakes like overpaying for a lower deductible.

Another study, led by George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon, found that people misunderstood plan features and costs. Even with plan details right in front of them, only 40 percent of privately insured Americans could identify how much they’d have to pay for anM.R.I. scan. Only 11 percent could report what a four-day hospital stay would cost them. Yet study subjects were overconfident. All said they understood what a “co-pay” was, but 28 percent could not correctly answer a question testing their understanding of the term; only 7 percent would admit to not knowing what “maximum out-of-pocket” meant, but 41 percent couldn’t define it.

Another study found that less than a third of respondents could correctly answer questions about coverage features of their own plan. Yet anotherfound that only a minority of workers at a large firm could answer questions about plan characteristics or their own, recent health care spending.

Without a doubt, choosing a plan can be daunting. A shopper in the Affordable Care Act marketplace can choose from 40 plans, on average. A typical Medicare beneficiary can choose from among nearly 20 Medicare Advantage plans and 30 stand-alone prescription drug plans.

In selecting plans, consumers are prone to mental shortcuts that often lead to poor choices. Plan labels — like the “gold,” “silver” or “bronze” — can fool people. To some, “gold” sounds better than “bronze,” even if it isn’t. In one study, people were asked to select hypothetical plans with these labels, but the researchers reversed the meaning of “gold” and “bronze” for half of them. It didn’t matter. Most people picked “gold” anyway.

The ordering of choices also matters. Consumers tend to select plans near the top of a list, a phenomenon that arises in other contexts: Economists download more papers from the tops of lists of new studies, as my colleague Neil Irwinreported; politicians at the top of ballots receive more votes.

Eric Johnson, a Columbia business professor, led a study that found that without substantial additional assistance, a consumer’s likelihood of selecting the lowest-cost plan is no better than chance. The researchers conducted a series of experiments on people similar to those who would shop for marketplace coverage. Each study participant was asked to presume he’d use a certain amount of health care and, based on that, to choose the lowest-cost plan from among eight choices, which varied by premium, doctor co-pay and deductible.Only 21 percent could accomplish this task, a figure not statistically different from chance. The annual cost of errors was about $250. A separate analysis showed that participants had a stronger aversion to an increase in costs in deductible or co-pay than to the same increase in premium. Because a dollar is a dollar, no matter how you spend it, this is another indication of irrational decision making.

But when study subjects were provided with a tutorial or with a calculator that revealed the full cost of each plan, or if they were placed in the lowest-cost plan by default (from which they could voluntarily switch), their chance of selecting the cheapest plan was much higher, upward of 75 percent in some experiments.

Though some Medicare beneficiaries switch to lower-cost drug plans over time, another way consumers get stuck with bad deals is by staying in plans as their premiums increase, a status quo bias. One study found that New Jersey enrollees in Medicare prescription drug plans paid an average of $536 more over three years because of this kind of inertia. Some insurers strategically enter marketswith low prices and increase them over time, exploiting consumers’ inertia. This “invest then harvest” pricing strategy has been observed in markets for Medicare Advantage planscommercial health insurance and others.

Providing consumers with easier access to cost comparison information can help. A study published in The Journal of Economics in 2012 found that when a random sample of Medicare beneficiaries got letters that compared prescription drug plan costs, they were more likely to switch plans and to save money, relative to nonrecipients. When pharmacy students helped California Medicare beneficiaries understand drug plan costs, 60 percent switched plans.

Few consumers get this much help. When researchers at the University of Pennsylvania examined the Obamacare online marketplaces last year, they found only a few that provided some of the tools consumers need. Most marketplaces presented plans in order of the cost of the premium, which doesn’t take other cost sharing into account. (However, California ranked plans according to total cost, Kentucky listed them randomly, and Minnesota ranked them based on best match according to a series of preference questions, similar in spirit to an approach recommended by University of California, Berkeley economists in a recent Brookings policy paper.)

Only three states offered cost estimators. The federal government’s site, HealthCare.gov, will offer more information about plans — like which physicians are in plan networks — and cost comparison tools.

If last year is any guide, once again few consumers will actively shop for a more beneficial plan. An analysis by the Department of Health and Human Services showed that more than 70 percent could have found a cheaper plan. The research is clear: Most won’t find that cheaper plan without a great deal more help.

Austin Frakt is a health economist with several governmental and academic affiliations. He blogs at The Incidental Economist, and you can follow him on Twitter at @afrakt.