Evidence is emerging of a greater level of employee consumerism through the use of tools—versus simply cost-avoidance—among those in high-deductible plans, one analyst says.

March 1—The increasing importance of consumerism and of healthcare costs for individuals will dominate provider and health plan meetings across the country next week.

The high-profile HIMSS18 health IT summit will feature a one-day Revenue Cycle Solutions Summit on March 5. That meeting will feature presentations on achieving a more patient-centered approach to produce both greater customer satisfaction and higher collection rates.

Similarly, a national health policy conference held in Washington, D.C., by America’s Health Insurance Plans will include many consumer-focused sessions, such as “Taking Back Health Care: Real-World Consumer Perspectives.”

The increased consumer focus of health plans and providers comes as costs remain at the top of voters’ healthcare priorities heading into the 2018 midterm election season, according to a new poll. The Kaiser Family Foundation pollfound that costs were the leading healthcare issue for 22 percent of registered voters. The next largest issue, “Medicare/senior concerns,” was cited by only 8 percent of respondents.

Successful efforts to arrest healthcare cost increases were the focus of new research this week by Willis Towers Watson. Based on the consultant’s 2017 survey of 555 employers with at least 1,000 employees, the analysis determined that “best-performing companies” spent $2,251 less per employee per year than the national average in 2017 ($9,950 compared with $12,201).

The researchers identified a range of differences between best and worst performers, but among the biggest was the use of “account-based health plans”—frequently high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) linked to a health savings account (HSA) or health reimbursement arrangement (HRA).

Julie Stone, a national healthcare practice leader at Willis Towers Watson, said such policies can help instill a consumer mindset in employees, where they need to keep track of either their deductible or the funds available in their HRA or HSA.

Additionally, “employers who choose one of these options are more likely to be doing a number of those other things that are creating a culture of engagement and consumerism around health care broadly,” Stone said in an interview.

The findings follow recently released datafrom the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found 43 percent of Americans under 65 with private insurance were enrolled in HDHPs in 2017, an increase from 39 percent in 2016 and 25 percent in 2010. That sharp increase has been widely credited with helping to slow the increase of healthcare costs in recent years. But critics said such savings stem from care avoidance and not true consumerist behaviors like shopping for the lowest-cost provider.

But Stone sees evidence that those with employer-sponsored insurance are moving toward consumerism.

“We are certainly seeing upticks in the use of decision-support tools and in the use of telemedicine,” Stone said. “We need to have a little more time to see the longer-term effects around the health impact.”

For instance, her recent analysis found that best-performing employers were much more likely to offer healthcare delivery through telemedicine, as well as centers of excellence.

One area where she said employers need to especially focus on addressing care avoidance is in pharmacy benefits. Many HDHPs are required to fully cover preventive medications before the deductible is met, but not other medications.

Another focus area of consumer education for employers was identified in a related Willis Towers Watson survey, which found that many who have HSAs and are in good health use such accounts only to cover near-term costs and do not save for significantly more expensive future healthcare needs.

“So there is still an employee education component that is needed around how to make the most of these accounts,” Stone said.   

Monday, March 5

Running through March 9, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) annual meeting takes place in Las Vegas. Learn more.

Running through March 6, the Federation of American Hospitals holds its 2018 Annual Public Policy Conference & Business Exposition. Learn more.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality holds a webinar on its TeamSTEPPS program for office-based care, which aims to help healthcare professionals enhance team knowledge and performance in an office setting through increased communication and teamwork. Registration is open.

Deadline to submit comments on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ proposed changes to Medicare Advantage and Part D payment policies for CY19.

Tuesday March 6

CMS Rural Health Open Door Forum, 2 p.m. ET. The forum can be accessed by calling 1-800-837-1935 and referencing conference ID 31624745.

Brookings Institution webcast, “What's ahead for the individual health insurance market?” Learn more.

Health Affairs briefing in Washington, D.C., on the March 2018 edition, “Advancing Health Equity,” which explores various approaches to reducing inequity and analyzes a range of programs designed to advance the goal of health equity. Click here to RSVP.

The American Hospital Association holds a free webinar on successful hospital practices for promoting healthy behaviors. Click here to register.

Wednesday, March 7

HFMA holds a seminar, “Building a Performance-Based Value Model That Drives ROI,” in San Francisco. Learn more and register.

Running through March 8, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) holds its National Health Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. Learn more.

Thursday, March 8

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration holds a webinar titled “National Partners' Response to the Opioid Epidemic and Infectious Diseases: Part 2—Health Policy Perspectives.” Panelists will describe the use of existing federal guidance, policies, and resources that support their efforts—at the local, state, and national levels—to respond to the opioid epidemic and its infectious disease consequences. Register for the webinar.

Running through March 9, AHIP holds its National Conference on the Individual and Small-Group Markets. Learn more.

Friday, March 9

Running through March 10, The Conference Board will hold a meeting in San Diego titled “The Power of Performance and Engagement: Driving Health Care Value Forward.” Learn more.

Rich Daly is a senior writer/editor in HFMA’s Washington, D.C., office. Follow Rich on Twitter: @rdalyhealthcare

Publication Date: Thursday, March 01, 2018