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In Reform's Wake, Health Firms Adjust Employee Coverage
 

By Stephen Miller, CEBS  8/15/2011
 

The ways in which U.S. health care organizations are responding to health care reform, as employers managing their own employee health plans, contain lessons for other organizations, according to an August 2011 survey report from Buck Consultants.

The firm's Health Care Reform Readiness Survey of more than 200 professionals in U.S. health care organizations reveals that costs are expected to rise significantly with health care reform but will be balanced with increased access to care and a renewed focus on organizational efficiencies to improve patients’ quality of care.

Cost-Shifting and Health Promotion

The majority of health care industry respondents (75 percent) believe that health care costs will rise as a result of reform, with 43 percent indicating they expect a significant increase. To offset increased costs in their plans:

More than 90 percent of health care employers expect to pass on some or all of these additional costs to their employees through higher employee contributions or reduced coverage.

Some health care employers (48 percent) plan to facilitate improvements in employee health by increasing their wellness initiatives, while virtually none expect to reduce wellness programs.

Communications

Six in 10 health care respondents (62 percent) report that their employees have had very few questions about health care reform, while only 14 percent say employees have raised many questions.

On the other hand, 62 percent of respondents report communicating the impact of health care reform to their employees, and 33 percent plan to do so in the near future. Much of this communication activity has occurred in the context of annual benefits enrollment communications.

The major communication channels used to inform employees about health care reform included:

Employee meetings (64 percent of respondents).

Existing newsletters (41 percent).

E-mails (40 percent).

Intranet postings (22 percent).

Most organizations plan to maintain communications using existing channels (89 percent). About 35 percent will produce special educational communications (such as newsletters and e-mails) to educate employees on health care reform specifics.

Care Design Changes

Respondents said their organizations were implementing or planning to make additional changes to improve care in the next three years by:

Using electronic health records (85 percent).

Using evidence-based or predictive-modeling technology tools (66 percent).

Likely coverage delivery changes cited by respondents include reallocating primary care to nurse practitioners or other appropriate caregivers, comparing patient treatment outcomes and cost, increasing focus on patient care collaboration, and using social media to facilitate communication between health care providers and patients.

“Health care employers especially should be on the forefront of this changing health care delivery market to reinforce new and emerging strategies and manage costs,” said Sheryl Grey, a principal with Buck Consultants. “Implementing plan changes aligned with quality and wellness initiatives, and the use of telemedicine, social media and smart phones, allow employers to improve care.”

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Related Article:

Big Plan Changes Considered by Employers, HR Magazine, June 2011

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