Benefits

Integrated Benefits Can Add Up to Cost Savings and Quality Care

By Pam Kehaly

Jun. 16, 2015

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock.

One source for coverage; one point of contact. Why didn’t I think of that?

Some employees are saying that having a single contact and one source of coverage for all of their health benefits is helpful, which makes one of the newest trends in insurance coverage also one of the most obvious.

Companies are marketing integrated benefits as an advantage to employers as well as their employees. What seems like a simple solution can have meaningful outcomes that include streamlined communications, better service and reduced stress. However, this trend is not just about convenience. Insurers are increasingly offering integrated plans — connecting dental, vision, life, disability and pharmacy to the medical plan — because it actually makes good business sense.

The combination of large cost benefits for companies and improved quality of care for their employees is adding up to a healthier workplace. For example, integrated benefits helped 21 percent of employees with disability claims return to work early, reducing their average disability time by seven days, according to a study by Anthem Inc. (Editor’s note: The author is employed by Anthem.). This translates into 40 more hours of productivity and a nearly 10 percent reduction in disability costs.

For employers, integrating benefits is also cost-effective. One Anthem study found that disability claimants who were referred to and engaged with our medical care management nurses had 20 percent lower medical costs during and after their disability claim than claimants who didn’t engage, translating to about $8,000 saved per claimant.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the expense of care for chronic conditions drives 75 percent of health care costs in America today, with diabetes alone costing more than $245 billion in 2012. Diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and coronary artery disease are just four chronic conditions that can be detected in their early, nonchronic stages through eye exams.

Having the ability to share available data directly with providers through integrated benefits helps them determine if the employee is already aware of a clinical situation, and/or encourage them to follow-up with their primary-care providers. Doing so can delay many of the more costly side effects of these conditions, and even prevent an acute health event.

For example, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults; however, in 2010, only 63 percent of adults age 18 and older with diagnosed diabetes received the recommended dilated eye exam.Closing gaps in care, encouraging medication compliance, monitoring known side effects, and the escalation of treatment protocols are all areas where integrated benefits can support improved health outcomes and lower the overall cost of care.

In a recent survey, we found that employers overwhelmingly believe that the most forward-thinking organizations care about employees’ overall wellness (94 percent) and that healthy employees make for healthy organizations (97 percent).

We found nearly universal agreement among employers that integrating health services can elevate the level of care employees receive through increased interaction.

An integrated care system means more frequent contact, which could lead to a better understanding of employee health care needs. In addition, an integrated care system streamlines the process of getting the employee the care they need faster.

And, an integrated care system gives the primary-care physician access to information from the dentist to other providers — allowing for greater insight into overall health and quality care.

As the health insurance environment continues to change, companies now have the option to get it together — connecting dental, vision, life, disability and pharmacy with medical in one plan — lowering costs and improving employee health.

Pam Kehaly is president of Anthem Inc.’s specialty businesses and its West region. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

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