By CHRISTOPHER THOMPSON
August 05. 2017 7:12PM
Unless you’ve completely disconnected from every source of news over the last several months, you can’t avoid all of the chatter about health care in the United States. It seems like one of those topics that just carries on and continues with constant debate and no progress. The issues Congress is dealing with are deep and complex, but there’s more to this health care debacle.
We’ve heard the horror stories about certain parts of the country where consumers have only one insurance carrier option, or scenarios where their deductible is so high, they can’t afford to get the care they need, or the premiums have increased so much, they simply can’t afford it.
Take New Hampshire as an example. In the individual market, one carrier is proposing raising premiums more than 40 percent. It’s simply not sustainable for most businesses and consumers.
The majority of Americans have health insurance that is sponsored through their employer. Employer-sponsored plans vary in type, but most companies pay for a large portion of the employee’s plan. For most small- and medium-sized businesses, health insurance for employees is often the second or third largest expense, aside from payroll.
As we know, insurance premiums aren’t likely going down, and businesses need to find ways to control and minimize the major increases that occur each year.
There are a lot of ways this can be accomplished that you unfortunately don’t hear much about.
I recently had lunch with Tom Harte, the CEO of Landmark Benefits (www.landmarkbenefits.com) and talked a lot about how health insurance costs are impacting New Hampshire businesses. Tom explained that the biggest way companies can control their health care costs is by educating their employees on the choices they have when it comes to where they receive medical services.
When a medical situation arises, you do what is necessary to get treatment, and oftentimes, you aren’t thinking about the financial side of it. If it’s an emergency, you go to the closest hospital or doctor and get taken care of. But what about all of the other medical services that aren’t urgent? It’s possible to shop around for the best option, and when you do, you’ll be blown away by what you find.
There is an app (and website) called MyMedicalShopper that allows you to compare prices for certain procedures across numerous hospitals and medical facilities. This is an example of how businesses can control their health care premium costs by shopping for routine procedures and doing a little bit of research.
Take a MRI as an eye-opening example. According to MyMedicalShopper, Derry Imaging Center in Derry will charge $776 for a MRI. But if you happen to limp into Wentworth Douglass Hospital in Dover for that same procedure, you’ll be paying $3,058. How’s that for a difference?
Emergency room visits are another example of ways employees can be smarter about their medical care. Let’s say you sprained your ankle and went to the emergency room. You can expect to pay substantially more for that visit versus going to an urgent-care clinic like ConvenientMD, which happens to have nine facilities in New Hampshire.
According to the New England Health Institute, 56 percent of emergency room visits were avoidable and many could have been handled in urgent care. According to Aetna, an in-network urgent-care visit can cost as little as 20 percent of the cost of a visit to the ER.
And we can’t forget about wellness. Companies that implement wellness programs and incentives for their employees can also reap the benefits of controlling rising costs and having a healthier and more productive workforce. Not everyone will participate, but it’s certainly worth the time and resources to create these types of programs.
Health insurance costs for employees is a major part of every company’s budget, and it’s important to understand how employees can help control and manage those costs. Education on this topic is most important, and most people don’t think about the costs of medical services before they get them.
Everyone in the company is accountable and influences the premiums their group will be charged. Reducing costs is a win for both the company and its employees, and more time needs to be spent working on this very serious issue.
Christopher Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is vice president of business development at Talient Action Group in Manchester and writes Closing the Deal weekly for the Sunday News.