Hospitals Helping Employers Get a Handle on Care Costs

Hospitals Helping Employers Get a Handle on Care Costs

By Brian Tabor, President, Indiana Hospital Association (IHA)

Those of us who provide health care services are committed to making health care more affordable.  Hospital groups are collectively among the state’s biggest employers, creating as many as 245,000 Hoosier jobs, so we’re just as interested in reducing health-care costs as any other Indiana business. You may be surprised to learn that most hospital organizations are helping employers get a handle on care costs.

Take Deaconess Health System in Evansville, for example. Deaconess operates six employer health clinics that together serve 15 area employers, large and small. Employees and family members can access a wide range of care at those clinics, when they’re sick or if they need immunizations, physicals, stress or chronic disease management, even common prescriptions. These services, even the medications, are often free to the patient.

“This is a great way for companies to make a significant impact for their employees,” explains James Porter, MD, president of Deaconess Health System. Employers often struggle to offer affordable and attractive benefits. Giving workers access to this kind of clinic can help employers reduce costs and retain valuable team members.

How do employer clinics reduce health care costs? By emphasizing wellness and making it easier to access care and adhere to medical advice that keeps them healthy. “The convenience and low cost tend to improve compliance,” Dr. Porter says, noting that patients with high-deductible insurance plans otherwise may avoid preventive care or medications. He offers the example of one patient who was able to save $800 a year on medications, plus more savings on the cost of office visits.

Healthier employees and family members, in turn, can reduce an employer’s spend on health care. “One large employer is a public-sector entity that, since they changed their clinic to the Deaconess clinic, they’re saving $28,000 a month on health care,” Dr. Porter says. Deaconess is a large employer itself, with some 8,000 people on the payroll. Following these concepts with its own employees helped the company save as much as $30 million in health care costs over one recent four-year period, Dr. Porter says.

Many other Indiana hospitals have similar arrangements with local employers. Here are some examples:

  • Sullivan County Community Hospital operates a health clinic for employees of Sunrise Coal and their families. It’s all about reducing barriers to health care, according to Sara Clark, director of human resources and risk management at Sunrise. “The sooner you get treatment, the better the outcomes are going to be,” she says. The company is spending less on prescriptions, primary care usage is down, and numerous employees and family members are improving their health.
  • Ascension St. Vincent has more than direct-to-employer partnerships with more than 80 employers.  For example, ASV runs a clinic for employees of the Carmel Clay School District, resulting in improved health and reduced care costs. Even when you include the cost of running the clinic, average care costs are 36 percent lower for those who use the clinic compared with those who don’t. The school system saved $11 million over the past two years.
  • Schneck Medical Center in Seymour and Columbus Regional Health created Inspire Health Partners to help patients improve their health and reduce their costs, through prevention and chronic disease management. One group of enrollees saw its per-member-per-month cost drop by 17 percent between 2016 and 2019, with fewer and shorter hospital stays. Slade Crowder, MD, associate chief medical officer at Columbus Regional, says with all the talk about high price tags of certain kinds of health care, “that is the wrong discussion to be having. The right discussion is how we can help prevent people from needing those services at all.”

Some find it counterintuitive that hospital organizations are working so hard to keep people out of the hospital—but keeping people healthy really is in line with the mission statement of most hospitals. “It’s hard for some businesses to believe that our industry is trying to save them money,” Dr. Porter says. Truth is, hospitals have a lot of expertise at doing just that. “We’re able to help people need less of the most expensive services.”

Category Features, Last Word