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Reducing Health-Care Costs

Help your business-owner clients find unique ways to afford quality benefit plans.

By Jeff Slay

Expensive. That is the word most often associated with health care in recent months. Employers and entrepreneurs are wondering how to afford quality health benefit plans for their employees without going broke in the process. None of your business-owner clients wants to hear that insurance rates are rising.

Your clients are probably scared of navigating the rapidly changing health-care marketplace. But it can be an opportunity for you to help them find unique ways to lower their overall benefit costs while maintaining healthy and productive employees. Check out these three tips to help your business clients reduce their health-care costs:

Involve employees in health-care initiatives. Employees care about health-care benefits. Ask your client (the employer) to let his employees know that he is thinking about their care and how to get them the very best coverage possible. In fact, ask the employer to enlist employees’ help in reducing health-care costs.

For instance, when you and the employer are creating an at-work health and wellness initiative that incentivizes employees to make healthier choices—from diet and exercise to smoking cessation—get the employees to assist in designing the plan.

The more ownership they feel over their health and wellness choices, the more likely they will get involved in the at-work wellness initiative once it is started. By giving employees the tools to become healthier in their daily lives, businesses will directly reduce the costs due to illness. When patients take a preventive approach to their own health, costs associated with doctors’ visits, medications and hospitalizations will go down.

Identify people with the highest number of claims. You probably already know that the largest percentage of insurance claims come from a small percentage of patients. It’s often the treatment of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes and hypertension that cost companies and insurers the most amount of money.

Help the employer identify patients with chronic illnesses and you can enroll them in condition-management programs, often offered by insurers. For example, if a person with diabetes joins an education and support system offered by the insurer, he will have more of an incentive to make healthier choices and will be armed with the knowledge of how to prevent complications stemming from poor condition management.

Treating and preventing obesity, which is a huge multiplier of most chronic conditions, is one of the keys to reducing overall costs. Because obesity often makes every other condition worse, enrolling patients in true behavior- modification programs, not just diet programs, can reduce risks and complications and lower costs in the long run. The average cost of health care for obese patients is 39 percent more than the cost of caring for patients within a normal weight range.

Be prepared for new government regulations. It’s a new world out there: Government health-care mandates have changed the game. With the passage of H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, businesses and insurers must understand and implement new health-care benefit regulations. While most of the biggest changes will be required by 2014, there are many regulations that went into effect last month. Help your clients understand these regulations and work proactively with insurers on these issues so that employers are in a better position to manage costs.

One example is that coverage will soon be required for dependent children under age 26. Employers must recognize the costs associated with this new rule and get everything in place before the deadline. Comprehending the timeline of rule changes from 2010 into 2011 and 2014 will be key to maximizing efficiency and compensating for possible cost increases.

Jeff Slay is the founder and CEO of Neovia, a company that provides products and services to the health-care system and makes the process easier for employers, their employees and their families.

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