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Data analysis and health care costs today: Are you maximizing your strategy?

Monday, February 10, 2014
Written By
Michelle Jackson
Director of Product Management

I was fortunate enough to escape Milwaukee’s second Polar Vortex of 2014 by attending the 23rd annual Health Benefits Conference & Expo in Clearwater, Florida. I caught up with some broker Partners, met a few new benefits consultants and HR friends, and had the opportunity to hear about a lot of innovative solutions large employers are putting in place to help their workforce to be healthier and more productive, in and out of the workplace. The keynote speaker, Dr. Dee Edington, known as the father of workplace wellness, kicked off the conference by laying out a roadmap to attain the economic goal of zero (or beyond zero) trend for medical costs.

  • Vision (get medical trend below regional average, get to zero or beyond zero trends, increase the health and productivity of employees, and win in respective marketplace)
  • How are you going to get there?
  • Where are you now?

How employers today are keeping health care costs low

As data analysis is kind of my thing, I thought I would share some trends I noted from the employers who are realizing impressive success:

1. Data analysis is key! No, I promise I did not make that up. From universities to school districts to police departments, I heard over and over that employers were able to get a handle on “Where are you now?” by looking at their data.

  • I also heard one recurring phrase that you can translate into opportunity: “when I have time.” As in “My broker showed me a couple of years ago that there was a huge opportunity to address pre-diabetics based on our data. We worked with the carrier [ASO plan] to reach these individuals, and have seen costs come down each year. When I have time I will look at the data for other opportunities.”
  • There are a couple of problems with this. Firstly, the broker in this scenario is answering the literal demand of the client (“I want data analysis”) rather than listening to their real need (“I want recommendations based on data analysis”). Secondly, recommendations based on claims analysis should be done annually for most employer groups. Larger groups or those who want to closely track results of implemented solutions or emerging trends will likely benefit from twice annual analysis and recommendations. Most common analysis periods tend to be pre-renewal and post benefit period wrap-up.

2. Self-funding is an important strategy. The next sentence from most employers was “for greater access to data.” Again, I am not making this up!  Apart from access to data – remember that means recommendations and solutions, not data itself – this means some more freedom in plan design as well as some skin in the game and accountability.

  • For example, the executives at an employer are more likely to invest in proposed solutions if the result is an improvement in their financial bottom line rather than a potentially less painful increase on their fully insured premium increase at renewal (if the pool also performs well).
  • To help an employer decide whether self-funding might be a good strategy for them, begin by benchmarking their premium paid against like employers as well as their medical claims costs against like employers. If their premium is at or above norm while medical costs are at or below norms, it may be time for them to control their own destiny. (Zywave Partners can complete this exercise in PlanAdvisor in 10 minutes or less.)

3. Multitask with your captive audience. Dr. Casey Chosewood from NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) made a great case for using safety training days to promote wellness and provide education on the areas of opportunity from medical claims analysis. Several conditions, such as stress and depression, have a tremendous impact on workplace safety as well as medical claims costs. Combining curriculum with this captive audience makes a lot of sense, but was a big “aha” moment for many of the employers in attendance.

  • This is a wonderful opportunity for you as a benefits consultant, to affect medical claims costs, but also demonstrate your commitment to caring for the well-being of the workforce, and a potential cross-sell opportunity should your agency also have a P&C side of the house.

The bottom line: data analysis is key to improving the health, productivity and economics of your employer clients and their employees. This doesn’t mean inundating your client with 70 pages of charts and graphs. What it means is delivering solutions, targeted to your client’s needs, based on data analysis (here’s an example of presenting solutions along with analytics). Are your clients getting this? What about your competitors’ clients?

Zywave Partners, join me on Feb. 18 for a free Take Action webinar to discuss taking your analytics to the next level! Register via your email invitation or on Zywave University on the Spotlight page.

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