In a letter in 1789, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” A brilliant man, Ben was sadly mistaken.
Just as certain, and unrelenting, is the rise each year in healthcare costs for employers and employees. These costs will climb again in 2018. HR consultancy Mercer tells us large employers will see a 4.3 percent increase in health benefit costs after they make changes such as raising deductibles and switching carriers. This’ll be the highest yearly hike since 2011, says Mercer. Meanwhile, PwC’s Health Research Institute pegs the 2018 cost increase for employers a little north of Mercer’s number, at 5.5 percent.
“Health spending continues to outpace the economy,” write the authors of the PwC report. “From 2011 to 2016, the average health premium for family coverage purchased through an employer rose 20 percent. In the same period, wages increased just 11 percent. This gap erodes consumers’ ability to pay for other goods and services, including housing, food and transportation. Nationally, as medical costs are projected to continue to grow faster than gross domestic product, healthcare will continue to take up a greater share of the economy. This could lead to larger budget deficits or less spending in areas such as education, infrastructure and defense.”
Sound hopeless? It isn’t. Together, employers and employees can help rein in healthcare costs and improve care quality to boot.
5 Tips for Workers
1. Bring your spouse or partner to your exam. He’ll think of questions you may not. Plus, he’ll be attentive if your eyes glaze over during the doctor’s download.
2. Ask your pharmacist questions. She’s the least expensive and most available resource there is. You can see her anytime, and there’s no charge for consultations.
3. Ask a nurse. Again, it’s free advice. Nurses are a fount of information, and they see doctors at their best and worst.
4. Scheduling a surgery? Don’t just call the surgeon suggested by your doctor. Schedule with the best surgical team offered through your employer’s health benefits (see value-based surgery benefits below).
5. Customize your living will. But instead of a traditional living will, complete the Five Wishes document. Legal in nearly every state, it’s far more specific than a living will about what good care means to you and what your caregivers should do for you.
5 Tips for Employers
1. Offer value-based surgery benefits alongside your company’s health plan. These specialized programs bundle the costs of scheduled surgeries at centers of excellence. Self-funded plan sponsors save 30-50 percent on high-quality surgeries through this innovative solution (versus their PPO plans), and employees experience far fewer post-operative complications as a result.
2. Begin a smoking cessation program. A smoker costs his employer $4,000 per year. A comprehensive program curbs smoking during business hours and incentivizes workers to kick the habit.
3. Offer discount drug options. Consumer Reports finds Costco’s one of the cheapest pharmacies, while most large chains offer discount programs that can help save on this big slice of the healthcare pie.
4. Drive workers’ care to urgent care centers, retail clinics and 24/7 nurse/physician hotlines. These often are low-cost, high-quality alternatives to emergency room and physician office visits.
5. Launch disease management and wellness worksite programs. The former supports the 20 percent of employees who account for 80 percent of healthcare costs, and the latter helps the 80 percent of workers remain healthy.