Providing the workforce with healthcare coverage is expensive, but a new survey of 126 employers suggests a large chunk of that cost is being wasted by the healthcare industry on treatments patients don’t need.
The healthcare industry wastes $750 billion per year on unnecessary tests and treatments, according to a survey from the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions and Benfield. Some 60% of employers don’t take steps to manage their healthcare plan’s wasteful spending, despite the fact that the same percentage of employers view it as a problem, the survey says.
“While waste has long been identified as a key concern and cost contributor, employers are operating blind and need to look at a more disciplined approach to address top drivers that influence waste,” says Michael Thompson, National Alliance president and CEO.
Employers are under the impression that prescription drugs are the culprit behind the spending waste, and they are, just not as much as other services. Around 54% of health spending waste is caused by unnecessary medical imaging tests, such as MRIs and X-rays, the survey says. Specialty drugs, unnecessary lab tests and specialists referrals are also major money pits.
However, the survey data isn’t suggesting these procedures and treatments shouldn’t be covered by employer health plans. The tests and treatments are potentially life-saving, they’re just used more than they should be. Sometimes previous test results can help with a current diagnosis, but medical staff don’t always check patient files before ordering new tests.
Most employers don’t monitor unnecessary healthcare spending. The 34% of employers who do rely entirely on their healthcare vendors to do it for them, trusting that it’s being taken care of.
“The idea of reducing waste in the healthcare system can be overwhelming,” says Laura Rudder Huff, senior consultant for Benfield. “While employers ask themselves: ‘Where to start?’ this is an issue where even small steps matter. Employers can begin by collecting data to identify where the inefficiencies are in their workforce and community and use assets such as vendors and organizations like coalitions to realize market improvements.”
The survey also recommends employers enlist the services of Choosing Wisely, an organization that counsels patients and employers on healthcare plans and medical treatments.