From Rising Drug Prices to Mobile Clinics, 8 Key Healthcare Trends to Watch

Access to high-quality healthcare was a recurring theme last week at the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions’ annual conference in Washington, D.C.

Leading physicians and industry experts shared opinions on healthcare delivery, wellness and healthcare waste — and what employees and employers can expect coming down the pipeline.

Poor health is having a big impact on employers

The health of U.S. adults has only grown worse the past few decades, as chronic conditions have become much more rampant and have driven up healthcare costs for employers, said Bruce Sherman, chief medical officer at the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions.

Not only that, but unhealthy employees also cost employers by way of presentism and absenteeism, as well as other business impacts such as increased customer complaints and delayed work or deliveries, he added.

Getting employee input on care is vital

As more data becomes available to employers, finding and putting in place high quality programs for employees, and communicating its value, can be tough.

“Employees do not realize there is a difference in healthcare quality,” said Lisa Woods, Walmart’s senior director of healthcare benefits. “How do we, as employers, get our employees to realize there is a difference? One thing we’re working toward is rising the tide. We have our associates, when they see good care, come back and tell us.”

Meanwhile, she said, Walmart is working on piloting different healthcare programs like centers of excellence — specialized programs within healthcare institutions that supply exceptionally high concentrations of expertise.

Employers can expect pharmacy costs to rise

“Drug prices will most likely be a conversation for the next election,” said Ezekiel Emanuel, vice provost for global initiatives and chair of the department of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania. “You’re going to see more activity and more talking, but no definitive actions until after the next election.”

Employers strategizing obesity programs

It’s just as important to keep your healthy people healthy as it is to address high-cost individuals, said Natalie Johnson, president of Population Health Consultants, a health and wellness consulting firm. One way to engage the workforce is to create year-over-year financial incentives for employees who maintain a healthy weight, and to provide the same incentives for obese workers who consistently lose a percentage of their weight, she said.

Employers need to provide more robust cancer-care benefits

If an employee is diagnosed with cancer, employers need to help them navigate their benefits, said Alan Balch, CEO of the National Patient Advocate Foundation.

When a patient first gets a cancer diagnosis, they’ll need education on the benefits their employer provides, including if they provide a secondary cancer policy, he said.

Meanwhile, employers also need to help their employees navigate the cost of cancer care. “There are financial factors to consider in the period between confirming the diagnosis and before treatment begins,” he said. “Between out-of-pocket costs, loss of income from work disruption and travel costs, the employee’s world is going to be turned upside down financially. They’ll need help navigating through the field.”

Wellness tech can decrease healthcare costs

Milt Ezzard, vice president of global benefits for entertainment and gaming company Activision Blizzard, said he’s been investing in new wellness technologies like sleep aids and diabetes management programs. The moves are having a significant impact on his workforce — and on the company’s bottom line.

“We’ve ridden this wave of new entrants in the market in a lot of cases for things that make sense,” he said. “Innovative partners are very affordable when compared to the conventional big insurance carrier partners. They can leverage tech that is as effective as traditional [coverage] — and for less money. But it takes innovation to make that happen.”

Employers partnering with CDC’s 6|18 initiative

Christa-Marie Singleton, senior medical advisor at the CDC, put a spotlight on the agency’s 6|18 initiative — a collaboration with healthcare purchasers, payers and providers to improve health and control health costs using evidence-based interventions around six key healthcare areas: reducing tobacco use, controlling high blood pressure, preventing unintended pregnancies, controlling asthma, preventing Type-2 diabetes and improving antibiotic use.

In one example, she pointed to the direct cost of asthma hitting as much as $14.7 billion, and indirect costs approaching $5 billion in lost productivity. “Asthma matters,” she said, “and is one of the conditions you should look at in your workforce.”

On- or near-site clinics provide more access to healthcare

“Most people who are employed have health insurance but aren’t connected to healthcare,” said Lisa Gish, director of clinic operations for Tri State Community Clinics, which helps employers with on-site wellness solutions. “The barriers of time and money stand in the way.”

But on- or near-site health clinics are a solution, she said. “I think worksite health services bring some of the best [opportunities] to the table and raise the bar to connect people with quality healthcare.”

Major employers like AppleAmazon and Utz Quality Foods have recently turned to onsite clinics to help boost employee healthcare engagement and lower costs.