What Employers Should Know to Keep Health Care Costs Down and Quality Up

Appeared in:
Smart Business LA County

As the future of national health reform legislation remains in question and California employers manage the impacts of health benefit cost increases of 150 percent over the last decade, Smart Business turned to Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., president and CEO of MemorialCare Health System, for answers.

What changes are expected from mid-term election results?

The 2010 health care reform legislation is far from perfect, yet its goals to insure 32 million more Americans, eliminate barriers to coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and extend coverage to age 26 for many young people are big steps forward. Expect vigorous Congressional debate to unfold over the next few years.

Are wellness and prevention programs worth the investment?

The work force is as critical to your bottom line as the quality of products and services. Costs of high-risk workers are nearly three times that of healthy employees. Nearly 70 percent of the nation’s work force is overweight, and each of those employees costs businesses an additional $500 to $2,500 in medical expenses and work loss. Wellness activities can save $1.49 to $4.91 for every dollar spent, reduce absences by 30 percent and help recruit, retain and increase employee productivity. Costs can be minimal. Instead of building a fitness center, offer pedometers, mealtime walking programs and sessions on achieving better health.

Can you describe MemorialCare’s Good Life?

Like other health-conscious employers, we implemented The Good Life to build a culture of excellence that encourages healthier daily choices for our staff. Focusing on such areas as hypertension and high cholesterol, our hospitals offer walking trails, fitness centers and nutritious, lower calorie cafeteria food. We sponsor wellness fairs, newsletters, tracking tools and incentives to improve health. Our data suggests just a 2 percent movement from chronic to improved health can save us more than $600,000 annually.

Is there evidence executive health programs are beneficial to employers?

The stress of long work hours, constant challenges and never-ending commitments can result in lack of exercise, unhealthy diets and skipped doctor visits for busy leaders.

Physicals offer quality preventive care that includes comprehensive evaluations, screenings and physical exams that are personalized, convenient, streamlined and meet the schedules of busy executives. Studies show executives undergoing physicals have 20 percent fewer health claims and lost 45 percent fewer workdays than those who did not.

Can implementing Lean initiatives help?

With declining revenues, escalating costs and demand for increased value and quality, the Lean management philosophy and workshops create a sense of purpose, team problem solving and long-term thinking by proactively engaging staff. In three years with a new ‘Lean’ approach, our medical centers have eliminated 502 unnecessary process steps and reduced distances staff travels to carry out their jobs by 1,702 miles. We expect $57 million in net revenue returned over a decade. Most importantly, we are improving the care of our patients.

Do electronic medical records improve care?

EMRs allow clinicians immediate access to a patient’s health and medical history, minimize waste and inefficiency of manual and paper-based processes, maximize clinical quality and patient outcomes at points of decision-making, reduce medical errors and improve patient care. Physician offices can link to our hospital EMRs, and patients can access their records through an online portal.

What about retail health centers?

Retail health clinics offer convenient and affordable care for consumers seeking treatment for common medical conditions, basic health needs and immunizations. Our clinics located within three ALBERTSONS/Sav-On Pharmacy stores are staffed by highly trained nurse practitioners with close oversight by physicians. Clinics offer treatment for common illnesses like colds, flu, earaches, sore throats, sinus infection, skin conditions, minor wounds and school physicals.

Where can employers start?

Make prevention a part of your business. Begin with simple screenings to make employees aware of their health status. Offer sessions that share advice, activities and coaching to reach and maintain goals. Identify employee advocates to motivate others to follow their lead. Engage your employees’ families to extend healthy habits at home. MemorialCare’s business outreach programs include workplace education, health prevention, screenings, an immunization program and health fairs. Our experts help employers identify cost reduction strategies through benefit audits and partnerships that ensure you achieve competitive prices and packages. Memorialcare.org has free online tools, calculators, guides and referrals to physicians that help your work force reach a healthier life. MemorialCare’s Presidents’ Partnership sponsors annual programs that inform and engage employers on issues they all face and seeks solutions that address the challenges and costs of health care. Working together, we can identify improvements and advocate for better care for communities we serve.

Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., is president and CEO of MemorialCare Health System.