HealthMine Blog

The HealthMine Blog

Shopping for Healthcare with a Blindfold On

June 9, 2016
HealthMine Team

The cost of one medical procedure can vary widely depending on where you look. This is according to a recent article in HealthDay News that focuses on the cost discrepancies of x-rays and computerized tomography (CT) scans.
The analysis found that the cost of these medical services may be higher at hospitals than at independent imaging centers. The average x-ray cost at a hospital was $140, compared to $76 at an imaging center. An average CT scan was $1,146 at a hospital, compared to $585 at an imaging center. Hospitals may also be slower to provide pricing information to the consumer, the story reported. And the issue of price transparency is not unique to radiology.
Most states do not have laws that guarantee consumers access to health cost information, according to a joint analysis performed by the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute and the Catalyst for Payment Reform.
Today, buying healthcare services is equivalent to grocery shopping with a blindfold on and being held responsible for a bill that comes long after you’ve consumed the goods.
The lack of price transparency contributes to lack of consumer engagement in health. Three out of four consumers do not price shop for medical services, according to a 2015 HealthMine survey. And yet one out of five insured Americans have avoided visiting a doctor for a general health concern within the past 12 months because of the cost.
“[Price transparency improves] cost awareness among both physicians and patient consumers," said Dr. Licurse, one of the co-authors of the study.
If employer wellness programs could evolve beyond simple lifestyle management to a set of tools that facilitate healthcare consumerism, individuals could be more informed, engaged and empowered to manage both their health and the financial costs.
For the complete article in HealthDay News, click here.
[Photo Credit: MilitaryHealth on Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0]

EEOC Ruling Clarifies Wellness Program Incentives--But What Next?

June 2, 2016
HealthMine Team

In the wake of the recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruling on wellness program incentives, “wellness” has been the word on everyone’s lips.
The much-anticipated final ruling clarified how two federal laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), affect group wellness programs. Specifically, wellness programs can provide incentives up to 30 percent of the single employee premium for participating members and also for their spouses.
Looking back at the pre-ruling landscape, concerns around privacy, efficacy, and cost-savings have stifled wellness programs over the years. The EEOC ruling did a lot to address these concerns and despite any lingering questions, one thing is clear. Wellness programs are here to stay.
But now that plan sponsors have some clear lines in the sand around how much they can incent members in wellness, how do they determine the most effective ways to do so? The next question plan sponsors must answer is: how do I structure wellness incentives in a way that grows member engagement?
As it stands, there is a serious issue of lack of engagement in wellness. According to an October 2015 HealthMine survey, 70 percent of wellness program participants say current wellness program offerings fall short and 55 percent of wellness program participants don’t earn their full incentives.
With the rules of the game in place, wellness programs can now begin to incorporate evidence-based incentives. This means applying incentives strategies and recommendations that are backed by rigorous behavioral science research and the best practices of high-performing wellness programs.
But how can plan sponsors ensure that they get the most bang for their buck?
Knowing their members and customizing both health recommendations and offers is a good place to start. Incentive options can be personalized for each individual member based on their health profile, behaviors and self-reported preferences. Personalized incentives are more meaningful and motivating.  They can help create deeper engagement--and great ROI.
For the complete article in Politico, click here.
[Photo Credit: Tax Credits on Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0]

​Why Consumers Need a Healthcare Compass

May 24, 2016
HealthMine Team

It’s a brave new world of healthcare, with many different roads and new drivers behind the wheel: the healthcare consumers themselves. No longer passive recipients of care or passengers steered by the assurance that their insurance plan will “cover” their needs, consumers are being handed more responsibility and agency in decision-making around their own health.
But it’s a long way to go between simply giving people the ability to make these choices and expecting them to make thoughtful and informed ones.
As individuals are expected to shoulder a much higher portion of their healthcare costs, that heightened responsibility is creating anxiety. A survey from GoBanking Rates, a personal finance site, revealed that every age group, except those under the age of 24 and over the age of 65, selected healthcare costs as their biggest source of financial stress. Driving for the first time can be scary--and costly.
Consumers are ill-prepared to manage their health through consumer directed health plans (CDHPs), where they now bear a much larger burden of the bill. Most don’t know their basic health metrics like blood pressure and cholesterol. The majority never price shop for medical services. Driving your own healthcare requires you to be both proactive and preventive.  But consumers don't know where to start, and they don't have a compass.
That is where there is a pressing need for guidance and education in healthcare consumerism. And there is room for the employer to help support those efforts.
Bryce Williams, CEO of Healthmine, recently shared with EBN three ways employers can educate employees:
Arm them with knowledge to understand their health status and risk. Giving them access to personal clinical data — like their biometric measurements and an analysis of their historical medical and pharmacy usage — will help shed light on their health needs, including necessary preventive care. 

Be transparent about health care costs. Providing a way for members to look up doctors and procedures and compare quality and costs will facilitate follow-through. It will also help members save money. 

Personalize health care programs to make them more meaningful and engaging. This means helping each member set personal health goals and providing tailored recommendations to get them there. Employers could up the ante on incentives and rewards for health by matching personal preferences with cash, gift cards, lowered premiums and more. 

For more explanation from Williams on how to deploy these strategies, read the complete article in Employee Benefit News here.
For the complete article on consumer directed health plans, click here.
[Photo Credit: Lovelorn Poets on Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0]

Smokers in the Workplace -- Guess Who’s Footing their Healthcare Bills?

May 19, 2016
HealthMine Team

The federal government took a big step towards resolving the conflict around whether vaping should be treated the same as regular cigarette smoking. The decision, handed down by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), banned the sale of e-cigarettes to individuals under 18 years of age. In California, the governor went even further, signing a bill banning the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to anyone under the age of 21.
While smoking in America has been declining overall, the recent boom in e-cigarette use has thrown a curveball in that trend, and this wave of new legislation aims to take a swing at this costly health risk. And there are impacts for both smokers and non-smokers alike.
According to a recent article in Fortune magazine, non-smokers are footing the bill for smokers’ health insurance. When smokers do not report their habit on insurance forms, the cost of treating the subsequent health issues are not offset by the smoker surcharge, and the cost is spread among all plan holders, including non-smokers.
But despite the prevailing trends indicating that smoking may once again become a looming health risk, and the growing costs associated with this risk, employers may not be doing all they can to fan the flames. A HealthMine survey of 750 consumers found that 63 percent of people with company-sponsored health plans said their plan did not include smoking cessation.
This is a missed opportunity for health plan sponsors. Of all types of wellness programs, smoking cessation programs are the most cost effective and have the biggest impact on improving employee health.
To summarize, smoking is on the rise thanks to the popularity of e-cigarettes. Employers, who often subsidize the healthcare bills of smokers in their workplace, have not responded in kind by boosting their smoking cessation programs. The FDA ban on e-cigarette sales to minors is a step in the right direction. If addiction to smoking can be caught and reversed early, that means better health outcomes for those individuals as they reach adulthood and enter the workplace.
Let us now see if health plan sponsors will step up to the plate and do more to help extinguish smoking and all of its costly health risks.
[Photo Credit: Luciano Belviso on Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0]

Piecing Together Health Data

May 10, 2016
HealthMine Team

One of the biggest challenges as a health care consumer is gaining access to and unifying all the disparate pieces of your health data to form a complete picture of your health.
This puzzle stands in the way of individuals engaging in their own health, both in terms of selecting the right health plan for them and in achieving their personal health goals.
A recent article in Health Data Management warns that EHRs (electronic health records) are providing an incomplete picture of patients’ behavioral health data. This conclusion comes from analysis done by the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute.
The study, which focused on patients with depression and bipolar disorder, found that as much as 60 percent of care for these conditions was not captured in EHRs because the care was administered offsite. Although EHRs have come a long way, they are still a long ways away from being comprehensive, comprehensible or useful for consumers.
According to a March/April HealthMine survey, 60 percent of consumers who use digital health tools say they have an EHR, but just 22 percent use it to help make medical decisions. Most reported using the information just to “stay informed.”
Between incomplete EHRs, visits to urgent care centers, teledoctors and other non-primary care physician settings, and self-collected data from digital health tools like Fitbits, there is no single comprehensive repository of health data for an individual today. This is why it is so important to try and bring together all the disparate pieces of the puzzle to get a more complete picture of health.
And once that goal is achieved, the next step will be to engage consumers in understanding their own health data. Only then will they be able to take the most appropriate and cost-effective health actions at the right time. Informed choices lead to better decisions. And now is the time to start connecting the puzzle pieces of healthcare.
For the full article in Health Data Management, click here.
For more on the HealthMine survey data on electronic health records, click here.
[Photo Credit: claveirole on Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0]

Financial Wellness In Your Wellness Program

May 3, 2016
HealthMine Team

Everyone is trying to crack the code on what the next big trends in workplace wellness will be.
Standing desks, open offices, in-office yoga... According to CNBC, it may be financial wellness, or as the headline teases: “your new office workout.”
Financial wellness goes beyond just planning for retirement. It encompasses anything from “budgeting and debt management to investing, health care and saving to buy a home.”
Because financial concerns can be a significant source of stress, it makes sense that employers are starting to focus on this, as stress has a negative effect on health and productivity in the workplace.
But let’s not forget about “regular” wellness offerings--or wellness programs that focus on clinical health.
Wellness programs should be holistic, integrating preventative care, disease management, as well as cost management and cost savings. To be effective, they must be tailored to individual needs. And clinical wellness has a lot to do with financial wellness. According to a January 2016 HealthMine survey, 79% of people who participate in their wellness plan say it helps them manage their health care costs.
Identifying and lowering clinical risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions will not only improve health but also benefit the pocketbook. But it takes specific, clinical data-driven knowledge of the individual--from their day-to-day lifestyle down to their lab results and pharmacy prescriptions.
The takeaway here is that engagement in a personalized wellness program, financial or clinical, benefits the individual. If plan sponsors can engage members in their own care, they will be able to give them the support and information they need to make better choices. And that creates financial wellness for everyone--individuals and plan sponsors.
For the full article on financial wellness, click here.
[Photo Credit: Rob Lee on Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0]

Wellness Programs Poised To Fill Huge Gap In Health Care

April 29, 2016
HealthMine Team

Despite advances in consumer education and provider care delivery, a gulf exists between the healthcare we have today and the ideal: care that is delivered efficiently and affordably. And wellness programs may be the answer.
A recent article in FierceHealthcare highlighted one example of an inefficiency in the current system--that people do not know the right location to receive the care they need. In 2013, researchers reviewed 6.4 million emergency room visits in New York state and came to the conclusion that 2 million could have been avoided or treated elsewhere. That’s 9 out of 10 healthcare visits that could have been handled more efficiently. “Elsewhere” in this case could be a doctor’s office, an onsite or near-site clinic, or even a remote visit via telemedicine.
The conditions New Yorkers were seeking treatment for included ear infections, sinus infections, and sore throats, none of which require emergency treatment to resolve. Many of these are also well within the ability of telemedicine to diagnose. Plus, telemedicine has the added benefit of letting people be treated in their home or workplace rather than spending hours in a ER waiting room.
The cost of these “preventable visits” was estimated to be a whopping $1.3 billion.
In the workplace, employers are looking to avoid paying these unnecessary bills for conditions that could be more conveniently and cost-effectively treated elsewhere--still with high quality care.
This is where wellness programs can help. They can engage and steer consumers to the optimal healthcare delivery method for their particular need.  By raising awareness of care options consumers may not know about--ideally in real-time as the need arises--wellness can empower smarter choices. At their best, wellness programs can help individuals and populations avoid inefficient services and eliminate unnecessary costs.
For the full article in FierceHealthcare, click here.
[Photo Credit: UCFFool on Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0]

Patients A-Twitter With Demands For Access To Personal Health Data

April 21, 2016
HealthMine Team

Last week, Fast Company reporter Christina Farr took an informal poll of her Twitter followers, asking: “As a patient, do you want access/ownership of your electronic medical record?”
The answer?
A whopping 77 percent responded this way, with just 23 percent selecting one of the other four options: “Meh. Indifferent” (7%),  “How would that help me?”(9%), and “I’ll let my doc handle it” (7%).
Correcting an earlier misconception that people are disinterested when it comes to their medical records, this data demonstrates that patients want to be engaged in their health. According to an October 2015 HealthMine survey, 74 percent want easy access to health data to better manage their health. But access remains a challenge for many. The same survey found that over half (53%) of consumers cannot access their health data from a computer.
Let’s assume we can improve the access problem as medical record technology standardizes and physician adoption grows. Even when consumers can access their health data, they often don’t benefit from it.
As many as 60 percent of consumers using digital health say they have an electronic health record, but just 37 percent use it to help make medical decisions. This data comes from a March 2016 HealthMine survey of 500 insured consumers with digital health tools.
Rather than proactively using their health data to guide healthcare choices, most use it just to “stay informed.” This is potentially a place where wellness programs could help. Before they can use their health data, consumers need to understand it. Wellness programs can help translate health data for patients so that it is both meaningful and actionable.
When consumers can access their health data, understand it, and use it to guide healthcare choices, they are empowered to improve their health and lower their costs. We need this to happen, LIKE YESTERDAY.
For the full article in Fast Company, click here.
To read the comments on Christina Farr poll on Twitter, click here.
[Photo Credit: DeWitt Clinton on Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0]

Do Your Research... For Your Health and Your Wallet

April 19, 2016
HealthMine Team

As healthcare costs are increasingly being shifted to consumers, the onus is now on them to determine not only the best care to meet their needs but also the best price.
This is important because out of pocket healthcare costs, including insurance premiums and deductibles, have nearly doubled over the past 10 years, according to a report by the Commonwealth Fund.
The benefits of comparison shopping were demonstrated by an informal study conducted by Bay Area public radio station KQED two years ago. It found that, in the state of California, an MRI could cost as little as $255 or as much as $6,221.
Yet despite the obvious incentive to comparison shop and to become savvy healthcare consumers, people just aren’t doing it.
A recent article in Kaiser Health News indicated that though patients may be asking the right questions about price differences between different drug regimens and treatments--doctors are either unprepared or unwilling to have these conversations.
The study featured in the article reviewed as many as 2,000 physician-patient conversations and found that when patients brought up cost concerns, doctors either ignored them completely or suggested short term or temporary solutions like a free drug trial, in lieu of a longer term solution.
Even when consumers do recognize the importance of shopping around they don’t always follow through. Eighty-six percent (86%) said it is important to compare costs before procedures, but only 36% reported price shopping before choosing health care. These findings come from the 2015 HealthMine Consumer Wellness Report.
This is an opportunity for wellness programs. They can help steer consumers toward  healthcare cost management--and even reward them for it. But so far wellness programs are falling short when it comes to cost control. Seventy percent (70%) of respondents said their wellness plan helped them manage health, but just 38% said it helped them manage costs. What’s more, 81% of consumers say their program does not have a price comparison tool for medical services.
Consumers are ready and motivated to lower their healthcare costs, and health plan sponsors should be equally motivated to arm them with the tools they need to price shop. The stakes are high for everyone.
For the full article in Kaiser Health News, click here.
[Photo Credit: Ano Lobb on Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0]

Good News For Wellness: Diabetes Prevention Is Working

April 14, 2016
HealthMine Team

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary of health and human services (HHS), recently announced that Medicare would be expanding coverage to include diabetes prevention programs.
This announcement came in response to a formal evaluation of these programs in eight states over 15 months. The results indicated the incredible effectiveness of such programs to reduce healthcare costs and help reverse pre-diabetes, which affects 86 million Americans.
The research comes from social ecologist David Marrero and physician Ron Ackermann. The study involved three groups of pre-diabetic people aged 25 to 75. The first group received 16 one-hour meetings to help set and achieve goals related to developing healthier habits. The second group received a blood glucose medication. The third received a placebo.
The findings were striking. Fifty-eight percent (58%) of the lifestyle and goal setting group reduced their risk, compared to just 31% of the medication group.
This speaks volumes about the power of prevention-based wellness programs to not only treat those with diabetes, but to reach them before the disease has reached full-blown form.
According to our data, many people with diabetes or pre-diabetes have key risk factors that contribute to the disease. Fifty-nine percent (59%) are not in a healthy weight range and 30% are smokers. This data comes from the December 2015 HealthMine Diabetes Report, from a survey of 509 consumers diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes.
Based on the findings from Marrero and Ackermann’s research, these key risk factors could be addressed with lifestyle coaching. And for those with a high likelihood of developing the disease, now is the time to act.
Approximately 58% of the HealthMine survey respondents have not taken any action toward minimizing risk for Type 2 diabetes and nearly a third (30%) of those with pre-diabetes did not know their condition was reversible.
What’s more, 73% reported difficulty coping with their illness and 66% feel their diabetes is not completely under control. Judging by the research findings, and the HHS’s confidence in preventative diabetes programing as evidenced by its decision to cover them under Medicare, this feeling of being out of control, much like pre-diabetes itself, is reversible. It’s just a matter of having the right support.
For the full article on Secretary Burwell’s announcement in the New York Times, click here.
[Photo Credit: Practical Cures on Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0]