Five Strategies to Help Employers Bundle Health Benefits

By Tom Wiffler, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Specialty Benefits

Thomas Wiffler
Thomas Wiffler

With COVID-19 making wellness a renewed priority for many people, employers may consider using the pandemic as an opportunity to re-evaluate how they approach health benefits. Developing and implementing a strategic, data-driven approach to health benefits is crucial, given medical care ranks as the second largest expense (behind salaries) for employers. Plus, encouraging a healthier workforce is vital to reducing absenteeism and presenteeism, both of which sap productivity and may make an employer less competitive.

That’s why more employers are opting for an integrated approach to health benefits, seeking to connect the dots among medical, pharmacy, vision, hearing, dental and disability care. By combining medical and specialty plans, employers may improve health outcomes and affordability, driven by improved identification and management of chronic conditions, increased engagement in clinical care programs and the use of data to create a simpler experience.[1]

While employees are now using their 2021 benefits, employers in Virginia are making health benefit decisions for 2022. Here are five strategies to consider related to integration:

Support Whole-Person Health. Many employees value specialty benefits, such as vision, dental, hearing and financial protection plans, and employers can offer them with little or no additional cost. In fact, a recent UnitedHealthcare survey found that 84% of employees said having vision and dental benefits is “important.” With growing evidence of a link between overall health and oral, eye and hearing health and disability and absence care, including in connection to various chronic medical conditions, offering specialty benefits may help encourage whole-person health for employees.

Bundle and Save.  Just like with bundled home TV, internet and phone packages, some health care companies are enabling employers to integrate medical benefits with specialty plans. These bundled benefit programs enable employers to save up to 4%* on medical plan premiums, while simplifying the administrative process, including a single invoice for payment and a single website login for employees. Rather than having medical, dental, vision and financial coverages administered on different platforms, a bundled approach may enable employers to save time and money.

Leverage Big Data and Clinical Insights. One of the key advantages of an integrated approach is the ability to leverage big data. Employers with integrated benefits can better analyze and understand health data, providing an analytics-driven roadmap to implement clinical management and employee-engagement programs. For instance, to help support people with diabetes and periodontal disease, an integrated approach can cross-check dental and medical health claim data to determine if employees have missed recommended periodontal treatments or cleanings. Case managers then follow up to help schedule dental treatments or cleanings, which have been shown to reduce inflammation and improve diabetes management.

Make the Most of Medications. Specialty medications are used by a small percentage of the population,[2]  but treatments are often costly. Using an integrated approach to managing specialty conditions may make it easier for employers to improve health outcomes and reduce costs with the use of care teams. Support teams, including health advocates, physicians, nurses and pharmacists, may be able to leverage integrated data systems to provide employees with clinical assistance and guidance. This may include sharing information with employees about their treatment options, notifying doctors when a prescription is abandoned at the pharmacy, sending proactive refill reminders and alerting prescribers to potential drug safety issues.

Focus on Behavioral Health. COVID-19 is prompting many people to spend much more time at home, which may contribute to behavioral health issues, including depression, anxiety and substance abuse. In fact, 4 in 10 adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression during COVID-19, potentially contributing to issues such as suicide or drug overdoses. Integrating medical and behavioral benefits may create opportunities to diagnose and intervene earlier for high-risk employees, leading to over $1,000 in medical savings.[3]

Adopting an integrated approach to benefits may help maximize the effectiveness of an employer’s health care dollars, while encouraging the health of employees. Employers that combine specialty and medical benefits may be able to reduce turnover, increase productivity and help build a culture of health.

*Potential savings include impact from an integrated approach and uBundle, which applies only to first-year medical premiums for employers with 51-100 employees; savings through uBundle continue as long as the program is in effect for employers with 101 to 2,999 employees, as long as the qualifying benefits remain in-force. uBundle is not available in all states.

 

[1] Review of the impact of the UnitedHealthcare integrated approach on Key and National Account customers, 2018

[2] 2 OptumRx commercial clients, calendar year 2018 data. Note: Average ingredient cost can have wide variation based on drug mix within a specific population.

[3] Optum CSG Healthcare Analytics; Ly, August 9, 2018.