Improving Healthcare & Saving Costs

All employers – small, large, fully-insured and self-insured – are struggling with the seemingly uncontrollable rise in healthcare costs. There seems to be no end in sight, and only limited products, options or plans are available to address this crisis. Employers want and need to offer good benefits to attract the best and brightest employees, and health insurance coverage is often the most important part of an employee’s benefit package.

Although new Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) have now hit the marketplace, many companies are not sure how these new products will work and if they will really make a difference. The State of Georgia recently added a surcharge on health insurance for employees that smoke. This charge is intended to offset the impact of the higher health costs that smokers tend to incur in a health plan.

Employers across the country are charging surcharges for other “lifestyle” choices and health conditions including obesity. No one is sure if these steps will make a long term difference on the increasing cost of health insurance. Self-insured companies are taking many of these steps. Many of the small- to mid-size employers are fully insured and are not sure these efforts will translate to savings to them or the insurance company.

In 2003, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce initiated a Healthcare Committee to look into healthcare issues facing our business community. To bring issues to the public, the second Annual Community Healthcare Conference will be held Monday, September 26 from 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. at Lanier Technical College.

The purpose of this year’s conference is to help businesses learn of specific ways to cut healthcare costs. Several speakers, including Congressman Nathan Deal, will focus on national and regional trends related to rising healthcare costs and what the government, other employers and our local medical community is doing to address this problem.

Nathan Deal is chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on Health. The committee is a division of the powerful committee on Energy and Commerce, which Representative Deal has served on for more than ten years.

Another topic for conference discussion will be the implementation of wellness programs, a trend that appears to have promise for employers. Wellness programs take many different forms, from simply offering walking groups and on-site weight watchers to aggressive screenings for significant risk factors such as heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic, and usually costly, conditions.

The goal is to improve the health of employees by identifying risk factors early and assisting in addressing these through medical intervention and/or lifestyle changes.

The conference will include a panel discussion with local employers who have implemented wellness programs and share their experiences – how they got started, what worked, what did not work, and where they hope to go with the wellness program in the future.

The September 26 conference will feature an address by Curtis Florence, PhD, Assistant Professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. Dr. Florence is an economist with specialization in health and labor economics. He has examined the impact of increased Medicaid eligibility on private insurance coverage, factors underlying the likelihood of workers being covered by employer-based health insurance and the effect of the Federal Employees Health Benefits program on plan premiums and employee enrollment choice.

He is currently studying the effect of competition in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program on plan premiums. This study will have important implications for using the Federal Employee’s program as a model for reforming Medicare and private health insurance markets.

To register for the September 26 Annual Healthcare Conference or for more information on the event, call Katie Davis, 770-532-6206.

Mimi Collins is Chief Executive Officer of The Longstreet Clinic and Chairman of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce Healthcare Committee.