Future Thinking: Coupling HDHPs and Telemedicine

Posted On: September 15, 2016 | By: Abigail Cutler

Switching to a high deductible health plan can save a group serious money today, but what is the long-term impact tomorrow if low-income employees are not utilizing their plan when they need it most?

A recent analysis by EBRI revealed a large disparity in HDHP plan utilization between low income and high income employees. Research found that after switching to a high-deductible plan, the decline in non-preventative services, such as specialist services, was TWICE as large for low-income workers (incomes less than $50,000) and their dependents as compared to those workers with incomes of at least $100,000. The study also revealed that low income workers on a high deductible plan were more likely to skip important preventative services such as flu shots. Costs are reduced in the short term, but absence of care opens the door to untreated illnesses becoming more serious and much more expensive down the road.

However, there is a timely solution—telemedicine. Providers such as Healthiest You and Teladoc provide easy access to medical providers without typical out-of-pocket expenses or the need to go through insurance. Employees are connected with a medical professional who can offer solutions and prescriptions, not to mention the convenience of being able to access healthcare anywhere, anytime. The convenience extends beyond the individual too. Imagine a parent waking up to a sick child in the middle of the night, having to make the judgment call of waiting until the morning (or likely 48 hours later) to see a doctor or making a costly trip to an urgent care or emergency room. With telemedicine, that parent simply logs on and is one step closer to a recovered child. A prescription and a solution will be in hand hours before they might have been able to see a traditional primary care physician.

Employers may also choose to sponsor the cost of telemedicine or first test the waters by offering it to employees on a voluntary basis. However, it is a cost well justified. Many telemedicine services can be coupled with a health concierge service that may provide even more support to employees with claims issues or serious conditions requiring ongoing care. Updated reporting gives employers and brokers increased transparency as to how a plan is running and the tools required to make intelligent, strategic decisions about future benefit plans. Many online benefit systems offer telemedicine integrations on mobile apps that provide an even deeper discount for the employer and simple access for the plan  member. Groups who utilize these services will increase their use of preventative medicine without impacting their health plan. Other benefits—lower ER/UR utilization, lower prescription costs, and the ability to shop around for procedures and make intelligent pricing decisions.

Groups considering switching to a high-deductible health plan should also consider that a telemedicine plan may just be the perfect complement to the employee benefit package. Members take advantage of the cost savings associated with a high deductible health plan without compromising preventative services. With increasing sticker shock on annual renewals, pharmaceuticals, and other medical services, its time to talk about how telemedicine can put the ball in your court when it comes to controlling healthcare expenses.