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Innovative employer health care programs

Rapidly rising health care costs have led more than one employer to search for better ways to provide health care coverage for their employees. Perhaps the most innovative approaches I’ve encountered is that of Manatee County, FL.
I had the good fortune to sit next to Bob Goodman, director of the program, at lunch during a conference in Arizona on prescription drug management. It was one of the more interesting discussions regarding employee benefits I have had in years.
Here’s what Manatee County is doing. They are self-insured, self-administered, and self-managed. Goodman and his staff, numbering a handful of FTEs plus about a dozen contract workers providing case management and related services, handle claims, managed care, network contracting and relations, wellness, and program administration. Seems pretty standard.
The unique features are several.
First, employees are financially encouraged to develop healthy behaviors through different cost-sharing arrangements. Second, the County has implemented a full-service wellness center, focused on encouraging employees with health issues to take charge of their health before it becomes an expensive, unpleasant, and potentially fatal issue. Third, Goodman is hiring his own full-time internist to work in the wellness center, thereby ensuring quick access to medical care for county employees, who otherwise might have to take time off from work to obtain care for themselves or their dependents. Fourth, despite a rich plan design, Manatee County has enjoyed trend rates below 10% for several years. Fifth, Goodman is planning on opening a “captive” pharmacy, to better manage the only major expense category that his program did not directly address.
The program was initiated after the local government, frustrated by the usual non-solutions offered by their existing health insurer and broker after several years of rapidly rising health care costs, asked Goodman to come in and take a look. With his extensive background in TPA operations and management, and complete lack of any agenda, Goodman recommended the County blow it up and do it themselves. To his great surprise, they agreed, and hired him to lead the effort.
What does this mean for you?
If you are a health insurer or broker, a wake-up call; if you don’t provide solutions, real solutions, you will find some of your customers decide to take matters into their own hands. For those brokers willing (or more aptly capable) of true innovation, think about this as a separate business line. Of course, you’d better have someone like Bob Goodman on staff before printing up the marketing materials.
If you are an employer, you do have alternatives. Let me know if you want more information on Manatee County’s program. I’m planning on visiting their operation, and will report on the visit here.

Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates



A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.



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