According to 2011 research by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, workers for companies with self-insured health plans make up 58.5% of workers with health coverage compared to 40.9% in 1998. The increase has been consistent over time. This percentage varied by state, from 30.5% (Hawaii) to 73.8% (Minnesota). This number was 10.8% for companies with ten or fewer employees to 86.3% of companies with 1000 or greater employees. It is very interesting to note that in Massachusetts, a theoretical model for predicting the full effects of the ACA, the percentage of self-insured company workers has risen dramatically in small (50-99 workers) companies from 54.4% in 2006 to 67.2% in 2011 and in large (1000 or more) companies from 74.1 to 86.4%. Therefore, it is likely that the percentage of self-insured company workers will rise even more in the coming few years ahead. Regardless of the size of the company, the cost of healthcare is critical to the bottom line. In a previous post, I discussed why payers are critical to mHealth adoption. However, mHealth is critical to payers as well. And as seen above, self-insured payers are a big piece of the puzzle. I’d like to discuss reasons why mHealth is good for self-insured companies.
1. mHealth tools encouraged by a company show the worker is valued. The potential benefits of mHealth tools in the form of apps and portals remains to be demonstrated in this setting. However, the offering of tools which promote health, fitness, and self-management conveys a tie stronger than just an employer-employee relationship. It is for this reason that health insurance companies have embraced patient portals and health coaches.
2. mHealth tool utilization in employee health plans sets examples for customers and clients. Demonstrating the company’s progressive (in the non-political sense) approach to healthcare might make for good marketing to clients and customers, whether they be other companies or individual consumers. One imaginative approach would be for the company to offer some of these tools to its clients or customers.
3. mHealth tools will result in more productivity. According to the Met Life Caregiving Cost Study (often quoted today though it dates to 2006), the total estimated cost to employers for all full-time, employed caregivers is $33.6 billion annually and the average cost per employee/caregiver annually is $2110. If these employees had apps which allowed them to communicate with healthcare providers, allowed them to get test results of the patient, afforded them the opportunity for a short video smartphone or other telehealth consultation at the place of work, or for them to receive actionable alert alarms from sensors their loved ones wear, the price of lost productivity could plummet dramatically. In addition, employees themselves would benefit physically from mHealth tools which improve their own lifestyles thereby decreasing the impact of or even potentially preventing chronic diseases.
4. mHealth tools can integrate with other mobile platforms. If a company already has mobile tools for work itself, integrating mHealth apps is not a big leap. It will fit in with work flows or at least the adoption of mobile tools for other purposes. What about a reminder timed to pop up at break time to take a walk instead of chatting at the cooler, or to take the stairs prompted by a meeting reminder?
5. mHealth apps will create happier employees. Healthier employees are happier. Employees are happier if their family members are benefitting from the tools. Some of these tools have associated social communities and employees can increase bonding if they take part in them. Utilization of these types of tools or creating employee health social groups based on them might improve employee satisfaction and teamwork.
While the adoption of mHealth technologies has obvious potential benefits to all, the self-insured company offers unique challenges which are great opportunities for worthwhile products. The workplace also affords an interesting research environment for mHealth apps. They can be evaluated from many outcomes perspectives. Health coaches employed by traditional insurance companies are too costly for smaller self-insured companies. Apps offer convenience and more options. Different sectors will require apps more specific to workers with unique health challenges based on occupation. The marketplace is there. I challenge companies with quality solutions to step up to the plate.