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Analysis

Employers Leaning Toward High-Performance Networks, ACOs to Improve Care Access

By Jack O'Brien  
   May 08, 2019

Employers are increasingly focused on improving access and quality of care for their workers, according to a new survey.

Within the next three years, nearly half of employers plan on implementing high-performance networks (HPN), centers of excellence (COE), onsite or nearby health centers and accountable care organizations (ACO) as ways to provide quality and affordable healthcare options, according to a Willis Towers Watson (WTW) survey released Wednesday morning. 

Eighty percent of respondents intend on having COEs within a health plan, a 29% jump year-over-year, and the number of employers who plan on including HPNs more than doubled to 65%. 

By 2020, almost 40% of employers are looking at opening a health center at their offices, while more than 25% plan to offer one near their facilities.

These trends have gained momentum in recent years, as more than 80% of employers with an onsite or near-site health center reported that the move has "succeeded in improving employee access to convenient health care services," "enhancing employee productivity and bringing absenteeism under control," while also "delivering and promoting preventive health screening and services, getting ahead of medical issues through early detection and by instilling healthy habits."

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The survey also shows that employers are increasingly more concerned with quality of care provided than cost savings as the "most important feature" when considering an HPN.

Sandy Ageloff, managing director, west region health and benefits consulting leader, told HealthLeaders that the survey results indicate that the shifting thought process among employers is being driven by four major paint points. 

These include the need for better care access, especially around mental health services for employees, providing high quality care, making care cost effective, and concerns about system complexity. 

"I think employers have done a lot to try to improve cost and quality, but what we're realizing is that employees and their family members are challenged to understand all of the various pieces of the puzzle," Ageloff said. "Employers are now embracing the need to say, 'You need to help people navigate through what we've done to create beneficial, high-quality programs that provide affordable costs.'" 

Related: ACOs Want Deadline Extended for CMS's Pathways to Success Applications

Ageloff said the most surprising data point from the survey was that 54% of employers rated access to behavioral health services as the most critical care access point, followed by substance abuse at 47%. 

Eighty four percent of employers that responded to the survey have workforce living in rural locations, where issues surrounding behavorial health and substance abuse, as well as reliable access to those services, remain a prominent issue.  

In an attempt to remedy care quality and access problems, Ageloff said employers are increasingly looking to local healthcare delivery systems for solutions.

Related: Minnesota BCBS CEO Talks Transformation, Entering Care Delivery at WHCC 2019

She added that employers are also open to blending local delivery systems alongside national plans when it comes to creating ACOs and HPNs, noting that it is all about making it fit for the specific geographic area. 

"There is real employer interest in this, so that is a takeaway," Ageloff said. "The second part is this isn't just the jumbo employers anymore, these are employers of all shapes and sizes, who are looking for the ability to collaborate with local health systems. And one of the biggest concerns for employers is how do they make both quality and cost information available to their members?"

Jack O'Brien is the finance editor at HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

By 2020, almost 40% of employers are looking at opening a health center at their offices, while more than 25% plan to offer one near their facilities.

The survey indicates that employers are increasingly more concerned with quality of care provided than cost savings as the "most important feature" when considering an HPN.

Sandy Ageloff, a Willis Tower Watson managing director, said employers are also embracing local healthcare delivery systems to provide solutions.


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