Just as patients are taking a more active role in managing their health, a handful of employers, too, are being more aggressive about their covered employees’ health.
Such is the case with the airplane manufacturing giant Boeing Co., which recently inked a preferred partnership with two Seattle-area health care networks. Starting with the open enrollment period this fall, certain Boeing employees will have the option to either keep their current health plans, or receive care exclusively from one of two accountable care organizations.
The 30,000 or so eligible nonunion employees or retirees who take the second option will gain added perks by patronizing the University of Washington Medicine or Providence-Swedish Health Alliance. Those include everything from same- or next-day appointments to Web test results, and a concierge service that helps members to navigate the system.
Working directly with the employer instead of through an insurer intermediary will allow Providence-Swedish — a partnership between Seattle-based Swedish Health Center and Renton-based, 27-hospital Providence Health & Services — to behave more like Amazon.com and the other fast-evolving, consumer-focused giants of the world.
“That modern retail experience just hasn’t really been present in health care,” says Joe Gifford, M.D., chief executive of the Providence-Swedish Health Alliance. “This arrangement, directly with the customer, allows us to innovate to get there, and I think that’s what’s hugely powerful about it.”
Since the contract was announced in June, Gifford says, the “clamoring” has gotten louder, as more employers have expressed interest in joining the ACO. Boeing, with some 157,000 employees working in all 50 states, may forge similar alliances in other markets, says human relations spokesman Joseph Tedino. It’s been aggressive in managing health care costs in recent years, through retooling supplier agreements, reducing the number of plans offered and eliminating administrative redundancies.
Like hospitals, Boeing hopes to better engage health care consumers in how they use their benefits. “It’s not just about adding more efficiency or reducing costs,” Tedino says. “It’s also about the partnership with employees — asking them to be engaged in managing their health care experience, their costs and being good consumers. All of that, taken together, has had a positive impact.”
A recent report from Leavitt Partners consulting firm predicts that Boeing will soon have plenty of company. In the next few years, the authors write, providers will see a marked increase in the number of direct contracts with employers, as businesses seek out higher-quality care at a lower price.
Such arrangements will come in many forms, from payer-designated centers of excellence for specialty care to narrow networks for all of a company’s covered employees, to directing services for an entire population to the leading area networks. In southeastern Wisconsin, Aurora Health Care system has formed an ACO now comprising 60 employers, with promises to new members that it will reduce costs by 10 percent. And in New Mexico, Presbyterian Healthcare Services formed an ACO with Intel Corp. and 5,400 employees, sharing in risk, operating a work-site clinic, and earning bonuses for meeting quality goals and hitting cost targets.
Brian Klepper, chief executive officer of the National Business Coalition on Health, believes that the “jig is up” in employers’ minds, and health care leaders who don’t take notice of this trend will fall behind the market.
“There is no unending supply of money and we’re up against the wall,” Klepper says. “The people who succeed in the future will be those who excel at delivering a better-quality outcome for a lower cost. That’s an undeniable truth. Purchasers are becoming more empowered and more aware, and the successful health care organizations will be the ones who can cater to that.”