Why Health Benefit Costs Went Down this Year

By Erik Seastedt and Erika Van Flein

Wellness, plan redesign, provider payment changes, JHCC.  I suppose we could stop there, but let’s explain a bit.

Having a strong wellness plan with incentives to use it (like our assessment and screening rebate this year), allows us to have healthier employees who use the medical plan less. Wellness screenings also allow your doctors to catch health problems earlier, thus avoiding larger, nastier medical bills.

Plan redesigns over the last few years have created more preventative care benefits that also help catch medical problems before they become real problems. Offering these benefits at little or no cost in all our medical plans means more people are taking advantage of immunizations, routine physicals, mammograms, colonoscopies (yes, yuck, but all essential); catching more issues sooner or at least creating the opportunity to talk to their doctors about ways to become or stay healthy.  

New plans with higher deductibles for non-routine issues make employees think more carefully about how they use the health plans. And think they did…with an increased focus on outpatient procedures, employees helped us save megabucks by avoiding inpatient hospital stays.  

All UA health plans are self-funded. This means that we pay all medical, dental and prescription bills out of our collective pockets (through our third-party administrator, Premera).  Our plans’ "good experience" (fewer or lower-cost bills) translates to lower costs to UA employees for the coming year. Our relationship with Premera helped us further save money through stronger partnerships and greater plan discounts within the great provider network that Premera maintains. And yes, that fancy Premera "medical travel" benefit DOES save us money when you and a companion fly to Seattle (or elsewhere) for certain medical treatment (more on medical travel HERE).

The Joint Health Care Committee, or JHCC, comprised of UA employees from around the system, monitors our health experience and makes recommendations for distribution of plan savings. This year, because we did have good experience, JHCC recommended a restructuring of employee contributions, in effect, rewarding those lower-cost plans with lower charges to employees. Fortunately for all of us, our experience was so good, that every plan is seeing lower costs for FY15 (assuming, of course, you do what you need to do to get your rebate).

However, because we pay actual claims, there is no guarantee that this year is predictive of next year.   Medical costs continue to climb, federal rules continue to expand mandatory coverage, diseases continue to flourish, and face it, we’re all getting older. Emphasizing wellness, getting our screenings and preventing health problems continue to be our best defenses in keeping ourselves as happy and healthy as possible (and keeping costs under control).  

Oh, and that rebate mentioned above? You have until June 30 to save up to $1,200 off the cost of your coverage starting in July. Contact your local HR office for details. And be well!

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