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Employer-Purchasers Get In on the Analytics Act

October 22, 2016
by Mark Hagland
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A new survey looks at employer-purchasers’ interest in leveraging analytics to judge value in healthcare

With so many things changing all at once in healthcare, it’s no surprise that the corporations that are the private employer-purchasers of U.S. healthcare want to keep their collective finger on the pulse of what’s been going on with health insurers and healthcare providers. Indeed, as much as hospital, medical group, and health plan leaders are plunging ahead to leverage data analytics to understand health system clinical and resource utilization performance, so, too, the corporate purchasers of healthcare are intent on figuring out just what is going on these days with healthcare delivery and payment.

It is in that context that the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions (the National Alliance) recently conducted a survey—commissioned by Geneia LLC, the for-profit subsidiary of the Harrisburg, Pa.-based Capital Blue Cross and Blue Shield—to find out what healthcare purchasers are doing in that area. That poll found that 97 percent of human resources executives at corporations agree that “now more than ever, it’s essential to have tools to effectively evaluate data and make informed decisions.” Most respondents (87 percent) say they are familiar with advanced analytics, but current users have a stronger understanding of how this kind of tool helps aggregate data, control spending, and manage health and wellness programs.

In releasing the results of that survey on Oct. 12, Michael Thompson, president and CEO of the National Alliance, said in a statement that “Many employers struggle with massive amounts of data and lack the ability to quickly and easily make informed decisions that shape their benefits programs. And it’s only getting worse,” Thompson said in the statement, “as it’s estimated by 2020 we will have 50 times the amount of data that was available in 2011. Gauging the knowledge and interest level of employers enables the National Alliance and its members to make available programs and tools to help purchasers overcome this challenge.”

Among other key findings in the survey:

>  Among survey respondents, 95 percent indicated that they’re interested in having access to the information that advanced analytics can provide.

>  90 percent of respondents said that near-real-time data is imperative to realizing costs savings

>  94 percent agree that “healthcare analytics can help me evaluate which wellness programs would be most effective to offer to my employees.”

>  83 percent agree that using advanced analytics to understand how your employees use healthcare services, who your high-risk employees are and how to intervene effectively is the only way to lower costs and improve financial results.

>  When asked about what data and reports would be helpful, the top three responses were data on the number of employees regularly visiting the emergency department but who have not seen their primary care doctor in the last year; timely data on percentage of pre-diabetic employees who have not seen their primary care doctor in the last year; and an evaluation of their company’s healthcare spend against similarly sized companies in their industry or region

>  Of respondents who were not currently using advanced analytics tools, the perceived barriers to use were cost (38 percent), insufficient internal resources (31 percent) and needs already supported by health plan or broker (54 percent).

The release of the survey’s results also included a statement by Heather Lavoie, Geneia’s chief strategy officer. “Healthcare costs are still growing faster than inflation and are expected to increase 6.5 percent through next year, leaving employers, health plans and consumers struggling to find ways to contain costs without sacrificing quality and benefit design,” Lavoie said. “At Geneia, we know that the insight gained through advanced analytic tools offers employers the very real possibility of lowering costs while retaining competitive employee benefit programs.”

The online survey of human resource and benefits administrators was conducted in August and September 2016. Of the responses received, 89 percent of employers said they were self-funded, 69 percent work for companies that employ more than 1,000 and 60 percent said they are not current users of advanced analytic tools. Regionally, 50 percent of respondents were from the South, 26 percent were from the Northeast, 15 percent were from the West and 9 percent were from the Midwest.

Following the release of the survey’s results, Michael Thompson and Heather Lavoie spoke with Healthcare Informatics Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland. Below are, first, excerpts from the interview with Thompson, and second, excerpts from the interview with Lavoie.

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Tell me about the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions.

Michael Thompson: The National Alliance is a group of 50 business coalitions across the country, representing 41 million people, and about 12,000 employers; and about 450 of them are over 5,000 employees. It’s public and private employers, as well as Taft-Hartley organizations—when there’s a union plan managed by a trust of half-management and half-union.

Where are your members right now?

As much as the discussion is all about cost, I think that purchasers’ mindset really is around value. There’s been a lot of terrific innovation in the industry that actually has value, health, and outcomes, and they recognize that. I think where they have a lot less tolerance is when things cost more but don’t add any value or add little value relative to the cost. That’s where purchasers are looking to change the system, and in how they guide their employees.

What were the biggest takeaways for you from the survey results?

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