By negotiating directly with healthcare systems employers garner cost savings, while creating opportunities for clinical laboratories willing to be flexible about claims and reimbursement

It’s a healthcare trend called “direct contracting” and it is the latest method that self-insuring employers are using to better manage the cost of their health benefits plan, while maintaining access and quality for their employees. The interesting thing about direct contracting is that it might be a strategy that could work for innovative regional clinical laboratories to negotiate a place for themselves in that employer’s provider network.

Healthcare costs continue to skyrocket in the United States, and in response, many large companies are providing healthcare services to their employees by working directly with health networks and other organizations, instead of using third-party administrators (TPAs) of insurance plans to create healthcare benefits packages for their employees.

This can provide clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups with opportunities to create revenue and further outreach into their communities. Astute lab leaders may want to consider meeting with the decision-makers at large companies in their areas and develop strategies for working together directly. Human resources managers may be interested in the benefits of working directly with medical laboratories.

Employers Already Engaged with Health Networks for Provider Services

Self-insuring is not a new concept. In a direct contracting relationship, the employer skips the TPA in hopes of achieving cost savings. Sometimes the direct contract is for specific services that employees need most often, or they can be designed to cover the entire spectrum of services available to employees.

Many companies have already engaged in direct contracting for healthcare services. Among them are: Cisco Systems, Boeing, Intel, Walmart, and Whole Foods. Amazon, JP Morgan Chase, and Berkshire Hathaway also have announced a joint agreement to self-insure their employees, which Dark Daily reported in June. (See, “Six New Jersey Hospitals and Several Major Corporations to Self-Insure Their Million+ Employees; Trend Could Impact How Local Clinical Laboratories Get Paid,” June 11, 2018.)

Cisco has negotiated a direct healthcare agreement with Stanford Health System. Stanford operates a clinic at the Cisco campus, so that the primary care doctor is a member of the community within the company.

“I’m in their space. I’m actually where they work. I’m a bit of a village doc,” Larry Kwan, MD (above), a doctor of internal medicine with Stanford Health Care, told Reuters about his role in the Stanford clinic at the Cisco campus. About 1,000 Cisco employees are enrolled in the Stanford plan. Katelyn Johnson, Integrated Health Manager at Cisco Systems, says it’s a program that requires a more active approach from companies than traditional health benefits plans. (Photo copyrights: Stanford Health Care.)

Boeing, too, has explored direct contracting in a program where the company negotiated directly with hospitals in four different states. The direct contracts have resulted in cost savings and cover some 15,000 employees plus their families. Some of those cost savings have come from things like getting doctors to prescribe generic drugs.

Intel also has a similar program, covering around 38,000 employees and their families. They have found success in managing chronic conditions like diabetes. Technology, such as video-conferencing, also has helped lower costs and improve retention.

Even health networks are getting into the game. One recent example is the Healthcare Transformation Consortium (HTC), a six-hospital healthcare systems in New Jersey that formed to self-insure and provide direct healthcare coverage for their employees.

Companies may gain some cost savings from directly negotiating, but there are gains for the health systems as well. In a deal with Whole Foods in 2016, Adventist Health System gained a new set of skills that they plan to use in negotiating similar deals with other employers.

“We have a little bit more flexibility as a health system to design around what Whole Foods defines as quality, or what Whole Foods defines as patient satisfaction, which is sometimes different than the traditional definitions,” Arby Nahapetian, MD, regional chief medical officer and SVP at Adventist-Southern California told Modern Healthcare.

Signs Point to Trend Continuing

The Healthcare Transformation Consortium in New Jersey, along with the joint agreement between Amazon, JP Morgan Chase, and Berkshire Hathaway, are examples of what the future is likely to hold. The more these kinds of collaborations and direct contracts result in both cost savings and patient satisfaction, the more companies will likely consider direct healthcare contracts.

Hospital-based and independent laboratories may want to consider meeting with the larger employers in their service regions and explain to the HR benefits managers how better utilization of selected lab tests could improve patient outcomes and contribute to better managing costs.

After all, employers tell health insurance companies what they want to cover with their health benefits plans. So, educating the employers’ HR teams about the true value of clinical laboratory tests could be a winning strategy for labs willing to take the time to do this.

Dava Stewart

Related Information:

Fed Up with Rising Costs, Big US Firms Dig into Healthcare

Left Out of the Game: Health Systems Offer Direct-To-Employer Contracting to Eliminate Insurers

Six New Jersey Hospitals and Several Major Corporations to Self-Insure Their Million-plus Employees; Trend Could Impact How Local Clinical Laboratories Get Paid