Understanding Employee Health Data Can Help Decrease Costs

Data can inform plan sponsors about what benefits to offer as well as how to steer employee use of benefits.

Recent webinars hosted by Benefitfocus discussed links between health and wealth and how plan sponsors are accommodating participants on both fronts, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

High-cost health claims can increase an employee’s financial worries. According to Transamerica data, 43% of workers surveyed were distracted by finances at work, with 34% of those workers saying their health had been impacted by financial worries.

Plan sponsors that discuss these concerns and encourage employees to be healthy add to their bottom line by decreasing employee health care costs, said Jeffrey Caldwell, vice president of strategic partnerships at Transamerica. More than four in five employed adults in its study said they would have a greater commitment to their companies if their employer offered additional benefits to improve their health and well-being.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that employers that are strategically clear with their health care programs often see dynamic improvements in the workplace,” Caldwell said.

Plan sponsors that focus on health and wealth are often more likely to implement other benefits that they would not have been considered before, including life insurance, supplemental health benefits, and executive and retiree medical and retirement benefits, Caldwell added.

Understanding employee demographics and participant data can also help increase participation in benefits. Employee demographics were the focus of a second Benefitfocus webinar, “Digging into the Data: Case Studies in Controlling Health Care Costs.”

Rachel Uhrig, a senior financial analyst at Assurance Agency, noted that through examining data, her company has found fewer employees are needing emergency care due to COVID-19—down 10% compared with 2019. The company has instead been able to offer and encourage telemedicine. “This is due to a mind shift in going from in-person to online care. People are realizing that we can get the same services online that were once in person,” she explained.

Tamara Warn, a clinical analyst consultant at USI Insurance Services, said she noticed an increase in telemedicine as well, especially for mental health visits. She added that in the data she has seen, more employees are suffering with depression and anxiety, likely as a result of COVID-19. “Some of it is due to people worried about layoffs, if they will go back to work, and a lot of stress and anxiety in that,” she said.

Other companies are leveraging their data to pinpoint which programs best suit their employees’ needs while mitigating high-cost claims. American Eagle Outfitters partnered with Cigna to create a holistic program focused on physical, financial, emotional and social well-being with an emphasis on behavioral health.

Anthony Jarusinski, benefits manager at American Eagle, said the data and onsite health coaches Cigna offered have helped the company identify which health areas to focus on. “We notice if there is an uptick in pregnancy, hypertension, heart disease, etc., and there are programs within our TPA [third-party administrator] to help mitigate risk and high-cost claims,” he said.

Focusing on what the employee demographic is battling now decreases the chance of high costs in the future and reduces stress among employees, Jarusinski added. Because of the program’s success, the company has been able to maintain flat employee contributions throughout the past two years. “Through these programs, we are getting the engagement we need and that is reducing our claims cost,” he continued.

He urged companies to study participant data and offer voluntary benefits, even if the employee workforce seems healthy. As an example, he said American Eagle offers a program that allows employees to test for different genetic diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer.

“If you go status quo and believe that everything is going well, you’re going to be met with some problems down the road as chronic conditions pop up,” he said. “Make sure you have some access to your data to make sure that you know what’s going on with your employee population.”