How Self-Insured Employers Should Use Telemedicine to Cut Healthcare Costs

How Self-Insured Employers Should Use Telemedicine to Cut Healthcare Costs

How Self-Insured Employers Should Use Telemedicine to Cut Healthcare Costs 1004 591 Apostrophe Health

Understand why telemedicine participation is low and how to get your entire company on board with the plan.

Plan rates, premiums and deductibles have reached a fever pitch, and there’s no doubt those rates will climb again at renewals. Helping self-insured employers control those costs, and pass the savings on to employees, has been the heart of Apostrophe’s health plans since the start. Better benefits for less money is a promise that we help self-insured employers realize in more than just a monthly statement.

Telemedicine is one of the many ways we add value to our self-insured plans. This service gives members access to qualified doctors and nurses via phone or other digital channels, and it’s always free* to our members on non-HSA plans. For Apostrophe members, it’s as simple as a call to our telemedicine partner MeMD. Once connected, members can discuss symptoms and even share photos with the provider via a secure connection.

These professionals can identify and diagnose about 1,500 common conditions seen every day by primary care and emergency physicians. They can even fill or refill a prescription one time, just like going to an urgent care facility. Where urgent care costs about one-fifth of what a trip to the emergency room costs, telemedicine is free* to most Apostrophe members. And when 25% of ER visits could have been handled at urgent care, imagine how many of those could have been handled, at no cost, over the phone. 

Here’s the kicker: members who use telemedicine don’t have to go to urgent care. They don’t have to go to the emergency room. And they don’t have to visit their primary physician. One call to the telemedicine provider doesn’t cost them—or their employer—a dime (zero copay expenses*). Plus, they save time by not going into a medical facility and receive quick, quality attention to their illness or other concern.

For all of the advantages telemedicine presents, not nearly enough people are using it. SHRM reported in 2018 that 96% of the largest U.S. employers had made telemedicine services available to their employees, and 56% included behavioral health as part of that. Yet, the national average for participation is only about 2%. That’s a dismally low adoption rate for a service that, in one case, saved the company $6 for every $1 spent.

Here’s why: Both companies are buying the same insurance. The only difference is the funding mechanism on the back end. Of course they aren’t seeing a difference.

Telemedicine opens access to care and controls cost in a way no other healthcare development has been able to achieve. And still, very few people use it.

“For telemedicine to be able to move the needle on access to care for overall health spending, more enrollees will need to take up their services,” concluded a Peterson-KFF 2018 Employer Health Benefits Survey. 

In other words, employee education is key. It is the crux of ensuring your employees dial into telemedicine for common aches, pains, illnesses and other non-life threatening concerns that send them to urgent care and the ER. 

For self-insured employers who want to continue cutting costs and managing healthcare expenses, it’s imperative to get employees on board.

What’s Keeping Employees from Participating

Low telemedicine participation starts with a lack of awareness that the program even exists. And if it does, questions abound over the costs and possible reimbursements. (With Apostrophe, access to MeMD is always free* to our members with non-HSA plans.) As with anything new, some patients struggle with trust. There can also be a desire to simply connect with a provider one-on-one, in person.

How Can Employers Encourage Participation

Ultimately, it’s up to your company to determine how you’ll promote telemedicine to your workforce. Josh Luke, an HR futurist, suggested to SHRM that companies create a room or space within their office where employees can privately access telemedicine while on the job. Here are seven more ways you can drive more employees to dial into telemedicine. 

  1. Talk openly about the service and promote it frequently.
  2. Make sure your employees know that access is free*, and that it prevents expensive out-of-pocket ER and urgent care fees.
  3. Let them share ownership in the value by communicating the substantial cost savings for both themselves and the company as a whole. 
  4. Emphasize the credentials of the providers, and that these physicians supplement not replace their PCP.
  5. Celebrate that telemedicine creates a healthier labor force with less absenteeism. 
  6. Talk up the convenience of making a call from home or work, instead of commuting to the doctor’s office. 
  7. Share how telemedicine increases access to care (key for people with chronic illnesses) and improves quality of care. 

For current Apostrophe Health members, it’s free* and easy to access telemedicine:

Call Member Care at the number on your card and press 1 to connect with a nurse or doctor.

*Access to telemedicine services is free except for Members with HSA plans.