Managing health care costs while providing the best possible patient care was the theme of the day for the health care movers and shakers who gathered for Lehigh Valley Business’ Health Care Symposium 2019.
Representatives from St. Luke’s Care Network, Geisinger Health Plan, Highmark Inc., and others, discussed our national health care crises before an audience of industry insiders Aug. 1 at DeSales University.
At the forefront of the conversation was the opioid crisis, and how employers are managing health care for employees with substance abuse and behavioral health issues.
While opioid-related claims have declined for Geisinger Health Plan, according to Perry Meadows, medical director of government programs for Geisinger Health Plan, opioid abuse remains a challenge.
“Most overdose deaths are not due to a single substance,” he said.
Overdose deaths are typically a combination of opioids, benzodiazepines and stimulants, according to Meadows.
Meadows also stated that the use of methamphetamines is growing as new opioid regulations make opioids harder to get access to.
One audience member, himself an employer, raised questions about how to afford drug abuse and mental health treatment for the younger family members of his employees.
“You have to balance the cost to benefit ratio,” said Meadows, who also opened up about substance abuse struggles in his own family.
Meadows then commented that 18-to-26-year-olds are not the costliest when it comes to health care. The most expensive claims are for those between the ages of 45 and 65, he said, who are increasingly battling anxiety, depression and addictions.
Affordability as a whole was an overarching subject of all the discussions, with the consolidation of local health care institutions into larger health giants raising concerns about rising costs.
“The reality is if those mergers didn’t happen, there would be communities without health care or hospitals,” said Kenneth Bertka, president of clinical integration at St. Luke’s Health Network, claiming that as the health care networks grow larger, the institutions are able to provide care to areas that had once been health care deserts.
Telehealth was offered up as another way to provide health care to areas that do not have easy access to it, and as our growing dependence on smartphones and technology allows us all to live a more remote lifestyle.
“We are expecting more,” said Benjamin T. Edelshain, vice president of clinical design and innovation for Highmark, Inc, who explained that health care customers are measuring their health care experiences against digital interactions with Amazon and Google.
“How do we use those engagement channels to reduce the total cost of care?” he questioned.
He offered virtual health care kiosks as one solution, digitally enabled to complete health assessments, installed in areas where health care is hard to reach.