Real World Health Care Blog

Tag Archives: cost

Heroes Needed: Apply Within

We’re taking a departure today from our coverage of what works in American health care to ask for your help.

Patients want us to re-open our Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell, but we can’t successfully do that until we identify several key companies or organizations to partner with us in this effort.

When HealthWell’s Breast Cancer Fund was open, thousands of Americans battling breast cancer found new hope to live healthier lives. Nearly 17,000 insured breast cancer patients received the financial assistance they needed so that the surging cost of treatments was not a barrier to accessing critical care.

As HealthWell prepares to re-launch its massive Breast Cancer Fund, we are expanding our call to action. We are seeking partners to help us make a real, positive difference in the lives of insured patients who often struggle to afford critical treatment including medications.

By becoming a strategic partner with the HealthWell Foundation, your organization will help thousands of Americans who face medical bills they can’t afford.  Beyond the incredible satisfaction of knowing that you played a role in persuading your organization to help us re-open this fund, you’ll gain a cause marketing partner that will support your efforts to build and shape your brand to new audiences.

When you work with us to empower patients, you will leverage a unique opportunity to win exclusivity, naming rights and more.

With one in eight women in the U.S. expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime, the need for timely, life-sustaining care is outpacing our health system’s ability to assist patients. More and more Americans are in desperate need of immediate financial relief to afford deductibles, co-pays and premiums, yet many have few places, if any, to turn for assistance.

Women like Linda in Powell, Tenn., illustrate exactly why support for the Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell is needed. When Linda realized just how expensive her breast cancer medication would be, she was scared. As a self-employed grandmother of two, she faced a $5,500 deductible for her insurance premium alone. Additional costs for mammograms, colonoscopy, endoscopy and lab work were all out-of-pocket and she wasn’t sure how she would make ends meet.

That is, until she discovered the Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell, a lifeline that enabled her to afford the treatments she needed to remain cancer-free two years after her diagnosis.

“My patient advocate gave me a list of several foundations to contact which I did,” Linda said. “The first turned me down because they said we went $50 over our salary. The second turned me down because I had a deductible. Then I heard from HealthWell. We couldn’t believe we had found help. We just had to cry. I am so thankful. Every time I have my prescription filled it still amazes me. Not many good things have happened to us.”

The fund’s incredible track record of success in offering assistance to patients in need is exactly why we must reopen it now.

The HealthWell Foundation believes that no patient – adult or child – should go without health care because he or she cannot afford it. As demand for medical treatments increases while associated prices continue to spike, we want the Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell to once again provide timely, critical copay and premium assistance and expanded services to breast cancer patients.

These services went far to ease the strain felt by patients covered under Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and employer-sponsored plans with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level.

Strengthening the financial safety net for more patients begins with teamwork. Together we can be part of the solution, harnessing our resources to make access to quality medical treatment a reality for more Americans battling breast cancer. Please contact us if your company may be interested in partnering with us to re-open this vital fund.

The HealthWell Foundation sponsors this blog because we are innovators in finding solutions to overcome hurdles in the American health care system. The thousands of women at work right now trying to clear the hurdle of breast cancer deserve everything we have to give.  Join us.  We have so much yet to do.  And you could make a difference in so many lives.

Categories: Cost-Savings

Filling the Financial Gap When Health Insurance Isn’t Enough

You can’t escape the headlines: rising expenses and high unemployment. And even for the employed, a sharp reduction in health benefits – coupled with a steep increase in out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles, copayments and coinsurance – is making access to life-saving and life-sustaining therapies out of reach for many Americans.

For some individuals and families, these out-of-pocket expenses can total thousands of dollars each month – much more than many folks earn.

When people in these circumstances need help, many turn to Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs), while others apply for financial assistance through independent non-profits such as The HealthWell Foundation. PAPs – which are offered by state governments or drug makers – are designed for those who cannot afford the cost of medication. Groups like Partnership for Prescription Assistance, NeedyMeds, RxAssistRxOutreach, and the National Center for Benefits (provided by the National Council on Aging), empower individuals to sort out their options and get connected to the PAP that’s right for them, sometimes even helping applicants fill out their paperwork.

What do all these organizations have in common? They focus on addressing the financial strains confronting individuals with health insurance who need important medical treatments but cannot cover their associated out-of-pocket costs and premiums.

Individuals like Marianne of Tarpon Springs, Florida, for example. For Marianne, living frugally her whole life didn’t help. Even though she had health insurance, paid all her bills on time, and once earned a good living as a librarian, the 70-year-old breast cancer survivor could not afford the medicine she needed to keep the cancer from coming back.

With no other alternatives to the $500-a-month life-saving medicine, the fixed-income senior citizen didn’t know where to turn. Until her doctors pointed her to the HealthWell Foundation.

Two years later, and thanks to the financial assistance she received from HealthWell, the still-healthy Marianne travels, cycles, and enjoys the life that continues to “delight and amaze” her.

“I am so fortunate,” she says. “I’ve always been glad to give back to others, and now that I’ve needed the help, I know just how precious it is to receive the kindness and compassion of others.”

Marianne is one of many Americans who benefit from organizations like HealthWell, which has provided copayment assistance to more than 164,000 patients since 2004. Without these critical funds, many of those living with chronic and life-altering illnesses would not have the treatments they need in order to live healthier lives.

No child or adult in the U.S. should go without health care because he or she cannot afford it.

How can charitable copayment assistance organizations partner with businesses, government and other stakeholders to achieve lower costs for health care treatment?

The HealthWell Foundation sponsors this blog.

Get the conversation going in the comments section.

Categories: Cost-Savings

Hospitals, Physicians Embrace Strategies To Reduce Cost of “Frequent Flyer” ER Visits

Pardee Memorial Hospital in Hendersonville, N.C., shaved nearly $405,000 from its Emergency Room (ER) expenses over a one-year period thanks to an integrated program that its founder calls a “patient-centered medical home on steroids.”

The program, Bridges to Health, helped its uninsured participants reduce their ER visits from an average of seven per year (at a typical cost of $14,004 per person) to three per year (at an average cost of $2,760 per person). Another indicator of success: 10 participants secured employment and six previously homeless members found places to live by the end of the first year.

It’s estimated that non-urgent Emergency Department (ED) visits cost the U.S. about $4.4 billion annually. At Pardee Memorial Hospital alone, 255 frequent users (“frequent flyers”) of the ED racked up more than $3 million in unpaid medical bills. Frequent flyers account for up to 40 percent of total ER visits nationwide.

Bridges to Health decreases ER expenses by providing this patient population with primary care, behavioral health services and a nurse case manager through bi-weekly health clinic visits.

“Many of these people just went to the ER because they were in pain or scared,” said Dr. Steve Crane, a family physician who started the program. “You see them going back so many times because their real issues are not supposed to be treated in the ER and are not taken care of.”

The Pardee Bridges to Health free clinic integrates medical checkups and group therapy, with doctors providing treatment and patients offering one another tips ranging from how to obtain legal assistance to saving money on food and shelter. In this way the program addresses the two main problems seen in these patients: lack of social support and access to regular primary care.

Although the results of the program are promising, Dr. Crane cautions that the patient group is small and that it only works for participants who attend the clinic meetings.

Another example of how hospitals can lower frequent flyer ER visits is in the story of Providence St. Peter Hospital (Olympia, Washington). The first step was to join a special community program called the Emergency Department Consistent Care Program and CHOICE, a unified program involving five area hospitals and a non-profit regional coalition of health care providers.

This collaborative effort resulted in ER visits among frequent flyers shrinking by about 50 percent, for a cost savings of nearly $10,000 per patient. That translated to a $2.2 million reduction in ED and inpatient expenses over two years at Providence St. Peter’s alone.

This program flags patients who visit the ED at least twice in one month or four times in six months then examines their cases for narcotic dependency, mental health issues and other factors. The program team uses that data to identify patients, then develops individual care plans and offers the assistance of primary care physicians, clinicians and specialists skilled in the patients’ particular needs.

What’s key to the success of the program? It effectively coordinates efforts with other hospitals in the area, according to its administrative coordinator, ensuring that frequent flyers get a consistent message wherever they go.

What approaches should be pursued to provide more efficient care systems while decreasing readmissions for frequent flyers? Encourage more doctors to keep their offices open longer? Leverage mental health coalitions that focus on continuity of care instead of short-term fixes?

Tell us what you think.

Categories: Cost-Savings

Self-Service Kiosks Provide Innovative Path to Testing and Connection to Providers

The recent proliferation of affordable do-it-yourself consumer tools is one way patients are now empowered to take control of their health through prevention and wellness strategies.

One successful example is SoloHealth Station – a free, self-service kiosk offering comprehensive vision, blood pressure, weight and body mass index screenings. Currently located in select Wal-Mart, Safeway, Sam’s Club and Schnucks Markets, more than 10 million people have already used the kiosk in the past two years.

A $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health played a major role in expanding the company’s free medical screening technology, education and wellness programs to a wider audience, including traditionally underserved communities.

“Seventy-one percent of SoloHealth Station users are at medium to high risk of hypertension and 51 percent are overweight or obese,” says Bart Foster, CEO and Founder of SoloHealth. “At the core, we believe that awareness and action can lead to preventative measures that lead to lower costs. So, consumers who realize they are at high risk of BP or BMI would be more propelled to click through to access a doctor or search and scan our database. They are now empowered with knowledge they probably never had before and they want to act on it.”

Foster shares some compelling data that illustrates how SoloHealth links patients to providers:

  • Nearly 40,000 users have clicked through to one or more nearby doctors via the kiosk’s search function.
  • Users with high risk of blood pressure problems are 57 percent more likely to choose a physician.
  • Users with high risk of BMI problems are 97 percent more likely to select a doctor.
  • Users taking the Health Risk Assessment are over seven times more likely to choose a physician.

SoloHealth Station leverages an interactive touch-screen and incorporates videos as part of a 4.5-minute process that guides about 85,000 users each day through its tests. Individuals then receive a comprehensive follow-up health assessment, view their test results, get suggestions for improvement and are given access to a vast network of accredited medical professionals.

Some urge caution about self-service health kiosks, raising concerns about patient privacy, how companies might use personal health data, the quality of their medical information, and whether advertisers and other sponsors might shape their advice and referrals for commercial reasons.

Foster points out that even with the spread of health kiosks, medical professionals remain necessary.

“Technology like the SoloHealth Station can make access to health services and tools easy, free and convenient,” he says. “We believe people will use these accessible tools to take better control of their health care. Once enlightened about a potential health problem, the majority of consumers will act. And knowing is better than not knowing, because prevention leads to better outcomes and lower costs.”

Have you used a SoloHealth Station or other self-help kiosk? Would you do it again? Why or why not? Comment below.

Categories: Access to Care

Walgreens Unveils Solutions to Boost Medication Adherence

How can health professionals enable their patients to take medications more consistently as prescribed?

Personalized counseling from pharmacists and prescription refill reminders are two effective ways now shown to fuel better drug adherence, according to research from Walgreens presented March 15 at the World Congress Summit in Philadelphia.

Walgreens’ community pharmacy programs – in addition to successful intervention models – are equipping patients with powerful tools to self-manage their health.

One finding, for example, revealed that individuals receiving in-person counseling from their pharmacist saw 7.2 percent higher adherence than those with more conventional pharmacy care. Meanwhile, one of Walgreens’ pilot programs demonstrated that patients who receive prescription refill reminders (also called automated refill reminders or ARR) are more likely to consistently take medications for chronic conditions.

“In order to improve medication adherence among patients, providers need to understand the key challenges and contributors to non-adherence, and how to address them,” said Jim Cohn, Walgreen Co. spokesperson. “The research findings demonstrate how programs at the community pharmacy level designed to target common barriers to adherence, such as the challenge of learning a new medication therapy or simple forgetfulness, can significantly improve patient health and outcomes.  Ultimately, these types of pharmacy initiatives can help providers do their part to ensure more people get, stay and live well.”

Walgreens isn’t alone in recommending evidence-based approaches to enhance adherence outcomes. The Medication Adherence Project’s (MAP) 2010 Training Package also offers strategies for both providers and pharmacists that stress individualized patient engagement, with solutions that include writing 90-day instead of 30-day prescriptions, prescribing generics, communicating directly with providers, and more.

Securing increased medication adherence will not only go far in helping patients live longer and healthier, but will deliver considerable savings for the health care system too.

How do we know? Underscoring the benefits of adherence, MAP cites “lower disease-related medical costs” for diabetes and hypercholesterolemia in addition to related “reductions in health care costs.”

The New England Health Institute (NEHI) also provides compelling evidence in its October 2012 Issue Brief that reducing medication non-adherence, which contributes to hospital readmissions, helps lower hospitalizations and saves on associated expenses, noting: “One study found that one-third of adverse drug events resulting in a hospital admission were related to non-adherence. The aggregate cost of hospital admissions related to medication adherence has been estimated to be roughly $100 billion per year and estimates of the share of hospital admissions related to non-adherence are as high as 10 percent.”

Successful strategies generating increased medication adherence are clearly worth pursuing and replicating, both to strengthen the quality of health services and to lower the cost of care.

Now we want to hear from you. As a medical professional, what approaches do you incorporate to encourage patients to properly take their meds? If you’re a patient, what has worked for you?

Taking the Digital Leap Saves Community $20+ Million in Preventable Health Care Costs

Hospitalizations dropped by almost 3,000 people over a two-year period in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, thanks to a variety of quality changes and investments in electronic health records (EHR). This tool collects and shares critical health information about individual patients and populations across health care settings.

The nearly 11 percent drop in hospitalizations for common cardiovascular conditions (diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure and angina) was reported in the 10th Community Health Checkup by Better Health Greater Cleveland, a regional health improvement collaborative that works with health care systems, health plans and employers to foster quality health care that’s more affordable.

Why does this decline matter? Because it shows that through efficient use of EHR, primary care is getting better in this community and has implications for advancing the quality of patient-centered care across health systems.

The report demonstrates that practices leveraging EHR are finding that they can more effectively measure care and identify opportunities to enhance service as a result: “The changes are helping people change the course of their health, and they’re adding up to measurable impact on the community – in health, care and cost.”

Better Health also notes that EHR makes a huge impact for the better when it comes to health outcomes for patients: “We have documented large differences between our EHR- and paper-based systems in terms of achievement and improvement of our standards in diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Indeed, a 2011 paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine confirms this trend, finding a 35 percent higher achievement for composite care standards for diabetes patients treated by practices using EHR compared with practices using paper-based systems. EHR sites were also associated with a 10 percent greater improvement of care and a 4 percent improvement among outcomes.

“EHRs have been well shown to improve patient safety, especially through e-prescriptions and clinical decision support,” says Dr. Tim Kowalski, President, Health Action Council Quality Forum. “They also help to improve care coordination via medication reconciliation, enhancing the exchange of health information and through the use of patient registries. And, they help to reduce redundancy via awareness of previous evaluations and various test results.”

Dr. Kowalski adds: “As health care purchasers we are demanding that health care providers demonstrate quality improvement, customer experience improvement and cost-effective care when we consider which provider groups to feature to our employees and their dependents. As we move from a world of fee for service payment to population health outcome-based compensation, this will become increasingly important.”

Have you seen examples – beyond those demonstrated by Better Health – where care is improved and costs are reduced when EHR are incorporated in the system? Tell us more.

Categories: Cost-Savings

Express Scripts Provides Roadmap to Improve Health Care, Reduce Costs and Streamline Delivery of the Medicine Patients Need

You might be in a “utilization management program” and not know what that means or why it matters to your health. Offered by a variety of employers across industries, utilization management programs are designed to help patients evaluate their health care options and make decisions about the type of services they receive.

So how do these programs impact the delivery of specialty medications for cancer, HIV, inflammatory conditions, multiple sclerosis, and more?

MedAdNews.com reports that a new study from Express Scripts demonstrates how such programs can increase efficiency by ensuring that more patients who need safe, affordable and effective medications can access them.

As spending on specialty drugs continues to increase (18.4 percent in 2012, up from 17.1 percent in 2011), finding the most effective ways to improve the delivery of patient care, reduce cost and eliminate waste is more important than ever. Combining innovations from CuraScript and Accredo, Express Scripts draws upon Health Decision Science – which integrates behavioral science, clinical science, and actionable data – as a springboard to achieve just that.

Building upon this scientific, results-driven approach, Express Scripts provides care targeted to specific areas of patient need through Accredo’s Therapeutic Research Centers as part of its Specialty Benefit Services. Here, a broad array of health care providers integrate pharmacy and medical data to offer what Express Scripts describes as comprehensive patient care that strengthens coordination of services, boosts transparency, and produces solutions.

“It’s really about appropriateness and the right thing for a patient who really deserves safe and effective and affordable medication and ruling out waste. What our plans are most interested in is continuing to be able to afford to provide a benefit. This again was a great example of by doing the right thing that patients were able to save a significant amount of money and again preserve affordability,” said Glen Stettin, M.D., senior VP, clinical research and new solutions at Express Scripts.

Does your employer use a multiple cost management program for specialty drugs? If so, what type? If not, do you think your employer should? What might be some advantages or disadvantages?

Categories: Access to Care

Why Aren’t Patients Taking Their Medication?

It’s a question with which many in the health care community grapple. In some cases, it’s a matter of affordability, as the high cost of certain therapies makes it difficult to pay for needed drugs AND to pay for essentials like rent or the mortgage, utilities and food. Even with medical insurance, the copays for these expensive therapies put them well out of reach for many Americans.

In other cases, it’s a matter of easy access to refills – a problem being solved, in part, by mail-order pharmacies. This was especially the case among 44,000 hypertension patients recently studied by Kaiser Permanente. Research found that making prescription refills more affordable and easier to access might reduce disparities in medicine-taking behaviors among racial and ethnic groups.

The study authors noted that as early as the first refill, some patients are forgoing their hypertension medication. The result? According to the CDC, hypertension can lead to heart attacks, strokes and deaths related to cardiovascular disease. The impact is devastating to communities of color, particularly among African Americans, where males have the highest hypertension death rates of any other racial, ethnic or gender group.

The research found that both mail-order pharmacy enrollment and lower copayments were associated with a significantly lower likelihood of being non-adherent.

Said the study authors, “Our findings suggest that while racial and ethnic differences in medication adherence persist – even in settings with high-quality care – interventions such as targeted copay reductions and mail order pharmacy incentives have the potential to reduce disparities in blood pressure.”

If you’re in the health care field, what ideas have you seen put in action that work to improve treatment compliance? As a patient, have you ever stopped taking your medication due to high cost or hassles getting refills? And have you turned to mail-order pharmacies or copay assistance programs for help?

Categories: Cost-Savings