Report from large employers explores wellness, healthcare cost strategies

By Jonah Comstock
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CEOInfographicChief executive officers from nine large American companies, healthcare and otherwise, released a 130-page report detailing a number of ways the private sector can help reduce the country's rising healthcare costs, including explaining a lot of the work their own companies are already doing. The CEO Council on Health and Innovation was formed by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Five CEOS from the council presented a panel to launch the document: Aetna's Mark Bertolini, Verizon's Lowell McAdam, Bank Of America's Brian Moynahan, Nant Health's Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, and Muhtar Kent, CEO of the Coca Cola company. Representatives of the other companies (Johnson & Johnson, McKinsey Company, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Walgreens) also attended.

The report outlines three major areas where large employers can improve healthcare: they can focus on improving the health and wellness of individuals through their own employee wellness programs, they can improve the health of communities by working with local organizations, and they can improve the healthcare system by pushing their employees into provider organizations that offer value-based care, and supporting new care delivery technologies like telemedicine and mobile medication adherence tools.

"I think most of us know we don’t have very good outcomes when you look at how we stack up against the rest of the world, especially considering what we spend," MdAdam said. "We spend well over half a trillion dollars every year. At Verizon it’s $2.2 billion, and on this stage we represent a million employees and 150 million people in our healthcare system when you count retirees."

He said that the companies had come together about a year ago to compare notes on healthcare strategy, and decided technology was at something of a watershed moment to enable real change in the healthcare system.

"Those of you that are wearing Fitbits and you’ve got monitors, the technology now is so pervasive, and will become even more so with wearables as we go forward, that we thought we could really make a difference," he said. "So … this is the report. A year later, we think we’ve got a great roadmap other companies can use to lower their costs and improve their healthcare."

In the employee wellness sector, companies talked about both technology-driven and non-tech-driven strategies. Aetna's Bertolini highlighted workplace wellness programs that focus on mindfulness and yoga, for example, while Bank of America's Moynahan spoke at length about his company's experience tracking health factors with connected devices.

"We noticed throughout the member CEOs and other organizations [on the Council] that this is taking hold and you're starting to see these devices on peoples’ wrists," he said. "But the real question is what makes it take hold and stick? So we have been at this a few years and we have 100,000 employees involved in tracking weight, steps, and exercise minutes. And that’s not particularly unique, lots of companies do it. But the unique thing was we got a high participation. So 100,000 people did it the first time, 70,000 people did it the second time. But the real question is how do you drive that across a broader population? How do you translate that into activity and make that fun and interesting so people do it?" 

The key takeaway for individual health identified by the panel was the need for employers to talk to one another about what works, rather than considering employee wellness to be an area of competition. In the short term, that can take the form of groups like the CEO Council and reports like this one, but in the long term, the companies wrote in the report, it means contributing hard evidence and efficacy data on these programs to the future.

In terms of improving the healthcare system itself, the first step for employers is to be aware of how the care provider options for employees, and do what they can to promote value rather than volume-based care options among employees. Companies can also offer some technological preventive health options directly to their employees, whether it be telemedicine video visits, remote patient monitoring, or a system like Nant Health's Vitality GlowCaps for improving medication adherence.

Soon-Shiong highlighted a number of projects Nant Health is working on in this area, most notably the HBox project the company is working on in conjunction with Verizon.

"This health box that will go into the home and into the hosptial and the clinic — we’re working with Verizon on this — this health box will wirelessly capture what we call the human signal engine," he said. "Patients with hypertension [who are at risk for] CHF, we can take their blood pressure. The person does nothing; the results from the machine go directly into the box, into the cloud. [Or for weight,] the patient does nothing further than stand on the scale. All this wireless technology is being delivered directly to the home."

All the CEOs stressed that even a year in, the Council is still at the beginning, not the end, of a process of improving health. The report includes a call to action, asking all employers to commit to the action items detailed in the report.

"The history of US business is steeped in innovation, ingenuity, insight and leadership," the Council writes in the report. "Today's business leaders are applying these qualities, and more, to the challenge of improving health and healthcare. They urge their fellow business leaders to join them in this important effort, to improve and preserve the health of the nation's most important natural resource -- its citizens -- and to enhance the quality and the cost effectiveness of the care they receive."