New holistic health plans from leading insurers may soon have advisers rethinking their client recommendations.

One example is UnitedHealthcare. The nation’s largest health insurer made headlines last month, when it decided to exit most public health insurance exchange markets next year. But its $65 million gamble on holistic healthcare went largely unnoticed. The plan is to elevate primary care in hopes of lowering hospitalizations and overall health costs.

Bloomberg/file photo

In a similar vein, some plans from Harken Health Insurance now include unlimited free doctor visits and 24 by 7 phone access for the Chicago and Atlanta markets. Members also receive access to a personal health coach and mental health counseling, as well as yoga, cooking and acupuncture classes. Kaiser Heath News noted that Harken, which serves individuals and small businesses, “spends twice as much on primary care as the average insurer.”

This approach appeals to Rick Lindquist, CEO and president of Zane Benefits and the author of The End of Employer-Provided Health Insurance. “It makes a ton of sense,” he says. “It’s very clear to me that they see broker distribution as a huge part of their business.”

Consumerism, Lindquist notes, continues to sweep across the entire employee benefits landscape. “Companies like Harken Health, or Oscar or even some of these interesting new retirement entrants, are becoming more focused on servicing the employee directly, so they need to reach that employee through the employer.”

Personalized telehealth

Kaiser Permanente initiated a similar strategy it calls “Imagining Care Anywhere,” which emphasizes real-time, personalized treatment for members that they can access while at home, in a clinic or on the run.

Anthem Blue Cross members, meanwhile, can use their smart phone, tablet or computer for $49 24 by 7 telehealth visits with board certified doctors. The LiveHealth Online program launched in 2013 has since been expanded for PPO and EPO customers both on and off the public health insurance exchanges.

“I think having a telemedicine strategy is a great tool to offer to a client,” says Andrew McNeil, a principal at Arrow Benefits Group. Such services can benefit both fully insured and self-funded groups, and this is particularly true for rural areas, high deductible health plans or when the only off-hours option would be a trip to the ER, he notes.

McNeil cautions, however, that if co-pays are charged for these services, then plan members are more likely opt to see a doctor in person. To encourage telehealth utilization, he says, any out-of-pocket cost for telehealth visits should be eliminated.

To take advantage of these new offerings, Lindquist says benefit advisers must pivot from selling one-size-fits-all group plans to helping employers define and allocate their budgets “in terms of real-dollar benefit contributions” and providing services tailored to each employee.

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