“What we were doing in the past wasn’t really working,” Johnson said. “So this model … is worth it.”
Chipping Away at Challenges
Experts warn Cisco’s approach is not suitable for most employers.
For starters, companies need thousands of employees in one place, usually a city, said David Muhlestein, Chief Research Officer at healthcare consultancy Leavitt Partners in Washington, D.C. Then their healthcare partner needs to be committed to improving patient health, rather than just offering a discount to win a big client.
“There are not a ton of providers who are really well positioned to make those changes,” Muhlestein said.
Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel says it has found such partners since it launched its Connected Care health plan five years ago. About 38,000 employees and dependents are now enrolled in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Oregon.
Technology is critical to curbing costs. In Oregon, patients are encouraged to use video conferencing to speak with physicians when appropriate. At $49, the cost is one-third of an office visit.
Jennifer Leo, a 41-year old Intel project manager in Hillsboro, Oregon, chose Connected Care mainly because it covers 100 percent of her husband’s insulin, a drug whose U.S. retail price has more than doubled over the past five years.
Hospital network Providence Health & Services tracks her husband’s condition closely. But Leo said she, too, got personal attention when she came down with a sinus infection on a weekend.
She booked a quick video appointment with a doctor, who prescribed an antibiotic. The next day, the office of her primary care physician reached out to “check that everything got taken care of,” Leo said.
Such follow-through has led to high patient satisfaction; Connected Care boasts a 95 percent enrollee retention rate, says Angela Mitchell, Intel’s head of U.S. healthcare delivery.
And it has curbed costs and boosted patient health, she said. Last year, for example, 78% of diabetics on the plan had their sugar levels under control, up from 69% in 2016, Mitchell said. Spending on people with the most complex health conditions was about 10 percentage points lower than on those with comparable issues outside the plan.
Intel spent nearly $700 million on healthcare last year, up about 1% from $690 million in 2016.
Still, Intel employees will sometimes ask Mitchell for help when they cannot see specialists quickly enough. In some cases, she will intervene and call the health system directly to make it happen.