Month: April 2017

3 Simple Ways Companies Can Help Employees with Addiction


After struggling with pain from severe headaches, Michele Zumwalt turned to her doctor for help. He prescribed Demerol to manage the pain. But soon after starting treatment, Michele noticed that she started having headaches if she didn’t have her medication. Over the next several years, what started as a way to manage chronic pain turned into a full-blown addiction to painkillers. Working in corporate sales, she recounted putting on entire presentations for clients and not even remembering the conversations. What’s more, her clients did not notice her silent addiction. Now sober for over 12 years, Zumwalt wrote of her experience in a book about recovery called Ruby Shoes.

In 2017, what was once a problem that we thought was far from our homes and offices now affects our families, our coworkers, and our communities. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Since 2000, the rate of opioid overdose deaths has more than doubled, and the cost of inpatient hospitalizations due to overdose since 2002 has nearly quadrupled. And because of the highly addictive nature of painkillers, addiction has no prejudice. It affects people from all walks of life, including seniors, celebrities, teens, professionals and newborns.

For too long we’ve viewed drug addiction through the lens of criminal justice. The most important thing to do is reduce demand. And the only way to do that is to provide treatment — to see it as a public health problem and not a criminal problem. ~President Barak Obama

Opioid addiction is an epidemic, and it touches the workplace with the same pervasive force. Opioid abuse costs employers approximately $12 billion annually. A 2016 study by Castlight Health found that 1 out of every 3 opioid prescriptions covered by employers is abused, and that painkiller abusers cost employers nearly twice as much ($19,450) in medical expenses on average annually as non-abusers. Opioid addiction is rarely discussed in the workplace, and those affected tend to be very good at hiding their addiction. But there are some simple steps employers can take to help to address opioid use and dependence.

1. Understand the impact. A look into a company’s own health data is the first step is to understanding how exactly opioid use affects their employees. Understanding how painkillers are being prescribed, when opiates result in emergency treatment and the correlation to absences and workers compensation claims helps to quantify the problem for a company. Understanding the scope of the issue informs decisions on a written drug-use policy, whether to do employee drug testing and what drugs to test, how to educate managers and staff, and how to best provide resources to help employees and their families.

2. Reduce the stigma. Most employees struggling with addiction are doing so in silence. They may fear losing their job, and they have developed all sorts of strategies to hide their addiction from their families, friends and coworkers. Employers can play a key role in leading the charge to normalize the discussion on addiction. By helping to lead the conversation in educating employees on opioid use and addiction resources, they can help break the barriers that prevent people from recognizing dependence and seeking treatment.

3. Open access to treatment resources. When companies understand how addiction is impacting their employees and their health costs, they are well-positioned to match member needs with necessary addiction treatment services. These companies may find that they need tools beyond the traditional employee assistance program, as they open access to treatment centers and other helpful tools to support people through recovery. By making data-driven decisions, opening access to resources, and communicating with members, companies can further remove the barriers that keep people from seeking treatment.

It’s hard to believe that Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign for the War on Drugs began over 30 years ago. In those days, we imagined the detectable dangers of drugs as dealers hanging out on playgrounds, giving out drugs to kids like candy. But today in 2017, the danger that faces 20.5 million Americans is much harder to recognize. Many addictions aren’t born on street corners; they start in the doctor’s office. And whether an employer chooses to address the epidemic or not, they have co-workers who wake up and face a life driven by addiction every day. Isn’t it time we as employers become part of the solution?

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About BetaXAnalytics:

BetaXAnalytics uses “data for good” to improve the cost and quality of health care for employers. By combining PhD-level expertise with the latest technology, they help employers to become savvy health consumers, saving health dollars and better targeting health interventions to keep employees well.

Follow BetaXAnalytics on Twitter @betaxanalytics, Facebook @bxanalytics and LinkedIn at BetaXAnalytics.

5 Big Reasons Why Employers Should Use Health Analytics


We’re living in funny times when there’s a public outcry for open accessibility to affordable healthcare, yet employers still cover over half of the non-elderly population in the U.S. So this leaves employers, very few of which have in-depth knowledge of how to keep people healthy, footing a large bill and assuming the health risk of their employees. In fact, 82% of employers with over 500 employees are considered “self-insured,” meaning that they pay dollar for dollar the claims of their employees, spouses and dependents. For most of these employers, healthcare is their second largest expense, second only to the cost of salaries. 

So this leaves any smart employer with a very reasonable expectation—they want to keep their employees healthy. After all, they’re footing the bill for healthcare, so they have a vested interest in the health of their employees and their families.  But how do you keep people healthy? Do you go home with them to make sure they don’t devour a package of oreos at night? Or call them to remind people to take their blood pressure medication? Or wake them up early to make sure they hit the gym before work?

Of course these interventions sound crazy. People’s health habits are a product of personal choices that are decades in the making…and changing these habits is a tall task. So employers are left to manage all sorts of 3rd parties to handle just this—to administer health services, to provide resources for health coaching, to inspire employees to be physically active, and to provide behavioral health and addiction services. But the basic problem remains…employers are paying for these services, so how can they know they are getting what they pay for? This is one of the reasons why health analytics is so important.

Here are the top reasons why employers need to use health analytics:

1.      To understand employee health needs. Most employers, in addition to offering health insurance to employees, offer services to address employee health needs. The goal of offering health services is to improve employee health and to lower health costs over time. These services could be health coaching, health seminars, fitness challenges and weight loss programs. And with the average employer spending $693 per employee on wellness incentives, they want to make sure they understand which services are needed most by their employees. This helps them to spend wisely. This moves them from the spaghetti method of health and wellness spending—throwing everything to the wall to see what “sticks,”—to a data-driven health and wellness strategy that can be justified and measured for their senior management. 

2.      To give high-risk employees the health resources they need. What if you were able to know someone was going to have a heart attack before it happened? The amount of data available today can be used for a very good purpose—to help to match people with proactive care before they end up in a hospital. Let’s say you use an outside service to provide health condition management for your members. The only way condition management can be valuable is if it is reaching the right employees. Leveraging health analytics of your members can ensure that the right members are receiving proactive condition management outreach at the right time—before they end up in the hospital.

3.      To find wasteful spending. Most employers today are under increased internal scrutiny to ensure that they are doing their due diligence in managing their vendors, and the total health and wellness cost for employers is significant. Annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage is $18,142, according to a 2016 employer survey from Kaiser Family Foundation. One very common source of “waste” is the misuse of the emergency room (ER). Understanding the magnitude of emergency room misuse and patterns in the reasons for costly ER visits helps to inform how to best communicate existing benefits to employees, communicate alternatives to the emergency room as well as to evaluate changes to ER co-pays to encourage employees to seek alternative forms of urgent care when it makes sense.

4.      To manage prescription costs. A 2016 study by Castlight Health found that 1 out of every 3 opioid prescriptions covered by employers is abused, and that painkiller abusers cost employers nearly twice as much ($19,450) in medical expenses on average annually as non-abusers. Rising opioid usage and skyrocketing specialty medication costs are at the top of mind for employers, but most employers get very little transparency into this information. Examining prescription drug data helps employers to better understand medication usage, adherence and addiction among their members. This provides valuable information that is crucial to help them to save money in the future, make needed changes to their pharmacy plans and to provide appropriate behavioral health and addiction resources to members.

5.      To manage health service vendors. It is becoming more common for wellness service contracts to include performance guarantees, meaning your company could be getting money back, sometimes up to 30% in returned fees, if employee health is not improving as promised. If your company has performance guarantees in your vendor contracts, you’ll want the ability to have your own source of truth on whether those guarantees are being met. Have you ever had a question that was met with 3 different answers from 3 different vendors? This is comparable to doing your taxes – you may take your tax documents to 3 different accountants and come up with 3 different numbers on your return. Every vendor is looking at data through a different lens, and some lenses are more accurate than others. It’s ironic that employers foot the bill for employee health, yet they rarely have the ability to have their own data arsenal to inform their decisions and audit vendors. Analytics helps employers to become more savvy “consumers” of health services. 

Bottom line – when you are spending a lot of money on something, you deserve to know if that money is being well-spent and you deserve to know how you might be able to save money in the future. This is the value to employers of making data-driven decisions on their healthcare spending. And if you have the opportunity to receive this data from an impartial 3rd party whose contract is not “on the line” based on the data they provide (i.e. not the health plan, not the wellness service provider), an employer is in a prime position to best manage these services.

About BetaXAnalytics:

BetaXAnalytics uses “data for good” to improve the cost and quality of health care for employers. By combining PhD-level expertise with the latest technology, they help employers to become savvy health consumers, saving health dollars and better targeting health interventions to keep employees well.

Follow BetaXAnalytics on Twitter @betaxanalytics, Facebook @bxanalytics and LinkedIn at BetaXAnalytics.

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