USNH rewards program seeks lower-cost care

A growing number of University System of New Hampshire employees are finding savings for health-related care — and are being rewarded for it — by taking advantage of lower-cost care.Health care costs across the university system are estimated at about $66 million for 2012. They represent one of its largest annual expenditures, and USNH has developed several initiatives to help employees better understand the value of wellness programs and the correlation between how they use their benefits and the impact it has on costs.Under the latest program, called Tandem Health Advantage (the program is a partnership with Bedford-based Tandem Care), USNH employees and their dependents can receive cash rewards by using Tandem to assist them in “shopping” for the same service at a lower-cost provider.When an employee calls Tandem, a nurse helps the employee compare the cost and quality of local contracted providers affiliate with Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, the university system’s insurance provider.If an employee chooses a lower-cost provider, Tandem helps reschedule the appointment and makes sure the records and results are sent back to the ordering physician. The employee will receive a reward of between $40 and $200, depending on the amount saved on the procedure.The service was rolled out at the beginning of 2012, and about 100 employees are using it on a monthly basis – and as awareness increases, usage continues to grow, according to officials.Depending on the type of health care facility used, costs can vary significantly. For example, one USNH employee reported saving $1,700 on a CT scan, resulting in a $200 reward to the employee. “Health care consumers want to do the right thing, but often do not have the proper tools and information at their disposal. We help them make informed decisions and provide the professional support so they don’t have to deal with the red tape,” said Eve Oyer, president of benefits management at Tandem.Additional efforts are underway at the system’s campuses to promote the partnership. For example, Amy Schwartz, USNH’s director of health care cost containment, conducts webinars, holds meetings on the subject, and regularly sends out information via email.”We are really trying to get people to think differently about health care and understand that usage and cost of services directly impacts the cost of providing medical benefits to employees,” said Schwartz. “When thinking about ‘total compensation,’ our medical benefits represent a larger and larger component of our USNH compensation. When people take charge of their own health and service consumption through wellness programs or through services such as Tandem, they can lead healthier lives, receive more cost-effective services and help to bring down the cost of health care for all.”