DTCC: In the News

May 18, 2009

Employers in Diabetes Wellness Project Experience Decline in Health Care Costs
A program that linked diabetics with pharmacist "coaches" for face-to-face discussions about managing diabetes improved patient health outcomes and reduced employer costs, the project's director told BNA.

Results from the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) Foundation’s Diabetes Ten City Challenge indicated that average total health care costs per patient per year decreased by $1,079, or 7.2 percent, when compared with projected costs. 

The results, published in the May/June edition of the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, were based on medical and pharmacy claims for 573 project participants. Individuals who took part in the program for at least 14.8 months also showed reductions in glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels, among other health improvements, the study noted.

"We wanted to see what way we could improve our financial outcomes, short of passing on higher premiums and greater deductibles to employees," Jason Hopkins, HR director at Hamilton Health Care System, told BNA.

"What this project demonstrates is an opportunity to transform health care delivery in communities by encouraging employers to invest in helping their employees manage chronic disease," project director William Ellis, executive director and chief executive officer of the APhA Foundation in Washington, D.C., told BNA May 5.

Thirty U.S. employers in 10 geographic areas took part in the program, sponsored by the APhA Foundation with support from pharmaceutical giant Glaxo-SmithKline Inc. The project, which began in January 2006 and ended in December 2007, was open only to employers that are self-insured, the journal article said, "and therefore at risk for medical and prescription costs for their employees and other beneficiaries under the established health plan."

To participate, employers agreed at a minimum to waive copayments for diabetes medications and certain supplies for eligible employees and retirees, and their dependents who volunteered for the project. In exchange, participants signed agreements to commit to specified diet and exercise regimens and to take prescription medications as directed by their pharmacists and medical providers. Patients who did not adhere to the agreement were dropped from the program.

Employer Took Action to Curb Rising Costs. 

Hamilton Health Care System Inc. in Dalton, Ga., jumped at the chance to participate in the diabetes program, said HR Director Jason Hopkins. "We wanted to see what way we could improve our financial outcomes, short of passing on higher premiums and greater deductibles to employees," he told BNA May 6. Hopkins said diabetes and related conditions among Hamilton's 1,500 benefit-eligible employees comprised 20 percent of its health plan costs. This influenced the chief executive officer to suggest enrolling in the diabetes challenge.

Hamilton was alerted to the program by Northwest Georgia Healthcare Partnership, a community-based organization in Dalton that addresses the health care needs of 130,000 residents in Whitfield and Murray counties.

"We took the lead because we had a consumer education workgroup that has been struggling with the epidemic problem of diabetes in our community," Nancy Kennedy, executive director of Northwest Georgia, told BNA May 6.

Communication Is Key. 

Hopkins said that, based on prescription drug claims, Hamilton identified 250 employees who were affected by diabetes and invited them to learn about the project. A total of 34 employees volunteered to participate. "I really feel like we could have communicated this even better," he said. "I believe there are groups of associates who know they have these conditions and need to know more about the program and how easy it is to sign up for it."

Kennedy agreed. "One of the most important pieces is the employers doing their due diligence up front," she said. "Employers should present this in a way so employees understand what the company is doing and why it is doing it."

After participating in the Diabetes Ten City Challenge for a year, Hamilton was saving $611 in health care costs per participant. "We believe the savings will be even greater in subsequent years," Hopkins said. Hopkins said Hamilton now offers a similar wellness program for eligible individuals who have cardiovascular conditions such as hypertension. A total of 200 participants are enrolled in the diabetes and cardiovascular programs.