On the ground with West region CEO: Knowing our market informs our strategic cost-management approach

Beth Soberg, CEO of the West region for UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual, shares how UnitedHealthcare is helping employers strategically manage costs.

Authored by Beth Soberg, CEO of West Region with UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual

As the regional CEO for our West region, I have the privilege of working with health plan leaders and their teams to build benefits strategies for employers that enable a strong experience for employees and providers, while keeping an eye on overall cost trend amid an uncertain economy.  

Employers — and the brokers and consultants who represent them — are telling us every day that the cost of employee benefits is taking a greater and greater chunk out of company revenues. In response, many employers are looking for ways to lower health care cost trend. For some, that could mean shifting more costs to employees. We don’t see that cost shift as a long-term solution that will benefit the health of employees or the bottom line of employers.  

So, while cost will remain a priority for us now and into the future, an emphasis on reduced spend can’t come at the expense of the value or quality of the health plan. We’re finding that employers are keenly aware of the need to provide comprehensive benefits that meet the needs of their employees and their families.

Let’s talk cost management in the West

Strategizing on plan designs

We're increasingly challenged — and I think, rising to the occasion — to provide strategic network and plan designs that maintain choice but also enable employees’ access to the right providers, at the right time.

There are certain industries we see in the West, such as the technology industry in California, that are very competitive when it comes to talent. As a result, employers in that sector tend to have rich plan designs as part of an attraction and retention strategy. Still, employers must strike a balance between the cost of the health plan and the satisfaction and demands of employees they’re looking to hire or retain.

I’ll provide 2 examples of innovations and advancements in plan design that are meeting the cost and experience needs of employers and their employees. First, on the experience side, Surest, a UnitedHealthcare company, is gaining traction. Designed to give members more choice, price clarity and access to quality providers, Surest also features no deductibles or coinsurance. Then, on the cost side, there’s UnitedHealthcare Level Funded plans, which can offer more options and flexibility at lower costs.

Investing in quality networks

In the West, we also see a heightened focus in competing against vertical plan designs, where maybe the choice is a little less but the providers within that network are carefully chosen based on the quality of care they deliver. The foundation of this model is built on the idea that quality providers and the relationships they have with patients is a critical part of the cost equation. So, we work to ensure our plan designs are supported by networks that enable that relationship.

For example, Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO) plans and our UnitedHealthcare Doctors Plan offer employees a selection of quality providers to choose from within a specific network. The result is these plans, supported by quality networks, are helping to achieve better health outcomes and lower costs, especially in Colorado and California.

Having a primary care physician is such an important part of helping employees navigate the health system. Our data shows that employees who have a primary care provider tend to have a lower total cost of care — and are healthier.1 So, in the markets I support, we have focused on bolstering a primary care system that matches employees with primary care physicians who are there when they need them.

What’s next for the West

What I love about the West region is that we continue to innovate and bring network and plan designs, as well as programs and tools, to market that employees and employers can use to help make cost-effective decisions.

Whether it’s the data and insights that help enable providers to deliver more personalized care or the wellness programs that empower employees along their health care journey, our goal is to allow employers, no matter their size, to get creative in their choices to help bring more affordable coverage to their employees — other than the cost-shifting and high deductibles or coinsurance that we know has run out of runway in this industry.

Contact your broker, consultant or UnitedHealthcare representative to learn more about the cost management strategies that may be available to you.

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