After years of raising employee's health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical expenses to save money, the New York Times reports some employers are reversing field and offering free prescription drugs to employees with chronic health conditions.
In a stated attempt to avert greater health costs down the road, a number of major companies, including Marriott International, Pitney Bowes, and carpet-maker Mohawk Industries, are providing free drug programs to help employees manage chronic health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, and depression. The move runs counter to the currently popular concept of consumer-directed health care, with these companies said to recognize the limits to shifting too much of the cost of health care to employees, especially when it results in poor patient compliance with drug regimens.
I get this trend for chronic items where the payoff down the road is clear. That being said, there is a clear slippery slope to this trend. Today it's chronic disease management, but if you look closely at the article, categories like depression are already a part of the mix for the companies experimenting with this type of program. Can it really be that long before other items clearly not falling in the disease management category are a part of the mix? What about diet and exercise to control many of the conditions already part of the mix? How are the companies incenting true behavioral change as a path to control the conditions?
Also, expect the mainstream media to focus on the benefits to consumers/employees without focusing on the downside for many companies thinking about this type of program, Companies with high turnover may not have employees around long enough to reap the benefits, and small employers may be attracting candidates with costly conditions without having a large enough pool of employees to absorb the costs. Buried on page 2 of the NYT article:
Companies with high rates of worker turnover may believe that they will not get their share of the eventual savings from a free drug program, while smaller employers may fear attracting too many workers with chronic illnesses, according to the article by Michael E. Chernew, a health care policy professor at Harvard, and Dr. Allison B. Rosen and Dr. A. Mark Fendrick, both of the University of Michigan.
Be on the lookout for employees with some the listed conditions to bring these programs up to you.