Health care industry branches out from primary focus
That hot lunch delivered to your door? Your health insurer might pick up the tab.
The cleaning crew that fixed up your apartment while you recovered from a stroke? The hospital staff helped set that up.
Health care is shifting in a fundamental way for millions of Americans. Some insurers are paying for rides to fitness centers and checking in with customers to help ward off loneliness. Hospital networks are hiring more workers to visit people at home and learn about their lives, not just their illnesses.
The health care system is becoming more focused on keeping patients healthy instead of waiting to treat them once they become sick or wind up in the hospital. This isn’t a new concept, but it’s growing. Insurers are expanding what they pay for to confront rising costs, realizing that a person’s health depends mostly on what happens outside a doctor’s visit.
“For many people, taking care of their blood pressure or their diabetes is not particularly high on their list when they don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” said Dr. Lori Tishler, vice president of medical affairs with the nonprofit insurer Commonwealth Care Alliance.
Some of this shift is driven by how health plans pay doctors and other care providers.
For decades, they’ve reimbursed mainly for each procedure or service performed, which limits the type of help a doctor can provide. But insurers are shifting more to reimbursement that centers on the patient’s health. That often involves paying providers to coordinate all the help a patient needs to improve their health – and lower health care costs.
Beyond payment changes, insurers and care providers also are stretching their approach to helping patients, especially those with low incomes or chronic conditions.
Virta Woodard receives weekly calls from her care manager, Armando Contreras, and she gets rides to a fitness center, all covered under a program called “Togetherness” started last year by the insurer Anthem. The 56-year-old, who has diabetes and lives with chronic pain, has lost 34 pounds since joining the program.
“I don’t cry every day like I used to because I don’t want to be telling Armando that,” the Long Beach, California, resident said. “I want to tell him I did something good.”