Health care costs in the United States have risen sharply over the last decade. Expenditures on prescription drugs in the United States is up from $69 billion in 1996 to $155 billion in 2001. Meanwhile, the annual percentage change of health insurance premiums have increased from 3% in 1996 to 17% in 2001. The increase in costs may force some companies to restructure their health benefits packages, passing on higher premiums to employees.
An Alternative Solution
The rising costs present particular challenges to the companies that fund their own medical benefits plan. Icon Health and Fitness is such a company that operates a self-funded medical plan, which is overseen by its human resources director. Headquartered in Logan, Utah, Icon is the world’s largest manufacturer of home exercise equipment, with annual sales of $710 million and a staff of 4,239. The company has aggressively pursued an employee fitness and wellness program for the past several years.
One of its most recent projects was an outcome study using meridian stress management (MSA) as an evaluative tool, providing information about the overall status of the body. The project began on June 1, 1998 and ended May 31, 1999. Icon reported high satisfaction among its participants, and was able to see significant cost savings for the company.
In January, 1998, Douglas Younker, Icon’s Human Resources Director, received a meridian stress assessment (MSA) from Dr. Brent Peterson of the Peterson Chiropractic Clinic. The meridian stress assessment device, developed by BioMeridian, impressed Younker so much that he decided to explore the potential for its use among employees. “As the Director of Human Resources for a large company with a self-funded medical plan, I immediately recognized the potential this technology had to eliminate medical symptoms and reduce costs. I had to learn more.” Said Younker.
BioMeridian helped coordinate a study with Icon to determine the cost effectiveness of Meridian Stress Assessment in a corporate health plan. Younker said he was interested in finding out whether MSA could improve the overall health of the employees, and whether the assessments could reduce medical plan expenses. “With these questions in mind, I had health care professionals help me develop a process to track symptom reduction and dollar savings.” Said Younker.
With the plan in place, 70 employees were selected to participate in the study. Those selected were experiencing long-lasting and/or unresolved health problems having resulted in significant ongoing health care costs.
Two technicians performed the assessment under the direction of a chiropractor experienced in complementary medicine. Both technicians were trained and experienced in the use of MSA. One was a Medical Assistant and the other a Registered Nurse. Dietary supplements and homeopathic medicines were used. Diet changes were sometimes recommended.
Participants co-paid for MSA office visits and remedies (dietary supplements and homeopathic medicines) at the same rates paid for routine doctor office visits and prescriptions. The clinic discounted all services and products sold to ICON’s participants.
The Role of the MSAS®
The Meridian Stress Assessment System (MSS) is not used to diagnose or define a disease based on clinically manifested symptoms. Instead, it is a computerized evaluation of the body’s various systems. A reference library of thousands of natural items may be accessed by a health practitioner for use in a program for restoring or maintaining optimal health.
The Meridian Stress Assessment System (MSAS®) measures the energy levels of channels or meridians that are found within the body. Such meridians correspond to the body’s physiological systems. High readings indicate a stressed meridian, low readings indicate a weakened meridian. Practitioners using the MSAS use the survey in recommending supplements that could balance the meridian energy.
The ‘bottom line”
Results of the study were significant. Of the 70 participants entering the study, 9 did not complete the course of treatment, but of the 61 remaining participants, 87% said they experienced significant and lasting improvement. Participants evaluated in the final audit had experienced a 75% (93% for children) reduction in symptoms weighted for severity. For every dollar spent, savings were $10.40 (80% to ICON and 20% to the participants). Hence, the Benefit/Cost Ratio was 10.40/1 over the one-year study period. The average total study cost per participant was $373 (approximately 80% paid by ICON and the balance by participants). Annual gross and net savings per participant were $3,878 and $3,505 respectively. The average participant finished the course of treatment in about 8 weeks. Health care cost savings paid for the $373 average cost per participant in 6 weeks (called the “Payback Period”). Participants reported improvement in the quality of their life, ranging from 0% to 100% and averaging 45%. Most participants have continued to enjoy better health and lower costs beyond the one-year study period. For the 70 participants, total savings were approximately $200,000.
“The cost of this study obviously paid for itself.” said Younker. “But the real satisfaction has come from the gratitude expressed by employee participants and their family members.”
Since the completion of the study, Icon has continued to cover MSA services. Participants’ co-payments for an MSA office visit are the same as they pay for a doctor’s office visit. Their co-payment for dietary supplements is the same as they pay when purchasing prescription drugs.
“We are not writing a formal policy for the inclusion of MSA as a covered service of our self-funded medical plan” said Younker. Included will be an MSA gatekeeper program with incentives for its use when plan participants are faced with certain challenging and potentially costly health problems. MSA will also be a covered service for our employees at our other manufacturing locations, where we will contract with local MSA providers for the service.