The Last Company You Would Expect Is Reinventing Health Benefits

It’s hard to think of a business less likely to transform healthcare than America’s most hated company, Comcast. But they are, and in doing so, their healthcare costs have stayed nearly flat—increasing by about 1 percent a year versus 3 percent per year, the national average for large employers.

Comcast spends about $1.3 billion a year on healthcare for its 225,000 employees and their families. Unlike some companies, it has chosen not to contain medical costs by more common options such as high-deductible plans; in fact, Comcast has lowered employees’ deductibles to $250 a year rather than the average of $1,500 a year.

How has Comcast done this? Instead of looking to insurance companies to innovate, the company has put together its own portfolio of companies that it contracts with. One of these companies is Accolade, a McKesson Ventures portfolio company.

Comcast workers with company-provided health coverage are told to go to Accolade first. Its phone number is listed on the back of their insurance card and on the company’s benefits website. Some examples of Accolade’s success in helping Comcast employees navigate the healthcare system to find providers that suit their needs:

  • Geoff Girardin used Accolade when he and his wife were expecting a new baby. “Our introduction to Accolade was our introduction to our first kid,” he told the New York Times. “It was a huge, huge help to have somebody who knew the ins and outs” of the system. Accolade told Girardin that his wife was eligible for a free breast pump and helped them find a pediatrician when they moved.
  • Comcast employee Jerry Kosturko is a colon cancer survivor. He said Accolade helped him steer through the complex medical decisions cancer patients need to make. In fact, when he needed an MRI, his Accolade navigator recommended that he go to a free-standing imaging center to save money. Not only that, but a nurse at Accolade helped him to manage terrible spasms after another cancer surgery because, he said, he wasn’t warned to avoid caffeine. The Accolade nurse thought to ask him this question and told him to call his doctor for medicine to relieve his symptoms.

While only large companies can afford to directly tackle their own medical costs, employers like Comcast have used a variety of strategies to lower their costs. In doing so, they may provide examples for smaller businesses.

But Comcast isn’t using Accolade and Grand Rounds, a company that offers second opinions and help in finding a doctor, just out of altruism. There is definitely self-interest involved. Employees who are less worried about their finances may be less likely to suffer from health problems in the first place. They may also be less likely to miss work. Ultimately, said Shawn Leavitt, the Comcast executive overseeing employee benefits, “there is a productivity play for Comcast.”

Read the full article in the New York Times.