As reported by the American Academy of Family Physicians, IBM plans to eliminate copays and deductibles for primary care physician services for most of its employees in January, a move that could prompt other large companies and employers to eliminate financial barriers for primary care services as well, according to analysts interviewed by AAFP News Now.
“IBM is doing this because we think it is the right thing to do,” said Paul Grundy, M.D., M.P.H., IBM’s global director of health care transformation. “We have really listened to our patients. They want a meaningful relationship with their doctor. They want to have a healing relationship, and they want us to support them in having better access and more convenience around their care.”
IBM is one of the nation’s largest employers, employing about 115,000 people who reside in nearly every part of the country. The new ‘first dollar’ for primary care program essentially will make primary care services free for 80 percent of the 328,888 employees and dependents who are enrolled in IBM’s self-insured plans. It does not apply to the 20 percent of employees and their dependents who are enrolled in the company’s HMO.
Grundy expects that the elimination of copays and deductibles for primary care services will “create much better value for our employees and for IBM.” The company spent $79 million on a series of wellness programs between 2005 and 2007, which helped the company save $191 million, said Grundy.
“We feel if we can get much more robust prevention, if we can focus on an early diagnosis, it will save on expenses like hospitalizations, (sub) specialist care and emergency room care,” said Grundy. In turn, this should lead to increased productivity among the company’s employees — perhaps the greatest benefit for IBM, according to Grundy.