Shawn Leavitt

Shawn Leavitt

To Shawn Leavitt, senior vice president of global benefits for Comcast and NBCUniversal, current attempts to rein in healthcare spending are not working.

“We are looking for partners who aren’t looking to build on top of the current system,” Leavitt said Tuesday at the Oliver Wyman Health Innovation Summit in Chicago. He wants a system “built on reality,” not one that requires another call center, another portal or another set of passwords for Comcast’s 139,000 employees to remember.

From an employer perspective, many current wellness and healthcare “reform” programs are based on what Leavitt called three “outdated premises”: employees should be experts navigating their health coverage and healthcare systems; consumers should be accountable for their spending with the tools they have today; and healthcare beneficiaries should be incentivized to build a better system.

On the first point, Leavitt said that 77 million people in this country have no better than a basic level of health literacy. Among Comcast beneficiaries, 40 percent spend less than 15 minutes studying their options for health coverage during each annual enrollment period and 90 percent of employees “essentially auto-enroll” each year, he said.

Although so many employers have pushed consumer-directed health plans, with high deductibles often tied to flexible spending accounts or health savings accounts as a way to hold monthly premiums down, Leavitt argued that consumers are not able to make informed decisions because there is not enough price transparency. He said that consumer-directed plans typically result in cost savings the first year, but the reductions are not sustained in subsequent years.

The third part, incentives, is what Leavitt called “the fundamental problem” in healthcare. “The incentives are not aligned,” he said. He is trying to change that.

“We are trying to improve the employee experience,” said Leavitt, who also sits on the advisory board of employer-facing health IT company Castlight Health. “What we’ve chosen to do is disrupt one of the last vestiges of corporate life before it disrupts us.”

The still-developing plan is to give Comcast and NBCUniversal employees a “support system for reality.” That means, in part, hiring “benefits geeks” to walk beneficiaries through their coverage and their options, Leavitt said. “Employees do not have to be experts themselves.”

And that is where innovative partners might come in. “We want to be able to drive the healthcare experience closer to home,” Leavitt said. He wants to be able to offer employees an “always-on support network,” one that addresses the major issues he raised.