The Integrated Benefits Institute on Tuesday announced a new initiative to bring employers together in an effort to get them to share their ideas and efforts to reduce healthcare costs and sustain employee health.

Called IBI Labs, the initiative — which includes research, testing and educational resources — will aim to bring together key stakeholders and “help employers know what a good program looks like based on what has and hasn’t worked for peer companies, in addition to the optimum solutions and services for their employee populations,” said Chris McSwain, president of the IBI, an independent nonprofit that serves more than 1,250 employers including Amazon, Kroger, McDonald’s and Walmart.

The initiative also will give employers a place to consider and look for new technologies as well as a way to benchmark results and outcomes against companies in similar industries and sizes. It will be launched in pieces over the next year, according to McSwain.

[Image credit: Bloomberg]
[Image credit: Bloomberg]

McSwain said employers have signed up to join IBI Labs, but declined to disclose the names.

Continually rising costs and chronic conditions of employees was one of the driving factors behind IBI Labs, McSwain said. Last year, premiums for employer-sponsored family coverage hit $18,764, up 3% from the previous year, with employees paying an average $5,714 toward the cost, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“While [some employers] are doing good, I stand back and ask if we’ve really made a difference. While I and many of my colleagues have done things that are well-intended, I still at points feel like the violin player on the Titanic,” said McSwain, who served as head of benefits for companies including Walmart and Whirlpool before joining IBI as president in 2017. “My view is we have to accelerate change. I’d like the labs to be a resource. I’ve never had the chance to be connected with someone doing great but [doing so] somewhere else, other than maybe seeing them at a conference.”

One vision of IBI labs, he said, is to “take technology companies and push them into the labs and document what they do so we can point people to solutions. If [you’re an employer] looking for an emerging technology, you have a safe place to go where people aren’t selling it.”

The move follows the news that several employers are taking healthcare into their own hands. Amazon announced last month that it is creating an independent healthcare company in partnership with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase for the three companies’ U.S.-based employees and their families.

See also: Will Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan coalition kickstart a benefits revolution?

More recently, Apple unveiled its intent to set up a network of health clinics for employees and their families at the tech company’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters. The company published a website, acwellness.com, with some detail about its initiative and a careers page listing positions it’s looking to fill, including primary care doctor, exercise coach, care navigator and a phlebotomist to administer on-site lab tests. Citing a launch date of spring 2018, AC Wellness describes itself as an “independent medical practice dedicated to delivering compassionate, effective healthcare to the Apple employee population.”

And, two years ago 20 of the country’s biggest companies, including American Express, Berkshire’s BNSF Railway, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola, du Pont, IBM, Ingersoll Rand, Marriott and Verizon, joined together to form the Health Transformation Alliance. The goal of the group was to use data analytics, collective leverage and shared expertise to lower costs for all members. The group has grown to almost 40 members.

Similar to the Health Transformation Alliance, IBI Labs will encourage employers to come up with their own solutions to the healthcare problems they are facing, while also utilizing data and technology.

Initial programs of IBI Labs, according to information provided by the organization, include:

· Market Intelligence: Expand upon IBI’s member network of 1,250 employers to create a comprehensive template that allows business leaders to benchmark their companies against similar entities and to network with others with related interests.

· Promising Technology: Document emerging technology and services that provide value and impact upon employee productivity and business performance through improved population health.

· Research and Measurement: Research and develop evaluation frameworks to measure new areas of innovation, such as the health of the community where employees live, its impact on business performance, and intervention models that provide the highest value.

· Bold Ideas for Big Thinkers: To address the biggest challenges, conduct reviews of disruptive solutions providing breakthrough improvements compared to current industry models.

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