Would saving an extra $200 billion in health care costs a year sound nice?

No, it’s not another ploy to get rid of the Affordable Care Act … for once. Annually, between $100 billion and $289 billion is spent on hospital visits due to patients failing to adhere to their prescription medicines, according to data from Healthentic, a health data analysis company. And, when you factor in lost productivity due to health-related factors, that figure can costs employers even more.

New research suggests that nearly 50% of patients aren’t taking medication on a regular basis. “There’s a tragic cost for people who don’t take their medications as prescribed — even for people who take their medication most of the time,” said Jeff O’Mara, Healthentic’s CEO. “Non-adherence is a huge health problem for individuals, and causes massive amounts of unnecessary costs for employers.”

Healthentic’s research, released Thursday, focuses in particular on three conditions: diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

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While non-adherence happens in and out of the office, there are a number of steps employers can take to help employees stay on track.

“Too many employers are focusing their workplace health efforts on things that don’t make an impact to health or costs,” said Al Lewis, founder and president of Disease Management Purchasing Consortium. “Managing specific people and conditions in a population, using tools like medication adherence, is one of the most effective ways to avoid expensive hospitalization and keep people healthy — if you target the right people.”

Also see: Employers expected to tackle health care costs through wellness

According to Healthentic, some steps employers can take to help reduce non-adherence include:

  • Identifying health plans with lower out-of-pocket costs for prescription medications
  • Looking for health care systems with a patient-centered, team approach to care
  • Targeting outreach to non-adherent employees with programs that have shown success for their specific conditions

With low-cost plans, employees won’t be as worried about being able to afford some of the higher cost prescription drugs associated with certain conditions or diseases.
In addition, Healthentic points out the changing technology landscape may also help employees stick to taking medications as needed. For example, using text messages connected to an “electronic pill box” that sends reminders when the box hasn’t been opened.

Other tips to help employees stay on top of taking medication include maintaining an up-to-date list of medications and having a better understanding of how the treatments benefit their health. 

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