Three years after the height of COVID, Nevada workers and their families are facing a new set of long-term health challenges – from lack of affordable, accessible health services to lingering chronic conditions that became more pervasive and intense during the pandemic. In Nevada, the combination of these mounting cost and quality pressures has contributed to the state often trailing the rest of the nation on key measures of health, particularly related to high rates of avoidable ER visits, premature deaths and other complications, according to a recent assessment by the Commonwealth Fund.

While healthcare affordability issues are prolific across state lines, the Silver State continues to struggle with one of the most pressing healthcare challenges: making sure employees have access to high-quality, affordable primary care. In this case, roughly 20 percent of Nevadans report they do not have a current or existing relationship with a primary care doctor. Absent having a strong primary care quarterback, employees are increasingly more likely to forego recommended annual wellness visits and screenings, delay getting necessary immunizations or treatments or even check-in when mental health stresses begin to undermine overall health.

Repetitive and consistent delays in care contribute to one of the less well-known affordability crises within our health system. The amount of cost and waste that accumulates from employees being misdiagnosed, and often as a result, receiving unnecessary testing or treatments, accounts for billions of dollars in healthcare costs. That number is upwards of $935 billion annually according to researchers. For Nevadans, those costs undermine their own financial stability. Indeed, the state ranked 46th in the U.S. in 2020 for the high percentage of out-of-pocket medical costs that employees pay relative to the state’s median income. The state also ranked 39th for the percentage of residents with medical debt (19 percent).

With more than half of the state’s three million residents enrolled in private insurance coverage through their jobs, Nevada employers are consistently asking for innovative offerings for their employees and their families. Making that a reality requires Silver State business leaders to embrace and support a new approach to primary care.

Advanced primary care offers employees and their families a one-stop-shop for integrated primary care, behavioral health and mental health services through one coordinated team. The benefits of this approach are numerous for employees, employers, doctors and care teams. Employees and their families have access to care for a broader range of healthcare services beyond primary care at the time most convenient to them, including virtual consultations and same-day or next-day in-person appointments. Employers see greater cost savings over the long-term through preventive services and support, including recommended and routine immunizations, wellness visits and more. Digital and in-person support tools are integrated for doctors and care teams so they can prioritize patient care without the burn-out.

This model can solve the worst gaps in the health system which contribute to poor health and higher costs. First, as more and more mental health diagnoses are happening during primary care visits, advanced primary care teams have dedicated clinical colleagues – including behavioral and mental health experts, nurses and pharmacists – to provide real-time, around-the-clock coordination and care for employees and their families. Second, rather than leaving employees to navigate the health system solo when it comes to specialty care, an advanced primary care team identifies top-performing specialists, makes and coordinates appointments and follow-up care on behalf of patients,and updates medical records so that an employee’s medical history reflects their whole health.

Advanced primary care teams are also keenly aware of impacts to health at the community level – access to healthy food options, housing, and transportation services – and can connect employees to direct resources, such as free digital health programs offered by their employer, and community organizations to address critical social needs. Thousands of Nevada seniors are already benefiting from advanced primary care programs in Medicare Advantage. And a growing number of  employers in Nevada, such as Clark County School District, are providing access to advanced primary care clinics.

Employers know that the most significant and important investment they make is in their employees’ health and wellbeing. By embracing advanced primary care, employers and state leaders will send a clear signal that Nevada is a go-to destination to expand existing businesses, start new ones and foster the next wave of economic growth.

Cheryl Pegus, M.D., M.P.H is Managing Director of Morgan Health

Donald Trigg is Chief Executive Officer of Apree Health


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