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As employers of all sizes struggle to rein in health care costs, health insurance benefits are undergoing a dramatic evolution — but not in the way you might think.

While employers have been increasingly shifting health care costs to employees in recent years, they’ve also begun to take stock of the unintended consequences. Under the pressure of rising costs, some employees skip out on doctors’ appointments or fall behind on prescriptions — saving money in the short-term but putting their health at greater risk.

Gracelyn McDermott, an executive director with Kaiser Permanente, noted that employers are working to “help their employees be healthier, get them showing up to work and be more productive.”

“At the end of the day, employers want to achieve positive financial results. They want to make sure they maintain and/or grow competitive advantage. They want to attract and retain talent, and ultimately, they want to maximize workforce productivity. Any program they put together needs to positively impact any of those four elements,” McDermott said.

It also needs to be communicated to employees clearly and effectively, she added. That’s why education and a focus on health literacy are becoming cornerstones of corporate health policies — and why McDermott spends much of her time providing employers with tools to help.

“This is going to be part of the company’s DNA,” McDermott said. “The culture of health allows health and wellness to permeate through the corporate culture and create those changes in behavior that drive improved health outcomes overall.”

In her work at Kaiser Permanente, a national health care provider and not-for-profit health plan, McDermott has seen employers attempt some of those alternatives. But when implemented independently of an overall health and wellness strategy, individual programs only go so far. In fact, more than 60 percent of employees in the U.S. don’t think their employer’s wellness initiatives meet their needs, according to the Willis Towers Watson annual Best Practices in Health Care Employer survey.

That speaks to a disconnect between the company and its workforce. The solution, McDermott said, lies in a more holistic approach and the adoption an overall culture of health. That involves talking to employees to design programs around their actual needs. It means using data to assess the value and effectiveness of those programs regularly. And it requires adding benefits to ensure those employers are attracting and retaining employees now and into the future.

It even means going so far as to add health and wellness into company mission statements, McDermott said.

And it may start with a move toward scaling back on shifting costs to employees.

While employees have been asked to pay a higher percentage of their health insurance costs in recent years — now 18 percent of the premium for an individual and 29 percent for family coverage — that seems to be stabilizing, even as health care costs are expected to rise another 5 percent in 2019, McDermott said.

“By itself, making your employees pay for health care doesn’t help absenteeism or drive down the cost of anything. It’s increased everything — including frustration,” McDermott said. Instead, companies are increasingly relying on data to create wellness strategies that resonate.

Currently, just 22 percent of U.S. employers use analytics to evaluate their health and wellness programs, according to the survey from Willis Towers Watson, which included nearly 700 U.S. employers from all major industries with at least 100 employees. But that is expected to increase dramatically by 2019, to include 75 percent of employers, the survey found.

The same survey found that, while just 45 percent of employers are currently using analytics to conduct a multiyear evaluation of their health strategy and programs, that number is also expected to rise, to include three-fourths of employers in 2019. In addition, more than half of employers, 54 percent, use data to help certain segments of their workforce take advantage of programs that could benefit their specific needs, according to the survey.

As those numbers increase, companies are learning what benefits matter to their employees and adjusting their benefits offerings accordingly, McDermott said. For instance, mental health is now a much bigger focus of corporate health and wellness programs, borne out of feedback from employees. Fertility treatments — long left out of most corporate insurance plans — are much more likely to be covered, with two-thirds of employers expected to offer fertility benefits in 2019, according to the survey. Even transgender surgery is more likely to be covered now than ever before, McDermott said.

Get started creating a culture of health and wellbeing. Learn how to talk with your employees and gain buy-in for workforce health efforts. Kaiser Permanente is there to support you on your health and wellbeing journey.

Kaiser Permanente is the nation’s leading not-for-profit health plan, serving more than 12 million members.


Original Source:  Washington Business Journal