Some Startling Healthcare Statistics
Workplace Wellness affects every company’s bottom line irrespective of size. For example, health insurance premiums for employers and employees are almost three times that of wages and inflation. In fact, since 2000 employment-based health insurance premiums have increased 78%. These costs are further compounded by those associated with lost productivity, accidents, medical claims, and absenteeism related to an unhealthy work staff. If healthcare costs to the employer continue to rise they will infringe upon company profits, and in some cases put companies out of business. The most efficient way to decrease costs associated with healthcare insurance premiums and general illness is to invest in your employees’ health and promote workplace wellness. We address the current reform law later in this article.
Considering the uncertain healthcare climate, it is imperative that each company offering health insurance to their employees be aware of the some basic education programs that will mitigate the rising costs of healthcare. Programs that educate employees about improvements in nutrition and increased physical activity can help prevent up to 80 percent of lifestyle-related chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Wellness programs can also help employees manage stress. According to the American Institute of Stress, stress alone causes businesses nearly $300 billion annually in lost productivity, absenteeism, accidents, employee turnover, medical costs, and more.
For lack of a better pun, stress is something employers should “stress” about. In the Watson Wyatt’s 2007/2008 Global Strategic Rewards study of 411 full-time employees with medical benefits, 52% said their employer does not address stress, work/life balance, or mental/behavioral health with employees; while a staggering 40% weren’t even aware of what mental/behavioral health benefits were offered by their employer. The good news is that 35.7% of employees surveyed reported they would be more likely to use their mental/behavioral health benefits if their employer promoted them thus promoting a productive and profitable work environment.
Healthcare Reform Bill 3590 and Employer Costs
With the passing of Healthcare Law 3590, employer-based health benefits have changed. Businesses, if they are not already, will drown in healthcare costs, and something must be done. But will healthcare reform keep them afloat or further push gasping businesses with bureaucratic paper trails, audits, taxes, oversight leaving them with little choice but to ultimately go out of business?
The reform aims to make insurance premiums more affordable by creating a subsidized “health care exchange” by which all insurance companies must participate and abide by rules of cost containment and non-discriminatory coverage irrespective of pre existing conditions. Within this health exchange program will be a government plan option. I outline specific legislation in another article, H.R. 3590 and Business 2010.
There’s a problem with this logic however. In order to help make premiums affordable for all, the bill targets employers with a strong message: “play or pay.” If employers do not offer full employer-based health insurance coverage; contribute to the employee’s individual/family insurance premiums; or offer a contribution in lieu of coverage, they will have to “pay” a between $750 and $3,000 per employee per year fee based on company size and yearly payroll amount, not to mention your employees’ quality of care could be compromised as a result of long waits and inadequate resources. Many businesses may simply choose not to offer insurance, though we cannot ascertain this will happen conclusively at this point. The alternative of course is to incorporate wellness programs into the workplace to help fend off potential negative side effects of this bill as it is written today.
To help enforce this “play or pay” philosophy, government will have to boost its oversight of participating businesses while additionally auditing business practices. This plan could place heavy responsibilities and pressures employers who are the main gatekeepers to the insured, underinsured, and uninsured working populations. As an employer it’s important to truly examine how this reform could affect your employees and business systems. Be informed; take a critical look at H.R. 3590: http://www.house.gov.
5 Steps to Reduce Healthcare Costs Immediately
While you might not be able to control for the effects of health reform on your company, you CAN take a proactive approach to containing healthcare costs by improving the health of your employees through workplace wellness initiatives.
I) Inform employers about their health benefits
ii) Provide healthful foods in the workplace
iii) Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers to prevent spread of the flu and colds
iv) Encourage daily physical activity in the workplace (i.e. taking the stairs)
v) Allow for three ten minute breaks throughout the workday for your employees to move away from their desks and stimulate activity.
It is highly suggested that if you are not already doing so, assign someone in your firm to evaluate and improve preventive health and well being practices in your workplace.
Nicole Laws Contributed to This Article