The future of health care Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2008

Everyone is talking about the future of health care, presumably because the present view is so unsettling.

 

  • In 2008, employers are projected to spend an average of $9,312 on health care costs per employee — 46 percent more than in 2003.

     

     

  • More than 25 percent of U.S. health care costs are related to physical inactivity and obesity.

     

     

  • U.S. companies lose approximately 2.8 million work days each year because of employee injuries and illnesses.

     

     

  • Uninsured Americans numbered 47 million last year, rising for the sixth straight year.

     

     

  • The United States spends more on health care than any other nation in the world, yet ranks 45th in the world for life expectancy.

     

Almost everyone agrees that the U.S. health care system needs to change. In order for that change to be successful, several events need to occur. Everyone needs access to affordable health care. Transforming the health care system will require shared responsibility. We can only achieve universal coverage if we have universal participation. Comprehensive health care reform will only occur if we have a truly competitive marketplace. People need access to information, technology and support to make wise health care decisions.

“As insurers, we are working hard to be part of the solution,” says Bill Berenson, senior vice president of Aetna’s Small and Middle Market Business for the North Central Region. “We continue to work with employers and plan sponsors to develop innovative, client-centered solutions that deliver lifelong health, lower medical costs and higher productivity for their organizations.”

Smart Business spoke with Berenson to learn more about the solutions shaping the future of health care.

What solutions are helping to shape the future of health care?

More and more employers are taking an active interest in wellness because they understand that the health of their employees is directly tied to the cost of their benefits programs and impacts the overall productivity of their organization. Simply put, if you improve wellness, you improve the bottom line.

The concept of wellness has moved beyond lifestyle coaching or weight management programs. It's a robust solution that helps all employees achieve optimal health. A comprehensive wellness strategy can save money through lower health care costs, greater productivity and reduced absenteeism; however, creating a successful wellness program requires everyone’s participation — the health plan, the employer and the employees. Everyone needs to be actively engaged in order to affect real and lasting change.

Research shows that engaged employees take ownership of, and are active participants in, achieving optimal health. They make better health choices. The result is increased productivity and effectiveness — and an improved bottom line for employers.

What are some other solutions helping to shape the future of health care?

Integration is one of the keys to shaping the future of health care. True integration delivers a continuum of products and services across the entire employee population by seamlessly integrating systems, data and care. The various disciplines — clinicians, behavioral health experts, pharmacists, disease management and disability management staff — all work in concert to create opportunities for better health outcomes. Integration improves employee engagement and drives behavior change to help employees achieve optimum health — and it helps improve productivity and reduce health care and disability costs.

Additionally, medical management strategies improve the quality and cost of care, helping employers achieve a healthier workforce.

How can a business make sure that it is ready for the future of health care?

As an employer, you have to understand that your employees’ health status is directly linked to the cost of your benefits program. You also need to understand the importance of getting to a future state where your employees and their families are fully engaged and take responsibility for health care decisions; the benefits experience they receive is personalized to meet their needs; and all benefits seam-lessly work together to enhance employers’ bottom lines and the well-being of their employees.

To ensure that your organization is ready for the future, consider working with a health benefits provider who is equally prepared and dedicated to helping you reach your goals. Together, you will be able to deliver better care for your employees, increase control over costs, take advantage of the value of integration, and provide a simplified and more rewarding benefits experience for your employees.

BILL BERENSON is senior vice president of Aetna's Small and Middle Market Business for the North Central Region. Reach him at (312) 928-3323 or berensonw@aetna.com.