These days, more and more companies are realizing that one of the best investments you can make is in your employees’ health and wellness. Effective health and wellness programs can increase both employee productivity and loyalty.
But, delivering strong health care plans and wellness programs isn’t always easy. Diverse employee populations have different health care wants and needs. Driving participation can sometimes be an exercise in futility. And, of course, there’s that little matter of ever-rising health care costs. But, according to Nancy Pokorny, vice president of business development at the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE), there are ways to provide employees with great health care options — without breaking the bank.
Smart Business spoke with Pokorny about health care, along with ways to reduce costs.
Keeping costs in mind, what should be on an employer’s health care checklist?
Here’s a list, in no particular order:
- Establish an annual benefits budget. Be
realistic and consider asking employees to
pitch in if rates exceed your budget.
- Research what competitors are offering.
- Assess how employees use their benefits. Are you paying for benefits employees
are not using?
- Review plan offerings and rates from
multiple carriers, always comparing apples
- Offer plans, like health savings accounts,
that keep employees aware of the cost of
- Consider offering a base plan with an
employee buy-up or buy-down option (more
than one plan choice).
- Communicate with employees about
benefits coverage (how to best utilize benefits, cost of overall benefits package).
When purchasing a health care plan, what tactics should a business utilize?
Conduct side-by-side comparisons of different health carriers and different health plans, comparing the aspects that are most important to you and your employees. Research the types of additional services that will be available to your employees as part of their insurance coverage. For example, many insurers provide 24-hour hot lines staffed by nurses. Some also provide free smoking cessation help that includes the distribution of the patch, or consulting services. Also, review the list of hospitals and service providers that are included in the insurance network to make sure your employees will choose in-network coverage more often than not.
What other types of strategies may help to decrease costs?
When establishing a benefits plan, employers can share costs with employees, which ultimately encourages a joint responsibility in controlling costs. Employers can consider paying for coverage for employees only, and not their dependents. Many times, dependents already have coverage through another source. This strategy helps to avoid members of your benefits plan having dual coverage — another cost driver.
How can wellness programs help reduce health care costs for businesses?
A number of businesses invest in employee wellness programs as a means of positively affecting employee lifestyles and reducing future health care costs. Popular wellness objectives include smoking cessation, weight management, fitness programs and stress management. Most wellness programs also screen employees for disease at an early stage when treatment is more effective and less expensive. The reduction in the frequency of employee illnesses will result in a reduction of both employer-paid and employee-paid health care costs.
Wellness programs can be cost-effective and reduce health risks — now and in the future — if they are well designed, well implemented and are evaluated thoroughly. Program awareness, structure, process and outcome are essential to a wellness program that produces a successful return on investment.
What resources can businesses provide to employees to help minimize their costs?
Employers should communicate with employees about health plan options through one-on-one meetings, group meetings, company-wide e-mail or internal company memo. Employees should be educated on specific tactics they can use to help reduce their costs, including utilizing doctors’ offices and urgent care centers for everyday medical needs, purchasing generic medications and using freestanding facilities that have the same equipment as a hospital but cost less. Companies should also educate employees on the cost of health care and the types of services that increase insurance rates, such as the use of the ER for non-emergency situations.
NANCY POKORNY is the vice president of business development at the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE), one of Ohio’s largest small business support organizations. Reach her at email@example.com or (216) 592-2309. Consisting of more than 17,000 members, COSE strives to help small businesses grow and maintain their independence. COSE has a long history of fighting for the rights of all small business owners, whether it’s through group purchasing programs for health care powered by Medical Mutual of Ohio, workers’ compensation or energy, advocating for specific changes in legislation or regulation, or providing a forum and resource for small businesses to connect with and learn from one another.