How to approach a health plan as an investment for your employees Featured

8:00pm EDT May 31, 2012
How to approach a health plan as an investment for your employees

As health care costs continue to rise, many businesses have scaled back on the benefits that they offer.

However, there are still ways to provide excellent care for employees without breaking the bank. For example, one way that companies are coping with surging health care costs is by implementing wellness plans, designed to encourage employees to take preventive action to improve their health, says Stephen Slaga, chief marketing officer of Total Health Care.

“With the escalating costs associated with health care benefits, employers are having to look at plan design to control the costs of benefits,” says Slaga.

Smart Business spoke with Slaga about how employers can get the most out of their health plans and the elements that make benefit plans attractive to employees.

How can employers make sure their employees are using a benefit plan wisely?

One way is to communicate with your health plan provider to request information about preventive care. Seek information that will tell you if your employees are utilizing the wellness programs available to them to get tests done and discover any potential health problems early. Also, it is key to make sure that employees understand their benefits.

How can employers get more out of their health plans?

Employers need to encourage their employees to use any and all wellness programs that are available to them. The simplest types of wellness programs incorporate basic communications, such as regular newsletters distributed to employees touting the benefits of eating healthy and exercising regularly.

Along with information, a simple wellness plan may also include negotiated discounts at a health club or an annual health fair at which employees can learn about taking better care of their health and where simple screenings can be done.

More aggressive wellness plans mandate participation and follow-up as a condition of participation in the health plan. Such programs identify employees with elevated risk and require that they take certain actions, such as having a comprehensive physical with a physician.

Health risk assessments, which are detailed questionnaires designed to establish a baseline risk level for each employee, are typically available through all plans. By having employees fill out questionnaires, the provider can better understand health histories and serve its clientele more effectively. Questions cover such areas as height, weight, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, alcohol consumption and smoking habits.

The results garnered from health risk assessments are used to target specific education and coaching for employees with elevated risk. When the provider is able to better serve your employees, the result is healthier employees who are present at work and fully productive.

What are some elements that constitute a good benefit plan?

The employer and employees measure this a little bit differently. Employers want predictable, manageable costs and benefits that are attractive to employees so that they can attract and retain top-quality employees. Employees want the best possible benefit for the least possible out-of-pocket cost.

There are a multitude of plan design alternatives to achieve both of these goals, from co-pays to premium contributions. Such alternatives affect employees differently depending upon their own particular circumstances. Healthy employees typically will favor a higher co-pay in return for lower premiums. Those with chronic conditions opt for the opposite because they are accessing health care more frequently and the costs associated with each visit are burdensome.

How has the attitude toward employee health plans evolved?

The traditional attitude has been to use benefits to attract and retain employees. Until the last five or 10 years, there hasn’t been as much cost sensitivity as there is today. People are learning that when the benefit is paid for entirely by the employer, the cost is more difficult to control. As a result, there has clearly been a trend in recent years to shift costs to the employees to the point where they give some consideration to a cost-value proposition. We are now seeing employees who understand and consider the costs of the benefits they are receiving on an individual transaction basis.

How can a company measure whether its benefits program meets the needs of its employees?

Employers should seek input from their employees whenever they can to better understand the experiences that the staff is having with regard to benefits. There is some sensitivity to the issue because people want privacy with respect to their health care. You have to respect those privacy issues, but if you can encourage communication, you will improve employee satisfaction.

How does having a strong benefits package help employers attract and retain key employees?

It can have a very significant impact. Typically, the decision varies by employer, depending upon how aggressively it needs to compete for employees in the marketplace.

Employers should be cautious when shifting costs and responsibility onto their employees. There is a delicate balance between making employees accountable and responsible for the decision making about their health care and shifting so much burden onto them that they become disgruntled with how they are being treated and leave for other employment.

Stephen Slaga is chief marketing officer of Total Health Care.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by Total Health Care