How a workplace wellness program can be convenient and inexpensive

Setting up a wellness program at your company in the new year shouldn’t be burdensome. And if you need some encouragement that it will pay dividends, turn to Rand Corp.’s recent Workplace Wellness Programs Study, which found that for each $1 invested in a workplace wellness program, $1.50 is returned.

There are several levels of activities that you can offer, depending on how involved you want to be, from blood pressure screenings to weight loss to smoking cessation programs.

“It’s important to really assess health risks that are impacting your own employee population,” says Amber R. Hulme, Medical Mutual Vice President for Central and Southern Ohio. “Wellness programs also help with absenteeism — they help make people feel better and make them want to come to work. The better you feel, the more you are engaged.”

Smart Business spoke with Hulme about how to start a workplace wellness program.

Where do you start? Do you check with your insurance provider for resources and incentives?

Yes — do that initially. You want an official baseline of your employees’ health risks. A baseline is easy to achieve with a health screening and health assessment questionnaire, which is often done online.

A health screening is vital so people know their numbers. But the health assessment is where you really get the data behind the screenings. A minimum of 30 employees is a good number to establish a baseline.

Are wellness programs suitable for companies of any size?

Yes. Obviously, the larger the employee base, the more data you can work with. For example, Medical Mutual can provide a report showing the percentage of tobacco users, diabetics or overweight employees based on a large enough sample size. You can then develop a wellness program that addresses the primary concerns of your employee population. The program can include incentives to encourage employees to go to a gym or participate in other fitness-related initiatives.

But a wellness program can work regardless of the size of the company and doesn’t require an on-site gym. If you do have a gym, that’s great, but it doesn’t mean you have to have one. There are plenty of creative ideas that can be used to make a great wellness program.

What about a company culture factor?

Making wellness part of your company culture is important; employees should feel that it’s an initiative from the top. The culture of the organization really needs to change to be more focused around lifestyle behaviors that make employees healthier.

Another thing to consider is how to best communicate with your employees. Survey your employees to find out what type of communications would help drive their performance.

Should a company offer incentives for employees to join the wellness program?

Use your survey to learn about what rewards are worth the extra effort. Don’t just throw a large amount of money at employees with the expectation that it will engage them.

You may be surprised how a small incentive or recognition by the company can promote participation. Allow your employees to participate online to select the wellness programs. Consider having an employee wellness committee. Ask employees to get involved so it’s not just coming from management, but from everybody. Having all levels of the organization involved in trying to improve employee health is important to a company.

What is the final step?

Make sure to have senior management buy-in. If you get your CEO or CIO or whomever involved and active in the wellness program, employees can share in the experience with someone at that level. This upper-level buy-in can encourage participation because employees feel they are all part of the same team. When employees see that management cares enough about wellness to participate, it makes an impact. And that participation can lead to positive communication and interaction.

A good wellness program impacts everybody in the company, no matter their job title. It puts everyone on the same playing field because everyone goes through the same struggles.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by Medical Mutual

How lifestyle medicine gets to the root of disease to improve health

Significant and growing scientific evidence shows that the primary determinant of health or disease is not genetics, but lifestyle. Heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer and a wide variety of other chronic diseases are preventable with healthier behaviors. Moreover, they can be better managed, and even reversed, through lifestyle improvements.

In recognition of the connection between lifestyle and health, a relatively new style of treatment, known as lifestyle medicine, is increasingly being seen as an alternative to traditional treatments used on chronic diseases.

“To address the root cause of disease, disability and premature death — and economic costs for all employers seeking a healthy and fit workforce — we need a new paradigm which ‘de-medicalizes’ health,” says Dr. Michael Parkinson, senior medical director for UPMC Health Plan. “What we eat, how we move and how we think are the cornerstones of good health and living a long and productive life.”

Smart Business spoke with Parkinson about lifestyle medicine and how it can impact the health of employees and companies.

What is lifestyle medicine?

Lifestyle medicine is the use of lifestyle interventions in the treatment, management and reversal of disease. As aptly described by Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, the interventions consist of:

  • Forks: Incorporating more whole, plant-based foods into our diet. Reducing or completely eliminating refined and highly processed foods, meat and dairy products.
  • Feet: Increasing daily physical activity to at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity.
  • Fingers: Eliminating cigarettes or excess alcohol.
  • Sleep: Ensuring we obtain adequate and deep sleep every night.
  • Stress: Developing healthy coping mechanisms like exercise, meditation or mindfulness for life’s inevitable challenges.
  • Love: Having and developing a commitment to a purpose, person or interest, which gives meaning to our lives.

Scientific evidence shows that lifestyle interventions can be effective in treating chronic disease, and can be equally and often even more effective than medication. Lifestyle interventions also have the benefit of not having as many risks or unwanted side effects.

So, what’s the cost? There is none, except choices, time and effort.

What chronic diseases can be effectively treated through lifestyle medicine?

Lifestyle medicine can both be effective in helping to prevent, but also to treat most chronic diseases. Many diseases affecting multiple organs, like heart disease, kidney disease, hypertension, diabetes, a majority of cancers, dementia and other conditions, are due to diets of modern-day processed foods which are high in added salt, sugars and fats but low in nutrients and micro vitamins. The result can be underlying inflammation, which can promote multiple common chronic diseases.

How does the emerging concept of lifestyle medicine support an employer’s wellness program?

A coordinated worksite wellness program emphasizing healthy behaviors, disease management, aligned policies and supportive environments can reduce total health care and productivity costs.

Loss of productivity from absenteeism and presenteeism can be more costly to a company than health-related costs. Effective workplace wellness programs follow the principles of lifestyle medicine.

Why is lifestyle medicine getting more attention now?

Frankly, we can’t afford to ‘medicalize’ environmentally and behaviorally caused disease with more treatments, tests and procedures. And doctors, frustrated often by lack of progress in treating and reversing disease, are beginning to explore this new approach based on sound science.

The challenge in the near term is twofold: paying for these services (as opposed to usual medical interventions under ‘fee for service’ reimbursement) and improving the skills of providers to provide them.

With the new payment models promoted by the Affordable Care Act and employers’ consistent and constructive engagement, we should begin to see more ways to improve employee and family health.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

How to utilize the right tools when making health plan decisions

Determining whether it’s worth the disruption to move your employees to a different health plan with a new network of hospitals and doctors is never an easy decision. There are, however, several different health care tools that can help.

These resources also can give you an idea of how much money you may save by moving to a different health plan.

“These are important decisions employers make to keep their employees happy and keep money in the bank that they can use for other things,” says Ann Henry, proposal coordinator, senior, at HealthLink.

Smart Business spoke with Henry about what information GeoAccess reports, disruption analysis and requests for proposals (RFP) provide, and how you can use the data to make better decisions.

What’s the timing for using these tools? 

Timing is very important. Typically, employers request some type of analysis a year to six months ahead of their effective date, which is the date their health plan starts each year. Most employers like to sync this date with their annual budgets.

Some employers wait until the last minute. But to do a thorough analysis and allow time for good decision-making, it makes sense to start the process six to nine months prior to the plan effective date.

The larger the employer, the more time may be required.

What information do GeoAccess reports provide?

A GeoAccess report allows an employer to see if their employees have good access to the network of providers.

The report takes the zip codes of where the employees live and measures how far they will have to drive to get to a hospital or a physician that’s in the network. The report shows what percentage of employees has access to a given number of hospitals, primary care physicians or specialists.

Accessing providers that are in the network is important because it saves everyone money, and some health plans won’t pay claims for a provider outside the network. For example, if an employer requests a GeoAccess report and finds that 10 employees have to drive too far to see a provider that’s in the network, that’s a good indication to keep shopping.

What is a disruption analysis, and how does it specifically help?

A disruption analysis shows an employer how disruptive it will be for their employees to use a different network of providers because most people like their doctors and don’t want to change them.

By looking at the employer’s claims activity for six months to a year, the analysis can match providers used by the employees to the prospective network of providers. This determines what percentage of providers used is participating in this other network.

The analysis can be taken a step further. If the claims data includes the billed amounts of the claims, the analysis also can estimate how much those claims would have cost with the new network. This gives the employer an idea of what kind of discounts they would have received with a different network using the historic claims data. It helps determine if another network of providers will save employers more money.

How can companies get the most out of their RFP process? 

Employers need to think about what they like about their current health plan and make sure that any new plan still has those attributes. They also need to think about what is lacking or where there have been issues and see how a different health plan can lead to improvements.

What else should employers consider when making health care decisions? 

Employers and brokers need to be careful about network discount information. There are lots of ways to calculate a network discount and different definitions can show different results. An employer may think they are making an apple-to-apple comparison when they aren’t. When an employer or broker asks for network discounts, the second question should be, “How was this discount calculated?”

Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink

How the new year is a good time for start a workplace wellness program

Setting up a wellness program at your company in the new year shouldn’t be burdensome. And if you need some encouragement that it will pay dividends, turn to Rand Corp.’s recent Workplace Wellness Programs Study, which found that for each $1 invested in a workplace wellness program, $1.50 is returned.

There are several levels of activities that you can offer, depending on how involved you want to be, from blood pressure screenings to weight loss to smoking cessation programs.

“It’s important to really assess health risks that are impacting your own employee population,” says Amber R. Hulme, Medical Mutual Vice President for Central and Southern Ohio. “Wellness programs also help with absenteeism — they help make people feel better and make them want to come to work. The better you feel, the more you are engaged.”

Smart Business spoke with Hulme about how to start a workplace wellness program.

Where do you start? Do you check with your insurance provider for resources and incentives?

Yes — do that initially. You want an official baseline of your employees’ health risks. A baseline is easy to achieve with a health screening and health assessment questionnaire, which is often done online.

Health screening is vital so people know their numbers. But the health assessment is where you really get the data behind the screenings. A minimum of 30 employees is a good number to establish a baseline.

Are wellness programs suitable for companies of any size?

Yes. Obviously, the larger the employee base, the more data you can work with. For example, Medical Mutual can provide a report showing the percentage of tobacco users, diabetics or overweight employees based on a large enough sample size. You can then develop a wellness program that addresses the primary concerns of your employee population. The program can include incentives to encourage employees to go to a gym or participate in other fitness-related initiatives. But a wellness program can work regardless of the size of the company and doesn’t require an on-site gym. If you do have a gym, that’s great, but it doesn’t mean you have to have one. There are plenty of creative ideas that can be used to make a great wellness program.

What about a company culture factor?

Making wellness part of your company culture is important; employees should feel that it’s an initiative from the top. The culture of the organization really needs to change to be more focused around lifestyle behaviors that make employees healthier.

Another thing to consider is how to best communicate with your employees. Survey your employees to find out what type of communications would help drive their performance.

Should a company offer incentives for employees to join the wellness program?

Use your survey to learn about what rewards are worth the extra effort. Don’t just throw a large amount of money at employees with the expectation that it will engage them.

You may be surprised how a small incentive or recognition by the company can promote participation. Allow your employees to participate online to select the wellness programs. Consider having an employee wellness committee. Ask employees to get involved so it’s not just coming from management, but from everybody. Having all levels of the organization involved in trying to improve employee health is important to a company.

What is the final step?

Make sure to have senior management buy-in. If you get your CEO or CIO or whomever involved and active in the wellness program, employees can share in the experience with someone at that level. This upper-level buy-in can encourage participation because employees feel they are all part of the same team. When employees see that management cares enough about wellness to participate, it makes an impact. And that participation can lead to positive communication and interaction.

A good wellness program impacts everybody in the company, no matter their job title. It puts everyone on the same playing field because everyone goes through the same struggles.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by Medical Mutual

Dispelling 5 myths of health care’s narrow network plans

As the health care landscape continues to change, consumers are seeing an increased presence of health care options known as narrow networks.

In 2007, narrow networks represented 15 percent of insurance plans; that number grew to 23 percent by 2012. And, in fact, 70 percent of the Affordable Care Act exchange plans are narrow network plans, according to Anthem BlueCross BlueShield.

These networks go by a lot of names — skinny networks, focused networks, exclusive networks, small networks and tailored networks — but all refer to health care plans that feature a tighter network of doctors and hospitals, which translates into greater savings for plan sponsors.

Narrow networks also can be an excellent choice for your employees if they understand what hospitals and doctors are in the network and can separate myth from fact.

Smart Business spoke with Brian Fallon, regional vice president of network management, payor relations and analytics at HealthLink, about how narrow networks really work.

What kind of savings do narrow networks bring?

Narrow network plans cost between 13 and 17 percent less than comparable plans featuring wider networks, according to Politico.

When you apply those savings to average national annual premiums, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that it results in an annual reduction of between $783 and $1,024 for single coverage, and between $2,188 and $2,862 for family coverage.

What are the biggest myths about narrow networks, and what is the reality?

There are a number of common misconceptions about narrow networks.

  • Myth 1: Narrow networks are bad for employees. Narrow networks don’t just provide savings for employers; those savings reach employees as well. The doctors and hospitals in narrow networks also are just as high in quality as those out of network. In fact, the providers in narrow networks have been carefully selected for their ability to deliver high-quality, integrated care.
  • Myth 2: You can’t see specialists if you have a narrow network. Narrow networks include a variety of quality specialists and health care providers.
  • Myth 3: Expensive health care is better health care. There is little to no correlation between the cost of a given health care service at a particular provider and the actual quality of that care, according to a Health Affairs study.
  • Myth 4: Communicating a shift to a narrow network at your company is hard. When equipped with the right information, changing to a narrow network is manageable. But information is key; stakeholders need as much information as possible about changes and available health care plans in order to make the right decisions. In fact, many narrow networks are only about 10 percent tighter than the typical network, so the medical providers your employees are familiar with likely will still be in network.
  • Myth 5: Employees want broad, expensive networks. Narrow network plans are growing in popularity, and a major factor for this is the lower price associated with these plans. Cost is a top priority for employees when making decisions about which health plan to select, according to a 2011 WellPoint study. That same study found that 50 percent of consumers paying the full cost of their premium are willing to select a narrow network in exchange for lower premiums.

It’s important to remember that narrow networks can benefit both consumers and employers with reduced-cost health care plans while providing excellent care.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink

How to empower employees to manage their health care costs

While health care costs continue to rise, recent studies show that almost half of those costs are either unnecessary or otherwise avoidable. To reduce those expenses, more organizations are making sure their employees are empowered to make better health care choices on their own.

“When employees understand their health insurance, they can make good decisions that benefit themselves and their employer,” says Veronica Hawkins, Medical Mutual Vice President, Government Accounts. “That’s why it’s important for organizations to ensure their employees are using all the tools available.”

Smart Business spoke with Hawkins about why these should be a central part of every organization’s health care benefits, what types of tools may be found and how they can make sure employees are using them effectively.

Why are these aids important?

As the cost of health care continues to rise, it’s getting more difficult for organizations to keep the coverage they want to provide for employees. In the last couple of years, consumer-driven health plans have become a popular option. They encourage employees to take a more active role in how their health care dollars are spent.

But for employees to be truly confident in their decisions, they need the right tools to understand cost and quality. In addition to helping employees make more informed decisions, these aids can have a direct impact on an organization’s bottom line.

What tools should employees be using?

Useful aids available today really put employees in control so they can make informed decisions. Organizations should take advantage of every chance to encourage their employees to put them to use. Beyond simply looking for a doctor in their network, employees now can better manage their health care expenses.

For organizations with consumer-driven health plans, employees are more conscious of how much they spend on health care. In the last few years, more employees are accessing their plans online or through mobile devices. That helps them keep track of their expenses more easily, and know how close they are to reaching their out-of-pocket maximum.

There are also tools available to help employees manage their prescription drug needs, either directly through their insurance carrier or through a pharmacy benefit manager. Employees can use these aids to order their medications online, as well as research options that could save them money, such as generic alternatives.

How are the types of tools evolving?

They are more focused on transparency. Today, consumers want to do their own research and compare their choices before making an expensive purchase. Health care really isn’t any different. As employers shift more health care costs to employees, the toolbox needs to enable choice and provide transparency in costs and quality.

Education is a huge part of the process. To make good decisions before having a surgery or procedure, for example, employees need to understand their treatment options and how their plans would cover them.

We’re always working to give our members better tools to support their health care decisions. Next year we are introducing a new platform that we think will help them select doctors and hospitals in the network, compare costs and evaluate quality for any medical services they may need. Organizations and their employees need that kind of information to make truly informed decisions.

What is the best way to promote the tools?

Organizations need to have a multi-channel approach for engaging their employees. For example, a health care insurance provider may partner with employers to create customized approaches that drive employee engagement. These approaches are only valuable when employees know of them and understand how and when to use them. Those efforts are most successful when organizations strategically partner with their insurance carrier to raise awareness and help employees plan and use their coverage more effectively.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by Medical Mutual

How executive concierge health care ensures top leaders get needed care

Companies today, large or small, cannot afford to take the health of their leadership teams for granted.

The challenge facing many companies is how to help executives — who face a heavy work commitment — find the time necessary to do the equally important task of taking care of their health.

This has led to the development of a new set of services, executive concierge health care, that allow top executives to have streamlined access to high-quality, efficient care.

“Companies that offer executive concierge health care services to their executives are making a statement that the health of their executives is important,” says David Weir, president of UPMC WorkPartners, part of the UPMC Insurance Services Division. “By offering these services, a company ensures that their executives get the care that’s needed and the leader can focus on successfully leading the company.”

Smart Business spoke with Weir about the concept of executive concierge health care services and why companies are increasingly focused on executive health.

What are executive concierge health care services?

Executive concierge health care services sounds like a fancy concept, but, basically, it is a convenient, efficient and effective way to assist and support a busy executive in the management of his or her health.

Executives appreciate receiving preventative exams, health consultation and advice in one day. This enables an executive to receive all the recommended tests or procedures needed based on age and gender. These tests can include vision testing, audiograms, comprehensive laboratory testing, pulmonary function testing, EKGs, bone density testing and chest X-rays.

The busy executive can secure the preventative care needed in one day and in one place, as opposed to taking multiple days and time off work for appointments, which can often lead to the executive not getting the care required to maintain his or her health.

In addition, offering a private waiting area with amenities such as Internet access enables a busy executive to keep tabs on work while receiving essential medical services.

After the initial visit, what is the benefit of executive concierge health care services?

Coordination of care, priority appointments with specialists and direct access to medical professionals are all equally important benefits of executive concierge health care services.

Executive concierge health care services facilitate coordinated care by making it easy for the executive to communicate with the concierge team 24/7 via phone or email. The ability to make appointments on the same or next business day is another big advantage, as is coordination of specialty and hospital care.

Another benefit for executives is the personal relationship that exists between the executive and the physician and staff. This ensures timely service and personalized attention.

Executive concierge health care services can be customized to fit the specific needs of a company and its leadership. Depending on the plan, extra services can include priority dermatology appointments, travel consultation and vaccination, and services for spouses and domestic partners.

Why would a company want this service for its executives?

It is easy to understand what executives like about these services — the personalized care and attention is a big plus. Experienced doctors primarily deliver executive concierge health care services, and the health care providers typically enjoy developing personal relationships with patients.

Companies that offer executive health care concierge services ensure that their executives receive the preventive health care they need to continue to stay in good health and to lead the organization.

Executive concierge health care services also can be a strategic tool in the recruitment and retention of executive talent and ensuring leaders remain healthy as they lead their organization to success.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

How small groups can ease into self-funding with a level funded approach

Self-funding is a funding mechanism long used for health benefits, particularly in the large group market with 100-plus members. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), however, is creating a sweet spot for smaller groups who can use level funded self-funding plans to save money and gain control over costs.

“The level funded approach to self-funding is right in the middle of the insurance spectrum. It’s a stepping-stone or hybrid between fully insured and self-funded,” says Abbe Mitze, account executive II at HealthLink. “There are a lot of protections in place that make it feel, look and act just like a fully insured plan, but the platform is self-funded, which brings its own advantages.”

Smart Business spoke with Mitze about why the ACA is making level funded self-funding more attractive, and how your company can take advantage of it.

How is the ACA affecting small groups?

The ACA will be implementing community-rated underwriting for all fully insured small groups in 2016. (Originally slated to start in 2014, transitional relief delayed the effect for the majority of small groups.) A small group currently consists of two to 50 members, but that expands all the way up to 99 by 2016.

With community rating, only age and tobacco use factor into premium rates. That means gender, the health of an employer group and its claims experience and SIC code will no longer be considered in health insurance underwriting.

In addition, the age rating band will be tightened. Health carriers can charge up to seven times more for an older participant; under the ACA it’s only three times more. In fact, the total rating band ranges from four to 14.42. With the community underwriting method, the range will be one to 4.5.

Along with mandated essential benefits, this new underwriting will increase costs. By moving to a community-rated plan, small group employers could see premiums go up 20 to 30 percent.

What is a level funded self-funded approach?

Typically, with self-funding, when employees have claims, the employer group is responsible for funding and paying for those claims each week, with stop-loss insurance to help cover catastrophic or higher claims.

In a level funded or max funded approach, an employer group pays a monthly premium to a third-party administrator (TPA), just like it would pay a health carrier. The TPA handles the administration, which allows the employer to focus on running the business. And if the group has a good medical loss ratio, a surplus could be refunded.

How does level funded self-funding negate community rating?

With a level funded self-funded plan, you wouldn’t have to follow community rating. The TPA can use health as a factor in underwriting, which can result in a favorable premium if your employees are a young, healthy group with great claims experience.

Are there other benefits to this approach?

An employer can avoid some ACA taxes, such as the annual reinsurance fee tax, which is 2.3 percent each year. But keep in mind that even though the plan is self-funded, it still must comply with majority of the ACA.

You also have more transparency. With detailed information on claims utilization and experience from both the TPA and health care network, you can better manage costs through the plan and network design.

If you’re able to actualize savings by moving to a level funded approach, you also can implement ancillary programs like dental, vision or disability to attract employees.

If an employer is considering a level funded approach, how should it proceed?

The first step is to talk to your trusted health insurance adviser, broker or agent. Only some TPAs offer these plans. The basic mechanics are the same, but each TPA brings different components.

For example, one TPA has a strong philosophy about chronic conditions, where they pay 100 percent for the routine care to manage 27 chronic diseases. You’ll need to shop around to find the TPA that fits with your thinking.

You also want to closely examine the contract. For example, you want to ensure the contract provides time for claims to be processed and paid. With some contracts, a Dec. 31 claim has to be paid on Dec. 31.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink

How to be ready for this year’s benefit season and make optimum decisions

Open enrollment is starting for many organizations. This is when employees can enroll in benefits, move to a new plan or change their coverage amounts. With all the recent changes in health insurance, organizations are challenged to make sure their employees make informed decisions.

“The conversations surrounding open enrollment are much different than we’ve seen in the past,” says Amber Hulme, Medical Mutual Vice President, Central and Southern Ohio. “Organizations are faced with more choices, and so are their employees. Making the right decisions has become more complicated.”

Smart Business spoke with Hulme about what types of decisions organizations need to make during open enrollment this year, what they can do to prepare and how the process can help their employees become better health care consumers.

What big decisions do organizations need to make?

The first decision is the type of plan. For example, instead of offering co-pay plans with a monthly premium, employers might consider moving to a high-deductible plan that can be paired with a health savings account (HSA). With the HSA route, organizations need to think about funding arrangements and how much they want to give their employees.

Another possible option is defined contribution, which is getting a lot of buzz lately. With defined contribution, organizations give their employees a certain dollar amount every month. The employees then use that money to pay for whatever health plan they choose.

Lastly, there is the funding type. Organizations can choose to be either fully insured through their carrier or self-funded, where they pay their own claims. Self-funded plans aren’t subject to as many of the federal fees that started this year, so that can be a good option for employers that have the cash flow.

How does open enrollment usually work?

There are many variables involved depending on the organization and its employees, so every situation is different. The most significant differences are dictated by what the employees can handle in terms of technology. For example, defined contribution requires employees to have Internet access. So, if most of the population doesn’t have access to a computer, defined contribution probably wouldn’t be the best choice.

Open enrollment meetings are another variable. They are an excellent opportunity for employees to review their benefit information and ask questions. That’s especially important when organizations change plans. But there can be logistical challenges when employees are spread across multiple locations or working different shifts. We always try to accommodate whatever arrangement works best for the organization and its employees.

What are a few best practices?

Every organization wants to know what it can do to make sure employees are using their health care dollars wisely. So once they choose the plans they are going to offer, it’s critical for organizations to educate their employees to be better consumers. But they need help.

Employees have a lot of questions during open enrollment, and they need to be able to call their health insurance carrier or human resources department for answers. It’s the carrier’s job to provide the educational tools to help the organization provide that support. The key is to be prepared.

What else should organizations ask their carrier?

Organizations need to know how options have changed or if plans work any differently. They need to know about new resources their employees can use, such as wellness or disease management programs. They need to know what tools are available to help employees become better consumers, and be familiar with what they can do and how they work.

Having that information ready will help the organization prepare for open enrollment and empower its employees to manage their health care spending.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by Medical Mutual

How to engage your staff and create a more productive workforce

An important part of the supervisor’s role is motivating employees, and it is a major concern for seasoned and new supervisors alike.

What many supervisors may not realize is that there are skills managers can learn to help motivate employees and create greater employee engagement in the workplace.

“Managers play a key role in promoting employee engagement,” says Annette Kolski-Andreaco, manager of Account Services for LifeSolutions, an employee assistance program (EAP) that is part of UPMC WorkPartners’ suite of health and productivity solutions and an affiliated company of the UPMC Insurance Services Division.

“Engaged employees advance an organization’s goals, resulting in a personal and organizational win-win,” she says.

Smart Business spoke with Kolski-Andreaco about how managers can best help their employees become more engaged and, as a result, have a more productive and effective workforce.

What do we know about the level of engagement among American workers?

Fewer than 30 percent of working Americans are considered engaged employees. And yet, when employees are engaged, they find their work more challenging and absorbing.

How can supervisors help raise employees’ engagement levels?

Surveys of employees show they have three universal needs: respect, positive relationships and personal development. Managers need to know that these needs can be addressed and advanced every day in the workplace by their actions and in the practices of the organization.

Daniel Pink writes in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” that there are three components of internal motivation that are key to achieving engagement — mastery, autonomy and purpose. When the work environment, through the manager-employee relationship, allows for the development of these three components, internal motivation is often the result.

In simple terms, to actualize autonomy, for example, organizations through their managers can allow for more involvement in decisions about employees’ task choice, deadlines and work teams.

Mastery relates to the universal need for personal development, the human need to move forward and get better at something. Consequently, managers should find opportunities for employees to grow professionally.

Finally, purpose can be operationalized when managers connect employees’ work to how it fits in to the advancement of the organization’s goals and success.

Managers often turn to EAPs for consultation in how to engender more positive engagement among their employees. EAP professionals consult with managers at all levels to assess the issues and can suggest actions that stand the best chance of being effective.

Can you restate those manager tasks more simply?

The three important ways managers can support and encourage employees are first, to demonstrate — both in word and in deed — that the employee’s contributions are valued.

Second, they need to connect the employee to the team and the organization.

Finally, managers need to be on the lookout for opportunities that enable employees to grow, innovate and apply new ideas.

In what ways can supervisors demonstrate that they value their employees’ efforts?

One important way is by presuming that every employee is competent and then treating him or her accordingly.

This is a more positive approach than is usually used. A supervisor also can help employees identify individual goals and then support them in achieving those goals. Recognizing and discussing how individual goals can align with organizational goals is yet another way.

By staying connected with people and showing interest in their lives, a supervisor can increase engagement. Sometimes it just boils down to finding a way to communicate often, express appreciation for people’s skills and work, and acknowledge their achievements and progress every day.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan