Work together Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2009

While lawmakers continue debate on reforming the nation’s health care system, businesses struggle to find solutions to rising costs and improving the health of their work force.

For answers, Smart Business turned to Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., president and CEO of MemorialCare Health System and immediate past chair of California Hospital Association.

Where do you start?

Think lean. As employers face declining revenues, escalating costs and continual demand for increased value and quality, the decades-old lean approach first embraced by manufacturing is catching on in other sectors with impressive results (see November 2009 issue). Workshops and lean management philosophy create a sense of purpose, team problem-solving and long-term thinking by proactively engaging staff. Lean implementation helps to redesign companies from the ground up. In just one year with a ‘lean’ attitude, MemorialCare Medical Centers eliminated 123 unnecessary process steps, made 1,302 square feet available, and reduced distances traveled by staff to carry out their jobs by 730 miles. Return on investment reached $4 million and is anticipated to provide a return of more than $17 million in three years. Most importantly, we improved the care of our patients.

How can employers trim benefit costs?

While raising deductibles and premiums works in the short term, other approaches are available (see August 2009 issue). Rather than lose customers, payers may be willing to renegotiate rates. One way to lower premiums is by offering more than one health plan option with a fixed dollar contribution, no matter the plan selected. High-deductible health plans without co-pays for office visits or prescriptions generally have lower premiums than traditional plans. Consider offering raises for employees to purchase their own health coverage or join their spouse’s plan. MemorialCare experts can help identify cost reduction strategies through benefit audits that ensure you get the most competitive price and package.

How can we encourage employees to accept health coverage?

Millions of uninsured — especially young adults — decide against enrolling in their employers’ health coverage (October 2009 issue). Even though many can afford it, they believe their age offers protection from illness and injury. The culprit is usually lack of information — not knowing what to look for in a health plan, how to select coverage to best meet one’s needs, availability of short-term insurance to fill gaps between parental or school coverage and their new job and how joining a health plan saves money and keeps you healthy in the long run.

Are executive physicals important?

While many executives follow a healthy lifestyle, stress of work, travel and long hours can result in an inability to properly exercise, eat the right foods and manage the stress and demands of management (January 2009 issue). Executive physicals can detect potential health problems before they negatively impact the executive and company performance. Executives who undergo physical exams typically have fewer health claims and less lost workdays.

Does prevention really work?

The wisest investment a company can make is not in its equipment, supplies, services and business operations. It is in the health of its employees. According to the California Endowment, healthier lifestyle programs in the state could save $1.7 billion annually. The health cost of a high-risk worker is nearly triple that of a low-risk worker. Costs can be minimal. Meal time walking programs, on-site prevention and screenings and making the price of nutritious foods in your vending machines and cafeterias less than unhealthy offerings contribute to a healthier and happier work force.

How much of a factor is obesity?

Nearly three-fourths of Americans and one of three children are overweight or obese (May 2009 issue). Obesity is a disease with deadly risks and complications. It lowers workplace productivity, causes life-threatening illnesses and results in enormous increases in health costs. An employer can work with local hospitals through classes on reducing calorie intake, desk exercises that become part of workplace routine, a move from unhealthy to nutritious foods in the cafeteria and vending machines, healthy meal preparation lessons, programs that reward those losing weight and lowering blood pressure and other health risks and more.

Where can we turn for help?

Do collaborate with hospitals, physicians and health plans to offer education, health prevention, screenings and immunization programs. MemorialCare’s business outreach program includes health fairs and Web links, on-site and community seminars and executive physicals.

Our Web site, memorialcare.org, offers free online tools, calculator and guides and referrals to physicians that help your work force to reach a healthier life. And our MemorialCare Presidents’ Partnership informs and engages employers large and small on issues all organizations face to seek solutions to address the challenges and costs of health care. Working together, businesses can identify improvements and advocate for better care for the communities we serve.

BARRY ARBUCKLE, Ph.D., is president and CEO of MemorialCare Medical Centers (www.memorialcare.org) and past chair of the California Hospital Association. Reach him at arbuckle@memorialcare.org or (562) 933-9708. MemorialCare Medical Centers include Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach and Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in San Clemente.