Are you financing illness or promoting health? It’s time to take a proactive approach to health insurance. If you stripped away the financial aspect of your company’s health insurance plan—took money out of the picture entirely—then what would your message of health look like?
This is an important question to ask as we consider the rising cost of healthcare and employees’ demand for comprehensive coverage. We get it. The financing of healthcare is real. And we know that robust benefits are a competitive advantage for employers. This is especially the case in a competitive labor market and an economy with escalating inflation.
But it’s not the big picture.
Let’s rewind to the beginning of employer-sponsored healthcare plans. Before the 1940s, individuals paid for their own medical costs. Some higher-risk professions like mining and railroads offered company doctors or had infirmaries on site. This might be considered the beginning of businesses getting involved in healthcare. But the real game changer was after the 1942 Stabilization Act when a wage freeze across the country prompted employers to find creative ways to attract workers. Employers started offering health benefits as an incentive, and the IRS made health insurance tax-free. Basically, the government indirectly encouraged businesses to offer company-sponsored health coverage. From day one, the whole thing was really a financial decision.
Today, employers are still focused on the financing of healthcare and not necessarily health. The World Health Organization offers a simple definition of health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity. Today, employers contribute to this definition by entering into a contract for an employee to provide x number of hours to complete x number of tasks for x number of dollars. In addition to this trade, employers also make available other benefits or finance other services like health insurance. How would the workplace culture and environment change for the better if we looked at health vs healthcare financing? What if we looked at improving health first and then added the financial piece to the decision-making process? Would we do things differently?
The time has come to think about health first and health financing second because when people are well, they are less likely to experience unexpected medical events that can result in ER visits, surgery, ongoing medication, and time off work. By creating a workplace culture and environment that promotes healthy behaviors, we are doing more for employees by supporting their well-being. And the ancillary financial benefit is reducing healthcare expenses.
The simplest things can make a great impact. For example, we know that drinking water is healthier than choosing soda. By eliminating even one soda per day, you’re better off and health will improve. So, how do you stock vending machines and what options do you provide during company lunches?
We know that when people socialize and share meals together, they are healthier. Conversation distracts you from eating too quickly or too much, and you build closer relationships that improve mental health. Do you provide these opportunities in the workplace?
Regular, consistent physical activity during the day improves health. Do you encourage breaks to take a brisk walk or motivate your people with a wellness program that promotes activity? These are little things that can add up to big financial benefits at the end of the day.
As employers, we need to consider how guiding people toward a healthy continuum is better for our employees and for our bottom lines.
We want to avoid the downward spiral when a person goes from healthy to at-risk to chronic to complex. When we concentrate on health, we’re taking a proactive approach. But when cost is the sole focus, we’re ultimately financing illness.
Health Action Council recently held a discussion with some partners and business associates focused on employers’ perspectives of benefits and what this means for supporting employees’ health, assuring resources are utilized properly, and controlling costs.
Here are some points to consider:
- As employers, how do we truly support the health of our employees?
- How do we support the prevention of illness?
- What can we actually do so our insurance is truly a safety net “just in case” and our benefits are resources that support a person’s whole health?
Now is the time to prioritize employee health and rethink benefits. How will you make a positive impact? Share with us. We look forward to hearing your ideas.
About Health Action Council
Health Action Council is a not-for-profit 501(c)(6) organization representing mid-and large-size employers that enhance human and economic health through thought leadership, innovative services, and collaboration. It provides value to its members by facilitating projects that improve the quality and moderate the cost of healthcare purchased by its members for their employees, dependents, and retirees. Health Action Council also collaborates with key stakeholders – health plans, physicians, hospitals, and the pharmaceutical industry – to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare in the community.