By Paul Rogers
Jan. 22, 2019
Company leadership, including the C-suite and HR managers, may first think of the bottom line when it comes to health insurance and employee benefits. But they could be missing the bigger picture.
The broader view includes the value of investment in benefits and people, and the impact on metrics such as workforce attraction, employee retention, productivity and company culture. High-value options and technologies are increasingly defining and shaping holistic employee benefit programs.
Central to these all-encompassing programs are intelligently constructed plans that consider and connect all aspects of care, including both mind and body, and that are reinforced by big data, artificial intelligence and sophisticated metrics.
In today’s health care environment, holistic programs are especially vital. Behaviorally linked health issues and conditions affect almost 1 in 3 adults 18 years of age or older, but the costs are underreported in claims. Some of that cost revolves around the opioid dependency and the addiction crisis, which has cost the U.S. economy $1 trillion since 2001. Other contributors include smoking-related illnesses and complications, which still levy a toll of up to $300 billion each year, and obesity-related diseases that continue to have a tremendous economic impact.
Research has shown that people who are healthy, both mentally and physically, are more productive. For those struggling with health issues, the right support structures can make all the difference, both in quality of life and in long-term health and wellness outcomes. As an employer, an approach to health care benefits that aligns with company goals and fits the company’s culture can help keep costs in check, reduce turnover and sick leave, and even make your company more attractive to potential teammates.
For example, at Brown & Brown, we have designed a framework called the Intelligent Health Plan that encompasses an array of customizable data-driven strategies. These include plan design, clinical programs and solutions (e.g. telemedicine), and well-being and network strategies (e.g. weight reduction programs and onsite clinics, respectively).
Navigation, advocacy and education can be wrapped around these strategies to create a plan that is integrated, coordinated, and ensures members get the right care at the right time by the right provider in the right setting. A digital hub at the center can help to pull the pieces of the strategy together and enable targeted communications. Key to all of this and any employer’s strategy is the development of relevant metrics and monitoring of outcomes.
This approach to employee benefits emphasizes risk reduction and health management. Depending on the workforce and the prevalent conditions and issues found, this could mean investing in drug rehabilitation, smoking cessation, stress reduction, healthy eating, exercise and “let’s move” programs. There are also many options to leverage technology, on both the employee and delivery side, for earlier intervention.
Technology can play a significant role in an intelligent health plan, both in delivery of new services and in increased employee engagement in risk-reduction and health management programs. Research shows that while people will often pay little attention to generic messaging, buy-in is much greater when a message is customized to their individual circumstances.
Messages can be customized through wearable technology, digital platforms and coaching and clinical programs. Components of these programs may be personalized through advances in artificial intelligence and algorithmic learning. Through more sophisticated analysis of past claims and other health data, the methods and options that offer assistance when the time is right are expanding.
This can lead to both lower health care costs and better outcomes. For example, if research indicates noninvasive methods to treat lower back pain produce results as good as surgery, an employee scheduling an MRI might receive messaging about that research and assistance in obtaining appropriate care.
Prevention as part of risk reduction cannot be overstated, but there must be a deliberate approach. Immunizations, such as flu vaccinations, are crucial, but prevention also includes promoting health screening for conditions such as cancers and catching complications early if chronic diseases do arise.
While these elements may seem focused on individuals, they have a wider impact. People with similar health behaviors, such as exercising, tend to cluster together. Therefore, when one person makes healthy changes there is a trickle-down effect with friends and family that eventually impacts a community.
One size does not fit all when developing health benefit programs. Each company and its employees will have different needs. However, expanding holistic options means programs can be tailored, considering both costs and the value they can return.
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