While encouraging a healthier workforce has long been a priority for many employers, several recent trends have sparked renewed interest among some organizations. A competitive labor market, high inflation and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are driving many employers to focus on offering more innovative benefits. The goal is to attract and retain team members, boost productivity and reduce the incidence of preventable medical events and costly chronic diseases.
It’s time well spent, according to studies that show a healthier workforce can help improve productivity and boost business results. In fact, workplace illnesses and injuries cost US employers $225 billion each year. With medical care being the second largest expense after wages, it is essential that employers help maximize the value of their health benefits.
In an era marked by remote working and fewer in-person meetings, employers are facing many new challenges when it comes to supporting the health of their employees. At the same time, advances in technology and changes in consumer preferences have paved the way for more personalized programs linked to health insurance plans.
While many employees are now making benefit decisions for 2023 during open enrollment, New Jersey employers are already making health benefit decisions for 2024 and beyond. Here are five emerging health benefit strategies that employers can consider:
- Reward employees for wellness activities. Most US employers offer wellness programs, and some include financial incentives for reaching certain health goals, such as reaching a daily step goal or maintaining a healthy body mass index. To make these initiatives more attractive and engaging, some employers are encouraging an increasing number of healthy activities, including completing a health survey, selecting a primary care physician, taking a biometric screening, meeting certain movement goals or following sleep. Also, instead of virtual coins or rewards that can only be used to help pay for medical care, some programs are starting to allow enrollees to earn gift cards worth hundreds of dollars a year — and to spend them in any way. Wearables and digital fitness apps can also play an important role, providing employees with daily insights into their activity levels while helping provide access to live or on-demand fitness classes.
- Expand access to new types of virtual care. Nearly 90% of Americans surveyed said they want to continue using virtual care for non-emergency health needs, while 76% of employers have expanded their virtual care offerings in response to the pandemic. Virtual care, also known as telehealth, has evolved from addressing urgent care issues — such as allergies, rashes, or seasonal flu — to providing access to other types of care, including primary, specialty, and behavioral. Business and HR leaders should continue to evaluate and refine the virtual care options currently available to employees through their health plan, local healthcare providers, or other virtual service providers. Leaders may also seek to add emerging virtual care resources such as those for physiotherapy, dermatology, and women’s health.
- Help address social determinants. A recent survey of large employers revealed that almost 80% have already taken or plan to take action to help address the social determinants of health, such as access to affordable housing, nutritious food and reliable transportation. Research shows that social determinants – more than what happens in the doctor’s office – can influence up to 80% of a person’s health. That’s why some employers are using predictive analytics to proactively identify employees who may be facing social issues, then connect them with low-cost or no-cost community resources, which can help them save money. on utility and internet bills, child care costs and even home repairs. Other strategies pursued by employers include funding “lifestyle accounts” to help pay for gas, monthly debit cards or on-site pantries for nutritious foods, and wellness initiatives. be “call a friend” to help with social isolation.
- Add a plan with initial pricing. Some health plans are eliminating deductibles and instead offering employees first-dollar coverage, coupled with access to initial pricing information before scheduling medical appointments. In doing so, these plans can help remove financial barriers to care and encourage people to choose quality, cost-effective healthcare providers and facilities. In many cases, employers are offering a traditional health plan alongside one of these newer options, which can help lower the total cost of care for employers and reduce out-of-pocket costs for employees.
- Evaluate coverage options for intermittent workers. More than 59 million Americans are in the “intermittent workforce,” meaning they are not employed in traditional full-time roles. Contingent labor includes part-time and seasonal hourly W-2 employees and full-time and part-time W-2 contractors employed by recruitment companies. To help recruit and retain these workers in a competitive job market, employers can now provide access to health benefit options by adding limited medical plans. Compared to traditional medical benefits, these plans can offer lower monthly premiums and the elimination of deductibles and copayments for virtual visits. It should be noted that while these plans are designed to help provide significant access to medical care at more affordable prices, coverage restrictions will apply to certain medical services.
Employers are in a unique position to help improve employee health. By considering these new benefits trends, employers can help support employee well-being now and in the future.
Dr. Donna O’Shea is Chief Medical Officer of Population Health at UnitedHealthcare.
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