2017 has so far been defined by a great amount of uncertainty for employers and employees alike. Since election of the new presidential administration, experts across all industries offered their predictions on what the new administration’s first focus would be. Now, within only three months of taking office, Congress has already attempted and failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), with a new law titled the American Health Care Act (AHCA). For the health care industry, this is an effort which could have had far reaching effects that are now left to departmental regulatory reform and priorities, but what will effect would it have had for employers and their employees nationwide?
As it was written, the biggest change within the AHCA for employers was repeal of the ACA’s employer mandate, which today, may be a long way off. Simply removing the mandate however, did nothing to improve the methods employers use to encourage their employees to lead healthier lives. Where the previous mandate was an attempt to hinder rising costs through an indirect tax on employers, this bill completely ignored the systematic issues of reactionary care and unhealthy lifestyle choices which continue to cost employers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
Since it’s impossible to hit a moving target like legislative reform, it’s necessary for employers to reconsider their approach to employee wellness.
Unfortunately, the discussion taking place around legislative reform today ignores the primary point for business owners, which is to lower health care costs and keep employees healthy. If all a person judges is the burden of who pays and who does not, they ignore the real problem of why the care is needed in the first place. The fact is, somebody is going to pay for it. The focus should be limiting any unintended consequences and costs by making employees and their families healthier. And, since it’s impossible to hit a moving target like legislative reform, it’s necessary for employers to reconsider their approach to employee wellness and take a holistic view in order to drive meaningful change within their population, regardless of any changes to the ACA.
What does a holistic view of wellness look like though? Essentially, it is the entire picture of an employee’s wellness—from their financial and emotional well-being to their overall health and onto the employee’s family’s health and well-being. If a mother or father is consistently taking days off from work because their child is sick, that hurts a business’s bottom line and can have long-reaching effects both financially and emotionally for the employee. By accounting for factors such as an employee’s child’s or family member’s health, or even stress caused by a large debt burden, employers create a heightened sense of well-being within their organization, which can encourage employees to lead healthier lives and increase productivity.
Consider the example of an employee who cannot come to work due to a sick child. Not only does missing work affect the business’s overall efficiency, but now that employee has higher levels of stress due to their child being sick and may have financial issues if the condition is serious enough to warrant a medical visit. The employee will return to work disheartened and unable to offer 100 percent productivity. At the same time, other employees picking up the extra work will come to resent employees such as these and create a negative emotional spiral in the workplace. Examining the full picture of an employee’s wellness, and providing the tools to manage that care, empowers them and their families to make changes and lead healthier lives, which builds a happier workplace.
Traditional wellness programs today are not designed with this purpose in mind and do not offer the tools to help employees see a comprehensive picture of their overall wellness. These programs focus on helping employees lose weight, quit smoking or get health screenings, without addressing the underlying problems that lead to negative behaviors. This lack of a holistic view has also affected employee participation and even if a company offers strong rewards, whether through lower insurance payments or monetary rewards, almost 90 percent of employees decline to participate in their employer’s program.
Wellness programs of the future, thanks to innovations in technology, must have the ability to make participants aware of their health and wellness as they live and work, while also enabling them to modify negative behaviors. These programs will combine traditional wellness management (including team competitions and rewards), with a holistic view of the employee and health care management technology that allows them and their family to manage chronic diseases, medical treatment, and health care records or data, all within a single platform.
Only by deploying wellness programs with these four factors in mind will employees truly begin to take control of their wellness and make meaningful behavioral changes to lead healthier lives, not only for themselves, but for their families as well. In the end, it is changes such as these which will lower costs and increase a business’s bottom line. Regardless of any new laws or regulatory changes from Washington, employers still need their employees to be healthy and productive, and wellness programs are the vehicle for that change. The only question now is whether or not employers will recognize these issues and focus their efforts on providing employees with the tools to empower them and give them meaningful control over their health and wellness.