(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)
While politicians debate how to provide affordable healthcare during this election year many US employers are moving on their own to tackle this ever-growing problem.
How big a problem? With costs projected to rise another 5% this year (twice inflation), 93% of executives from 610 companies that employ more than 11.3 million workers across all industries said that curbing the cost of healthcare and increasing its affordability remain among their top priorities over the next three years, according to a new survey from the human resources consulting firm Willis Towers Watson.
Almost two-thirds of the respondents said that healthcare affordability is the most difficult challenge they face during this period and 89% believe that rising healthcare costs are a significant source of financial stress for their employees.
None of this comes as a surprise to anyone running a business – big or small. Healthcare continues to be the most requested benefit by employees and having a competitive and affordable plan is crucial for any company looking to attract and maintain good employees in this era of low unemployment.
“Relentless health care price increases continue to crowd out other benefits, making affordability a challenge for many workers,” Julie Stone, a managing director at Willis Towers Watson, said in a statement. “In a full-employment economy, employers feel the pressure to offer competitive benefits and can’t compromise on employee affordability.”
So what are these employers doing? According to the report, a few things.
For starters, these companies are increasing their focus on the cost of pharmaceuticals. They’re influencing the “site of care” where treatment is delivered, such as outpatient facilities or doctor’s offices rather than inside hospitals. They are also pushing for more coverage of “biosimilar” products which are less expensive copycats of original pharmaceuticals.
More companies are also trying to expand the value of their insurance programs by encouraging employees to seek more preventive care, screenings and diagnostics to lower the probability of a medical issue. They’re doing this by creating incentives for employees to take advantage of these procedures and increasing the out of pocket costs for repetitive, unnecessary or out of network care. The idea, according to Stone, is to “create value-based design that makes a smaller dent in employees’ wallets and a big impact on their health”.
The third area, according to the survey, is increasing benefits that focus on an employee’s emotional wellbeing. The idea is to help detect and manage employee stress within a more holistic approach to mental health and address these issues early on before they become longer-term and more expensive problems for the employer and the worker.
If you haven’t figured it out already, the survey’s respondents work at bigger companies – organizations with at least 100 employees. So why would this be of interest to a small business owner? It’s because our small businesses face the same healthcare challenges as larger companies do and the costs are just as significant, relatively. If these are the actions that big companies are taking, perhaps we should be considering similar moves.