This Employee Benefit News article by Miles Varn, MD, Chief Medical Officer of PinnacleCare, identifies four actions employers can take to support and promote employee health.
It’s January and many employees have made New Year’s Resolutions that are health-related. And while resolutions most often go by the wayside in a month or two, employers can support their employees’ quest for a healthier life by taking year-round steps that go well beyond offering discounts on gym memberships and hosting health fairs at the office. This effort benefits not only employees, but also employers in the form of fewer sick days and decreased use of disability benefits, a decreased risk of lost productivity due to absenteeism and presenteeism related to physical and mental health issues and the ability to lower health insurance claims cost by helping employees reduce their risk of chronic conditions such as heart and respiratory disease and musculoskeletal injuries. It also can lead to an earlier diagnosis of serious health problems such as cancer when the disease may be more treatable and treatment costs may be lower.
Here are four Dr. Varn recommends that employers can support employee health:
- Uncover the risks.
The first step toward promoting employee health is to offer a health risk assessment to pinpoint the areas that affect a significant portion of their employee population, whether that’s back injuries, mental health and substance use disorders, smoking or cardiovascular disease. Employers can use that aggregate information to tailor wellness programs, biometric screening programs and incentives to target these risks.
Another broader perspective tool that employers can provide for employees is a health inventory to assess potential health risks and strategies for prevention. It also takes into account other factors that can contribute to well-being, including relationships, satisfaction with work and self-care. Dr. Varn says the idea behind the health inventory is that improving one area can benefit other areas in the employee’s life and influence overall physical, emotional and mental health.
It’s also valuable to encourage employees to gather their family health history, a step that less than 33% of Americans have taken according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A family health history provides information that employees and their physicians can use to make decisions about preventive care and screenings, such as when to start recommended cancer screenings and what proactive lifestyle changes and medical interventions should be considered to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Offer resources to help employees take control of health risks.
While uncovering the health risks employees face is an important first step, employers need to offer resources that will allow employees take action to lower these risks. Those resources can take many forms, including:
- health coaching to help support lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise and stress management provided by phone or online;
- case management phone support provided by nurses for employees living with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or respiratory disease to encourage better management of the condition and lower the risk of disease progression and complications; and
- intensive case management for employees who have been diagnosed with a serious illness, for example the cancer huddle model that provides employees who’ve been diagnosed with cancer streamlined access to benefits partners, from expedited access to care to help with health insurance claims and psychosocial and wellness support.
- Make sure employees know what benefits and resources are available.
Having tools in place to help employees set and reach health goals is the starting point in a strategy to proactively promote health and well-being. What’s equally important is educating employees about what resources are available, how they can help, and how and when to access them. Consistent, ongoing communication is key and can be tailored to fit how employees prefer to receive this type of information — through at-work meetings and information sessions, through an online benefits portal, via email or text, or in printed materials.
- Help employees plan for the cost of care now and in future.
One often overlooked part of helping employees get the care they need to stay healthy and manage both chronic conditions and serious illnesses is ensuring they’ve taken steps to be financially prepared to cover the cost of care. For employees who are not enrolled in a high-deductible health plan, a tax-advantaged flexible spending account can be used to pay qualified medical expenses, including deductibles and copayments, medications, medical equipment, dental care, vision care and prescription glasses or contacts, mental healthcare and care for substance use disorders, fertility treatments and more.
Employees who are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan can deposit money into a health savings account (HSA), which also offers significant tax advantages and can be used to pay for qualified medical expenses and deductibles and copayments. Unlike an FSA, unspent funds roll over each year and can earn tax-free interest. In addition, the employee owns the HSA account so it goes with them when they change jobs or retire.