By Ian Chuang, M.D., M.S., F.C.F.P. Senior Vice President,  Medical Director Lockton Benefit Group

By Ian Chuang, M.D., M.S., F.C.F.P. Senior Vice President, Medical Director Lockton Benefit Group

Employers are looking for ways to reduce soaring health care costs, and passing along a higher percentage of insurance premiums to employees will only take them so far. That approach simply shifts costs temporarily to an earlier point in time. Instead the goal should be to slow the rate of increase, changing the slope of the cost curve.

Claims follow risk; that’s why the majority of employers who provide health insurance also provide some type of wellness benefit. The 2012 Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust annual survey of employer health benefits found that 63 percent of companies that offered health benefits also offered at least one wellness program, with a goal of changing those behaviors that lead to disease and cost.

Although many small and medium companies already offer some level of wellness program, the perception is often that full-blown wellness programs are achievable primarily at large organizations. What leaders of smaller organizations need to understand, however, is they have some distinct advantages in what they may be able to achieve for their employees if a wellness program is approached in the right way.

You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure

When you’re a company like Disney, with more than 40,000 employees in the United States alone, you can assume that whatever is true for the general U.S. population also is likely to be true for your employees. The approach of trying a variety of wellness activities and hoping something will work has validity in such large organizations. When your organization has fewer than 2,000 employees, however, you can’t safely make such assumptions.

Measuring the health of the employee population is of paramount importance for smaller organizations, where the distribution of health risks tends to be unique. A health risk management consultant can be crucial in helping you identify your risks and determining the best ways to mitigate those risks with a well-designed health risk strategic plan. After all, part of achieving a positive ROI is managing the right amount of “I”.

When you rely solely on claims data, you have quantitative insights only for those employees who actually use their health benefit. Therefore it’s crucial to complete your understanding of your employee population by integrating claims data with data from health risk assessments and biometric screenings. The data collected will help you do three things:

•Fully identify the types of health issues and potential risk factors

facing your employees.

•Understand your health care cost drivers.

•Establish a benchmark against which you can measure progress.

Aim For a Small But Meaningful Target

Once you understand the health of your employees, you can develop a highly targeted wellness program, offering only those features you know will have an impact. After all, it’s not about getting large numbers of employees who participate. It’s about getting the right ones to participate and to make changes.

For example, let’s say your organization has a handful of employees with multiple risk factors. If those employees agree to work with a health coach and make the necessary changes to reduce their risks, the number of those engaged employees itself may look less than impressive but the impact to your bottom line will be significant.

Lead by Example

In a small company, the actions of leadership team members tend to be highly visible. Their participation in healthy activities can have a dramatic impact on employees’ acceptance of a new culture of wellness. For example:

•The CEO participates in one-on-one meetings while walking on a nearby trail.

•Company leadership team pledges to pay a fine if observed using the elevator instead of the stairs.

•Executives participate in activities, such as charity runs and walks, lunchtime pick-up basketball games and more.

Reallocate Resources

If designed appropriately, an effective wellness program doesn’t necessarily require a large budget. A health risk management consultant can help you review your current expenditures and find ways to reallocate funds to wellness activities related to your employees’ identified health risks. It’s not about spending more; it’s about spending wisely. Over time, your investment in a culture of wellness should begin to pay off with smaller expenditures on claims.

Small Company, Big Impact

Although resources, both in terms of staff and budgets, tend to be more limited in small and medium companies, the potential impact of a wellness program is significant – especially when a program is

carefully designed with identified health risks in mind. With a visibly committed leadership team, employees are likely to become engaged and measurable results will follow.

Submitted by Lockton Companies