The landscape covering employer health insurance is like a moving cloud over the work place, with both a dark and a silver lining. Launching and maintaining a successful wellness program is a serious endeavor and one that can only be accomplished if employers are totally committed to caring and open communication with their employees.
Health care costs on the rise
Health costs are on the rise and in order to stay afloat, many employers have been forced to pass some of those costs onto their employees. According to the Kaiser Foundation, the average annual deductible for an individual has nearly doubled in the last eight years, rising from $584 in 2006 to $1,135. But there’s more to this than first meets the eye.
Changing trends in healthcare
Employers are trying to change the attitudes of their workers in terms of health-related expenses and lifestyle choices. Many sponsored health programs are emphasizing preventive care and educational agendas that concern healthier diets and lifestyles, which spills over into expected increased production levels both in the work place and in the personal lives of employees.
IBM initiated a rebate program to those employees who demonstrated a significant positive change in their lifestyles and also penalties for those who didn’t. Discrimination was blatant and there was no attempt to hide the surcharges inflicted on smokers.
Is the Affordable Care Act to blame?
Recently in the news, United Parcel Service (UPS) dropped some working spouses from its health plan and blamed this action at least partly on the Affordable Care Act. But smoke and mirrors are not limited to the magician’s arsenal of tools, and some analysts at least feel this and other new health benefit designs have little to do with the health law. They see this current trend as part of something that has been evolving for some time before the law was even passed.
Other companies are jumping on the UPS bandwagon and are offering incentives to remove spouses from their plans. They may charge workers extra if a covered spouse has access to other insurance, or they may pay bonuses when spouses are not on the company policy.
Employers continue to cite rising costs as the motive behind their actions, but the truth is that costs are rising at the slowest pace in decades. They are increasing at twice the rate of inflation, which is disturbing, but some economists believe this is not a permanent situation.
The Affordable Care Act states very clearly that companies with less than fifty employees are not required to offer coverage. When the online marketplace opened last fall it was initially a cyber fiasco, but it did eventually allow for small business employers to buy insurance similar to those policies offered for individual coverage. That action was however delayed in most states until 2015.
What are employers doing to help workers stay healthy?
Many employer-sponsored health plans are raising deductibles, giving workers health savings accounts to buffer costs and encouraging workers to compare prices and shop for the best available plans. Ironically, some critics claim that because health care costs aren’t clearly stated, smart shopping isn’t possible.
The question remains: will these tactics keep workers healthy? The bottom line appears to be that unless employees are truly ready to “get well”; no wellness program will be effective. Before embarking on a wellness program, employers should survey their workers to find out how they feel about such an initiative and whatever problems they might have with it.
In conclusion, a successful wellness program requires time, energy and careful consideration of employees and their heath care needs and concerns.