Depending on whom you talk to, health care reform is either a warm and fuzzy kitten of good will or a snarling pit bull barely tethered to the front porch, ready to attack the most innocent of small businesses.
In reality, though, neither image is accurate. Health care is expensive, it’s important, and as a small business you’ve got to do everything to control it before it controls your bottom line.
BusinessNewsDaily offers five tips for managing health care in the future:
Shift Premium Costs to Less Healthy Workers
Few axioms in this world contain so much truth as this: money talks.
While the regulations for health care reform are still being written (supposedly only nine of a proposed 1,700 regulations have been written), the new rules are expected to allow employers to penalize unhealthy workers (smokers: this means you) by charging them a larger percentage of premiums. Healthier employees can benefit with lower premiums.
A 2010 survey by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH — get it?) indicated that about half of all large employers would impose some type of penalty to encourage their employees to live healthier, which should bring the company’s costs down.
“We have to change the model from being providers of sick care to providers of health care,” said Pearson Talbert, chief development officer of Aegis Health Group in Nashville. This essentially requires a change in our culture — Talbert himself admitted he rarely gets a check-up. But it’s a necessary change.
Educate Employees By Owning Data
Much of the poor health in the country stems from conditions that are preventable. Consumer education goes a long way toward reversing the course of such conditions. People who know how to eat healthier and who understand the impact that exercise can have on their life are more likely to take steps to incorporate changes in their life.
Employers can take steps toward a healthier work force by “owning the data,” according to Talbert, whose work with Aegis helps health care providers improve performance. He suggests that small businesses get their company’s medical data —what’s available by law — and see how their work force stacks up against others in their community. This information can lead to the appropriate changes in both insurance and wellness plans to lower costs.
Talbert pointed out that insurance brokers usually get paid by commission, so they don’t have an incentive to help you save on premiums. Therefore, it’s up to small businesses to take responsibility for their costs.
Raise Deductibles and then Buy Some Back
Sounds pretty easy, right? Raise the deductibles on the plan so that the premiums you pay go down. It’s easy until your work force walks out the door.
There is a way for employers to make this more palatable, though, said Terry McCorvie, CEO of Workable Solutions, a company that provides online benefits administration. For example:
An employer might raise the company plan’s deductible by $1,000 but then offer to put $500 into a health savings account or health reimbursement account. He said that this helps make employees stewards of their health care. They will give more consideration to how they use their health care dollars if they control it. As an added incentive, employers can roll over all or a portion of their contributions, creating greater savings.
Institute a Wellness Program …and Get Paid for It
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has about $200 million for businesses like yours — fewer than 100 employees. Businesses that provide initiatives to change unhealthy behavior and offer channels to educate their work force can receive grants to pay for those efforts. That by itself makes such exercises worth it. The gravy comes if those undertakings are successful and reduce health care costs, lowering premiums.
Employers can provide education, subsidize nutrition and exercise programs, and stage on-site screenings to encourage more preventative measures.
Review Your Health Plan
This seems like a no-brainer, but we wouldn’t mention it if more companies gave it the requisite attention. As Mindi Fynke, CEO of Employee Health Insurance Management, notes, health care reform is still changing.
“Take a look at your plans today. Do what’s best today,” she said. “Continue giving benefits , but be smart.”
The complexity of the new regulations might necessitate a trip to your lawyer, and it certainly should trigger several meetings with your insurance broker. So don’t wait.