Maximize your health benefits

In a world filled with short-term plans, long-term plans, quarterly improvement plans, and cost-containment plans, it is amazing to think that some businesses do not have an ongoing plan for health benefits.

Yet, each year, businesses of all sizes wait until a month or two prior to renewal to give their health benefits any consideration. This lack of planning puts these businesses in a reactionary position, leaving them with few options and little time to examine the marketplace.

Don’t let this happen to you

Health benefits are key to attracting and retaining the best employees, which in turn is key to growing one’s business. However, benefit costs can also become crippling if they are unaccounted for, just as a spike in fuel costs can negatively impact a company’s bottom line.

With rising health care costs and a global economic downturn, it is now more critical than ever that both employers and employees take time to understand their health benefits and how personal behaviors can affect the amount both parties are asked to contribute to health care.

No matter how sophisticated your company’s planning, here are a few simple ways you can promote a better understanding of health benefits in your workplace:

Plan ahead and communicate

The key to getting a handle on benefit costs is to plan ahead. Work with your insurer or broker to make sure you have a health plan that is both robust and financially sustainable. This work should be done far in advance of your renewal date so you have time to switch plans or make adjustments as needed.

To assist employees, communicate health benefit information in a way that is easily understandable. Contact your broker or insurer if you need help explaining benefit options and consider holding meetings to provide employees an opportunity to ask questions about their plan choices before they are asked to make a selection.

Promote healthy lifestyles

Health insurance premiums are a direct reflection of underlying medical costs, and, according to the Milliman Medical Index, 50 percent of total medical spending is directly attributable to poor health choices. By promoting health and wellness in the workplace employers can help contain company costs, while also helping employees feel better and work better.

Take time to encourage your employees to know their cholesterol and other health measures, get regular exercise, stop smoking and eat a healthy diet. Your insurer may have programs to help your employees make these lifestyle changes.

Most importantly, lead by example. Consider starting a walking club that meets over lunch, cut out the doughnuts at morning meetings, and find creative ways to get your employees out from behind their desks.

Quantify the value of your benefits package

It is important you help your employees understand how keeping health care expenses in check supports the long-term viability of the company, its ability to grow and the value of the benefits package offered to them. Too often, employees don’t fully understand the value of their total compensation package – and what you’re spending on their behalf. Make sure your employees are aware of your investment and are becoming better consumers of health care as a means to control costs and maintain benefit levels for everyone.

Increase education efforts when making changes

Consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs) are gaining in popularity as a way for both employers and employees to control increasing health care costs. These plans include health savings accounts, health reimbursement accounts, flexible spending accounts and defined contribution plans.

If you’ve been offering a PPO or HMO for years, but would like to introduce a CDHP, build in extra time to explain and educate your employees about the change. This investment up front pays off in the form of better adoption.

While it is true that implementing any of these measures requires a commitment from your business, the cost of doing nothing is simply too great. Companies that plan ahead, anticipate changing needs, and approach health benefit costs as they would any of their other cost of doing business stand to get the most value out of their investment and have a more satisfied workforce than those who do not.

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