Healthcare In America Should Be About Productivity

Healthcare at Work

The number one role for employer sponsored healthcare is to help employees be more productive.

No More.

No Less.

When employer sponsored healthcare coverage expanded around World War II it was driven by a desire to attract and retain workers. The unintended consequences of what was simply a scheme to pay employees more has grown into the single biggest risk the economic health of our country faces. Healthcare as an employee benefit should be all about helping employers to attract, retain and optimize the productivity of their workforce. So what’s the problem with that?

No problem at all. Employers are predisposed to maximizing the tools that will get the most productivity out of its workforce. There is nothing more debilitating for a company than having employees that are not healthy. The cost of productivity loss through presenteeism (coming to work sick, with ailments, colds, headaches, back pain, etc.) and absenteeism (not coming to work) costs employers an estimated $344 billion/year.

Don’t confuse solving our spiraling healthcare problem with solving the problems that can promote overall organizational health. If employers are seeking to control medical costs then they should absolutely focus on high risk employees with multiple risk factors and chronic diseases. This involves aggressive case management interventions and should be controlled if the employer (or health insurance company) are bearing financial risk that can (and should) be mitigated.

But ultimately, to win in competitive, global market the goal of an employer is to cultivate its most strategic assets (usually its people) to perform at a high level by decreasing turnover, reducing absenteeism and presenteeism. Here is how to make that happen:

  1. Expect your health insurance company to be your productivity partner. Health insurers want to change their market perception. The best way to do that is to help employers improve organizational health through productivity gains. Embed prevention into insurance product design. Create incentives for the types of behaviors that reduce productivity drains (e.g. verifiable fitness). Health plans that take this approach will be more successful with their customer acquisition and retention strategies because they are no longer seen as a commodity.
  2. High risk employees should be managed by a third party.Employers need to address high risk employees but not be consumed by them as they seek to grow their enterprise in an increasingly competitive market. I’m not being callous here. It is not the role of the employer to bear this exposure. There are a number of innovative companies today like Omada Health or Amplify Health that will take risk and responsibility for these employees. Let them do that so you can focus to stay in business for all employees.
  3. Recognize that employees today find their people at work. Employees aren’t just looking for a job today. They are looking for purpose. They are looking for an employer that actually cares about cultivating an environment of collaboration. They are looking for friends. Create opportunities for cross functional connections to flourish. Promoting an active lifestyle is a powerful lubricant for that to occur.
  4. Invest in creating an organization that values prevention. Valuing prevention is about channeling resources away from sickcare coverage (traditional health insurance) and more toward wellcare and prevention. Incentives get aligned here. Put money behind promoting the health of your most important resources rather than channeling those funds to traditional insurance which has very little impact on organizational health and future success.

Healthcare in America should be about optimizing productivity, not sinking billions of dollars attacking the symptoms of poor individual accountability. Healthcare should be our competitive advantage in American, not our greatest risk. Employers and health insurance companies need to segment their investment between fixing a current broken system and pushing ahead to support individuals in being at their best.

The conversation in healthcare today is not about helping people be their best. It is about redistributing where money is getting spent. We can’t confuse the two or we will not move forward.

Russell Benayoya
About the author: 

Russell Benaroya is the Chief Executive Officer at EveryMove, Inc. of Seattle, WA.  Prior to that, he was the CEO at REM Medical.  Mr. Benaroya has his MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.  Russell previously served as Chairman of the Board at Treeswing, a non-profit organization that brings innovative programs to schools that will impact childhood obesity.  Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.