May 23, 2016 | Sarah O'Leary | Linkedin —
"Harvard Medical School calculated that 20 to 40 percent of cancer cases, and half of cancer deaths, could be prevented if people quit smoking, avoided heavy drinking, kept a healthy weight, and got just a half hour a day of moderate exercise."
Cancer is the #2 cause of death in the United States. Heart Disease is #1, and experts contend many forms of it (along with Type 2 Diabetes and a myriad of other chronic conditions) could be prevented with early detection, treatment compliance, improved diet and exercise.
In past decades, employee benefits meant finding the best insurance plan options for the workforce. Today, the healthcare environment has shifted substantially. Employers and employees are shouldering much more of the financial healthcare burden. Wellness programs are slowly but surely seeping into the forefront of employers' decision making process regarding employee benefits. It's no longer simply enough to deliver an insurance plan via a glossy folder filled light hearted copy and photos of happy, smiling families. We're the most prescription drug addicted and obese American population in history. Building an emotional bridge of trust between employees, their families and their relationships with wellness is critical if employers hope to promote a healthy workforce.
Major insurers are attempting to enter into the wellness arena, albeit with transparent motivation. The more healthy the patient population, the more profits to be made by insurance companies and their self-insured employer clients. With that said, any positive steps toward improved patient health are good ones to take. Alas, will patients trust their insurers for wellness advisement? That remains to be seen.
There are a myriad of challenges faced by employers in the delivery of wellness programs. There's HIPAA compliance, employee backlash and potential legal challenges. Third party benefits providers can step in to manage the initiatives, but without results their efforts are futile. There's also an inherent conflict of interest when the entity brokering the health insurance deal is also the one selling in the wellness and advocacy programs.
Many employers find themselves faced with a "tree falls in a forest" situation. If the employees don't engage with wellness programs, does offering them make any sense at all? Gone are the days of handing employees "Steps to Quit Smoking" or "Do You Think You Drink too Much?" or a myriad of other self help brochures and expecting results. Nor can employers give their staffs free gym memberships as sure fire paths to fitness. Employees need professional, independent wellness advocates who will serve them and their families on a consistent basis. They need a one-on-one relationship that lasts year over year with someone who has a first and last name who they can depend on for guidance and encouragement, not another pamphlet or 800 number for an anonymous call center.
Certainly, a healthy workforce is important to productivity and P&L. Most importantly, it's critical for individuals and families who want to get the most from their lives.
Sarah O'Leary is a nationally recognized healthcare expert and CEO/Founder of Exhale Healthcare Advocates, Inc. (exhale health. com)
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