When pressed on what steps employers can take to improve employees’ health, it’s easy to see why many corporate and business leaders feel resigned to the status quo. The ever-increasing expense associated with medical care — including both the cost of insurance coverage for employers and employees as well as out-of-pocket costs for individuals and families — forces difficult trade-offs for companies when it comes to health spending. On top of that, employers and benefits teams are inundated with vendors and consultants preaching about increasing employee engagement with far fewer details on better health outcomes.
Charting a new direction to improve outcomes and affordability can feel like an uphill battle. But for CEOs looking to make a real difference in employees’ health, there are five important steps that can be deployed now.
1. Expand availability of accountable care models to improve the care experience, quality and affordability at a local level.
For many large or “jumbo” national employers, the hassle, complication and cost associated with managing the litany of contracts and partners can make direct contracting with local providers and hospitals a non-starter. However, in cases where a local provider or partner can deliver significant benefit or improvement over the status quo, a more localized approach can be a benefit. For example, JPMorgan Chase’sJPM partnership with Kaiser Permanente in California to advance specific health equity programs and our forthcoming primary care program with Vera Whole Health and Central Ohio Primary Care represent two highly localized initiatives that can deliver more personalized and direct care within the communities where our employees work. A range of other companies, including Firefly, Eden, Transcarent and Centivo offer virtual accountable care models that hold promise as an alternative to standard insurance offerings. Taking inventory of strategic strengths among providers and partners on the ground can be valuable, even if an employer still maintains a national approach with other care models.
2. Invest in the data access needed to assess health outcomes.
Any meaningful health intervention or program can only succeed if employers have access to the data and insights to fully understand the health of their employee population. Yet, many employers lack the human and technological infrastructure to effectively analyze data for a comprehensive view of population health. There are several reasons behind this — long-standing and misguided gag clauses across benefit vendors leave employers unable to perform complex analysis of meaningful health data, in addition to the significant time and resources required to identify a robust data system. The absence of meaningful data access for employees causes a range of challenges to improving population health — without information on cost and quality, employees can’t make good decisions about care management. Lack of meaningful analysis means health inequities are hidden from view, and employers don’t have a basis on which to hold health plans and providers accountable.
Starting with a full-scale assessment of data warehouse systems is an important step for health benefit teams. Once the proper data systems and analysis are available, employers can more clearly understand the specific health needs and concerns facing their employees and determine the appropriate steps and programs to improve outcomes.
3. Align employees’ health benefits with population health outcomes.
Attractive and robust employee benefit packages serve as a critical part of a company’s recruitment and retention efforts. However, traditional corporate health benefits have predominantly centered on driving employee engagement and satisfaction, with the hope that empowering employees alone will lead to a positive impact on health outcomes. Unfortunately, that’s far from the case. Today, the rising prevalence of five chronic conditions — high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity, and obesity — pose long-term health consequences for employees.
Employers must be intentional about implementing programs that prioritize health outcomes alongside engagement and satisfaction. While a significant investment for those companies that need to overhaul legacy systems, the investment upfront can pay dividends in the long-run by sharpening the focus of health plan efforts toward mitigating the likelihood of serious disease progression, improving employee productivity and lowering health costs overall.
Alignment around population health outcomes can also extend to those responsible for structuring benefit programs. Imagine if employee benefits teams were compensated in part on improving population health, increasing the rates of cancer screenings, or eliminating health disparities.
4. In a new era of hybrid work environments, prioritize care models that can meet employees wherever they are.
Before COVID-19, employers sought to create a workplace environment that supported work-life integration. As we move into a new era — and a new type of hybrid workforce — employers will have to pursue two paths simultaneously: promoting a safe and engaging office environment that empowers employees to return while also enabling colleagues to work in locations other than the office. In many cases, this might mean living in communities and areas outside of where physical offices are located.
The added flexibility must also extend to health benefits by allowing employees to conveniently access care at-home or wherever they may be. Virtual primary care and at-home care options can serve as a cornerstone for more “mobile” benefit offerings, providing easy and convenient care at the time and place that works best for employees. Eliminating the traditional constraints to timely access to primary care services and testing — namely location and availability — has the dual-benefit of solving for the medical “deserts” that can deter or delay care for employees.
5. Make care navigation a central part of the benefits package and experience.
Even for the most savvy health care consumer, navigating the health care system can be a daunting task, and equally complicated and fraught in the case of an urgent health issue or emergency. Incorporating a comprehensive care navigation solution — tools that simplify the process for finding in-network providers, hospitals or specialists — can ease the consumer experience in accessing necessary care. In doing so, employers effectively arm their employees with added support to make the best decisions in support of their health. Morgan Health’s latest investment in Embold Health is designed to help scale and expand the reach of these critical tools so that more consumers can benefit from the service. Companies like Included Health are also paving the way for a more inclusive health care experience, providing around-the-clock support on coverage questions or next steps on a patient’s path to better health.
Together, these five steps can set employers and companies on a trajectory to deliver better health and outcomes to employees. And, of course, there is also a key social benefit as innovation in health care is critically important for the long-term viability of employer-sponsored health insurance — especially as inflationary pressures are poised to hit the bottom lines of American business. The long-term impact of these changes will strengthen our workforce and economy so that more can reap the benefit.