Despite efforts over the years, employers continue to struggle with escalating healthcare costs and chronic employee conditions. That’s why the Integrated Benefits Institute, an independent nonprofit that serves more than 1,250 employers including Amazon, Kroger, McDonald’s and Walmart, is stepping up efforts to help benefits managers come together in an effort to address those challenges. During last week’s IBI Forum held in San Francisco, the group announced two initiatives to do so. Chris McSwain, president of the Integrated Benefits Institute, spoke to EBN about those efforts. Edited excerpts of that conversation follow.

Employee Benefit News: You’ve just announced the launch of IBI Labs, a new initiative to bring employers together in an effort to get them to share their ideas. Tell us about it.

[Image credit: Bloomberg]
[Image credit: Bloomberg]

Chris McSwain: It’s a resource that broadly looks at people, productivity and business performance. We’ve created IBI Labs to help employers know what a good program looks like based on what has and hasn’t worked for peer companies, in addition to [offering] the optimum solutions and services for their employee populations. If you have a really big problem, I want to have a place where you can elicit the help of the labs. We also want to take vendors and technology companies and push them into the labs, and document what they do so we can point people to solutions. If you’re an employer looking for an emerging technology, you have a safe place to go where people aren’t selling it.

EBN: What was the catalyst for starting this initiative?

McSwain: While some employers are doing good, I stand back and ask if we’ve really made a difference. Many of my colleagues have done things that are well-intended, but I still feel like the violin player on the Titanic. At the speed we’re going, we are going to be in over our heads in an unrecoverable way, between healthcare costs and chronic conditions. My view is we have to accelerate change. I’d like the labs to be a resource [where we can] connect employers together. I’ve never had the chance to be connected with someone doing great things somewhere else, other than maybe seeing them at a conference. This will change that.

See also: Next step in employer healthcare alliances: IBI Labs

EBN: How do you see IBI Labs connecting with your organization’s other just-announced initiative, IBInext?

McSwain: IBInext is an exclusive group of high-potential young professionals in the health benefits industry, all under 40, who will meet annually, interact with the IBI Board of Directors and have opportunities to present at IBI’s annual forum. Our industry has big challenges, so let’s not nibble around the edges. I would like the Labs to be a place where if you have a really big problem to solve, we have the logic to help you. And I would like to leverage talent and creativity of the IBI Next group. These are the best and the brightest — I want to tap into their thinking. If they can help us come up with the template that captures data, wouldn’t that be a really cool thing? Labs is as much their playground as it is anybody else’s.

EBN: What kind of challenges are you helping employers with?

McSwain: How do you measure the health of the community, and how do you know you’re making a difference? We want to use our thought leadership to help employers think through that.

EBN: It seems like more and more employers are trying to take healthcare into their own hands —Amazon, Berkshire and JPMorgan’s announcement of forming its own healthcare company is one example. Is IBI Labs’ initiative following in those footsteps, and what’s important to know about this trend?

McSwain: The simple answer is yes. But you don’t have to be Walmart to do big stuff. Innovation doesn’t have to come from JPMorgan, Berkshire or Amazon. You’ll be surprised by what innovation comes from some of these small companies. Part of what I want to do in the Labs is not to make it hard to get to the really great examples of what’s going on, regardless of their size. Most of the innovation isn’t always coming from the really big companies.

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