3 tips for selling a shared-accountability health care strategy

Commentary: In response to the Affordable Care Act, companies have become proactive – out of regulatory and business necessity – in retooling their health benefits strategy to manage and/or reduce costs. As a result, employees are now being given more responsibility in choosing their health benefits. This growing need to empower employees in the health benefits arena is pushing many organizations to adopt the concept of “shared accountability” in their health and wellness programing.

The business response to the ACA coupled with the growing health care consumerism movement is rapidly changing the relationship between employer and employee when it comes to health benefits, and it shows. Last year marked the single largest jump in high-deductible consumer-driven health plans, from 18% to 23%. This suggests that employees are not just being pushed, but are also beginning to embrace having more control over their health benefits.

With responsibility comes accountability, and more organizations are deploying wellness programs that offer positive and negative incentives to motivate employees to take ownership of their health and care decisions. Most large employers drive this behavior by offering financial incentives around participation in wellness programs. Premium surcharges are also used to incent change, particularly with large employers that promote tobacco cessation programs. The number of large employers using surcharges grew to 26% in 2014.

Also see: Workplace culture more important benefit than wellness

By encouraging shared accountability, both employers and employees stand to benefit. As more employees buy in to the concept, the employer’s share of health care costs goes down while employee satisfaction and productivity go up. Employees realize the many benefits of better health, but just as important, become empowered and prepared to make better decisions for themselves and their families going forward.

Successfully selling shared accountability requires a strategic approach best grounded in these three principles:

1. Data determines strategy. An essential first step is to take advantage of population health data to identify areas where the greatest impact can be made. Tobacco cessation, weight management, diabetes management and care management are examples of wellness objectives that can be tracked and rewarded as employees achieve predetermined milestones.

Also see: Employee well-being the new benefits mantra

Population health data also enables organizations to design incentives that meet the diverse needs of its employees. Positive and negative incentives are key drivers in promoting accountability across the organization, but employers should build incentive-based wellness programs with more than just employee activation in mind. Aligning health improvement opportunities for high-risk groups with incentives that encourage meaningful participation is an important component of a wellness program. It’s also incumbent upon employers to think long-term about accountability and responsibility in relation to biometrics and health assessments, which offer educational touch points that facilitate personal health management. Organizations are increasingly taking advantage of this opportunity, as evidenced by the fact that in 2014, 24% of large companies rewarded employees for improving their biometric outcomes, compared to 15% in 2013.

2. Communicate the concept. A strong communications plan that promotes a culture of health and instills shared accountability is critical to the success of a wellness program. Using a variety of communication outlets, including text messaging, email and onsite promotion, ensures that the organization reaches the targeted population. Develop key messaging that promotes personal health responsibility, empowers educated decisions and activates a healthier employee population.  

The dissemination of wellness-related communications presents opportunities for organizations to share messages that reinforce the company’s unique culture of health. Real-world health and consumer data can also be used to develop personalized communications that make the shared accountability concept relevant to employees.

3. Measure and evolve. A shared accountability wellness strategy empowers employees to become educated, confident health care consumers ready to assume more responsibility for their health, care and costs. A culture based on shared accountability also contributes to higher employee morale and productivity. To maintain positive momentum, employers should conduct surveys to gauge employee satisfaction with the wellness program and use these insights to make further changes.

Also see: Progressive companies take fresh look at what wellness really means

The return on investment in wellness programs goes well beyond the savings associated with company health benefits. Healthy employees are generally more productive and motivated, which can have a positive impact on the financial health of an organization. By adopting a shared accountability approach to wellness, organizations will help better prepare employees for success as well by supporting educated employees ready to engage in better decision-making when it comes to their health and care.

Shawn Moore is the senior vice president of consumer engagement at ActiveHealth Management, a vendor of population health management tools and programs.


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