HR Management & Compliance

U.S. Employers Strive for a Healthier Workforce

As healthcare costs continue to rise and unemployment falls to its lowest level in almost 50 years, an increasing number of employers are providing health benefits—from insurance coverage to wellness programs—to attract and maintain a healthy workforce. Some companies, though, are still holding out.

A nonprofit Transamerica Center for Health Studies (TCHS) survey of 1,350 decision-makers finds that employers are offering health benefits at the highest levels since TCHS began tracking these data in 2013. This comes at a time when U.S. medical costs continue to rise. According to analysts from PwC, employer medical costs will increase another 6% in 2019. In an effort to mitigate these expenses, employers are exploring various approaches to keeping staff healthy while reducing healthcare costs.

In the past year, more than 1 in 4 (28%) employers surveyed made changes to employee healthcare benefits; the most common changes included adding health insurance (36%) or adding other healthcare benefits (32%).

Because most people spend much of their lives at work, employers have the opportunity to make a big impact on the health and wellness of their employees if they craft their healthcare benefit offerings wisely. Businesses are in a unique position to motivate and lead employees to better health; but to be successful, such efforts need to be reinforced by upper management—showing concern, for example, about employees’ health or encouraging staff to take time off for physical and mental health activities. Since 2015, 84% of employers consistently report that their CEO and senior leaders are committed to improving the health of their employees.

Many employees spend their time at work sitting behind a computer, and unfortunately, research shows that this type of sedentary behavior puts workers at a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, and even dementia. To combat this, the majority (64%) of U.S. businesses have established wellness programs. Employers indicate these wellness programs have had a positive impact on workers’ health (79%) and productivity (77%) and company healthcare costs (71%).

The majority of employers that are concerned about the affordability of health care (89%) are also taking actions to control costs. The most common actions include comparison shopping for the best health insurance options (36%) and finding ways to reduce premiums (36%). That said, there are still employers that do not or cannot offer health insurance. The top reasons for not offering health insurance (and being unlikely to offer health insurance in the future) include company size (50% say they are too small), concerns about cost (28%), and the Affordable Care Act mandate not applying to them (28%).

Despite uncertainty about health policy in Washington, D.C., and state capitals, most employers, regardless of size, are committed to employee health coverage. Employers also acknowledge the cost burden of providing coverage; however, many are finding ways to provide health insurance for their workers as a key employee benefit. Most employers (72%) report that their employees express fear of changes to their healthcare policy, especially losing their health care due to preexisting conditions (27%) and a reduction in Medicare for seniors (19%). If the employer mandate were to be removed by Congress and the president, employers would like their companies to respond in several ways, including not making any change (25%), evaluating coverage options (24%), and increasing coverage (16%).

Though TCHS research indicates that most companies support employee health, continuing to adapt the healthcare insurance offering can positively impact any organization. Do employees have access to inexpensive, convenient telemedicine options? Do employees with preexisting or chronic conditions know about resources to find affordable prescription drugs? It is also vital that business leaders striving for a healthier workforce signal their support for wellness activities in the workplace by participating in these initiatives, formal or informal—which can be as simple as joining an afternoon walk break.

Hector De La Torre is the Executive Director of the TCHS, a nonprofit focused on empowering consumers and employers to achieve the best value and protection from their health coverage, as well as the best outcomes in their personal health and wellness. De La Torre is chair of the Board of Governors of LA Care, the largest public health plan in the United States; is a Trustee at Occidental College in Los Angeles (his alma mater); and serves on the California Air Resources Board (CARB) as a gubernatorial appointee. De La Torre served as a state assemblymember for California’s 50th District from 2004–2010. Before that, he was mayor and councilmember in his hometown of South Gate.