America’s Health Care Challenge: We’re All in This Together
May 4, 2018
The cost of health care is crushing. It doesn’t matter if you’re a large corporation, a small business, an employee or self-employed. Nobody is winning. Premiums are up. Out-of-pocket costs are high. And coverage is anything but satisfactory for too many.
Paying for health care is a challenge for employers and employees alike. And sadly, it seems to have become America’s 21st-century emblem of partisanship and politics. But as the stalemate in Washington continues, it’s more imperative now than ever that businesses and employees recognize that we’re all in this together. And we don’t have to wait on our nation’s politicians to take action ourselves.
One thing we can do is create a healthier workforce — which is essential to any long-term health care fix. That means addressing the underlying health behaviors and cultural influences that have enabled preventable — and costly — chronic diseases to run amok in the last 20-plus years. All told, about 40 percent of a person’s health is affected by behavior patterns. Yet, less than three percent of Americans lead healthy lifestyles, and 86 percent of health care spending is for people with one or more chronic conditions.
Fortunately, research also shows that healthy habits do pay off — for both business and worker. Employees who are physically active, for example, have lower health care costs, require less sick leave, and are more productive at work, according to the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Increasing nightly sleep from under six hours to between six and seven could add $226.4 billion to the U.S. economy, the RAND Corporation estimates. And efforts to better manage employee stress with mindfulness training can improve workers’ concentration on the job, interpersonal relationships and sense of well-being.
Workplace environments do have an important influence on America’s health. They’re so important, in fact, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched the CDC Workplace Health Resource Center (WHRC) this past year, an interactive website with free resources to help businesses of all sizes improve the health, safety and well-being of their employees. The website offers evidence-based strategies to help workers become more physically active, a Worksite Health ScoreCard, an Employee Health Assessment and other resources. Other efforts — like the CEO Pledge for Physical Activity, a campaign that encourages every CEO in America to recognize physical activity as an important driver of employee health and business performance — bring home the message that programs to improve workplace well-being must be built on the whole-hearted buy-in of executive leadership to produce meaningful success.
The link between workplace well-being and company performance has become so widely recognized that there’s now a growing trend to invest in worksite health care, led by pioneers in the field like Vermont-based Marathon Health. Bringing behavioral health onsite, along with health coaching, are just two forward-thinking, solution-oriented components of the organization’s innovative health care model to support worker well-being.
Engaging employees who are most likely to benefit from well-being programs — that is, workers with the most health risks — is central to Marathon Health’s approach in its onsite clinics. By supporting these workers in managing their chronic conditions and adopting healthier living habits, Marathon Health finds that more than half of patients across its customer base make progress toward improving their health. They even see reductions in emergency room use and hospital stays. This isn’t surprising. Independent research, after all, shows that workplace disease management programs yield the greatest return on investment