Employees must take active role in their health

As health care costs continue to rise, the health of the employee population is becoming increasingly important. To help control these costs, employees should take more responsibility for their health, and employers are in a position to provide them with the right tools and resources to make better health care decisions, says Peter Saravis, CEO of Evive Health, a provider of health care communications in Chicago. While it is necessary for employees to take an active role in their health, employers also should help employees understand what should be done.

“If people have the knowledge and full information of what they need to do, they can manage their risks not only on an individual and family basis but as a steward of costs as an employee,” Saravis says. To me, those two things go together. It’s personal responsibility with clear information, direction and resources underneath them that allows them to make good decisions.”

In Saravis’ experience, providing detailed, personalized information to individual employees is helpful. This can include targeted health alerts, coverage information and contact information from previous physicians. The message should be focused on an employee’s individual needs and history.

Financial incentives are also important when it comes to motivating the work force to make better health care decisions, says LuAnn Heinen, vice president of the National Business Group on Health, a nonprofit dedicated to representing large employers’ perspective on national health care policies. Employees may have all the information they need to make informed health care decisions, but if they are not engaging in their own well-being, those health care costs will only continue to rise.

“Financial incentives are effective in getting employees to pay attention, to read the emails and figure out if they need to answer a health assessment or sign up for coaching,” Heinen says.

In fact, according to a recent NBGH and Towers Watson survey, more employers are offering financial rewards to employees who take an active role in managing their health than they have in the past. Thirty-six percent of employers offered financial incentives to employees in 2009, but that number grew to 61 percent in 2012, and another 21 percent of employers plan to offer financial incentives in 2013.

Employers are also using financial penalties, the survey finds, but this is at a much lower rate as only 20 percent of respondents are following this tactic in 2012. Typically, financial penalties are reserved for tobacco monitoring because it hits at a person’s feeling toward loss aversion, Heinen says.  

“It’s a more directive because what gets action is when employees feel they’re losing something financially,” Heinen says. “The surcharge could be as much as $120-$600 over a year, so that’s a significant take away.”

Ultimately, employees must make their own decisions when it comes to taking responsibility for their health, but employers should do their best to provide an environment conducive toward this goal. By offering onsite resources, such as clinics, and encouraging participation among senior management, employees see that this is a lifestyle that is attainable as well as expected, Saravis says.

“With personal responsibility, it’s about each person deciding his or her own health journey and having the resources to complete journey,” Saravis says. “It’s a consumer’s choice, but they need the structure, tools and information in place to compel them to engage in their health.”



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