Employer Clinic, Employer Health Benefits

Remembering that Health Benefits are About Our Employees

One of the most gratifying aspects of my job in health care is the steady stream of stories I hear about patients. Many of them are “hero journey” stories, which allow us to follow the patient through a particular set of challenges along the path to managing or overcoming them. The employee becomes a patient, the hero, and we, the health services team, have the chance to accompany him or her along that journey. It is an honor and a tremendous responsibility.

In the health benefits world, it is so easy to lose track of the patient as we focus on analytics, calculations, spreadsheets and financial statements. Meanwhile, there is a human being behind those numbers, struggling, hurting, confused, frustrated and possibly frightened. Our hero is working in our organization, trying to juggle the myriad challenges of life, and so very easy to lose sight of behind the broad sweep of plans, cards, models and costs.

Why do we offer health benefits?

Perhaps we’re trying to be an attractive employer. Maybe we feel that health benefits help reduce absenteeism. Some may say that it is the right thing to do. You may feel that it is all of the above. Regardless, you want those health benefits to actually benefit your employees and their families. In many ways, the decision to offer those benefits is a moral one built on a world view that, as the employer, you have a responsibility to help your employees thrive.

When we discuss plan design, co-pays, deductibles and any of the other intricacies of a health plan, we need to always remember that we’re also talking about the lives of our employees and their families. Sometimes the business of healthcare takes on a “break/fix” mentality. The compartmentalized world of care we now face often feels that way: something hurts so we go to the right place to have it fixed. How we make decisions on our health plans often feeds into this model as we look for lower costs or easier ways to “fix” our employees when they are broken.

Think about the last time someone put health plan data in front of you. As you waded through costs, conditions, drugs, gaps, outcomes, trends and endless other data points, did anyone mention the employees on the other side of those numbers? For all of its clarity, there is always something that gets lost in the data. Chances are, you’ve been lost in the data once or twice.

On the care delivery side, our system also loses sight of your employee that is now a patient. Frequently, the “fix” is provided without looking at the whole person. Perhaps this is just the result of a dysfunctional financial model behind most health care, a place where there are incentives for more tests, more care, more procedures and more opportunities to bill. That person becomes a revenue stream. It is hard to remember the humbling responsibility to serve in such a system as livelihoods are built on volume.

Solutions to our highly individual, very personal health needs are not meant to be mass produced and sent with us down an assembly line. None of us are just patients. Our employees are not just patients.

Our hero struggles and it is our responsibility to accompany her. Yes, our responsibility. It is also our opportunity. For those of us providing health services, we have to do the hard work of serving those individuals one at a time, day after day, and remembering the humility of that chance to serve. We also need to keep our eyes open for broader opportunities: places to save money, ways to coordinate care, signs of issues beyond the immediate and chances to display our humanity in the compassion and care we provide.

For those of us making decisions on how we, as employers, can support our heroes on their journeys, we need to start by looking beyond the numbers, charts, spreadsheets and see the patient beyond. There are tremendous opportunities for us to achieve our goals, be financially responsible and meet our responsibilities all while serving our heroes. Those opportunities require a new kind of stewardship of all of the resources available to us, including demanding new ideas and more effort from those who support us. Our employees deserve it.

There is a new approach to health care and health benefits emerging. Actually, it is an evolving collection of ideas and models that bring new simplicity, power and opportunities for influence to us as employers. At its center are the employees we want to see thrive and surrounding them are solutions that bring the science of data, the art of medicine and the heart of stewardship. To command the possibilities, we have to be willing to step off of the well-worn paths of the status quo and take some calculated risks on the lesser known.

The health benefits we provide center on caring for our employees and serving them one by one as needed. That is healthcare: one-on-one understanding, one-on-one engagement, one-on-one caring and one-on-one effort. No, it doesn’t always scale cleanly and those individuals can get lost in our macro views on the complexities of our plans. However, it is in the micro view, the one-on-one, that impact is made. Let’s keep that in mind as we steward our resources and plan for the people who depend on us.

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