Stretching Your Healthcare Dollar

Employers nationwide face critical decisions about their health benefits program. Should they continue funding their employees’ health benefits at the same contribution level as in the past? Should they keep the same level of benefits as before? What can be done to minimize costs and maximize benefits? These are tough questions.

Rising health care costs and an uncertain economy require an employer to examine various options when making health care decisions.

These include:

1. Eliminating all health benefits

2. Reducing or eliminating other fringe
benefits to maintain the current level of
health benefits

3. Modifying the existing health benefits
program by increasing employee co-payments
or cost-sharing

4. Shopping for the most affordable coverage available from various carriers

Finding solutions to dampen the effect of rising insurance premiums can be difficult. However, there is an additional consideration that is often overlooked. As with any vendor selection process, a business owner must consider the value gained from selecting a health benefits plan. Often, many look only at price and overlook the investment perspective involved in purchasing a health benefits plan. An employer should ask, “What am I getting for my money?”

A health plan should do more than simply pay the bills. It should provide opportunities to improve and maintain health. Health benefits plans that promote health fairs, wellness and disease management programs provide opportunities for achieving better health outcomes. Improved health outcomes can translate into reduced health care expenditures and affordable premiums.

Some health benefits companies are adding discount programs that focus on healthy living, including diet and nutrition counseling, and discounts at local fitness centers. Disease management programs focus attention and resources on conditions with which patient self-care efforts are significant. There are specific intervention programs for diabetes, asthma, wound care and congestive heart failure.

If you thought health care didn’t have enough acronyms, here is one more. Some carriers are beginning to offer Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM). CAM focuses on alternative forms of health care treatment, such as massage therapy, acupuncture or homeopathy. CAM is one of the fastest-growing areas of employee health benefits. There are estimates that as many as 36 percent of adults use some form of CAM. These additional benefits are not just bells and whistles. The introduction of these programs often increases employee satisfaction. And increased satisfaction is a byproduct of the programs’ purpose. The aim of these programs is to focus on improving health outcomes. They seek to provide an improved return on the investment of premium dollars and create a shift in the traditional insurance paradigm of just paying bills.

When an employer chooses a health benefits company with programs that emphasize total health, it is making an investment in its employees’ well-being and future. Therefore, when selecting a carrier, remember to find one that provides opportunities to stretch your health care dollars by offering fitness
and CAM programs that help the mind, body and wallet.

PETER JOSEPH is senior vice president for commercial sales for VISTA, a health benefits company headquartered in South Florida with more than 330,000 members. VISTA, through its affiliated companies, Vista Healthplan Inc., Vista Healthplan of South Florida Inc. and Vista Insurance Plan Inc., offers a choice of health benefit plans including health maintenance organization (HMO), preferred provider organization (PPO) and point-of-service (POS). Reach Joseph through VISTA’s Web site or at (954) 858-3000.

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