What's new in employee benefits? Health advocacy programs
As the cost of health insurance continues to challenge employers, more companies are turning to group high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) to contain costs.
HDHPs push employees to make smarter health care choices, since their out-of-pocket costs are typically higher. For this reason and others, progressive employers are also offering tools and resources to help employees become savvier health care consumers.
One of those resources: health advocacy services. According to a recent Mercer survey on employee benefit trends, 56 percent of large employers now offer such programs, and small businesses are following suit.
How health advocacy programs work
Health advocates -- also called private patient advocates or nurse advocates (many are RNs) -- work as private consultants, guiding patients through the complex world of health care.
When employers hire a health advocacy firm to serve employees, they can structure the arrangement any number of ways. Services are wide-ranging and may include:
• Acting as a confidential resource for employees, answering general health care and insurance-related questions and offering recommendations and emotional support.
• Helping employees research and select medical providers, including physicians, home care services and nursing homes for aging parents.
• Serving as a liaison with doctors; explaining health conditions and treatment options in layman's terms.
• Helping employees deal with sensitive personal and family problems, such as mental health and substance abuse.
• Hosting presentations for employees, educating them on relevant health care topics.
Benefits for employees
For employees, having an outside health care expert available for private consultation can help them use their health care and insurance benefits more wisely, while minimizing the frustration of operating outside their element.
Health advocates can help employees get a handle on difficult health issues, while reducing the stress that can spill over into the workplace, negatively affecting performance. Because health advocates are not company employees and know privacy protocols, employees can confide in them with confidence, knowing it won't get back to the employer.
Benefits for employers
Offering a health advocacy service benefits employers in a multiple ways. For one thing, it can actually bring health insurance costs down as employees become more knowledgeable about health care.
Simultaneously, health advocacy programs can improve employee satisfaction with the company's employee benefit plan, while serving as a powerful hiring and retention tool.
Health advocacy programs save busy HR departments time and effort, since employees can now direct many general health insurance questions to an advocate instead of the human resource staff.
Solving the employee caregiving problem
According to an AARP study, 42 percent of U.S. workers now care for an aging parent. It's a very real problem, one that costs U.S. businesses up to $33.6 billion per year in lost productivity. Many caregiving employees end up opting out of the workforce prematurely. The cost of losing a valued employee can range from 150-200 percent of annual salary, according to Bersin by Deloitte. That includes the cost of hiring and onboarding a replacement, training, lost productivity and its negative impact on co-workers.
• Teri Dreher is an RN patient advocate and a pioneer in the growing field of private patient advocacy.