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Engagement in Health: Business Needs to Get Onboard

In my eight years at the Chamber, pre- and post- Affordable Care Act, much has changed in employer-sponsored health care.  One thing remained the same however, on employers priorities, employee engagement.  I feel like this is a term that health care experts, employers, and providers all toss around and everyone means something different.

I’ve heard some great lectures on Employee Engagement in Health and Benefits.  Sometimes it means providing employees with the tools and resources to make better decisions but ultimately letting them do it on their own.  While this strategy sounds attractive because it hits on my belief of personal responsibility and empowerment, I think that it is too early in our health care evolution to put this much responsibility on employees who have never had to be good health care consumers. Akin to tossing someone out of an airplane with a parachute but no training on how to open it.

A couple years ago at the Chamber we even did a small employer study that asked small business owners whose responsibility it was to ensure their employees were healthy and used benefits properly.  While most small businesses take the stance that providing health insurance is “the right thing to do” they stop there.  They often don’t feel like that they should have any sort of involvement in the health, well-being, and financial security of their employees. “I’m not their father/mother”, was a common sentiment from the owners we heard from.

Yet in today’s health care world, employees/consumers need the support of the entire health care system, including those that pay for it, the employers.  Businesses need to see that while they have been paying for employee health insurance for decades, the entire health care system has grown to a wasteful behemoth.  Business can no longer stand aside and just provide employees with the tools and resources to make good decisions.  They must be partners in engagement through targeted communications, benefits education and health literacy, and proper plan design.

If providing health insurance is critical to employee attraction and retention, then so should employee engagement in the use of that benefit.