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How COVID is Affecting the Health of your Employees

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Roger Kirtley, Vice President of The Safeguard Group

Co-written by: Rich Shaw and Roger Kirtley

Contrary to popular belief, health insurance costs can be controlled through proven cost-containment initiatives. Concierge services that improve medical outcomes, engage in direct contracting with pharmacies for better prescription pricing, and administer proactive wellness screenings to screen employees’ overall health are reliable strategies for reducing and controlling healthcare costs.

Pre-Pandemic

Prior to the pandemic, many Delaware employers had seen significant improvements in the health of their workforce. Health risks such as high blood pressure and unsafe glucose (blood sugar) and cholesterol levels had improved due to employers’ wellness strategies. Metabolic Syndrome, which is when a person has multiple health risks, was declining for many people resulting in a much lower risk of them developing chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. All of which are expensive for both employees and their respective health plans.

Rich Shaw, President of CardioKinetics

Prior to the pandemic, we analyzed our client’s health data and discovered numerous businesses were seeing significant improvements in the overall health of their workforce. Here are a few examples:

  • Metabolic Syndrome (3+ health risks) had declined by as much as 50% as people were changing habits.
  • High blood pressure was dramatically reduced through lifestyle change and medication.
  • Pre-diabetic glucose levels were significantly better than National Averages.
  • Diabetic glucose levels were reduced by more than 50%.
  • Activity levels increased by more than 25%.

Looking back, businesses reviewing both biometric screening data and health insurance claims data have come to realize that employee engagement, both on the front end and the back end, is critical to reducing and controlling healthcare costs. Employers and employees had become partners with the mindset that “we are in this together” when it comes to controlling healthcare costs knowing most costs are avoidable.

COVID

Then Covid blindsided our routines in 2020. People changed daily habits to avoid contracting the virus and, in the process, lost their focus on taking care of their personal health. Inactivity and unrestrained eating habits became the norm. As we all attempted to deflect the stress of this unprecedented time in our lives, the running joke became “I thought the 19 stood for how much weight I gained.” While not the case for everyone, unfortunately many Americans found themselves unhealthier.

The same businesses that had developed a workplace culture focused on employee health suddenly found themselves inundated with seemingly insurmountable challenges. We began taking temperatures, disinfecting the workplace, asking where employees and customers had traveled, and establishing work from home policies and infrastructure. Unfortunately, while we were consumed with these critically important challenges, many people’s health deteriorated.

Going Forward

Now that we have learned to manage the challenges associated with Covid, we are encouraging employers to reengage with employees and focus on preventive health in an effort to reduce and control healthcare costs. One year of making poor health choices does not have to define a person’s health for the remainder of their life, and business leaders are in an excellent position to make a difference in the lives of the people they employ.

Controlling healthcare costs is not challenging but it does require several changes from business-as-usual strategies. First, implement a health plan with access to claims data such as a self-funded or partially self-funded plan. Next, work with a consultant that regularly implements best-in-class cost containment initiatives such as direct contracting with pharmacies and concierge services for high-cost claimants.  And lastly, focus on your employees’ health by partnering with a wellness company.

The good news is we are beginning to find a sense of renewed energy at the workplace because employees and employers are again partnering to reverse the unhealthy trends of the past eighteen months. But there is still much more to do.

As is the case with most business initiatives, it all starts at the top. When the leaders of a business decide to fully support cost containment and preventive health initiatives, it will result in innovative practices that will truly make a difference in the lives of the people they employ.

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