What Employers Should Do

Dare I be presumptuous enough to address the issue of “what employers should do?” You decide, but note, from working with my peers at many Dallas-Fort Worth companies over the past 25 years I have some insight into employer attitudes and the dynamics between employers and the healthcare community.

In my last narrative, titled “What Employers Want,” I remarked that there is a veil separating employers and the healthcare community. To be more direct, employers and the healthcare community have each historically functioned within their own silos, neither reaching out to the other to address the common goal of improving health. The health equation is simple, ”healthy employees = a healthy economy.” That is to say, “You cannot have a healthy economy without a healthy workforce.”

Employers have mistakenly assumed “health” was someone else’s problem to solve (typically government—federal, state, and local). I can recall attending programs on population management over the years that addressed various issues important to “employee and family health” and meeting few employer representatives in attendance. An example would be the issue of immunization. We are all aware of outbreaks that have occurred within our community that may not have happened were it for proper immunization. Employers can solve things like that.  They have a captive audience.  There is no better way to reach the community than through employers.

Employers have made efforts to develop a common agenda to confront the healthcare issues all employers face, but time and again employers have failed to step up to the plate when it came to speaking with one voice and acting in unison to carry out that agenda. For the most part employers have been silent with regard to influencing the course of healthcare. Indeed, there are some local and national employers, and employer groups, that have leveraged the healthcare agenda, so this is not a condemnation of all employers.

Those employers who may not have the market clout to influence community healthcare strategy must be willing to dialogue with the healthcare players. What might that look like? We know that several hospital groups are gearing up to become Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). One in particular has recently come out in the media to address employers. The significant task ahead of those groups is to communicate the meaning and impact on employers of the transition to an ACO, and the resulting changes that may occur in the relationships between employers, employees and the health care community.

Are employers seeking out these hospital groups to learn more and understand this ACO effort? Similarly, are employers asking the healthcare community about how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may be impacting the business of healthcare and the face of healthcare to come? To be sure the news is full of pundits speculating about what lies ahead, but do employers have a good sense of the current and future impact as seen through the eyes of those within our local healthcare community?

Things are changing. In the past employers were reluctant to get too involved in the business of healthcare on the belief that it was not their “business,” and therefore employers did not have the expertise nor the time to become engaged.  Slowly but surely that giant we call healthcare has crept up to become one of the most significant problems facing us today. I feel the healthcare community has historically relished the hands-off approach of employers. For whatever reason (the unaffordable cost of care, or the ACA, etc.) things are very different today.

Employers are slowly beginning to state their wishes (quality, transparency, etc.) but the need to truly engage the healthcare community as a business partner remains before us. I believe that requires employers to engage the healthcare community in a dialogue to understand the issues, plans and aspirations facing that community as opposed to simply stating their wishes for lower cost, greater transparency, etc.. Should this dialogue occur, the healthcare community would undoubtedly gain some insight into employer issues, and so as the dialogue continues, relationships are established, and the potential for partnerships increases.

I am not advocating for a plethora of conferences or seminars sponsored by the healthcare community, rather, it needs to be the tough and time consuming one on one approach so that the two communities (employer and healthcare) get to know each other and are able to speak candidly about the issues facing each. So this is a call for the health care community to begin that process of communication.

But this narrative is intended to address what employers need to do? That is the easy part.  Employers need to open their doors, take the time, and sit down to listen to those that come knocking from the healthcare community. Surely employers are already inundated by the efforts of those that want to improve an employer’s bottom line, but none of those callers have near the impact on an employer’s bottom line that healthcare does.

Employers cannot brush this off due to lack of time or subject matter expertise. Employers need to come to the table, listen, understand and respond (not all during the same sitting) in order to become empowered with a role in the community healthcare strategy. The time to complain about cost, safety, transparency and quality has passed, it is now time to actively engage in a dialogue and become a partner in the process to improve those issues. As has been mentioned in the media recently, “collaboration” by all parties is needed.

Employers, become engaged and influence the path healthcare will follow! Meet with your local healthcare players—listen, discuss, respond, and act!

— Bob Queyrouze is the former manager of compensation, benefits, health, and productivity management and an internal HR consultant at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.