By Terri Rhodes, MBA, CPDM, CCMP
As integrated absence management (IAM) professionals, we must always stand ready to defend the value of employee absence management and productivity programs. The best way to do this is to articulate how our programs contribute to the success of the organization. We can accomplish this by networking with peers, both at work and with those outside of work. At work, we can develop shared projects that improve collaboration in those difficult scenarios where disability and risk overlap such as a return-to-work program. Outside of work, we can discover what other organizations are doing and discuss the solutions that worked for them. And we can keep our organization’s leadership updated on our contributions.
Sometimes, however, even when you are doing the right thing, something new comes along and changes your course. This happened recently with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) when some employers briefly considered ending their group health plans and sending employees out to the new individual markets created by the state exchanges. Some publications ran surveys predicting a significant decrease in the number of people covered by employer-provided healthcare. Ultimately, this didn’t happen. What did happen is that millions of individuals who otherwise had no health insurance were able to obtain coverages. Employers continued to provide group health insurance because of the value this benefit provides to employees and the value it provides as part of a comprehensive recruitment and retention strategy. Along with that strategy, IAM professionals found ways to show how an integrated approach increases employee health and productivity.
Now efforts are underway to replace the ACA with new health insurance options.
Because of the Oct. 12 executive order, employers will be able to send employees out to individual markets to purchase healthcare for the 2019 plan year. The executive order will create new regulations for health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) accounts with more flexibility to fund healthcare purchases, whether in group or individual markets.
So what is different this time? The new HRA vehicles are expected to solve some of the funding problems that made the ACA state exchanges a difficult choice to replace group health plans. Ironically, if the ACA is still operating a year from now, the state exchanges may enroll more new HRA customers for the 2019 plan year than other options available on the individual market.
Once again, employers will be asking, “Is offering a group health plan still worth the effort? Or do we want to move away from our group health plan and let employees make their own choices by entering the individual markets? How will this impact employee wellness and mental health care? What will happen to the productivity efforts we have put in place over the last 10 years?” And again, employers will be required to shift their strategies. They will find and provide the right solutions for the ever-changing workforce.
As we wrap up @Work for the year, I wish you all good health, happiness, and a joyous holiday season. With Thanksgiving around the corner, I am reminded of the many things for which to be thankful, good healthcare being one.