Health Care Reform

Leadership needed to allow employees to be great.

Talking about employee benefits doesn’t sound like a very unique topic given all of the recent focus on health care reform that has been highlighted in the news. However, talking about the importance and commitment to employee benefits now, specifically in regards to medical coverage, is probably going to “go against the grain” for what a lot of company executives are doing or thinking.

I don’t think a week has gone by recently without mention of Fortune 500 or other large companies announcing their intentions to remove dependents from their insurance plans, reduce hours to eliminate full-time positions, or only hire part-time employees, as a strategy against the rising cost of health insurance and health reform.

While I understand the pure economics of the decision, I am not sure I fully agree that the economics outweigh the negative impact on the morale for the employees, their families and by extension, the company. I believe that my company has achieved the success it has because of the hard work and daily contributions of all of our employees.

Very early on in starting the business, I made a commitment to providing the best benefits I could possibly find for my employees and their families without focusing on the cost to the company or the bottom line alone. Obviously, with family and loyalty being an integral part of our company’s core values, doing anything different would go against the principles for which the company was founded. Going the extra mile for our employees has paid big dividends well beyond the pure economics. Putting people first inspires loyalty, commitment and motivates everyone to work hard for a common goal.

By abandoning health insurance and sending employees or their dependents to the Insurance Marketplace (i.e., The Exchanges), I believe businesses send the wrong message to employees and their family members that they are on their own. I am not naive enough to believe everything we were told about health reform will make things easier. Insurance is still insurance; it is complicated enough when it works as it is intended. It’s especially complex— sometimes a veritable nightmare—when it’s not working. I am a firm believer that employers have an obligation to provide a human resources department and a benefits broker/consultant who is accessible, actively engaged and knowledgeable on insurance to support the needs of employees and their dependents. It’s hard for me to understand how any HR department or broker/consultant would be able to provide proactive support to people who are sent outside of the organization to get health insurance.

I am not able to predict the impacts of this law, or estimate how well I think it will fix the medical care or coverage issues of our country. Like any law, there are parts that are inherently good (i.e., preventative health coverage), but there are parts that could have negative outcomes (i.e., additional taxes). If you haven’t heard about the Patient Centered Outcome Research Institute Fee, Transitional Reinsurance Fee, Medical Devices Tax or the other taxes outlined in this law, you should probably bring yourself up to speed fast. This law is going to impact everyone and every company regardless of size.

While some businesses may fare better under this law, I already know that I will see increased costs to the plans I offer with the fees and taxes associated with the reform, but I am committed to leading my organization through the challenges of the U.S. health care overhaul.

It is difficult to put a monetary value on employees who don’t have to worry about how and where to get coverage, or who they can call when they need help with benefits. But I am going to venture to guess that it far outweighs the savings found by reducing full-time employees or removing dependents from the plan. While there is still a lot to learn about the law’s implications as time goes on, I think the greatest challenge is for business leaders to give proper attention to the needs of employees and their families as a priority over the bottom line cost.

In doing so, employees are free to focus on being great for the organization instead of being troubled by managing changes to their health coverage.