Even though the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law more than three years ago, many employers are still wondering about the purpose and impact of the new measure. In short, the law is intended to ensure that everyone has access to affordable health care, and the law calls for employers to play a significant role in the process.
People’s opinions on the Affordable Care Act vary widely, but one unshakable fact is that health-care rates are already high with no sign of relief. What’s more, as greater numbers of people join the ranks of the insured, there will be more impact on services, and that could drive up costs further.
A philosophy of personal responsibility
One of the core philosophies behind the Affordable Care Act is that people should take personal responsibility for keeping themselves healthy. The idea is that being healthier should require fewer health-care services and result in helping to keep costs under control. As employers, we are equally concerned with keeping the cost of health care as affordable as possible — not only because businesses make a financial contribution toward each employee’s health-care insurance premium, but also for the affordability our employees’ portion.
Where we can play a big part is to help promote various wellness initiatives and activities that can assist our employees in maintaining good health and keeping their own need for health-care services to a minimum.
Our firm’s health-care plan is “experience rated,” which means our premiums are based on our employees’ usage of health-care services. If we can help promote a healthy lifestyle for our employees and their families, it’s a win-win for our people and the firm.
A wealth of wellness methods
Not all of the wellness-related activities we offer in our firm will be of interest to all employees, but our aim is to promote and support enough of a variety of things so there’s something that could potentially be beneficial to anyone in the firm. For example:
§ We have offered health-care screenings — blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose testing for diabetes — during annual benefit enrollment fairs.
§ Members of our staff have participated in on-site Weight Watchers meetings, and we promote meetings in employee communications.
§ Our firm awards annual “Healthy Living” reimbursements for wellness-related purchases such as exercise equipment, gym memberships, fitness classes, and even a new pair of running shoes.
§ We educate our staff on the importance of ergonomics in the workplace, explaining that something as simple as having the correct angle for your computer monitor can make all the difference in the world on neck and eye strain.
§ We provide support and encourage participation in numerous walks/runs throughout our nine office locations, including Making Strides for Breast Cancer, Kidney Walk, and Chase Corporate Challenges throughout New York State.
§ Our firm also sponsors several employee sports teams, including teams that participate in sports such as softball, kickball, soccer, volleyball, and basketball. Not only does this promote positive physical activity, but it also promotes team spirit and camaraderie.
§ We ensure that office vending machines have healthier options, including lower-sugar/fat items, juices, and flavored waters.
§ During peak work periods, we provide meals that include “lighter” options such as salads and “fixings” to create healthier sandwich combinations rather than pre-made options, which, while likely delicious, may not always be the healthiest choice.
Together, employees can do more
This is far from a comprehensive list. People at a wide range of employers in our area have begun organized efforts to get and stay healthy — from yoga and Zumba, to walking and healthier eating. Supporting each other in these activities is half the fun and keeps everyone motivated.
Being a mid-size employer, we are fortunate to have a certain level of resources to use for healthy‑employee initiatives. Keep in mind, though, that many of these activities are low-cost or free; all it takes is for a small group of employees to become interested, get started, and sustain the effort together, and that effort can become contagious.
Regardless of opinions on the usefulness and expense of the Affordable Care Act, healthy, motivated employees are good for more than keeping health-care costs in check; they are the key to the health of your organization.
Susan Conway is director of human resources at The Bonadio Group, a Rochester–based accounting firm that has Central New York offices in Syracuse, Geneva, and Utica. The firm currently has more than 380 employees statewide and annual revenue exceeding $55 million. Bonadio also has offices in Albany, Buffalo, Perry, and New York City.