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How Far Can Employers Go In Pushing Workers Toward Better Health?

Mary K. Caffrey
A century ago, employee health and well-being was of such little concern to most US employers that it took the passage of workers' compensation laws for most to care, because suddenly it affected the bottom line.
A century ago, employee health and well-being was of such little concern to most US employers that it took the passage of workers’ compensation laws for most to care, because suddenly it affected the bottom line.

Today, the concept of workplace health has gone well beyond accident prevention, as the employer is seen as the one force in an individual’s life who can compel change in eating or exercise habits. How much employers can or should do, however, has varied, with larger employers typically willing to invest more than smaller operations.

Is it time for employers to be judged by the health of their workers? Derek Yach thinks so. Writing this week for The Washington Post, the executive director of the Vitality Institute, which promotes the prevention of chronic disease, outlined a concept in which employers could anonymously record health statistics of their workers and report them, along with financial data and projections for orders for the next quarter. Information on workforce health, Yach suggests, would be valuable to investors, giving them one more piece of data by which to gauge the worthiness of a company.

Far-fetched? Maybe not. Workforce health information certainly could have a relationship with healthcare spending, employee productivity, turnover or accidents. Yach is just one of many voices suggesting that the time has come for employers to use their untapped power to improve the nation’s health, for the mutual benefit of their workers, their investors, and themselves.

The American Journal of Managed Care has created the ACO and Emerging Healthcare Delivery Coalition, to discuss how to respond to the new mandate to improve population health while delivering better healthcare at a lower cost. At a recent Web-based meeting of the Coalition, Leonard Fromer, MD, executive medical director, Group Practice Forum, described a project that engaged human resources executives of several major employers to use value-based initiatives at their workplaces.

In Dr Fromer’s discussions with the large employers, many did not recognize that as self-insured entities, they had the power to force change if they chose to use it. Providers, Dr Fromer said, have to carry the value message to employers. “That is what has worked the most,” he said.

Some major health organizations are working with employers to press the idea. In July, the American Heart Association announced a new CEO Roundtable made up of 22 corporate leaders who oversee a combined 2 million-plus employees across the country. The group will reach out to people at work as part of a larger effort to combat heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, AHA CEO Nancy Brown announced.

Around the Web

CEO Roundtable Tackling Health in US Workplace

Report Workforce Data Publicly, to Benefit Workers, Companies and Investors

ACO Coalition Web Session: Despite Need, Challenges Confront Value-Based Healthcare

 
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