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Iowa as Healthiest State…What a BHAG!

David P. Lind BenchmarkYup, making Iowa the healthiest state in the nation in five years is a Big Hairy Audacious Goal!

You know. The kind of visionary goal Jim Collins and Jerry Porras were thinking of when they coined that term in 1994*. Something so strategic and compelling that it’s a game changer.

For sure, the new Healthiest State Initiative is a BHAG. We are currently ranked 16 among all 50 states according to the 2011 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index®, so although we are above average, we’ve got a ways to go to take the top spot.

Can we get there?

Well, that depends on you, and me, and your employees—on all of us making a whole lot of small changes that add up.

That’s what The Blue Zones Project™ is about—helping us achieve this BHAG— community by community, business by business—helping us become more like those Blue Zone communities around the world, where people live longer, healthier, more productive lives.

How?

  • All Iowa towns have the opportunity to become Blue Zones through a competitive application process.
  • Ten towns will be selected to receive direct access to national experts in transforming themselves into a Blue Zone Community™.
  • Businesses can adopt changes whether they’re in a Blue Zone or not.

As an Iowa employer, what’s in it for you?

  1. Healthy employees mean more productive (and happier) employees who will positively affect your organization now and into the future.
  2. Having healthy employees, both physically and mentally, is a competitive advantage.
  3. The bottom line—lower medical costs translate into lower insurance costs.

Sure, I know, it’s easy to be cynical about yet another healthy living initiative, especially one with such lofty goals. Really, you may be thinking, we can’t change our habits so much that we will become the healthiest state in the nation.

But the truth is, Iowa will be better off by pursuing such a BHAG. We can achieve it if we really want to!

*Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, written by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, 1994

Clueless on Health Care Costs?

David P. Lind BenchmarkEver try to figure out what your health care providers actually get paid?

I didn’t think so. As a patient, you probably check to make sure that the doctors, hospital and pharmacy are considered “covered” by your insurance plan. Why? That keeps your out-of-pocket expenses down because of discounts your health plan negotiated with these providers.

But as patients/consumers, we’re clueless about the negotiated discounts with any given health care provider. We’re out of the loop. Discounts are negotiated privately between insurance companies and health care providers. They’re not posted anywhere, and no one is required to share that information.

But here’s the rub for you, the employer:

Negotiated discounts can vary greatly between insurance companies and will affect your underlying costs.  So which carrier has the deepest discounts?

Competition between insurance companies for pricing purposes is a good thing, but the level of competition needs to be transparent to employees and patients for market forces in health care to flourish—and eventually hold costs down.

True market forces are hindered by the current confidential pricing process.

Enter Consumer Driven Health Plans. Under this concept, an employer allocates a sum of money annually to offset employees’ portions of a high-deductible plan (health savings accounts are part of a consumer-driven plan). Employees are motivated to get the best health care deal they can find.

That’s good, but consumers are most effective when they understand the true cost of a given product or service BEFORE the purchase is made. Encouraging employees to become better consumers is not enough if they don’t know the true cost and value they receive.

We are far from a patient-centered market in health care. This needs to change—and until it does, we as consumers, will be kept in the dark.

Health Reform…Are You a Skeptic?

David P. Lind BenchmarkAs an employer, what do YOU think of health reform? Will it successfully attack rising health insurance rates that you continue to pay year after year? Will the Iowa health insurance exchange in 2014 make any difference for small employers? What about the Supreme Court’s involvement?

Most of these questions (and many others) were asked of Iowa employers in our 2011 Iowa Employer Benefits Study©. So how did they respond? They’re a skeptical bunch.

  • 54 percent either “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree” that the health law should be repealed completely
  • 68 percent at least somewhat agree that the law should be repealed in some parts only, while keeping other parts of the law intact
  • 65 percent believe employer health plan costs with increase because of health care reform
  • Only 17 percent agree that a state-based insurance exchange will keep health insurance rates lower than without health reform (41 percent are unsure)
  • 54 percent believe the provision of the law to require coverage (or pay a fine) should be repealed (also known as the individual mandate)
  • 51 percent want a repeal of the provision that requires employers with over 50 employees to either continue offering coverage or pay an annual penalty of $2,000 per employee.

Iowa employers do, however, support the provision that prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to individuals due to poor health. I think this is one part of the law that most everyone agrees we should keep…but to do so, insurance companies need the assurance they are covering healthy people too.

All of this leads to the Supreme Court hearing arguments in late March about challenges to this law, specifically the constitutionality of the law’s individual mandate that requires most Americans to obtain health insurance and of provisions requiring states to expand eligibility for their Medicaid programs. Based from the arguments, it is likely the Supreme Court will issue a written opinion before the close of the current term in June, 2012.

STAY TUNED…regardless of the outcome, we will continue to see rising health care costs (and insurance premiums) for the unforeseeable future. Iowa employers have reasons to remain skeptical and apprehensive for the time being.