Breaking Down Silos

ACA Driving Interest in Benefits Integration

More leaders are looking past the organization's silos in search of gains in health care and workers' comp performance.
By: | June 6, 2014

Health care reform and other forces are driving large, sophisticated employers to integrate data across workers’ compensation and wellness programs traditionally separated by corporate silos, said Thomas Parry, president of the Integrated Benefits Institute.

Their desire to integrate data on employee health comes as wellness programs are under increasing pressure from senior management to prove their worth, while employers continually seek measures to mitigate workers’ comp costs driven by issues such as obesity, Parry explained.

Those pressures are leading workers’ comp and wellness program managers to look beyond their traditional silos and reach out to each other, especially as the Affordable Care Act pushes more employers to evaluate their total employee health care spend and the value derived from it, he said.

“So it’s both sides of the house [workers’ comp and wellness] are looking for advantages in managing their programs and the value they provide,” Parry elaborated. “Because I think there is this growing recognition that what employers do around health care is really open for discussion now.”

Thomas Parry, president, Integrated Benefits Institute

Thomas Parry, president, Integrated Benefits Institute

The San Francisco-based Integrated Benefits Institute provides research on employee health and productivity to help its members make decisions concerning health-related programs.

With nearly 1,000 members that include large employers and their service providers, IBI and Parry have valuable insight into an array of leading edge employers, sources said.

Others agree with Parry’s assessment.

Employee health data is uniting leaders from various facets of corporations including wellness, workers’ comp and safety, said Stephanie Pronk, senior VP and health transformation national team leader for Aon Hewitt.

The data is uniting them to find solutions, such as ergonomic improvements, for issues such as obesity and an aging workforce, she said.

“The bottom line is the health of the workforce dramatically impacts the safety of the workforce,” Pronk said. “We are finding that out more and more as we look at integration.”

Twenty years ago or so ago, discussions about integrating benefits centered on merging health care delivery for both workers’ comp and group benefits or occupational and non-occupational illness and injury.

In more recent years, discussions about employer program integration shifted to measures that can reduce employee absenteeism and improve worker productivity, regardless of whether absences are driven by occupational or non-occupational factors.

Now, “it’s a more sophisticated conversation” about the integration and analysis of data that will help employers learn how to best spend their dollars on all programs that can improve employee health and productivity and the company’s bottom line, Parry said.

Companies want to know which programs are working and how are they are working, he said.

Employers that launched employee wellness programs have focused on linking those to their group-health offerings, said Denise Gillen-Algire, director of managed care and disability corporate risk at Safeway Inc.

But early adopters are also using “big data” to evaluate whether they can benefit from linking workers’ comp claimants with their wellness offerings, she added.

Employers have mainly targeted wellness program offerings to impact their health insurance spend, agreed Terri L. Rhodes, executive director of the San Diego-based Disability Management Employer Coalition.

But data warehousing has enabled employers to look across various programs with a health component, whether they address occupational and non-occupational illness and injury, to evaluate their overall impact on employee health.

Consequently, leading edge employers and their disability management service providers are now studying how wellness might financially impact other employer programs related to health, including workers’ comp and disability, Rhodes added.

The workers’ comp side of the house is in a position to contribute to such efforts because it has collected and analyzed data to improve claims outcomes, Parry said.

That data is also useful for helping employers decide where to focus corporate-wide resources that improve employee health, he added.

Employer wellness program managers can use that information to learn about an employee population’s overall health condition, how to improve workers’ comp outcomes, and to make the case that their wellness programs help the company’s bottom line.

And at the same time, workers’ comp managers are increasingly interested in improving claims outcomes by expanding beyond their traditional focus, Parry said.

“There is recognition that the health of the workforce is a driver of workers’ comp experience, especially around [issues such as] obesity,” Parry elaborated.

Those trends, and greater interest in how the Affordable Care Act will impact a corporation’s overall spend on employee health care, are driving data integration and analysis across corporate silos, he said.

“Particularly with health care reform,” Parry said. “Employers are asking a much broader set of questions around health and investment in benefits. People are asking, ‘What value do I bring to my business?’ You can’t make that argument by just saying ‘I am doing a good job of managing claims.’ That just doesn’t cut it anymore.”

Roberto Ceniceros is a retired senior editor of Risk & Insurance® and the former chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. Read more of his columns and features.

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