In the Know

The Employer's Role in Creating Healthier Communities

08.21.2017 Richard Afable, MD, President & CEO

Employers play a vital role in the creation of healthy communities. They provide the means by which people in the community earn a living, pursue their dreams, and make a difference in the world. As the primary provider of health care coverage for working people and their families, employers also shape overall community health in three important ways:

  1. Offering health insurance benefits, wellness programs, and other direct workforce interventions
  2. Partnering with local providers to improve health and wellness throughout the community
  3. Aligning strategic and corporate purchasing practices with broader public health priorities

That’s a pretty tall order. But especially now—a time of unprecedented uncertainty about the future of American health care – I urge Orange County employers to embrace this responsibility with renewed vigor. The community needs employers’ pragmatism, wisdom, and ingenuity.

A good place to start is your company’s values. Employers should ask themselves: What is our corporate philosophy regarding the health and well-being of our employees? What is our responsibility for providing health care services—and at what cost? Obviously, you want a healthy, motivated, productive workforce. In a dynamic market like Orange County, competition for top talent is stiff. How do these factors impact the structure and generosity of your health benefits package?

Businesses value stability, efficiency, and predictability—especially financial predictability. Savvy business leaders also understand and embrace their role as community leaders. In that dual role, how do you structure a health care system that is equitable and inclusive while maintaining fiscal discipline in a time of escalating costs and scarce resources? These are hugely important and incredibly complex questions—but, again, the community needs your pragmatism, wisdom, and ingenuity.

National Trends with Local Significance

It is often said that all politics is local. Health care is the same. Of course, there are national trends, norms, and regulations that apply throughout the nation. But it is how those national trends and practices impact us on a local level —in community hospitals, employer facilities, and peoples’ homes—that really matters. Orange County—which comprises nearly 10% of California and 1% of the United States – is both a driver and a reflection of dominant national trends.

It’s worth examining how key themes in the nation and California are likely to play out in our communities.

1) Repeal and Replace vs. Single-payer

California’s business community will be impacted by however the winds of political change tend to blow. If you’ve been following the efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), you probably know that California risks large losses to its Medi-Cal program, which serves one-third of the state’s population. It is estimated that the state would lose $114.6 billion in federal funds within a decade. Also likely impacted will be the one million small business employees and over half a million self-employed Californians who benefited from the health insurance options provided by the ACA.

Alternatively, some people are calling for a “single-payer” solution. This is where the government replaces private insurance companies by paying physicians and hospitals directly for services rendered—much like Canada and the UK. California has its own single-payer bill—the Healthy California Act—which is currently stalled in Sacramento and is estimated to cost California $400 billion in additional funds.

Even if Healthy California doesn’t pass, there are new proposals on the horizon for state-run health services—especially as the federal government appears to be moving in the opposite direction. We can’t predict the specifics of these new proposals right now, but we do know that employers will be challenged to help fund these state-run services.

2) Innovation

So, with so much occurring in the political arena, where do we go from here? Regardless of how the health law debates turn out, it’s clear that we all must be more innovative about health care than ever before. With innovation our best medicine for tomorrow’s care, it’s heartening to know there are many Fortune 1000 companies here in Orange County, along with a growing cluster of technology start-ups of all shapes and sizes. As local leaders, we need to harness all that brainpower and invent some innovative, homegrown ways to deliver better, more equitable health care at a much lower cost.

3) Collaboration

We all have a role to play—health care providers, community organizations, employers, and employees, throughout Orange County. If we really want a healthy, happy, productive workforce, a climate conducive to business success, and an inclusive, equitable health care system, we must create a vision for a healthier community together. In these times, it has never been more certain that we must collaborate to make our vision a reality.

For more information on how St. Joseph Hoag Health is partnering with Orange County employers to build healthier communities, call 949-381-4777.

Categories: Featured, Leadership