Employer Based Health Insurance: Time to Rethink?

Posted on June 15, 2009


The future of healthcare is pretty close to the top of the nation’s agenda these days. In fact, as I write this, President Obama is addressing the American Medical Association in Chicago (as an aside, several people I follow on Twitter are doing a great job providing real-time updates on the speech).

One of the biggest challenges in mapping out healthcare reform is to determine what the role of employers should be going forward. The fact that employers provide health insurance at all is, for the most part, an accident of history. But whatever its origin, the system we have is very firmly rooted; it’s far more likely that the system will evolve as opposed to being dismantled with something completely new put in its place.

Obama Addresses AMA

So what should employers be doing and thinking about as the debate evolves? In his address, the president pointed to Safeway as a model:

Building a health care system that promotes prevention rather than just managing diseases will require all of us to do our part. It will take doctors telling us what risk factors we should avoid and what preventive measures we should pursue. And it will take employers following the example of places like Safeway that is rewarding workers for taking better care of their health while reducing health care costs in the process. If you’re one of the three quarters of Safeway workers enrolled in their “Healthy Measures” program, you can get screened for problems like high cholesterol or high blood pressure. And if you score well, you can pay lower premiums. It’s a program that has helped Safeway cut health care spending by 13% and workers save over 20% on their premiums. And we are open to doing more to help employers adopt and expand programs like this one.

(A full transcript of the speech is here. You can also read an op-ed by Safeway’s CEO that discusses the company’s health and wellness initiatives).

Is it possible that, in the future, employees will not necessarily expect employers to provide health insurance but, rather, to provide innovative programs to help them stay healthy?

Posted in: Health Benefits