5 Ways Environment Can Impact Health Insurance Costs

By Thursday Bram on 10 November 2010 (Updated 5 January 2011) 0 comments
Photo: PeskyMonkey

When you offer health insurance, the costs can be high. Taking steps to keep those costs down — along with the costs associated with employees needing to make use of their health insurance, like missed work days — simply makes sense. It's hard to drop those costs by a lot, but making some changes in your business may be able to improve your employees' environment and reduce costs.

The settings that employees work in can have significant impacts on their health and their need for health insurance. It goes beyond the differences between working at a construction site and in an office, as well: No matter what type of business you run, there may be opportunities to improve the environment. Because health insurance providers set costs based on how much they expect your employees to need health insurance, taking steps to improve your situation and bringing them to the attention of your health insurance provider can be worth the effort. Here are some environmental issues to consider:

Sedentary Positions Can Lead to Health Problems

If an employee doesn't get out from behind his desk much, the likelihood that he will have health problems goes up as a direct result. Research published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise shows that even if an individual exercises regularly, simply sitting for long periods of time can increase his or her risk of cardiovascular disease. The first step to reduce the impact of sitting for long periods of time is to encourage regular exercise, but offices can also be designed to get employees to move around regularly. Something as simple as holding meetings while standing can help.

Cleaner Air Makes for Healthier Employees

Any employee with dust allergies will do better in an environment with cleaner air, and the same is often true for employees with pollen allergies. Both are relatively common allergies and, while they may be minor when compared to other health concerns, there can be cumulative effects. You may even get better productivity out of employees who can breathe easier. You can switch out filters in your ventilation system for a quick fix or bring in an air purifier if your air quality needs to be improved.

Good Eating Habits Are Harder in the Office

It's very easy to run out and get fast food over the lunch break. Packing a brown bag or seeking out a healthy restaurant is harder. Making good decisions gets that much more difficult when there's a vending machine in the break room or the boss brings in pizza when everyone's working late. While you can't be the food police in your office, there are steps you can take to make it easier for employees to take advantage of healthy options. These can include some careful thought about what food is available at the office, as well as making sure that employees have opportunities to get to healthy restaurants or bring in food from home regularly.

OSHA Guidelines Are Minimums

In some ways, the regulations set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can be considered minimums. There are almost always opportunities to make a work environment safer. For example, regulations regarding floors and passageways state that they have to be clean, dry, and in good repair. But good repair can be interpreted in different ways. Uneven floors can pass OSHA guidelines (when a building settles and in other circumstances), but even a small change in the evenness of a floor can make for a tripping hazard. Little fixes can make employees less accident-prone. Depending on the work your employees do, taking steps like offering additional safety gear can be helpful.

Less-Healthy Behaviors Are Contagious

In a tight-knit company, it's easy for employees to share habits and hobbies. Not all habits are good, though, making it likely that if a few members of your team run the risk of health problems, all of them do. Consider smoking: In some groups, it's a social habit. Even if only one or two members of a group smoke, smoke breaks can be a group activity, ensuring that everyone involved gets a dose of second-hand smoke. Luckily, good habits are also contagious and can be encouraged through setting a good example as well as giving incentives to establish better routines.

The Impact on Your Health Insurance

Some health insurance providers offer incentives for both employers and employees if the employees improve their health overall by joining a gym, quitting smoking, and taking similar steps. It's a good decision, both in terms of finances and health, to find out what opportunities your health insurance provider offers. Even if direct incentives aren't available, it's worth talking to your agent. In some cases, if you can demonstrate that your employees' use of their health insurance has dropped, you can get your rates reduced.

On many of these workplace environment issues, you will need to get your employees' help to move forward. Buy-in is necessary if you want your employees to change their habits, at the very least. While you can easily set policies about healthy behaviors, it can be hard to enforce such policies without causing problems with your staff. Furthermore, in some cases, you need your employees to agree to these changes even when they're out of the office. Take smoking for example: Many businesses now have policies against employees smoking at work. That won't ever stop employees from actually smoking, though — it just means that they aren't smoking in the office. It's worth reminding them that not only would taking some of these steps help them with their overall health, but they could bring down their costs as well, both in terms of what they contribute to their health insurance plan and their out-of-pocket expenses.

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