by HealthPartners

Small business owners and employees often wear many hats when it comes to managing an organization’s day-to-day operations. If one employee gets sick while handling several different departments in the company, that person’s absence could seriously impact the organization’s productivity.

And the challenges created by the pandemic have brought this issue into the spotlight along with mental health, as employers are trying new and different things, including ramping up well-being offerings to help their employees with personal and family needs. The need to demonstrate flexibility is paramount, with 66% of small business employees saying they felt better about their employer after using a well-being benefit, according to the 2021 State of Mental Health in the Workplace Report by Fidelity Investments. And 60% of those individuals also said that mental health benefits were a key factor when considering their next job.

Introducing a health and well-being program – one that measurably improves employee health and helps people make better choices – is becoming an important way to not only lower health care costs, but also to compete in today’s tight labor market.

Here are four ways you can help small employers see that running a health and well-being program can help them improve their workers’ health and cut costs.

1. Dig into data to drive plan design and healthier behaviors

When Kingsley Botchway II, the district’s Chief Human Resources Officer at Waterloo Community School District (WCSD) in Iowa, began to see spikes in claims cost across three departments — orthopedics, cardiology and endocrinology — it was clear something needed to be done.

He was looking for a partner to help steer his employees toward a healthier lifestyle, and he wanted a seat at the table to help determine the best plan design. He desired to work with a team who would listen to his concerns and collaborate with him.

Botchway says, “I felt heard in our conversations. We had a lot of decisions to make and I got the opportunity to say, ‘This is what I want. These are our concerns.’ We were able to work with lots of people from all different levels at HealthPartners, not just sales folks. They helped us dig into the data and figure out if our employees were getting the treatment and care they needed.”

As a broker, helping small business clients find a health insurance partner that gives them the ability to tailor a plan to suit their specific needs can make a big difference in employee health. HealthPartners is now providing the small group market similar opportunities for plan choice and flexibility as it offers larger employers like WCSD. Twenty-plus fully insured and self-insured plans are available with high deductible, low deductible, Health Savings Accounts and deductible copay options. These plans give small employers the competitive rates they’re seeking while giving them the option to select more than one plan to help them address the needs of their diverse workforce.

2. Small business wellness is affordable and available

Typically, there aren't many options when it comes to health and well-being programs for small businesses. Larger companies are usually the ones that can afford large worksite health programs with health and well-being specialists, facilities and equipment.

But with digital technologies becoming more prevalent and accessible, there are many wellness options that are more cost-effective for small businesses. Look for health insurers that have robust, integrated digital health and well-being perks that can help employers achieve their health goals and receive quality care, all while bringing down total costs.

We offer small businesses access to a broad range of well-being solutions to support better health. These include digital health assessments to determine which areas employees should be focused on, and targeted digital activities related to their needs to help encourage healthy behavior change. Members can access these activities with the HealthPartners mobile app, right from their phones.

Digital health assessments alone can make a big impact. At WCSD, while claims data pointed to some deeper health issues, there was no way to develop a consistent approach to managing their conditions without a health assessment. With persistent communication and leadership support, WCSD was able to get 93% of its staff to take the assessments.

“We wanted to look at our health costs in a different way – we just didn’t want to continue sending our employees to the doctor and to get prescriptions,” says Botchway. “We wanted them to truly understand how their health was affecting their lives at work and at home, and how to fix it. Our health assessment was the first step in doing just that.”

3. Chronic disease management support that works

When health assessments came back saying there were underlying health issues at play that might be driving up claims costs, having disease and case management nurse support to help Botchway’s workers get back on track was important.

HealthPartners small group plans also include diabetes and hypertension management through Omada digital health coaching. That means that personalized, live support is available through employees’ phones to help them manage diabetes, hypertension and maintain a healthy weight.

“Suggesting that our employees be more active is one thing, but giving them access to dedicated professionals who are there to help with any questions they may have was taking the program to a whole other level of support,” adds Botchway. “We were also super transparent and frank about wanting to be there to help them in their journey, and we made sure the message came from our senior leadership.”

Giving small businesses access to personalized coaching and disease management as an integrated part of their health and well-being programs can make a huge impact in helping employees take the right steps toward better health.

4. Improving mental health and stress levels can help lower costs

Additional top concerns for small business owners include the high levels of employee stress and mental health issues, including those brought on by the pandemic.

While the pandemic has helped normalize discussions around mental health and reduce stigma, it’s vital for employers to keep creating safe, supportive and long-term environments post-pandemic as well. This means developing a mental health strategy that includes providing access to helpful resources and communicating continuously about those tools so employees know they’re available. According to the Fidelity Investments report mentioned above, 92% of organizations are expanding mental health benefits to help their employees, and 43% of employees say their mental health is worse now than it was pre-COVID.

Finding insurers that offer free cognitive behavioral therapy, customized coaching, and tools for building resiliency and mental health can provide the complete spectrum of support needed to help your clients.

HealthPartners has an evidence-based cognitive behavioral health program called myStrength that is a free offering available within all of our small group health solutions. myStrength includes a wide array of self-paced engaging topics such as stress, anxiety, depression, sleep and more. We also have a behavioral health care line, which helps support employees’ mental health or chemical health concerns and recommends the best treatment options. And through our Make It OK campaign, we offer tips and resources for reducing the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

Employers have an obligation to take care of their employees’ mental health, and Botchway acknowledged that they need to do so in a way that addresses the needs of their staff.

He says, “The effects of stress and mental health on the body cannot be overlooked. They impact our total well-being in dramatic ways, and it isn’t necessarily something you will see on claims. Being able to listen directly to your staff regarding their concerns and direct them to tools and resources that can help, like what HealthPartners provides, can make it simple and easier to offer immediate support.”

Botchway wants to continue to push the envelope and lead his employees toward better health post pandemic. He wants to champion a strategic health and well-being plan with continued leadership support that drives engagement. He wants people to love to come to work, to feel better and to live healthier.

A partner you and your clients can trust

When it comes to implementing a health and well-being program, a big hurdle for small business owners is figuring out who will run it.

One way you can overcome this barrier is to help your clients understand that, with HealthPartners plans, digital tools, carelines and support are available at their fingertips.   All they need to do is promote them and get people involved. HealthPartners’ Living Well resources provide the simplicity employers crave when it comes to health and well-being programs, as well as plug-and-play options to not only get their employees started but fully engaged. All of our plans come with our digital Living Well tools at no additional charge.

And as a broker, you can help drive your small business clients toward a culture of wellness by giving them flexibility and choice when it comes to their health plan, and an integrated health and well-being program that provides the personalized support they’re looking for. Our fully insured and self-insured options can do that, and they are available in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Northeast and Western Wisconsin.