Benefits on the Fringe: Bend Over Backward to Provide Primary Care

Welcome to Benefits on the Fringe, the monthly column where Jason McDowell covers the most unique benefits today's employers are using to woo talent, as well as advances and innovations in the employee benefits realm.

Have you ever had a job where you couldn't get a sick day or time off to see the doctor unless you were on your deathbed? Even then, you probably needed a note from your physician, a notarized form in triplicate, a few stolen tongue depressors, and a cellphone photo of you and the doctor in the exam room as proof just so you wouldn't get hassled when you returned to work.

If you've worked in a place like that, odds are you didn't work there for long.

On the flip side: Have you been that boss? For your sake I hope not, because you're costing your company more money in the long term. Workers who seek regular primary care are healthier, more productive, and require fewer sick days and less time off. It's far easier to grant a paid sick day than it is to hire a new employee when your previous one dies of a preventable disease.

I jest, but the statement rings true: Allowing your employees to seek regular medical care – or better yet, encouraging it – saves a lot of money and hassle down the road.

I'm Sick, You're Sick, Now We're All Sick

An apple a day doesn't really keep the doctor away, but an annual visit to the doctor keeps your employees healthy and productive.

"Employees that forgo primary care can have serious conditions worsen without their knowledge, and the further these conditions go untreated, the more expensive they will be for the employer and employee," says Andrew Cavenagh, managing director of Pareto Captive Services, a provider of group captive employee benefits. "More critical conditions will increase absenteeism and presenteeism."

For those unfamiliar with the term, "presenteeism" means working while sick. If your employees come to work while contagious, the illness spreads across the office, which can have drastic effects on overall productivity.

Don't Just Tolerate Primary Care – Encourage It

It's in the best interest of any business to help employees stay healthy and happy. At the very least, companies should allow employees the time they need for care, but a true employee wellness initiative encourages workers to seek medical care. Many options exist to make finding this care easier for the worker.

"Anything that improves access can help both employer and employee alike," Cavenagh says. "This includes telemedicine, urgent care facilities, employee assistance programs for mental health, annual physicals, health risk assessments with biometric screens, and part-time on-site practitioners."

Granted, no matter how many options you provide, some employees just don't like going to the doctor. Offering the right incentives to seek care can convince even the most stubborn worker to get a physical.

"Examples [of incentives] would include a financial reward for completing an annual physical or recommended cancer screenings," Cavenagh says.

The Doctor Is in the Office

In America, medical care is expensive. We all know that, which is why we try to have insurance. Surely the cost of bringing a doctor into the office must be astronomical, right?

"An on-site doctor is probably much more affordable than many employers think," Cavenagh says. "Call a local primary doctor and ask how much they'd charge to spend a day at the worksite. It might be much lower than you think."

If you can find a doctor who will come to you at an affordable rate, the benefits outweigh the cost. You might even consider having multiple annual events to ensure employees are getting appropriate check-ups.

In addition to on-site physician visits, Cavenagh also suggests employers organize annual or quarterly days for mammograms and dermatological screenings.

"These things aren't expensive, and by making them incredibly convenient to the employee, participation will rise dramatically," Cavenagh says.

My Boss Would Rather See Me Dead Than Absent

Some jobs just don't leave room for personal wellness. What should workers do when their boss would rather they infect the entire staff with the flu than miss a day?

"It is easy to say but harder to do, but the employees need to prioritize their health," Cavenagh says. "At work, they need to present the unified case to their employer on how making care more accessible can lower the employer's costs. Most employers are rational and want to help employees, but many don't understand the link between the lack of access to primary care and employer healthcare costs."

Getting a stubborn manager or executive to reconsider the company's healthcare policies won't be easy, but if you can get them to run the numbers, the situation may resolve itself.

"Whether they think about it this way or not, the employer has tacitly agreed to pay for the majority of healthcare for all employees and their dependents for as long as they remain employed," Cavenagh says. "In all but a handful of firms, this isn't a yearlong commitment, but a multi-year and sometimes multi-decade commitment. The employer therefore needs to stop thinking short term and start thinking long term. Without changes, what will the next 10 years of costs for healthcare be? Once we identify that very large number, let's start talking about what we can do to reduce it."

Rational business leaders can be influenced by logic and data. Perhaps they faithfully obey outdated corporate policies or just don't understand the importance of regular healthcare. Whatever the reason for their resistance, demonstrating the positive impact on the bottom line will hopefully bring them around.