Now that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is law, how are employers reacting? When it comes to offering workers healthcare benefits, will droves of employers be running for the exits? The answer is no, according to a recent health care benefits survey of about 3,700 employers by Crain Communications, publisher of both Workforce Management and Business Insurance. The survey found that 52.5% strongly disagreed with the statement that it would be better for their organizations to stop offering health care benefits and pay a fine under the new law, and another 15.3% somewhat disagreed. Only 14.1% felt strongly that it would be better for their organizations to drop benefits. The larger the employer, the greater the percentage that disagreed with the idea that it would be better to drop benefits. Many of those surveyed said that health care benefits are critical to employee recruiting and retention (65.7% strongly agreed; 25.6% somewhat agreed).
However, when asked whether they understand the impact of the law on benefits, only 17.7% strongly agreed that they understand, while 38% responded disagreed somewhat or strongly that they understand the impact.
Focus on prevention and wellness
We’ll all be learning more about the law and its implications for employers. In addition to the way that it will effect benefit offerings, the law will also have many implications for prevention and wellness, both on and off the job. The law calls for substantial annual allocations for prevention and public health awareness campaigns – some of which may assist in changing behaviors, much the way that the past anti-littering and no-smoking public awareness initiatives changed behaviors over time. In addition to the general public awareness campaigns, there are numerous programs that will be targeted specifically to the workplace and to workplace wellness initiatives.
At the NIOSH Science Blog, Director of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health John Howard summarizes many of the prevention provisions in new law. He cites the following specific employer-based initiatives:

  • Provide employers with technical assistance, consultation, tools, and other resources to evaluate employer-based wellness programs including evaluating such programs as they relate to changes in employees’ health status, absenteeism, productivity, medical costs, and the rate of workplace injury.
  • Build evaluation capacity among workplace staff by training employers on how to evaluate employer-based wellness programs utilizing mechanisms such as web portals, call centers, etc.
  • Within two years, conduct a national worksite health policies and programs survey to assess employer-based health policies and programs followed by a report to Congress with recommendations for the implementation of effective employer-based health policies and programs.

In a reply to questions and comments that follow his blog posting, Howard notes that the NIOSH role in such programs is still unclear. He is asked if the new provisions will include any change in the current system that separates medical care for people injured on the job vs off the job. He notes that he is unaware of any efforts to unite the non-occupational and occupational healthcare systems, citing the obstacle that workers’ compensation insurance is regulated by the 50 states.

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