Spiraling health care costs have become a major concern for small-business owners who provide their employees with health insurance, said Valerie Clark, chair of the chamber’s health care committee. The forum was designed to address this concern and promote employee health as a necessary business strategy in the 21st century.
More than two dozen chamber members held exhibits at the forum as a way to network and raise awareness about health care products and services available to non-industry business owners.
Representatives from Saint Mary’s Health Enhancement division were on hand to promote the hospital’s workplace wellness and prevention services.
Operations Manager Pam Puckett explained the five-step approach — assess needs, screen for health risks, recommend strategies, intervene and educate and measure results — utilized by Saint Mary’s to implement health programs for employees at more than 100 local area businesses.
The goal, Puckett said, is to help businesses reduce their expenditures on health care, such as pharmacy costs and worker’s compensation, and improve the long-term health of employees through preventative care treatment.
Though it could take anywhere from three to five years to see a return on investment, the front-end costs can produce greater productivity rates to help offset the expense, Puckett said.
Antonio Linares, medical director for Anthem Health Solutions, affirmed how vast productivity losses in the workplace are because of health problems during a presentation at the forum.
Businesses in the United States lose about $225 billion annually as a result of productivity gaps associated with absenteeism and other health issues, Linares said.
Linares also said that lifestyle choices and chronic conditions were the key forces driving medical costs.
“As risk factors increase, your medical costs increase,” Linares told business owners.
With the passage of the health care reform law earlier this year, many attendees were interested to learn how the legislation would impact their businesses now and in the future.
Katie Strong Hays, executive director of the congressional and public affairs division at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, lectured on the many changes business owners can expect.
Chief among the topics Hays discussed were reform implementation timelines, health care tax credits for small businesses and increased premium variation limits, which provides for health care cost discounts as a reward for healthy behaviors among employees.
Hays said 53 percent of employers nationwide have a health improvement strategy in place while 47 percent use financial incentives to encourage employee participation in wellness programs.
“Employees will be able to look at their benefits and see what can be gained from your wellness program,” Hays said.
Local health care industry exhibitors said participating in Thursday’s forum was important for several reasons.
“We want to get the word out,” said Cindy Gonzales, director of operations at Reno Heart Physicians.
Gonzales noted that heart disease is the single greatest cause of death for men and women in the United States and that the community needs to be made aware of the treatment resources available to them.
“Health care is on the mind of the business community,” said Don Butterfield, director of business development and marketing at the Northern Nevada Medical Center.
Butterfield said it is necessary in today’s working world that businesses be conscious of the collaborative health care approaches available.
Though Thursday’s forum focused on health care as a business strategy, Clark believes wellness in the workplace extends beyond the boardroom.
“Health care affects all of us,” she said.