vPsychology for Business


We are dedicated to bringing out the best in you and your employees

Volume 5, Number 11                                                            May 21, 2004


Psychology for Business is an e-mail newsletter written by  Dr. John Weaver, business psychologist and independent consultant, provided to you at no charge. It is published bi-weekly. You’ve received this newsletter because you’ve subscribed to it or it was forwarded to you by a friend or colleague. To subscribe sign up at our website, http://www.psychologyforbusiness.com/. If you wish to cancel your subscription, please see the end of this e-mail for easy instructions

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Health Care Crisis

By Dr. John Weaver, Business Psychologist and Executive Coach

Summary: The cost of health care is threatening a health bottom line. The response by many businesses is to treat this like an economic problem and react by raising the costs paid by employees. This approach does not address the deeper causes of the health problem. Most of the rising costs are incurred because of illness related to lifestyle choices and we will not effectively control the costs until we create incentives for improving our lifestyle.

When I sat down to write today’s newsletter, I did not intend to write this one. I had a few different thoughts and had pulled together some data that I thought I might use. But when I started to write, I began to write about the health care crisis. Maybe it is because we (my wife and I) recently had to make some decisions about health insurance because she changed jobs and we were getting our coverage through her employer. Or maybe it is because I hear so many business owners discussing this issue. Whatever the reason, here it is….

One of the biggest challenges facing business today is the rising cost of health care. According to the Health Enhancement Research Organization (http://www.the-hero.org) the average health plan costs in excess of $9,000 per year and the average employer paid more than $6,500 of the premium. With double digit increases the past several years and similar expectations in the year to come, the expense is threatening the viability of many businesses. 

What is driving up the cost of health care?  Is this an economic problem or a health problem? 

Most of the proposed solutions are economic. Employers are asking workers to pay a larger share of the premium and/or larger deductibles and co-pays. There are alternative insurance approaches like medical savings accounts being explored.  

Advocating decisions like these are not easy. Employees often do not appreciate the expense underwritten by the organization. Because health care coverage has been considered a standard benefit, it seems that increases in costs for health coverage is a penalty and often the anger associated with this cost is directed at the company rather than toward the insurance company providing the benefits. 

Some companies have been tempted to circumvent this problem by cutting back on benefits. Yet the true costs for illness extend far beyond the money paid to doctors or hospitals. One major company that provides health care from an in-house team, estimates that only 18 cents of every dollar lost to illness is paid to health care providers. The other 82 cents is lost to missed work or lost productivity when employees are sick. Cutting back on expenditures for care will not result in fewer illnesses or less work missed. In fact, lowering the quality of benefits will probably result in more expense to the company overall. 

Trying to solve this problem by shifting the economic burden will ultimately be unsuccessful because it is a health problem. 

The majority of illnesses in our modern society are due to “lifestyle” problems. Costs associated with stress and depression accelerates overall expenditures by 70%. Other illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer can have significant lifestyle components that increase risks and worsen the outcome of these diseases. Obesity, smoking and excessive use of alcohol also contribute substantially to illness.

Maladaptive behaviors are leading to escalating cycles of illness. These problems will not be solved by changing how health insurance is paid and by whom. They will not be solved by limiting coverage or by implementing universal coverage or by curtailing malpractice lawsuits. The problem requires a change in our approach to treatment of illness. 

In the past, the most threatening illnesses were acute diseases that were contracted through bacterial or viral infections. Smallpox and plague were deadly risks to human survival. Health gains were made by understanding the source and treatment of these infectious diseases. The interventions that were developed were dramatically successful and the average life span for Americans nearly doubled in the century between 1900 and 2000. 

But few people are at risk of death today because of these acute illnesses. More people are living longer, but will chronic problems that are managed rather than cured. So people who are depressed continue to receive treatment to help them to function more effectively but the treatment extends out over years rather than being resolved with brief interventions. People who are obese develop cardiovascular problems and problems with arthritis in their joints and sleep problems and multiple other ailments. Treatment for each individual illness can be successful, but new illnesses develop because the lifestyle that contributes to the underlying problem has not changed. 

It is time for us to get serious about prevention efforts. 

By this, I do not mean early intervention, but true prevention. If we are going to really address the health care crisis, we need to start addressing the health of our employees. 

It is time for business and insurance to team up with experts who can teach employees to make changes toward a healthy lifestyle. This includes learning to eat better, exercise more and to choose a lifestyle that is less stressful. This is the new health care. It is not focused on alleviation of illness (although we will always need professionals who are dedicated to this) but on the promotion and preservation of health. 

The new health care professionals will be experts who help us to improve the quality of life. Brain health will be promoted through the development of creativity in music and art. People who find ways to be more active will have fewer aches and pains and will diminish many risk factors associated with heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Those who are more optimistic will have a psychological resilience that will make them more adaptable to stressful circumstances. These happier and healthier employees will bring greater talent and skill to the workforce. Wellness consultants, specialists in exercise and diet, psychologists and occupational health professionals are the key players who will lead this effort.

It is by improving lifestyle choices that we will truly address the problems that are driving up the cost of health care.

You might start by contacting your current insurance carrier and beginning a dialogue. What prevention activities does your insurance carrier currently support? If you can demonstrate that your employees are truly engaged in making healthier choices, will your insurer reduce premiums (at least for those employees who are choosing a healthy lifestyle)? Will your insurer help you defray the cost of an effective stress management program within your company? If you are a small business, consider teaming up with other businesses and form a coalition.

You are the insurer’s customer. Let them know what you want. Let them know that you understand that this is a health problem and not an economic problem.

There are solutions. They are neither magic solutions nor are they quick fixes. But we know how to teach these health lifestyle skills and we know how to support people in making real change that will lead to improved quality of life.

Did you know that executive coaching is not geographically limited?  Coaching by telephone is effective.  It is also an efficient use of time and resources.  You never need to leave your office to travel, nor do you need to pay travel expenses for your coach. We offer coaching either onsite or by telephone. To find out if coaching is right for you, contact us to schedule a 1/2 hour consultation at no charge.  Or request a price sheet to determine the best value for your organization.  Call us at: (262) 789-2728 or email us at mailto:jweaver@psychologyforbusiness.com.

About the Author

John Weaver, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist with 25 years’ professional experience working with organizations, groups, and individuals. He has experience leading groups and creating teamwork in organizations. His areas of expertise include executive coaching, conflict resolution, coaching teams and individuals to improve performance under stress, assessing employees and potential employees to ensure the right person for the right job, and training in stress management and "The Vitamin C’s for an Emotionally Healthy Workplace."  He is an experienced professional speaker and published author.

Based in Waukesha, WI, Dr. John Weaver is available for consultation or executive coaching by phone, e-mail or in person. He may be reached at (262) 789-2728 (office) or (414) 491-8719 (cell), by e-mail: mailto:jweaver@psychologyforbusiness.com or: 

John Weaver, Psy.D. 
Psychology for Business
2717 North Grandview Boulevard, Suite 303
Waukesha, Wisconsin, 53188

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Psychology for Business
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