As the second-largest health care service purchaser, employers have an opportunity to use their substantial market leverage as a means to augment quality. If mobilized and motivated, employers could act as a key change agent by influencing other stakeholder groups, exercising a leadership role, and pushing community health plans and hospitals to elevate care while maintaining cost.

Bullish on Business: Engaging Employers in Health Care, an issue brief from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), explores ways to fully engage employers. Aligning Forces for Quality (AF4Q) is a national RWJF-funded program that works with local alliances and encourages businesses to take steps necessary to spur health care quality and cost improvements.

The issue brief discusses many of the challenges in motivating employers, the importance of coalitions, and the value in engaging employees as partners. Also outlined are concrete steps that may be taken to apply pressure and support healthy behaviors. Mark Saiz, manager of insurance and benefit for the City of Albuquerque (NM) Department of Human Resources, outlined four rules of employer engagement:

  1. Emphasize health and wellness instead of health care.
  2. Direct resources across the board – from high-risk to low-risk employees – for maximum employee participation.
  3. Involve the entire family rather than the sole individual to ensure communications reach the health care decision-maker.
  4. Negotiate price when designing benefits to include discounts and money-savers.

AF4Q found that each market was unique, so businesses should take stock of their local landscape and create strategies to pursue any identified engagement opportunities. Four items can provide the foundation for employer engagement given the multi-level nature of health care benefits:

  1. Understanding clinical quality measures and the associated value impact.
  2. Designing a financially sound benefit plan.
  3. Collaborating with other employers and non-employer health care stakeholders.
  4. Communicating with employees to encourage healthy behavior and align incentives.

To read or download the full report, click here (PDF).