North Carolina businesses have formed a working group to look for ways to lower health care costs, as the expense of providing coverage continues to rise for both employers and employees.
The North Carolina Business Group on Health includes 45 companies, employing some 100,000 workers in the state. Charlotte-based companies such as Piedmont Natural Gas and Polypore are members of the group, which is modeled on health care business groups in other states, including Rhode Island and Connecticut.
The group held a meeting last week in Greensboro. Members plan to kick off a contest next year called Step Up Carolinas, which will encourage employees to lose weight and exercise.
They say North Carolina lags in measures such as the use of electronic medical records and the adoption of primary care-focused medicine. Part of the group’s goal is to identify and share best practices, so members can try to keep their costs down.
“Employers and employees share in the cost of providing health care, so anything we can do to lower costs of health care benefits both,” said John Hulla, a Polypore executive and the business group’s employee engagement chair.
Renee Metzler, a Piedmont Natural Gas executive and president of Step Up Carolinas, said the costs of health care are driving employers with greater urgency to cut costs themselves by trying to make their employees healthier.
“Employers started going down this road because of the costs and because health care costs are just getting out of control,” she said. “You’ve still got to try to impact the overall cost, either improving the health and preventing disease or better managing conditions when an employee does get a disease.”
A recent survey from human resources consulting company Mercer, which is one of the sponsors of the North Carolina group, found employers expect their total health benefit cost per employee to rise 5.7 percent this year. That’s on top of a 6.1 percent increase in 2011, well ahead of both inflation and wages.
To help deal with the costs, Polypore is starting a program to give employees who take a health risks assessment discounts on their health insurance premiums and prizes if they sign up for programs such as Weigh Watchers or smoking cessation.
Metzler said Piedmont has seen its health insurance claims fall since instituting similar wellness programs for employees. Wellness now factors into the company scorecard that drives employee incentive payouts.
In addition to lowering costs, the business leaders also see such initiatives as a way to get more out of their employees, who they hope will take fewer sick days and be able to work more productively if they’re disease-free.
“Employers really see it as a way to increase productivity and increase morale,” Metzler said.