How I navigate Obamacare at my veterinary hospital

July 5, 2017
Candiss Schneider, MBA

Trying to determine the best healthcare benefits to offer your team can be a muddled mess (kinda like the future of healthcare itself). Try this thoughtful approach to choosing, communicating and analyzing plans. It isnt foolproof, but it adds some method to the medical madness.

I can't guess how healthcare law may change in the near future, but here are my best practices for finding good health insurance for veterinary team members. (Getty Images)While the Affordable Care Act was supposed to help ease the pain of rising healthcare costs, for small businesses (i.e. most veterinary practices), the law requiring some practices to provide health insurance is a tough one. Can you afford to offer healthcare benefits to team members? Or would it be better to pay the penalty for not offering healthcare? (Editor's note: Before everything changes, here are the laws of the land today.)

Right now, Senate Republicans are crafting new legislation behind closed doors that will affect our attempts to both do right by our employees and do right by the law. No matter which way healthcare laws go in this country, here's how I navigate tough benefit decisions:

1. Get expert help

Deciding on benefits doesn't have to be a solo project. I seek counsel from an insurance broker when making decisions and when trying to understand what changes are coming. Our insurance broker knows the providers and can bundle our benefits together-dental, vision and life insurance-to help save money.

Preventive medicine is for people too!

We teach clients about the importance of preventive medicine all day, every day in the exam room and via our social media channels, yet we seem to ignore it in our own health and in the health of our family members.

Work with your broker to set up a health risk assessment (HRA) program for your hospital. (You may already be doing this for your patients.) It often involves an online questionnaire and an annual physician visit so employees know their risk factors and can take charge of their health. Programs like this can help employees take better care of themselves, which can, over the long term, reduce sick days, work injuries and workers' compensation claims.

The best thing about an HRA program? It should be at no cost to you through your insurance company. And if employees participate, reward them for making their health a priority!

We've seen the benefits of our own HRA plan. Health professionals conducted individual counseling sessions with each employee to help them set goals and focus on an area of their health for that year. During that time, we asked our employees what events or things they would like to participate in. We signed up for 5k walks, volunteered for several active events within our own community and provided educational lunch-and-learns about mental health, dealing with stress and financial planning in an effort to cover all health risk bases.

(Editor's note: For more on the pros and cons of HRA programs in the workplace, check out the Wall Street Journal article "Your company wants to make you healthy.")

2. See which benefits are used

In my practice group, we look at the data to see which benefits were used the most, how many staff members took advantage of prescription medication coverage and how many visited the emergency room. These statistics can help you plan for the upcoming year.

3. Educate your team about benefits

Once you've selected your health insurance company and plan, it's time to educate your employees on their benefits. If you don't tell eligible employees what's covered and how to use their plan, you'll be paying for a service no one uses.

Show employees how the plan is organized. Educate them on how to prepare for major procedures, how to take advantage of urgent care facilities versus emergency rooms and how to ask about generic options for prescriptions, co-pays and deductibles. Make sure your team members know how to find in-network providers.

Your team education on the front end can help everyone in the system on the back end manage the ever-rising costs of healthcare.

Does education sound like a pain? Your broker should be there to assist you during the entire process. He or she can help answer employee questions and offer assistance with understanding medical bills, managing payments and financial planning for procedures.

With so many unknown changes on the healthcare industry horizon, it can be a big relief-and a big selling point when hiring and keeping great talent-for employees to know that they and their families can be insured through your veterinary practice.

Do you have more questions about current healthcare legislation and how it affects the veterinary practice? Email us at ve@ubm.com and we'll consider questions for experts to answer here on dvm360.com.

Candiss Schneider, MBA, is the human resources and operations director for a number of Foresight Veterinary Partners hospitals in Ohio and Michigan.