Human Resources
Thought Leadership

Managing Health Care in Uncertain Times


Jim WinklerWe've asked Jim Winkler, Aon Hewitt's U.S. Health Management Practice Leader, to answer a question about managing health care in uncertain times. If you'd like to ask a question about managing your health care plans, or about any other pressing human resources challenge you might be facing, e-mail us. We'll share responses to select questions on a regular basis.

Question:  In these uncertain economic times, what are some simple things we can do to efficiently manage our health care programs while still striving to improve the health of our employees?

Answer: Under tough economic conditions, you might be inclined to look for ways to reduce short-term costs without considering longer-term implications. We think that is short-sighted. So you're definitely on the right track by developing a strategy that includes both employee health and plan cost together! When you look at the impact "adverse" health has on productivity and efficiency, you begin to understand that one way to improve both of these is to aggressively manage your health care program. There are a few areas you can focus on—today—that will help you efficiently manage your health care program.

  • Manage vendor partnerships
  • Bid out life insurance and other ancillary coverages
  • Improve compliance rates on high-value services such as maintenance-oriented prescription drugs
  • Make sure the design of your health care plan promotes well-being

To improve employees' health, you have to engage them in behavior-changing activities that help them manage current health issues so that they don't turn into chronic conditions that are more costly to treat. You also want to help healthy employees maintain their good health. Get the entire company involved in healthy behavior, starting with senior management. Identify and organize activities that promote wellness. For example, at Hewitt, we have wellness centers in many of our locations, and we've identified healthy items on our cafeteria menus. Small changes can make a big difference.

A key element that you must incorporate into your health plan strategy is the ability to measure the status of the current plan and the implications of any changes that you're considering. Measurable results will show how successful your revamped health plan has been when it comes to improving the health of your participants and efficiently managing health care costs.

About Our Expert
Jim Winkler is Aon Hewitt's U.S. Health Management Practice Leader. He has spent a decade consulting with clients on overall health care strategy, health plan management, program design and implementation, health care consumerism, and pricing. Jim has extensive experience in health and welfare vendor selection and negotiation. He earned a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame and an M.B.A. from the University of Hartford.

Listen to a podcast of the 2009 Hewitt Health Care Briefing, where Jim spoke to more than 200 HR benefit leaders and addressed actions companies can take—right now—to improve the state of health care. If you experience a slow connection, please right-click this link to download the podcast. (Running time 8 minutes; file size 7.32 MB)

Health Care Survey Findings
For more than two decades, Aon Hewitt has tracked employer health care practices, benefit programs, and efforts to provide and manage workforce health benefits. Review the latest findings in our report, Challenges for Health Care in Uncertain Times.