Healthcare Reform: HR’s Golden Opportunity

Don’t Be Shy: Take the Lead on Healthcare Reform

Healthcare reform is a hot topic right now. I am not an expert on it, and you may not be either. But, if you are an HR professional, you need to get educated and prepare to take the lead on your company’s attempt to make sense of healthcare.

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The World at Work and SHRM national conferences this year were full of sessions on healthcare reform. Most presentations emphasized that healthcare reform is a golden opportunity for HR to rise up as a strategic leader in a company. And, we’re missing the opportunity.

Why Is HR Hiding from Healthcare Reform?

HR is staying out of the conversation. The excuses vary. We are too busy, the legislation isn’t finalized, we don’t know what’s going to happen and we cannot yet predict the impact. I’m here to tell you, and the people at the conference stressed this, toss out your excuses and get on it. The changes in healthcare are your opportunity to engage with your senior leaders on something where you’re an expert and they need help.

If you’ve ever looked for an opportunity to be strategic, if you’ve ever wanted your seat at the table, if you’ve ever wanted to be a part of the conversation, here is your moment. But, you have to be prepared to lead the conversations and understand the impact of healthcare reform on your business.

Take the Lead Early On

If you’re sitting down at an executive team meeting and there is a major challenge facing the company, maybe a big competitor has entered the market, your operations people are not sitting back and waiting for someone to tell them what to do or what the potential impacts are going to be. They are ahead of the curve. They’ve thought the situation through and are strategizing. What they bring to the table may not be finalized, yet, and the threat may not be in full force but they are not waiting for it to happen.

Some of you are already learning what healthcare reform is and what impact it could have on your organization. You may already be on the phone with your benefits brokers, attending webinars and webcasts to learn more about it and talking to your senior leaders, especially your CFO, about the potential implications.

Inc., in their August 2011 issue, reported that 75 percent of U.S. CFOs listed “employee benefits as the business cost about which they are most concerned.” Not the cost of anything else, but the cost of labor and, specifically, how it relates to healthcare costs.

Here is a topic that has your executives’ attention, is new, must happen and requires your time to take the lead. When our CFO looks to us, we must have the information about what is happening.

Employees Pay Attention

The good news is that healthcare reform has helped HR by making employees aware of the value of their total rewards package.

We complained for years that employees only looked at one element of compensation, like base pay or stock when the dot com era was in full force. But, these days, I think that employees are very aware of the value of a rewards packages. Many workers have had to go without healthcare insurance because they were unemployed or have paid COBRA rates.

This new awareness provides an opportunity to communicate more easily about the value of a total rewards package. In one of the SHRM sessions I lead on compensation, one of the questions from the audience was, “How do you deal with the fact that your overall salary budget increase amount is 3 percent and healthcare is rising 7 percent? How do you sell that to employees?”

The only way that is done is if employees are fully aware of the situation. Media attention on this healthcare debate helps people be aware of what is at stake. We need to take advantage of that awareness. Let’s make it clear that the 7 percent raise in healthcare costs that the company absorbs, plus a 3 percent base salary raise, is really like an 10 percent raise overall. We need to help employees understand that.

Is that an easy conversation? No. Are you going to win them over? Probably not because employees are struggling with bigger concerns, like taking care of their family. But, this is a great opportunity to increase communication.

What Can You Do?

Educate yourself, strategize and lead the organization toward good decision making regarding healthcare reform.


Stacey Carroll, CCP, SPHR
Director of Professional Services and Education
PayScale, Inc.

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