2017 Employee Health Care Conference: We can drive health care forward

The 2017 Employee Health Care Conferences in San Diego and New York City were record breaking – in attendance with more than 1,100 employers onsite, in the variety and depth of topics discussed, and in the optimistic and often innovative demonstration of how we all (employers, investors, consultants, employees, and ultimately patients) can drive health care forward.

New ways to engage employees in their health care

Connect everything, innovate everywhere, benefit everyone

I attended the San Diego conference this year, and two major themes resonated with me over my three days there: benefits should be a two-way street, and diversity in health care continues to evolve and push us all to think of new ways to engage people and measure outcomes.

Cisco Systems’ People Deal discussion the first morning walked through a topic that brought together innovation and employee engagement with a new request of their employees: connect everything, innovate everywhere, benefit everyone. The Walt Disney Company echoed this accountability request in its session, and Friday morning’s panel of health care investors and Qualcomm focused on shared responsibility and the need for employers to drive change in the health care system through data and improving the employee experience. The common thread is for all of us to work together. But how can we make that happen? How do we measure success? What is the ultimate goal?

Meeting the needs of a diverse workforce

Baby boomers exiting the workforce and generation Y becoming the largest generation of the U.S. labor market has spurred new and evolving strategies to meet the needs of a changing, diverse workforce that encompasses age, gender, need, risk and geography, to name a few.

(Click to enlarge) Source: 1985 and 2000 from OECD, 2015 from CPS, 2020 from BLS labor force projections and 2030 from Willis Towers Watson estimates based on Census population projections for 2030 and BLS labor force projections for 2024

Consequently, benefits value is being re-defined (“one size fits one” was echoed throughout the conference), and continual innovation is key to engaging employees wherever they are in their life. In fact, the conference focused less on what benefits or products or solutions are offered and more on how, why and when they are accessed. How do we best support employees through their unique life events such as birth/adoption, saving for college, caring for an elderly family member, or dealing with an unforeseen personal event?

Which metrics matter?

One final theme that is not new but was a vital component of each session I attended was the importance of data. The term “ROI” seems to be used less and less, replaced by new data points unique to a specific company, such as employee 401(k) contributions v. wellness risk score, percentage of employees who are uncomfortable with their health care decisions, and amount of sick leave usage prior to and after substance abuse treatment. What metrics matter to your organization?

As I got on the plane to head home to Houston on Friday afternoon, I felt refreshed with a sense of optimism that we have the right minds and resources focused on improving the quality of and access to health care for everyone, regardless of his or her need or risk or generation. Together, we can drive health care forward.


As a Senior Consultant in the Health & Benefits practice for Willis Towers Watson, Catherine O’Neill has over 14 years of experience in health and welfare strategy and design. Her expertise includes building multi-year strategies, vendor management and negotiation, as well as the design of wellness and health improvement programs.

Categories: Employee Engagement, Employee Wellbeing, Health and Group Benefits | Tags: ,

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