Health Care Reformophobia: Illness and Cure

I don’t think “Reformophobia” is a real word and as far as I know “Health Care Reformophobia” is not a real affliction.  But it may be one soon because there has been a lot of fear and anxiety caused by health care reform especially for business owners, leaders and HR personnel.

Typically a phobia is defined as a persistent irrational excessive anxiety associated with a specific object or situation.  But people experiencing reformophobia might argue that the reactions are neither irrational nor excessive.  In fact, the combination of factors associated with the Affordable Care Act create a perfect storm for stress and anxiety:

  • exceptional complexity buried in more than 2,000 pages of hard to read legislation
  • a likely increase in costs for businesses
  • seemingly ambiguous terms, many of which have yet to be clearly defined
  • unique exceptions, situations, factors and considerations that may not have been foreseen by lawmakers
  • shifting deadlines and milestones
  • mandates, changes and requirements that will continue until 2018
  • potentially high penalties for errors
  • rumors of increased auditing by the federal government

A common defense against a true phobia is to reduce or remove the stress by entirely avoiding the anxiety-producing situation or object, or denying its existence.  For healthcare reform this might’ve been an understandable strategy last summer when we were all waiting for the Supreme Court to decide on the fate of the bill.  It may even have been an acceptable strategy until the November election to see if we’d have a new administration that would repeal the mandates.  But it is clearly not what you should be doing now.

Here’s the good news: There are specific steps that you can take to reduce the anxiety enough to move your organization from catatonic paralysis to decision-making and action.

First reduce any vagueness that exists on your side of the equation.  You won’t be able to make smart healthcare benefit choices if you have not explicitly defined your values, people strategy, your compensation philosophy and what kind of culture you’re trying to achieve. What specifically are you trying to achieve with your pay and your benefits?  Does the talent market require that you aggressively recruit or retain talent – or is there a lot of talent from which to choose?   Do your offer other benefits that can reduce the importance of the direct pay component?  What is the average age of your workforce and what matters to each group?  Do you want to be a leader in benefits or do you differentiate yourself as an employer in some other way?  What do you offer: quality work life, a family friendly environment, a fun workplace, great experience?  Define how you want to compete for talent, what your beliefs are about your people, what you hope to accomplish and what comp and benefits strategy makes sense for you. Only after answering these questions can you make decisions about what course of action to pursue for your organization.

Rely on trusted advisors.  You don’t have to know everything if you have experts working on your behalf.  Demand more from advisors (internal and external). This does not mean you need to hire additional consultants.  If you have agent / brokers – they should be culling information for you and working side by side, not just dropping in semi-annually or occasionally forwarding ACA emails from others.   The once a year meeting to market your plan, raise deductibles, tweek out of pocket maximums and creatively cost shift are over.  Find a good partner(s) with current ideas and cutting edge solutions, get constant relevant updates and pursue every possible healthcare solution.  Think both short term and long term.  Demand that your advisors bring you the best tools, aids, timeframes and current accurate information.  If you don’t understand something, ask the experts.  Healthcare benefits are now like corporate law, high level banking or other areas where you cannot be expected to know it all, but you need trustworthy professional partners to whom you can turn for help and advice.

Once you have aligned your vision, values, and talent management strategy and you have a healthcare partner who understands what you’re trying to do, you need to focus your attention and that of others on what you know for sure.  Yes, some things have not yet been completely defined, there are still rumors swirling around about certain decisions, and some (many) things you may have no power to influence. The uncertainty and anxiety has led many to a paralyzed “wait and see” attitude.  But many important decisions are made on the basis of insufficient data.  While your competitors are wringing their hands and waiting for certainty, you can be miles ahead.  Define what you know and what you control.   There is much more known than not known.  Act on only those items that are in your control and make sure that you’re not dedicating time or resources to the things that are out of your control. If you can calm the healthcare waters for your organization, and quickly and efficiently make decisions that fit your overall goals – your employees can get back to the work you hired them to do.

Finally, while the perfect storm of anxiety may lead others to either inaction or to making frantic ill-advised choices, you should follow a structured decision making process to make smart strategic decisions for your organization.  There are half a dozen good problem solving decision making processes, find one you like and apply it to a small group of informed company leaders.  By carefully following a formal group problem solving process, you are more likely to avoid many of the mistakes that can impede effective decision making.

Your prescription for Reformophobia:

  1. Don’t avoid the issue, address the challenge head on.  Leaders are most needed in challenging times and these are challenging times, so step up and lead.
  2. Review, define or re-define the company’s vision, philosophy and goals.  It’s easier to choose a course of action when you determine what you want to achieve and align these solutions to help you achieve that vision.  (If you don’t know what you stand for you’ll fall for anything.)
  3. Rely on trusted experts: Get reliable tools and reliable sources of help and information.  Current and accurate information is invaluable during periods of uncertainty and change.
  4. Help others focus.  Define what you currently know for sure as well as what you know about the proposed changes and requirements that are coming in the next few years.  Define those things that are in your control and focus your resources on what you know you can impact. Re-assure others that the challenge is under control in your company.
  5. Use a structured problem solving / decision making process.  Frame the problem or challenge you’re trying to resolve, define the parameters, question the assumptions, demand and analyze the right data, research and generate as many options and solutions as possible, test a few, select your best option(s) and implement.

These are good fundamental steps to deal with any major issues in your company.  In this context, these basics will help you reduce any healthcare reformophobia that may be paralyzing your organization.