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Building a healthier workforce: affordable healthcare for blue-collar employees

14 May 2024 Reo Botes, Managing Executive at Essential Employment Benefits
Reo Botes

Reo Botes

South Africa's current economic climate presents significant challenges for businesses, especially in recruiting and retaining skilled blue-collar workers. High unemployment, slow growth, and inflation, particularly in healthcare costs, put a strain on both businesses and their employees. These essential workers, facing unique health risks and financial constraints, often struggle to afford conventional medical aid. By facilitating affordable health insurance plans for their workforce, businesses can create a win-win situation, safeguarding the well-being of their blue-collar workers and contributing to a healthier bottom line.

The unique needs of blue-collar workers

Blue-collar workers are often more susceptible to workplace injuries, occupational hazards, and physical strain compared to other professions, making health insurance crucial for them. However, traditional medical aid plans are expensive, forcing some employees to forgo cover altogether due to financial constraints. Most medical aid benefits cater to higher income brackets, negating the needs of the largest component of the workforce.

Companies can address this challenge by rethinking their employee benefits schemes. Offering affordable health insurance can be a powerful incentive for blue-collar workers to stay loyal to their employers. This approach enhances job security and provides peace of mind regarding healthcare expenses, which can prove invaluable. Companies can subsidise insurance premiums, partner with providers, and negotiate favourable rates to make coverage more accessible. Educating staff about the value of preventive care, financial protection, and overall well-being associated with having health cover is also essential. 

The power of affordable health cover and benefits for businesses

Investing in affordable health insurance for their blue-collar staff isn't just about employee well-being; it's a strategic move for businesses with a positive return on investment (ROI). Health cover results in reduced absenteeism, as healthy employees are less likely to miss work due to illness or injury and employees won’t need to miss work to spend all day queuing for medical attention at public health facilities. There is also a marked improvement in productivity, as a healthy workforce is a productive workforce. Affordable subsidised health insurance demonstrates that a company cares about its employees' well-being, fostering loyalty and reducing turnover while enhancing employer brand reputation, making the company more attractive to potential candidates. 

Putting affordable healthcare benefits to work

Helping employees to access affordable healthcare insurance doesn’t have to be complicated or overwhelming for businesses. It is advisable for them to explore group insurance plan options, as these leverage economies of scale to obtain better rates. They should consider offering plans with co-contributions to share the financial responsibility between employers and employees. Employers should also endeavour to implement regular wellness programmes within their workforce, in order to encourage healthy habits, the data collected during Wellness interventions can and should also be utilised to gauge the effectiveness of existing programmes and solutions, measuring these aspects and reviewing the solutions to align with the specific needs identified. Technological innovations should be leveraged as much as possible, as digital enrolment, telemedicine services, and mobile health apps can make accessing healthcare more convenient and cost-effective.Overcoming obstacles, tracking usage and measuring success

Affordability remains a major hurdle. Supportive policies, such as tax breaks for businesses offering health insurance or subsidies for startups to implement these plans, can make a positive impact, however relying on policy change within Government may not be enough in the short- term. Effective administration of these plans is also crucial to avoid overburdening employers or limiting options for employees, with transparency and clear communication being essential throughout the process. Consulting with employment benefits experts can help businesses navigate the complexities of implementing these programmes according to their own needs and affordability. 

Quantifying the ROI of affordable health insurance requires a multifaceted approach and can only be measured over time. Businesses can make use of metrics like employee satisfaction surveys, healthcare utilisation rates, absenteeism rates, and productivity levels to assess the programme's effectiveness, and they should be willing to tweak and manage their programme based on employee feedback and utilisation. 

The future of work starts by focusing on health

Prioritising affordable health insurance creates a more equitable workplace with a healthier, happier, and more loyal workforce. This shift in workplace culture not only benefits employees but also positions businesses for long-term success in a competitive market. This is particularly important given that the most important asset of every business is its people. After all, a healthy and invested workforce is the foundation upon which sustainable growth, innovation, and organisational resilience can be built.

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