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Don’t depend on comprehensive health care reform to significantly cut the cost of the health insurance benefits you provide to employees. Many of America’s best companies have found that a few best practices do a remarkably good job of improving employee health and controlling health care expenses.

The boisterous debate over federal health care legislation may produce new laws. However, you and your executive leadership—not Congress—will ultimately determine your organization’s health care costs.

That’s the approach of the nation’s “50 Best Small and Medium Companies to Work for in America” as determined by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Great Place to Work Institute. The annual list consists of the top 25 small business (50 to 250 employees) and the top midsize companies (252 to 999 workers).

Attract staff, keep them healthy

Here are some of the best practices in health benefits used by America’s best employers. Some get at the original purpose of employer-provided health insurance: offering benefits in lieu of compensation that make an organization an employer people want to work for.

The key issue there: how to leverage investments in health benefits into a recruiting and retention advantage.

Other best practices help employers control health benefits costs by encouraging employees to take better care of themselves.

1. Provide health benefits that experts say help to attract and retain productive employees.

Thirty-four of the 50 companies provide health care benefits for part-time employees. Nineteen offer medical savings accounts or health savings accounts. Health plans at 43 businesses cover acupuncture, chiropractic care, homeopathy and other alternative treatments.

2. Pay all or most of health care premiums—for both employees and their families.

Sure it’s expensive, but most of America’s best employers believe it’s worth it. Nineteen of the 50 companies pay 100% of health care premiums for workers. Six of the businesses cover 100% of costs for employees—and 100% for dependents, too. Eight companies pay at least 80% of premiums for workers and dependents.

In all, 29 of America’s 50 best employers pay at least 70% of premiums for both employees and their families.

3. Find ways to make health benefits a priority during tough economic times.

Kahler Slater, a Milwaukee, architecture firm and No. 22 on the small-business list had to lay off employees last year. But at the same time, the firm added a wellness program that reduced premiums for some employees.

Maya Design Inc. in Pittsburgh, No. 16 on the small-company list, also had to lay off workers, but it didn’t reduce health benefits or increase insurance premiums for its remaining workers.

Badger Mining Corp. of Berlin, Wis., No. 1 on the small-company list, continued to make wellness a core value (along with quality, safety and teamwork). Last year, the company formed a wellness focus group to create a “culture of wellness.” Badger provides workplace health risk assessments, health coaching and periodic health education events.

4. Offer free health screening in the workplace to reduce long-term health costs.

Among the 50 companies:

  • 43 provide flu shots
  • 29 offer high blood pressure testing
  • 27 do cholesterol screening
  • Nine offer skin cancer testing.

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