In today’s economy, every competitive advantage matters. This seems like a painfully obvious statement. Yet it’s not always clear to small business owners what places in our business can profit from these advantages—sometimes these are right under our noses. By being aware and thinking differently, successful entrepreneurs and small business owners have historically found new ways to turn potential challenges into competitive advantages.

Often missed in these opportunities, however, is healthcare. Just like any other business problem, this ever-increasing and important burden can have a reliable business solution. If we want healthcare to be a competitive advantage, we need to start by thinking differently.

Healthcare is on the minds of all Americans these days. Few would say it’s easy to navigate, even less would say it’s affordable. For small and midsize businesses, the current healthcare crisis can be a huge disadvantage. I’m not talking about the Affordable Care Act regulation, which has placed significant pressure on small businesses. Rather, it’s simply very hard to compete with big corporations as they leverage their size to drive down healthcare costs. For every dollar a single big corporation negotiates lower, many smaller companies actually see their costs increase to absorb that amount. Smaller companies can compete, but only if they are strategic and leverage the advantages that come with being smaller and nimbler.

If your business offers an employer sponsored health plan, you likely saw yet another rate increase this year. Which means it’s even harder for your team, especially those making lower wages, to afford health insurance for their families. Even if your company subsidized the insurance costs, can many of your employees really afford the higher and higher deductibles and copays? Perhaps you’ve lost, or are at risk of losing, employees to larger competitors because they can offer better benefits.

Most business owners are making a fundamental mistake in thinking and it’s costing them a lot. They make the critical thinking error when they accept and believe that health insurance is the same as healthcare. There is no coming back from this mistaken belief — it’s an unrecoverable error.

Let me explain with car insurance as the analogy. How crazy would it be to believe car insurance was the same as using your car? What if we all bought car insurance first and then we were told what kind of car we could buy, its color and number of doors, and then which streets we could drive on and at what time? And how nonsensical would it be if we rarely drove our car because we couldn’t afford gas after spending so much on rising car insurance costs?

Isn’t this like what we’re asked to do with healthcare? We select our health insurance first and then get permission to see a doctor. Then employees are hit with the double whammy of additional out-of-pocket (copays and deductibles) expenses and lost income because they have to take a half day off work just to see that doctor!

We put our teams, and our companies, into a system incentivized at every level to drive prices as high as possible. Even with the best intentions, stock evaluations and shareholder ROI drive healthcare and health insurance prices. Layers of complexity obscure any attempt at transparency. The result is most of your employees just can’t afford to get healthcare, even if you buy insurance for them.

As an entrepreneur, you’ve most likely found success by thinking about things differently; you’ve also realized solving problems is not necessarily about having all the right answers, but about asking the right questions.

Now, if you’re thinking strategically about healthcare, not health insurance, you can start to demand value from the current system in an atypical way — and turn healthcare into a competitive advantage you didn’t know you had.

  • Demand fiduciary attention from your broker. This means ensuring that they present all the healthcare options available, not just high priced insurance options grounded in the current system. Many times it is the lower priced option that will allow the best healthcare access. Seek out a fiduciary advisor who has left the old conflicted broker model. Walk away if you can’t get disclosure in writing of all commissions and incentives always imbedded in the recommendations.
  • Ensure that your people can get the fair price for healthcare; transparency is nonnegotiable. You and your employees should know the fair price for ANY office visit, procedure or prescription before it’s done. Having a convenient and easy way to receive this information is a nonnegotiable. Every hospital negotiates different prices. The bigger ones in a community negotiate prices 20-40 percent higher than the smaller hospitals. Ask your broker to show you the differences in prices for various common procedures and prescriptions. These differences will be coming out of their pockets more and more as they get higher deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. This is only fair.
  • Make it easy and affordable to receive routine care. When businesses remove copays for primary care, allow access via telephone, include chiropractic, labs and preventative care they make employees happy. Additionally, by making it easy to receive routine care, the infrequent expensive costs of testing, emergency rooms and hospitals drop dramatically and immediately. This saves both time and money.

When you turn healthcare into a strategic business advantage, you not only compete better, but you WIN. By working with many small and midsize business owners, I consistency receive feedback and hear their success stories. The stories are usually similar. When businesses start thinking strategically about their healthcare plans and asking better questions, they make routine healthcare easy to access and afford. And then, with the same budget, they can provide meaningful benefits for their entire workforce. This results from putting healthcare first and getting the right types and amounts of insurance afterwards. Combine this with knowing how to protect your people from excessive pricing and healthcare can actually work.

By offering affordable healthcare to more employees, retention increases and company cultures reach new levels. People are excited to be part of a company that cares about its employees. Absenteeism drops and productivity can skyrocket.

One recent client in the fast-food business out of Chicago was struggling to recruit dependable entry-level hourly workers. By offering healthcare benefits in her recruiting advertising, she increased applications by over three times, just by adding the words “healthcare benefits.” Her candidate pool has given her a tremendous improvement in the quality of hires needed for growing her business.

In a system designed to benefit large corporations, changing the way you think about healthcare will give you the ability to leverage a competitive advantage for your business. You’ll also join a growing number of entrepreneurs and small business owners who have transformed healthcare from burden to advantage.

About the Author

David Berg