Much as they might like to, workers can’t forget about their personal lives at work. More than two-thirds stress about paying out-of-pocket medical expenses, and a third admit to being less productive because of it.

Employers don’t have a magic wand that makes medical challenges go away, nor can they afford to pick up the entire tab for workers’ care. They already contribute an average of $14,561 per year per insured worker for family health coverage. However, that doesn’t include expensive employer HSA contributions.

When it comes to workers’ healthcare costs, employers are between a rock and a hard place. They can’t change the healthcare system. If they’re a larger employer, they realistically have to offer health insurance, and they can only influence some employee behaviors that drive healthcare costs.

What can employers do to keep healthcare costs from hurting productivity? Help employees pay unexpected healthcare expenses over time, ideally without added interest.

How Workers Bridge the Divide

Until recently, an employee facing a healthcare bill that would crunch his cash flow turned to typical funding sources. These usually included dipping into savings, negotiating a payment plan with the provider, or seeking out a lender.

“The trend is clear: More and more employees are more and more financially responsible for their own care,” says Don Broekelmann, Paytient’s head of revenue operations. “At the same time, more employers realize the savings from high-deductible health plans may be offset by decreased employee access to healthcare.”

For most workers, the reality is that even a $400 healthcare bill could be financially catastrophic. Often, healthcare services come with multiple bills. A series of them can exhaust even a significant nest egg.

Understandably, workers hesitate to ask family and friends for help covering the shortfall. Nearly half of adults who lend money to family or friends have a bad experience. In fact, 21% reported it harmed their relationship with the borrower.

Perks Beyond Productivity

When healthcare worries are lifted off their shoulders, workers are more productive. But according to Broekelmann, the picture is far larger than productivity.

Paytient’s own research shows a series of “hard” and “soft” impacts. For one, employers realize a fifteen-fold return on their investment, depending on their subsidy strategy, for every employee who switches from a low- to a high-deductible health plan.

But the “soft” benefits may be even greater. Companies that sponsor a deductible financing solution like Paytient can significantly reduce turnover. “The retention aspect is real, and our data catches the attention of HR departments,” explains Broekelmann.

Where Healthcare Is Headed

Unlike many healthcare leaders, Brian Whorley, founder and CEO of Paytient, has a clear sense of where healthcare is headed.

“Health care will follow retirement,” Whorley suggests on Paytient’s website. “In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, the unquestioned status quo was your employer-funded your retirement via defined benefit pension plans.”

Not long after the first 401(k) plans were established in 1978, most employers externalized this cost. Today, most employees at large employers fund their own private retirement accounts, undergirded by a public option: Social Security.

“At some point in my life, I think we’ll see employers trade-off the uncontrollable, random burden of healthcare in exchange for matching a few predictable points in workers’ paychecks,” Whorley explains. “The future I want to see is a functioning cash market for routine, sub-catastrophic care coupled with a public safety net of robust, guaranteed care for catastrophic cases.”

In a sense, Whorley says, that model is more accurate to the original goal of insurance: to cover the financial shock of the truly unpredictable and unaffordable. And in the long run, he thinks it might even be a good thing for consumers: “It’s a chance for organizations to innovate, injecting the spirit of consumerism back into the pricing and delivery of healthcare. That’s the path to a sustainable system.”

Although the future is uncertain, the people of the future will undoubtedly want access to better care at lower costs. It’s that future that Paytient is working toward.

Brad Anderson

Brad Anderson

Editor In Chief at ReadWrite

Brad is the editor overseeing contributed content at ReadWrite.com. He previously worked as an editor at PayPal and Crunchbase. You can reach him at brad at readwrite.com.