Wellness at work

Companies reduce health care costs with wellness partnerships

As health care costs continue to soar, employers and employees alike struggle with the double-digit increases in health insurance premiums.

One solution making a positive impact on health care costs is the establishment of worksite wellness programs. According to several national studies, companies that implement health and wellness activities can realize a $3 to $6 return for every $1 spent on wellness.

“Wellness needs to become a part of your company’s culture,” said Stephanie LaPlant, BS, MA, wellness coordinator, Ministry SAINTS Health Services for Business. “Companies can take small steps to create a healthy culture by providing health education programs, stocking vending machines with healthy selections, providing free blood pressure monitoring or providing gym equipment or memberships to employees.

“SAINTS can customize a wellness program based on the company, the culture and the health needs of the employees,” said LaPlant. “This helps everyone. Currently, maximum incentives cannot exceed 20 percent of the cost of employee-only coverage under the plan. Grants may also be available through the CDC for small businesses to help them provide wellness programs.”

Of course, people who actively participate in wellness programs will help employers and themselves by reducing health care costs.

Proactive health maintenance is often rewarded with lower premiums

We all know that eating right, exercising and getting plenty of rest is good for our health; now it may also be good for our pocketbooks. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 4 adults (26.7 percent) are considered obese. This number is 1.1 percent higher than it was in 2007.

Health insurance premiums are one of the highest expenses realized by individuals and corporations alike. Since insurance companies usually charge higher premiums for people who are overweight, who smoke or who have known illness, many employers, especially those who self-insure, are now offering incentives for employees that conscientiously maintain a healthy lifestyle.

According to a report published by the CDC productivity losses related to personal and family health problems cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee per year, or $225.8 billion annually.

From the cash benefits built in to supplemental insurance plans that encourage employees to visit their doctor for regular check-ups and screenings, to benefits to encourage employees to lead an active lifestyle, such as free or reduced gym memberships – all are incentives to help motivate employees to take responsibility for their health and lead an active life while adopting a healthier lifestyle.

Ten things for companies to consider when starting a wellness program

  1. Start with senior management. Without senior management support, a health promotion strategy can fall flat. Start with the health of your executive team and discover your wellness champions at the top of the corporation.
  2. Analyze the problem. Look at your health care claims and assess the trends. Which conditions are driving your medical, disability, and workers’ compensation claims and which are modifiable? What’s worked and what hasn’t thus far? What is the long-term impact of doing nothing?
  3. Hold an initial wellness meeting. Invite your key stakeholders both outside and inside the corporation. Ask your insurance broker to facilitate the meeting and invite key health vendors including occupational health, disability, and Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Review claims and utilization data and establish key areas of concern. Look at current offerings and see how they can be tailored to the needs of the population.
  4. Consider both healthy and unhealthy workers. Since 85 percent of claims are usually attributed to 15 percent of claimants, it is critical to reach those with the most costly conditions while also reaching employees who are at risk for developing preventable diseases in the future. Voluntary Employee Wellness Initiatives such as brown bag wellness seminars miss many of the employees who need them most, so consider using these initiatives as a starting point or intermittently throughout your wellness calendar year. Consider implementing events or initiatives that are population-wide or target intact workgroups. Wellness incentives help but do not motivate everyone.
  5. Set short-term goals for the Employee Wellness Programs. Set some realistic short-term goals based on your key areas of concern. Are there any plan design changes that could have an immediate impact on spending? Are there some programmatic actions that could have immediate results?
  6. Assess what employees would like to see in a wellness program. Hold some focus groups or provide a survey to determine where employees are with wellness. What’s working? What isn’t? How much interest do employees have in the Employee Wellness Programs? What obstacles and barriers are workers experiencing when they try to change behavior?
  7. Make sure you have a high-impact Occupational Health vendor and Employee Assistance Program (EAP). A highly utilized Occupational Health and Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can provide a foundation for all of your future wellness programs. These programs can provide needed follow-up coaching and personal attention for workers who are working on modifiable health behaviors or involved in disease management initiatives.
  8. Set three to five year goals for health care savings and measure them. Get help from your broker and insurance carrier help you on long-term goals for your health, disability, and workers compensation plans. Establish program metrics that will help you to measure return on investment. Go beyond participation rates, completion rates and program satisfaction. Other important measures include changes in readiness, changes in behavior, and changes in risk factors. Establish rigorous methods to measure health care savings over the long term.
  9. Set goals for organizational health. Consider the more intangible benefits of a Employee Wellness Program and quantify them whenever possible. Include employee turnover rates, cost of new hires, employee morale, benefit satisfaction data, and employer of choice issues in setting goals. Establish ways to measure success in these areas.
  10. Add specifics to your short and long-term plan. Include a Company Health Promotion Program strategy, a communication strategy, and a Company Health Promotion Program incentive strategy that will fit with your organization culture. Focus on integration of related components along a health continuum with communications that are focused, simple, and human. Establish a budget that includes key components such as consumer education, health promotion, Health Risk Assessments (HRAs), and regular biometric screens.

For more information, contact Stephanie LaPlant, BS, MA, wellness coordinator, Ministry SAINTS Health Services for Business

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