Advising employers on wellness programs

Employee wellness programs incentivize good health practices in order to drive consumer costs down. We recently enrolled in a program like this at Lockton Companies, and our associates now report routine wellness exams and exercise habits in order to receive discounts on their health insurance premiums. As an added bonus, associates also receive reward points redeemable for goods and services. All wellness programs have their flaws; namely, they rely on implementation in order to be successful. Here is some information on implementing wellness programs in your business. – Eric

(via BenefitsPro)

Faced with rising employee health care expenses, employers are shifting away from full health plans toward high-deductible, lower-cost coverages. Even so, their costs continue to rise, and many are seeking new solutions.

Now, larger employers are making a second shift—toward wellness programs. They’re successfully managing costs by encouraging employees to develop and maintain healthier lifestyles.

By contrast, fewer small and midsize companies are implementing wellness programs. Many simply lack the resources to investigate and apply appropriate options.

As trusted advisers to employer groups, agents are uniquely positioned to help benefit managers explore the advantages of a strong wellness program.

Wellness programs tend to focus on two vital objectives: preventing new health problems by promoting healthy habits, and controlling chronic conditions through resources like health coaching and nutritional counseling. Programs can be tailored with various elements.

At one large Midwestern company, employees and their families have access to an onsite medical clinic, where care is offered eight hours each workday. Services include free one-on-one health coaching, online nutrition programs and preventive services, such as physical exams, wellness screenings and routine labwork. The clinic also provides primary and urgent care and fills common prescriptions.

Simpler programs provide over-the-phone health coaching, informational newsletters and educational presentations.

Employers can use two free resources to evaluate their wellness programs:

  • HERO, www.the-hero.org.  The HERO scorecard helps companies understand the best practices in employee health management.
  • Healthiest Employers, www.healthiestemployers.com. This organization collects, measures and evaluates international corporate wellness data.  Employers can complete a survey and compare their wellness program to those of peer companies.

Implementing a wellness program is a good investment.  Consider this evidence:

  • Each $1 invested in a comprehensive wellness program saves about $3 in healthcare costs, according to a Wellness Council of America study published in Forbes.
  • Medical costs drop by about $3.27 for every dollar spent on corporate wellness programs, and absenteeism costs fall by $2.73 for each dollar invested, according to an analysis of 36 studies byHarvardUniversityresearchers.
  • Employers who offer wellness programs can slow healthcare cost increases by 15 percent, according to a Highmark BCBS study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Employers can develop their own wellness program using no-cost and low-cost resources.  Here is a sampling:

  • American Heart Association’s Fit Friendly Worksite, www.startwalkingnow.org/start_workplace_fit_friendly.jsp. Employers can sign up for free tools to launch their own walking programs.
  • Healthy People 2020, www.healthypeople.gov. A program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Healthy People 2020 supports prevention efforts nationwide.
  • Society for Human Resource Management, www.shrm.org, dues required. SHRM provides broad information on benefits and wellness.
  • Wellness Council of America, www.welcoa.com, dues required. WELCOA strives to improve working Americans’ health and well-being.
  • Workforce magazine, www.workforce.com, subscription required. Workforce publishes insights on human resource topics, including benefits and wellness.

Independent providers can help employers develop a wellness program for their employee population. You can find vendor information in online service directories, including those from the Society for Human Resource Management, the Wellness Council of America and Workforce.

Many program providers—including Health Advocate, www.healthadvocate.com—seek relationships with agents who offer their services to employers and are compensated for referrals.  With its recent acquisition of WellCall, Health Advocate now offers broker-focused wellness solutions for smaller groups.

“Emphasizing wellness offers employers of all sizes the chance to not only improve employee well-being, but also increase on-the-job productivity and reduce costs,” says Dr. Abbie Leibowitz, executive vice president, chief medical officer and co-founder of Health Advocate.

Developing a wellness program doesn’t have to include all the bells and whistles. Start simply.

“Even the most basic elements can have a great impact, especially in helping companies begin to create ‘wellness communities’ in their workplace,” says Grace Brothers, vice president of benefits for CNO Financial Group, Inc.

Brothers advises all employers to consider:

  • Offering onsite health education. Organizations can partner with local resource providers to host lunch-and-learn sessions, offer group weight-management classes onsite, etc.
  • Starting a walking program—an easy, affordable way to get employees active during the workday.
  • Hosting wellness fairs with biometric health screenings.
  • Partnering with fitness centers for discounted memberships.

Consider offering participation incentives. Wellness programs succeed only when employees take part. To drive participation, companies can offer these and other incentives:

  • Cash and/or gift cards
  • Raffles and prize drawings
  • Reduced health premiums and/or co-pays
  • Health savings account deposits

Some companies go a step further, making employee participation a requirement for health plan enrollment.

Employers of all sizes can benefit from a robust wellness program. Such a program can also boost agents consultative value by adding wellness expertise to your group practice.

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About thebenefitblog

Eric is a Producer at Lockton Insurance Brokers, Inc., the world’s largest privately held commercial broker. Eric has over 23 years of experience in the insurance industry and has spent the last 11 years with Lockton. Eric specializes in Health & Welfare Benefits, Retirement Planning, and Executive Benefits. Eric's clients utilize his expertise in the areas of Plan Due Diligence, Transaction Structure, Fiduciary Oversight, Investment Design, Compliance and Vendor negotiation to improve the operational & financial outcome for each client. The Benefit Blog is a place to share that expertise and industry news.
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