Wellness Programs: Cost Saver or Trouble Maker?

Wellness Programs Cost Saver or Trouble Maker

Wellness Programs and Health Screenings: Cost Saver or Trouble Maker?

More and more companies are jumping on board with incentivized wellness programs and mandatory health screenings for their employees in an effort to reduce the tremendous expense of health insurance. We know that healthier employees handle stress better, are more productive and are more engaged, [1] which translates to a better work atmosphere and increased profits, so it pays to try and incentivize healthy behaviors. Healthy employees also take fewer sick days [2], and overweight employees are statistically more likely to be injured at the workplace than workers of average weight [3]. From building on-site gyms to paying out health related bonuses, what are the best and worst options for creating a healthier workplace, and how do we utilize these policies without stepping into unlawful territory?

First, let’s look at some methods that are illegal or borderline unlawful that you should consult an Insured Solutions expert before using.

*Don’t use health screenings to discriminate against a potential hire unless your workplace specifically requires certain health standards, like particularly demanding construction jobs where an employee could be injured if not physically up to the task. Contact Insured Solutions if you are unsure.

*Be cautious when using screening results to deny coverage or financially punish an employee, as court rulings have been mixed. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is working hard to combat wellness programs in general, and while some cases have ruled in favor of the employer, the legal waters are currently muddy [4]. It’s currently safer to offer an incentive program that’s proven effective than to risk a court case. Again, consult an expert at Insured Solutions if in doubt.

With that said, let’s take a look at some of the methods you might think are great bets, but which have been proven to be surprisingly ineffective.

On-Site Gyms: This aforementioned method looks good on paper, as you are bringing workout tools directly to your employees, but many people find gyms intimidating [5], and without a variety of current equipment and trained professionals employees may not have the machines they need or may even hurt themselves through improper use or overexertion.

Cholesterol Control Programs: According to a study by RAND Corporation, they did not find meaningful improvements in programs where employees had to track and improve their cholesterol count [6]. Weight control and smoking cessation programs proved to be effective, but cholesterol-centric programs just don’t seem to take.

On the flip side, there are many methods proven effective by cold, hard data, many of which are fun and satisfying for the employee.

At-home Workout Options: From P90-X and Tai Bo on DVD, to online video services too numerous to mention, it’s possible to bring an educational and effective workout to where people are most comfortable, their homes. From ballet to Pilates, you can find a personalized, professionally guided workout online for free or a cheap monthly rate.

Smoking Cessation: The RAND Corporation found smoking cessation programs to be particularly effective both physically and financially, and stated “Smoking cessation is also the only health behavior for which achieving the goal earned a greater reward than participating in a program.” [7]

Health Reimbursement Arrangement Completion Incentives above $50: Studies found that incentives above this threshold were particularly effective, and that HRA completion rates increased by 1.6% for every additional $10 past this threshold.

The Affordable Care Act allows employers to take action to encourage healthier living and lower insurance costs, but it’s important to carefully examine the options and choose the one that works best for you and your workforce. An employee that’s excited about the program is an employee that is far more likely to stick with it and succeed.

[1] http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/244040
[2] http://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/businesscase/benefits/productivity.html
[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/29/health/29haza.html?_r=0
[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/25/business/employee-wellness-programs-use-carrots-and-increasingly-sticks.html?_r=0
[5] http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/244040
[6] http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR254.html
[7] http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR254.html

Shawn Shawn Steele is a freelance writer for Insured Solutions as well as a musician. He currently lives in Louisville, KY with his wife.


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