Smoking cessation and weight-loss programs seem to have a small but noticeable effect on health plan costs over a 78-month period.

Researchers at Gordian Health Solutions Inc., Nashville, Tenn., have published an analysis of the effects of “population health management” programs on employees at a hospital in Tennessee.

Gordian, a health management company, compared with the effects of the smoking cessation and weight-loss programs on 142 program participants and 142 control group members who closely resembled the program participants.

After 78 months, the program participants were about 10% more likely to have filed claims, but the total cost of participants’ claims was $242,465 lower than the total claims cost for control group members, Gordian researchers report.

Over the course of the study, the program participants cost the hospital’s health plan an average of about $41 less per claim filed, the researchers report.

The researchers defined a health event leading to a claim for more than $1,090 as an “outlier claim event.”

Outlier events were rare, but, by the end of the sixth year of the study, control group members were twice as likely to experience outlier claims as program participants, the researchers report.

In other health improvement program news:

- Buck Consultants, New York, a unit of Affiliated Computer Services Inc., Dallas, asked 555 large employers based in many different countries about their wellness programs.

About 86% of the U.S. employers and about 20% of employers based outside North America said they offer wellness programs.

Health care cost reduction is the top goal for U.S. wellness programs.

Canadian employers are most interested in attracting and keeping employees, and European employers are most interested in offering the programs to reduce employee absences due to sickness and disability.

U.S. employers are more likely to provide wellness program participation incentives than European employers are, and the most generous U.S. incentive programs can cost more than $500 per employee per year, Buck consultants report.

- Independence Blue Cross, Philadelphia, has organized a sweepstakes that will give away a free trip to Maui, Hawaii, and other prizes to encourage plan members to get flu shots and enroll in weight-loss and smoking cessation programs before Dec. 31.

In addition to the trip to Hawaii, prizes include free tickets to local sporting events, cultural attractions and family entertainment centers, Independence says.