Wellness programs hold great promise for employers. Employers are seeing significant financial returns and improved employee health. As a result, wellness programs are evolving and an increasing number of employers are adopting the programs. Many are embracing the movement by amending their health benefit programs to encourage positive lifestyle behaviors.
Several trends have emerged which help to define the next generation of wellness programs.
An emphasis on employers of all sizes. Large employers have embraced wellness for the last several decades and have numerous choices of programs and service providers. Until recently, smaller employers have not had the same flexibility, but this is changing as a result of two innovations.
Health insurers are increasingly providing robust wellness programs along with their health insurance. This integration provides a cost-effective method to distribute the wellness program to employers. In addition, education and enrollment efforts can be combined, minimizing the time commitment and reinforcing the close link between the programs.
Wellness providers have also developed screening methods that allow small employers to participate on a cost-effective basis. In addition to using on-site screening methods, the use of collection centers in alternate locations like grocery store pharmacies has decreased overall costs. Physician packets are also becoming increasingly popular.
Greater depth of programs. Robust wellness programs include 4 core components: (1) observation and evaluation, (2) targeted health management, (3) positive lifestyle information and education, and (4) actuarial reporting, administration and management. The focus of these programs is typically on the prevention and reduction of risks associated with common health conditions.
Many employers are looking to go further, wanting to include conditions that have been specifically identified by their insurer or claims administrator as important to their employee population. Ultimately their goal is to identify conditions that can be improved to provide a return on investment. These additional screenings can include:
? Metabolic panel.
? Prostate specific antigen.
? Vision screening.
In addition, wellness providers focus on giving individuals personalized coaching based on their needs, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Movement to no additional fixed costs. Historically, employers have offered incentives to encourage their employees to participate in wellness activities. Common approaches include providing a premium incentive such as $10 per pay period. Another benefit commonly offered is an increased employer contribution to a health savings account.
These incentives have been used to entice participation in a health screenings or health improvement activities. Employers viewed these extra costs as an investment, anticipating that a wellness program would bring lower claims costs and higher productivity.