Annual health insurance premium rate increases might seem like death and taxes to employers (and employees) — inevitable.
And the new rules outlined in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which removed payers’ ability to deny coverage to applicants based on pre-existing conditions, has led to an insured population with more critical health issues and higher-than-usual premium rate increases over the past couple of years.
However, PPACA also created a new avenue through which employers could lower their premiums: workplace wellness programs.
Small employers – with fewer than 100 employees who work 25 or more hours per week – are eligible for workplace wellness grants when they provide a comprehensive workplace wellness program for all employees. And larger employers also can help save their employees money (up to 30 percent of the cost of the employee’s premium) through these programs, as well. All of this adds up to an opportunity for brokers to help employers work with carriers to help implement these programs – and save money.
To qualify for a small-business wellness grant, the workplace wellness program must reduce chronic-disease rates, address health disparities and develop a stronger evidence base of effective prevention programming. This can be accomplished through employee education, smoking-cessation challenges, diet and exercise challenges, and other tactics that help promote employee wellness. And new businesses are popping up every day that aim to help employers fulfill these requirements.
Stan Reents, PharmD, president and chief executive officer of AthleteInMe.com, is one such entrepreneur; the former health care worker has made a career transition to a health coach, and he provides educational talks in the Phoenix area for such insurance carriers as Blue Cross Blue Shield.
“For some time now, I think the big health insurance providers have realized that it’s more economical to pay for health coaching than to pay for medical care,” Reents explains. “Health coaching is a big, broad, nebulous label, and it involves areas other than just exercise.”
Reents gives health presentations to groups of employees that are subsidized by the health carriers. “I go out to places like these large school districts and give health talks about how exercise and smart nutrition can prevent and reverse hypertension, diabetes and elevated cholesterol,” he says.
Reents also works directly with large employers who create wellness programs for their employees, including one company that holds an annual weight-loss competition; he provides one-on-one health coaching with staff members.
“Every year, they get a large grant to put on corporate wellness programs,” he says, which helps pay for his services.
Reents believes health coaches could be considered the missing member of the health care team.